Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
In 2012 our children were 2 and 4 and we decided to take them to Europe for 2 months. We received permission from the school for the absence and I took a laptop with me to monitor my projects while we were away. I’ve decided to share some stories and photos from that trip…
If you have read Travels with Charlie by John Steinbeck you will be disappointed by the literary allusion in the title of this email because I can’t write anything like John but I just wanted to make a few contrasting comments; our kids are definitely more fun than Charlie, who’s cutest thing he did was to make a ffft sound when he needed to use the toilet but he was certainly a lot easier to travel with than our kids! My husband and I have both had moments of wanting to run away and join a circus rather than be far from home with jetlagged children but we are sure that everything will improve soon!
We began our journey with a hire car in Canberra, we stopped to have a quick chat with my parents and to swap dirty washing (ours) for a camera for my little brother. Our drive to the Sydney airport was smooth, we arrived with plenty of time and were glad that we’d done online check-in to minimise queuing time. We were in a block of 4 seats together on the flight to Kuala Lumpur and we were disappointed that our kids didn’t show much interest in their tv screens but we managed to enthral them in a movie each and had a little break then. They fell asleep 40 mins before arriving in KL (midnight Canberra time) so you can imagine how easy they were to entertain prior to falling asleep! We bummed around in KL airport feeling like reheated dog’s breakfast and within 15 minutes of boarding the next flight we were all asleep (2am Canberra time) and dozed/slept through the 1 hour delay in departure. We all woke after 5 broken hours of sleep and could not get the kids to go back to sleep so we ate the meals that had been reserved for us earlier in the flight and tried to get the kids to stay as quiet as possible while the rest of the plane slept (not easy!!!!!) I enjoyed watching the night-time scenery of the busy oil-field in the Caspian Sea, heavy frost or snow? over the fields of the Ukraine and Poland, and watching the sun’s first rays catch the snow on the Tatra mountains. Our 4 year old daughter was definitely much easier to travel with than our 2 year old son but she did have an accident while sleeping and wet her seat (as did he). We definitely went overboard on getting them to stay hydrated!!! Our son had a nose-bleed on the flight and a very caring steward helped to stop it. I thanked him afterwards and said that he did a great job and he seemed surprised that I said it (there were some quite sour looking and aggressive parents of young children on the flight who gave the staff a hard time). Just before we landed the same steward gave me a duty-free bag with a bottle of French red wine and a dozen packets of their yummy peanuts! We arrived in Paris CDG airport 24 hours after leaving Sydney all feeling flayed and irritated but we easily found our way to our apartment thanks to excellent info via 1 train and 2 metros and much lugging of luggage, kids, etc and arrived 36 hours after leaving Canberra to a nice apartment with warm heating, comfortable furniture and toys to entertain the kids! If it only had loving relatives to care for our jet lagged children it would be heaven! We were nervous about carrying 2000 Euros in cash to the apartment for the bond, rent and spending money, particularly with the reports of pick-pocketing in Paris and the high number of unemployed people in Paris but I’m not sure if it was the smell of our unwashed bodies, our swaying hyper sleepiness or noisiness but we went unmolested.
We showered (bliss), ate lunch at a nearby sleepy French cafe (where the kids behaved dreadfully and we wanted to bite our own hands off in embarrassment) and set off to what is supposed to be an amazing park about 2 km from our apartment. We were sleep deprived and that’s probably why we were underwhelmed but also we had a naiive idea that park meant grass and there was precious little of that. Anyway there was warm sunshine (18C) and we had a lovely time exploring and soaking up as much sun as possible to help us to acclimatise to the timezone. We made it through til 6pm when we were all comatose or sleeping, dunno which and up at 4 which was amazing sleeping! The next day we dressed for the 17C forecast and set off for the Champs Elysees looking for a tourist information centre that we went to in 2003 and really liked. We froze our butts off in the 9C wind and drizzle and didn’t find info but we had an adventure all the same. Spring is starting to show itself with leaf buds opening, a few hyacinths and tulips, some magnolia flowers and some nice flower beds on the Champs Elysees. We took solace from the cold in a cafe but before we could order the kids were manic with fatigue and ended in a jumbled mess on the floor both screaming with our daughter bleeding from the mouth and me looking on the floor for the tooth that she was missing. Being a one-eyed parent I’ve always found her to be particularly beautiful and now it’s hard to adjust to her gappy smile. After asking 1 cranky pharmacist we found a nice pharmacist who directed us to a charming young dentist in an beautiful, amazing old apartment building 2 blocks from the Champs Elysees near an expensive shopping district. He took an XRay and said that the tooth would’ve fallen out in the next 4-6 months anyway and nothing to worry about. Our stomachs started to un-knot and our daughter regained the spring in her step while we gazed at the Arc de Triomphe and tried to imagine the many people it was built for, while answering the endless stream of questions of our kids. We ate a quick lunch at Maccas (first time with the kids but there’s solace in the bustling anonymity of such a place) and revelled in the relative quiet as our son slept and our daughter ate. The kids individually are delightful but together they bicker a lot.
We headed down to the Jardin de Tuileries on a whim and were delighted to discover a great and very popular play ground. Our daughter instantly set about making friends and had a wonderful time playing. I felt a bit warmer after buying a woollen beret and drinking some vin chaud (mulled wine – what a great idea to sell in a park!). Next came a ride on a lovely old carousel, then jumping on a series of 10 trampoulines. We cajoled the kids towards the Metro back home and had a quick dinner but suffered badly from our mistake of keeping the kids up too late which led to much screaming, tantrums, and angst and all 4 of us falling unconscious or asleep at 8pm and a couple of night wakings then a 5am start.
Today we went to the amazing Museum of Natural History which is in a big park complex in the Latin Quarter with a menagerie (established in 1760ish), gardens of ecological importance, geological museum, hot house etc and lovely parkland in between. I am constantly stuck by how beautiful the French architecture is and I sometimes expect to see beautiful women and men prancing around in period costumes. We had a good time looking at the huge collection of skeletons (including 3 type skeletons), dinosaur exhibit arranged by geological time period, and invertebrate fossil collection. Whichever one of us that was fortunate enough to have our daughter as companion definitely had a better time and saw more of the collection than the one accompanying our tired son. We had another embarrassing lunch at a French cafe (having walked past the Maccas haven in search for good food) and we wished we were anywhere else but there. Another carousel followed this time with animals as the rides and we were rugged up for the 9C temperature. Our son slept on the Metro home and woke in a great mood that lasted til they both fell asleep at 7pm. My poor husband has an upset tummy and feels awful so I did the dinner and bedtime performance and it all went really well, so hopefully we have turned a corner and can have a ‘normal’ day tomorrow in terms of jetlag but I’m worried about his health and whether the 3 of us will catch it! On the kids double bed I have overlapped our 2 single bed waterproof mattress protectors but we’ve already had 1 wet bed that soaked through the overlap onto the mattress, so please please please not gastro in the bed too!!!