Sweet Caroline (or how wise I was to bring help to Paris)

Caroline on the Ile Saint Louis

Who is this chic Parisienne with the million-dollar smile you may ask? She is the secret of my success, the reason our trip is actually a lot of fun.

One of the biggest tips I have for traveling internationally with small children is to bring help. When we went to Italy with Tommy in 2003 (one of the legs in our 13 months of travel) we brought Matt’s sister Becky. Matt got the grant that would permit us to travel to Paris a year ago and immediately I started thinking about who we could bring to help us out, especially since I knew that Matt would be busy working during the day and that I would be alone with the children. I would have loved to bring Becky again, but summer is the time when her husband’s business is busiest. Then I remembered that Caroline, the youngest daughter of the rector at our church (whom I’ve known since she was a little older than Tommy) would be graduating from high school. I sidled up to her at the next coffee hour and ask how she would like to go to France the summer before she went to college. The deal I proposed to her was this: we’ll get a plane ticket, pay for food, and for anything that we all do together. We will give you some free days and afternoons and take you out for a couple of meals without the kids. In exchange, you will help out around the apartment, babysit so that Matt and I can have dinner, and help me see the sights with the kids while Matt works.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it has been to have her here. It was worth every frequent-flier mile I used to get her plane ticket. She is cheerful, helps without complaint, eats everything, is interested in everything, and best of all–the boys LOVE her, especially Teddy (who can be picky about his babysitters). I also feel really lucky because it turns out that I genuinely like hanging out with her. She and I share a love of clothes (shoes in particular), food, church interiors, and reading. I took her out to dinner the other night and had a fabulous time talking for hours. It’s just nice to have another girl in the house for a change.

Caroline and boys in front of Notre Dame

Of course I did have to rent a slightly bigger apartment, and we are having to pay for another person, but it is infinitely worth it as it makes the trip feel like a vacation for me. I mean, if you’re going to spend the money to go to Europe (and we know we were crazy to do that anyway this summer with the horrendous exchange rate) you might as well make sure it is fun.

Today Caroline and I took the boys to Sainte Chapelle. We had to wait in line to get in, but it didn’t take too long, and the boys were really good. They really liked the interior and both of them took lots of pictures of the stained glass. While we were looking around and talking about all the pictures of animals we found inlaid in the floor, an American woman who was there with her husband and no kids come up to me and ask how old Tommy and Teddy were. When I told her, she said, “I’m so impressed–in every other family I’ve seen where the kids are that age, they all have Gameboys!” This is of course enough to make my chest puff out with pride (little did she know that I’m the militant mom who has decided that video games are the root of all evil), but before I got too big headed or pious, I made sure to point to Caroline and explain that she was the reason we were able to have such a successful trip. I mean, she’s the one who has played at least a hundred games of Five in a Row with Tommy so that I haven’t had to!

After Sainte Chapelle, we trekked over to Notre Dame, which was pretty crowded. They were saying mass while we walked around inside and it was strange to be pushed along by people as if we were in the Metro while listening to the Hail Mary in French over the PA. Strange and kind of nice.

Tommy in front of Notre Dame

When we finished in there, we walked across to the Ile Saint Louis and got ice cream at Berthillon, which justifiably has the reputation as the best in Paris. It actually may be the best ice cream I ever had, even better, perhaps, than the ice cream from Vivoli in Florence. (I recommend a taste test to any of you who are curious).

Eating Berthillon ice cream

After a good run around at the park behind Notre Dame, we headed for home.

Playground behind Notre Dame

As Caroline and I corralled the boys onto a crowded metro car with folded-up stroller and backpack in tow, I once again said a litany of thanks that we were able to bring her along. She feels like a member of my family. In fact, I’m pretty sure the boys are going to be in withdrawal when we go home, and not just because they don’t get a pain au chocolat every morning.

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

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  1. Becky WJ says

    O.k., so Caroline’s great & she speaks a pretty fluent French… But can she look Matt in the eye and tell him to “GO TO BED” with the exact inflection of his mother – and watch him turn obediently to go??

    And what about the silly songs? HUH??? – I’m so happy all is going so well. Wish I were there! Love, Becky

  2. Rachel says

    What a great idea, Mara. My sister gets on great with Jess, similar to Becky’s relationship with your kids. Perhaps I can suggest this to DH; we’ve wanted to do more overseas travelling, particularly through Asia, but have always gone “meh” after a certain point, contimplating how to keep a very active 3-year-old occupied and happy between just the two of us. A third pair of hands would be great.

  3. says

    Mara, thanks for giving a road map on making travel work with kids. I’ve been thinking about asking my younger cousin to come along with us when we travel abroad; thanks for validating my instincts!

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