We’re halfway through our trip and Matt and I reached that place this morning where we were a bit sick of each other. A window in our room was banging in the night and Matt, awake and unable to fix it, pulled one of our apartment’s extra matresses into the bathroom so he could sleep in peace. Unfortunately, he woke me up in the process and even though he let me sleep in this morning, I still felt crabby. The boys were of course up early (they always are), rain spoiled our original plans for the day, and by 9 a.m. Matt and I were snippy with each other and the kids were bouncing off the walls. There was a time when this would have ended in tragedy, or least a temper tantrum on my part, but I’ve done this enough now to realize that it will happen at some point during every trip we take.
Happily Matt offered to take them off to the musuems in the Jardin des Plantes. I accepted his offer and after provisioning us for lunch, spent a lovely hour and a half wandering through the market at the bottom of the Rue Mouffetard and buying and writing postcards at the Place Contrescarpe. I’m happy to report that I’m feeling much revived and am ready again for some family togetherness.
Since there’s not much doing today, I thought I’d dedicate my post to talking a bit about what it’s like to travel with a sensitive, imaginative, and stubborn 3-year-old. Teddy can be something of a challenge. He’s one of those children who can both infuriate you and make you laugh in the just about the same instant. He also inhabits a world of his own making. For several months now he has been insisting that he is a “little chick whose just been hatched.” Often when I get him up in the morning if I greet him by name, he will only respond by saying “peep, peep” until I say, “Good morning Little Chick.”
But lest you think that he’s dreamy or not paying attention, he is completely plugged in to this trip and has participated in almost everything that we have done so far. In fact, he started insisting two days ago that we call him “Le P’tit Poulet,” which is French for little chicken.
One thing I’ve learned about traveling with a child of his age and type is that he’s not going to be very forgiving in the immediate if you make a mistake. As I mentioned in an earlier post, even a simple thing like making a reservation at the wrong kind of restaurant can turn ugly pretty quickly and make a vacation that should be fun really stressful. For this reason, it is a good idea to accomodate his needs if he is going to be coming along. If that means two boules of ice cream instead of a proper lunch in a sit-down restaurant, why by all means, we have the ice cream and I just make sure he gets something nutritive in his body later in the day. If we have to come back to the apartment so that he can rest, we make the trek back here and he gets his quiet time, even if it’s not what I originally had planned. If he falls asleep in his stroller we let him sleep, even carrying it down stairs like he is a little maharajah if we have to. And I wouldn’t make him walk all over the Musée d’Orsay while we lecture about Impressionism–he wouldn’t enjoy it and neither would we.
But I also don’t assume that all he’s good for is to play in the park (although as you can see below, he does love to chase the pigeons) as I think it is easy to do when traveling with a child this age. I may have overstepped my bounds with the fancy restaurant lunch, but that doesn’t mean I’ve had to compromise on everything that we’ve done in Paris.
One of the things that I think many people don’t realize is that even very young children can be interested in seemingly grownup places and activities if you make the effort to help them fully participate. This may take a bit of effort on your part, but I find it to be very worthwhile. For example, when we went to Sainte Chapelle, which has some of the most beautiful stained glass in the world, I talked a lot before we got in there about all of the colors we would see. As soon as we walked in, I asked Teddy to start looking for his favorite color. He studied the windows carefully, looking to find purple (the closest he could come was indigo, but it worked). Then we went on an animal hunt, identifying all of the different animals that were inlaid in the floor. This last activity is something that opened my eyes as well–did you know that among the peacocks and pumas and greyhounds, there are actually pictures of vultures in the royal chapel?
Before going places, we explain everything we do to Teddy in terms he can understand and when possible, show him books that will help him recognize what we are going. In the case of Monet’s garden, this meant that when we got there, he was already looking for the lily pond. We encourage him to talk about what he likes and doesn’t like and why. And of course, he also has his disposable camera, which allows him to assert some control over every place we go–he gets to choose what to look at and photograph.
So yes, as you might expect, our trip is full of merry-go-rounds and parks and menageries and Nutella crepes. But we also showed Teddy the abstract paintings in the Centre Pompidou, the Japenese prints in Monet’s house, and the main sites of Paris on an hour-long bateau mouche ride (this was a bit of a wrestling match, but he really enjoyed it). He knows what the Eiffel Tower looks like, how to say good morning in French, and has tried cornichons and quiche.
I would say that over all, traveling with a little chicken (or is it a baby purple elephant? that was what he was yesterday) is really worthwhile for everyone in our family. Another happy discovery of this trip is how well Tommy and Teddy really get along, even when they are together all the time, even at night. I definitely feel like my P’tit Poulet has risen to the occasion. Even if he does ask at every single Metro stop whether we are going to get off yet.