A day with kids in Paris calls for la perspective

View from the Centre Pompidou

When we went to the Centre Pompidou, today, we spent a long time in an exhibit in its children’s gallery called “L’Oeil sur l’échelle” (roughly translated as “An Eye on Scale”) which was all about looking at things through a variety of lenses. In one room children could use found objects (bits of pipes, pieces of wood, random and enchanting plastic do-dads) to build things on a track. The track sat in front of a large photograph of a cityscape and while children built, they were encouraged to look at their creations through viewfinders and cameras to get different takes on perspective. In one view, their creations looked tiny against the backdrop, in another they looked huge.

It was one of the most intensely intellectual exhibits I’ve ever seen for children, especially since there was little in the way of explanation, which of course leaves participants free to ask questions or make assumptions without telling them what conclusions they should draw (oh, how very French). It actually took the adults a while to figure out what we were supposed to do, although the kids seem to get it intuitively, especially Tommy, builder that he is.

Why do I begin this post by writing about perspective? Today was a day when I could have used a little of it, along with a sense of humor, and some coffee, which somehow I never got around to drinking this morning to the detriment of everyone.

The day actually pretty much went as planned. Caroline, the boys, and I started at the Place des Vosges in the Marais, where, as promised in Around Paris With Kids by Emily Emerson there is a small play area. However, since yesterday we spent hours at the world’s best playground in the Jardin de Luxembourg, both children turned up their noses at the woebegone pair of teeter totters and tiny jungle gym, much to my irritation (I wanted to sit and enjoy the square, which aside from the play area is elegant and lovely). So we shuffled off a few blocks to a similarly small playground in the square Léopold-Achille where Tommy promptly dove headfirst into the sandbox and emerged fifteen minutes later covered from head to toe.

I usually wouldn’t care about this, but we were headed to meet Matt for a restaurant lunch, the only meal I have planned for us all enjoy out together while we are in Paris. I clucked and brushed and made him wash his legs at the small tap placed there expressly for that purpose, sounding for all the world like a crabby French grandmother, the kind I’d often heard crossly saying “Mais non! Alors! Qu’est ce que tu fais?” while washing her grimacing grandchild’s face with spit and a handkerchief. As I was trying to get the sand out of Tommy’s collar, Teddy started to cry that he was hungry. I had not given either of them a mid-morning snack because I wanted them to sit and eat their lunches. Achieving the correct food-to-hunger ratio in these situations is almost impossible since my children eat every fifteen minutes.

By the time we got to l’Ambassade d’Auvergne, Teddy was whining nonstop, Tommy’s shoulders were slumped, and my eye was twitching. I had chosen this spot because it looked like it would be kind of cute and homey–you know, sort of kitschy, perhaps with waiters in lederhosen. Since Auvergne is in the Massif Central not Alsace, I’m not sure why I thought this, but something about the restaurant’s website brought this to mind. In any event, the dining room was silent as a tomb, the maitre d’ glided up to us impeccable in a suit and silver tie, and the plates on the walls looked like valuable antiques, not something that had been picked up at Ye Olde French Trading Post. I was officially stressée and started immediately telling Teddy to stay in his seat, to sit up, to please speak more quietly.

Although my meal included both all-I-could-eat mashed potatoes filled with cheese and a trough of chocolate mousse, I barely tasted any of it. I so wanted Teddy to behave that I couldn’t focus on anything else. The fact is that he really wasn’t doing anything all that bad. I mean yes, he did basically refuse to sit in his seat and he ate only a small portion of his chicken choosing instead to save his energies for the ice cream that followed–but save for one small grape tomato that he squished onto the floor, he made virtually no mess and he stayed close to our table the entire time. Although the matire d’ did wince slightly when I asked if the kids could share their entree (a wise move given the enormity of the portions), the chef complied and each child had a beautiful and reasonably-sized plate of food. Most importantly, it was obvious that no one else in the restaurant was bothered by my child but me.

And bothered I was. I’m forced to confess here that this was one of those travelling-with-the-kids moments where I realized I’d made an error, and instead of just rolling with it, I tried to fight it and make Teddy be something other than the three-year-old he is. I shouldn’t have made him eat at anything above a corner cafe. I shouldn’t have expected him to act like a miniature adult. And I certainly shouldn’t have gotten mad at him.

I was relieved that Teddy and Tommy were out the door with Matt well before I paid for the food. I really wanted to go home, but instead stuck to the script and Caroline and the boys and I went around the corner to the Centre Pompidou where both of them loved riding the escalators and where Tommy proudly located a Jackson Pollack (“You know Mommy, he did crazy things like drip oil on his paintings.”) and played in the exhibit I mentioned at the beginning of this post. But it was a day to remind me that this trip isn’t just about my expectations and desires. I would do well to remember this.

A quick and happy postscript: a child-free evening including a kir royale, a bottle of wine, a fabulous dinner, and a romantic stroll back through the Marais past an illuminated Hotel de Ville and Notre Dame did much to restore my sense of balance. There clearly is a reason the French don’t take their kids out to eat. I find this a little obnoxious; but I also see their point.

Photo of the Centre Pompidou courtesy of awshots via Flickr.

Please see Paris in its proper order if you’re interested in seeing a chronological list of posts from my family’s July 2008 trip to Paris.

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