The kids. Les enfants. It’s been a tough gig for the kids over the last 6 months. Almost everything in their little lives has been turned upside down. Nan and Pop are no longer a car-drive away. They can’t cuddle them, jump on the trampoline or play with their cousins in the cubby. At the park, nobody understands them and cafes don’t serve babycinos. Even Peppa Pig is weird (she’s improved since we got Netflix). I just wanted to outline some of the kid-centric challenges we’ve had since moving to Paris because let’s face it there have been a few and I need to get them off my chest.
During the lead up to the flight, I tried to stay positive. Cue mantra, “We can do it!” I needn’t have bothered. Blunt friend and seasoned traveller, Mark (his real name), shared this advice; “DO NOT allow yourself to think for one single second that it’s going to be ok. It’s going to be SHIT. Worse than shit. It is going to be the worst 24 hours of your life.” Another friend, Eliza (her real name) was a little softer. Sort of. She told me to just think of it like labour. As in giving birth. Just remind yourself “it’s hell for a day and then it’s over.” Thanks guys. Mantra just got a facelift, “Nothing is forever.”
Thanks to Eliza and Mark I prepared for the worst. Since Chris had left a few weeks earlier I decided I needed more in-flight help than I could expect from a flight attendant. A lightbulb moment lead to a fabulous idea: bring my sister! We would shout her a trip to Paris (she’d never been to Europe before) in exchange for helping with the kids and providing emotional support for me. Brilliant!! Aunty Jade was our perfect solution. Luckily she accepted the offer - no small feat as she runs her own business and was without her own family for two whole weeks.
So when Hazel squealed like an injured pig for the first 6 hours of the flight (soooo overtired/over-stimulated/over-dramatic-thats-my-girl), I was very thankful for Jade. She carried bags, prams, read stories and cuddled Euan and Hazel alternately, depending on who was less demanding of me. We survived the first leg followed by a brief stop-over. There were a few more hours of crying from Hazel towards the end (less pig-like). The poor thing only managed snippets of sleep interrupted by captain's announcements, tea trollies and shifts in her mother's seating position (how dare she).
Euan watched Cars the movie 3 times and ate a lot of biscuits. He did pretty well. A quiet lull allowed me to watch half of the Amy Winehouse film which was awesome BTW. After that things went downhill again when I spilled a full cup of lukewarm coffee onto Jade and her dry-clean only pants. She tried very hard to be “cool with it” but didn’t quite get there. She spent the last 2 hours of the flight fuming/fermenting. Sorry again Jade, really. Sorry.
Needless to say when it was all over, exhausted and frazzled we were reunited with Chris and it was wonderful. Almost as good as welcoming a new baby into the world, but not nearly. Flight recovery was also a challenge. It took 3 weeks for the kids to stop waking in the night and expecting either a party or a bowl of spaghetti at 3 am! Needless to say we won’t be visiting Australia any time soon.
Culture shock has been plentiful for the whole family. Even the apartment we initially stayed in (we were there for 4 weeks) was a source of culture shock. It was a conveniently located Haussmanian (early 1900’s) apartment that I found on airbnb. Similar to the one pictured below. Same era anyway.
Every single step we took anywhere in the apartment made a loud squeak followed by a creak. For the first few days, this noise made Euan nearly jump out of his skin. Sneaking out of the room while we tried to leave the two of them to sleep was impossible. They also had adjust to sharing a room. Lots of night wakings and bed-time hysterics (sometimes laughter, sometimes tears). The TV - in another language. “What is Fireman Sam talking about Mum?” Transport - no car (“Where’s our car gone mum?”). Dangerous staircases everywhere. And if you refer to the pre-Paris concerns I had regarding lifts, stairs and children, you’ll be glad to know we were not staying on the 10 floor without an elevator. I did not have to climb 10 flights with 2 kicking toddlers, a pram and the shopping. Instead, we were on the 4th floor with a tiny lift and our inappropriately large and heavy (for Paris) pram. Luckily, leaving the apartment was merely a 19 step process.
- Move pram into position - next to the front door. It has 3 pieces; the wheels/frame, and 2 separate seats.
- Dress children in hats, gloves, coats and scarves. (For myself and my glove-naive children this was no small task. I had to get 20 resistant fingers into those holes and I was usually in a hurry).
- Close as many doors in the apartment as possible to limit children’s mobility.
- Tell children to behave themselves and don’t move or do anything until I return.
- Take a deep breath. Take 2 parts of the pram out to the lift, press lift button.
- Get 3 rd part of the pram.
- Cram 3 pram parts into tiny lift.
- Press 0 in lift. Bye-bye pram.
- Race downstairs to meet lift.
- Assemble pram.
- Board lift to 4 th floor.
- Barge into apartment short of breath and semi-panicked because I have left 2 tiny tots unattended in a random Parisian apartment ALONE.
- RE-don removed winter items such as gloves, hat and scarf.
- We all take a deep breath, hold hands and take the lift downstairs.
- Load often uncooperative kids into pram.
- Shrug off filthy look the gardienne (concierge) gave me for leaving my pram in the foyer for 120 seconds.
- Calmy leave.
- Smile and say bonjour to passers by.
- Soak up the Parisian vibe that is all around, the whizzing scooters, the suave garbed ladies and gentlemen, endless rows of beautiful architecture unique to Paris but borrowed the world over. Sigh.
Needless to say we learned from this experience and live in a more practical apartment with a bigger lift and we’ve done away with the chunky clunky double Baby Jogger in exchange for a Maclaren Quest with a buggy board. It is simpler, lighter and smaller. Phewsies.
To me, neighbours are the people who leave you lemons when they have too many. They collect your mail when you’re not home, and occasionally pop over for a cuppa or to watch the footy. The lady who I mentioned in the last blog post deserves her story told. She was not the lemon-leaving kind. It was a scene from a movie. Probably a comedy. But the main character at the time wasn’t aware it was funny. I was on step 9 of my 19 step program to get down the stairs when a lady stopped me on the 3rd floor. She wore big round spectacles, her face was ‘done”, her lips were pursed, she wore a camel trench, leather gloves (not yet donned), pantyhose and court shoes. A hat sat perfectly on her recently coiffed doo. She said in English, "are you from upstairs?" Yes I said, the 4th floor. This very well dressed lady of Paris stood before me and took a deep breath. She gripped her gloves to her chest, and said shrilly,
“Oh my goodness. It is terrible. I CANNOT tolerate it. Not a minute more. Not a second! It starts at 6am, the running, up (gesticulates wildly) and down (more wild movements). It never stops! The screaming - oh!! You must do something I mean I feel sorry for you it must be terrible but your children - you must DO SOMETHING’. She’s pleading with me to do something to my children. I wonder what she had in mind.
We’re leaving next Friday you’ll be glad to know.
But your children! she goes on. You must DO SOMETHING.
They’re jet-lagged, I”m sorry, we just moved from Australia 2 weeks ago.
I said, Do you want to swap with me? i.e. (if you think you can do a better job - go ahead lady).
She stood, speechless.
Au revoir. I said.
Au revoir. She said.
It was cordial after that. Bonjours, au revoirs etc. Smiles.
There is something I’ve noticed about the French. They’re not averse to hysterics. But they move on. Get it all off your chest then, as you were. Back to clip clopping heels down the street and waiting for you dog to poop before you carry on with the clip clop. Or just stand on a street corner and smoke.
Look I get it. We were horrid neighbours. The sound conducting squeak boards didn't help. But here we are, months later and the kids are over their jet lag. Now we just have school blues and toilet training. Stay tuned for part 2 in the 2 part series Les Enfants.
Have you experienced culture shock? I hear nothing is gained by staying in your comfort zone. What do you think?