An Expat’s Dilemma

An Expat’s Dilemma
How many times have you heard people say they need to live where their children do? You’ll hear that refrain again when they become grandparents. For many, that’s the right (and only) route. But, for others, including me, it doesn’t feel as if we’re being true to ourselves. That seemingly selfish decision may evoke guilt. But, if you’d experienced what I did recently, you’d know you’d made the right decision and life goes on. It always has, I hear, and I suspect it always will. Please don’t get me wrong. My son and his wife are wonderful and my granddaughters are perfect. I’m lucky and have been able to factor sufficient funds into my budget so I can return to Washington, DC, often enough that I’m not a void in my family’s life. “Out of sight, out of mind” is never going to be their mantra about this woman who lives in Paris. But this August was a month I’ll always remember and so will they. The entire family came to Paris and we had a ball. My daughter-in-law’s sister and her family, who live in Copenhagen, joined us as well. At that point, there were going to be nine people in the apartment (five adults and four children under the age of nine) so while the Copenhagen crowd was in residence, I moved to a hotel five minutes away from the apartment. One of the caveats was that everyone except me was responsible for planning their time in Paris. I may be an “expert,” but this was their trip (with only a wee input from me). I can’t deny that I polled all of my friends whose grandchildren had come to Paris with them and came up with a laundry list of things and places that were must-sees. What I learned: my family didn’t feel as if they needed or wanted to be tourists. They were coming to see “Gran” and where she lives. The eight-year-old had been to France when she was little, but this was the first trip for my just-turned-five-year-old. When you’re traveling as an entourage, especially with children, who may not be able to overcome the effects of jet lag as quickly as some adults, don’t count on getting an early start. The 9 a.m. activities we had planned were akin to pulling teeth when it came to getting up and out. Children need to stop and eat at the strangest times; for example, whenever they see a vendor selling crêpes or ice cream. Even though you may have a sack filled with sandwiches, snacks and drinks, they’re simply not the same. We traveled by bus, métro and the RER. The children were troopers when it came to changing trains that required going up and down stairs. The adults’ legs (OK, mine) may have felt a few aches and pains, but the children did amazingly well, except for the youngest who cajoled her father into transporting her on his shoulders when the going got tough. A friend suggested we have a stroller for such occasions, but that was nixed as a thing of the past. In retrospect, it would have come in more than handy—I wouldn’t have minded a ride now and then. Amazingly enough, there were few complaints about taking public transportation except when we were in métro cars that were so packed that we all felt as if we were sardines. The children loved walking—you mean there’s a pastry store so close to your house? It wasn’t until nearly the last day that I heard my “baby” say something about looking forward to getting into a car. Each day, the girls were responsible for recording what they’d seen that day. My elder granddaughter wrote a lot. The younger child drew and drew some more. She’d come into the room where the paper is kept and raid pages from the ream of printer paper and kept on drawing. Our travels took us past the Eiffel Tower so many times that the children became blasé after they’d seen it for the umpteenth time. That was until the night we went to the summit which, in spite of our having tickets, took an hour and a half once we were in line and was so disorganized that I wondered how people weren’t lost. After complaining loudly, one of the few and far between employees commented that 30,000 people a day go up the Eiffel Tower each August and what did I expect? Knowing then what I know now, there are far better ways to see Gustave Eiffel’s creation which he designed for part of the celebration of the 1889 centenary of the French Revolution and is the highest building in Paris. A far better vantage point is from the Paris Architectural Museum at the Trocadero métro. If you don’t have time to see the museum, buy a drink in the cafeteria and enjoy the most incredible view where the crowds aren’t overwhelming. You’ll also avoid being accosted by the illegal vendors, who keep the souvenirs in bags that can be picked up in a second as the police come by and tell them to scat. That lasts for all of ten minutes and these men are back in business tout de suite. Their all-time favorites:  The Mona Lisa, the “puffy cake,” The Sacré Coeur, The Pont des Arts where the children placed their locks and the Luxembourg Garden where we spent so many wonderful hours. Even the…

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Karen is the original founder and former president of Bonjour Paris. Follow her musings on Substack.