In a high-end boutique in the Marais, a saleswoman – normally coolly sophisticated, as per this chi-chi quartier of Paris – was losing her biscuits.
She intended on delivering her promise to cuddle, so she reached forward, arms quivering, lips pouting, her entire body alive with desireI’ve lived in Paris and visit annually, but this reaction is a first.
Oh, wait, it’s not in response to me, it’s about nine-month-old Lotte, who, in a moment of utter Parisienne coquettishness, giggles on cue. Mon dieu.
I had grave misgivings about spending a week alone with my toddler in Paris – there were so many reasons not to go: Internet forums full of dire predictions of the metro whose turnstiles don’t fit prams (true, but surmountable).
The cobblestones versus small wheels.
Could I find an organic baby-food shop?
What about change rooms?
Would she sleep somewhere new?
Yet, with my partner away working, and based in Europe, I booked a flight, did some research and hoped for minimal disasters. It turned out to be one of the best weeks of my life. On our mini-break, a city I thought I knew intimately opened like a flower.
Indeed, the shop assistant’s reaction was not an isolated incident. Travelling the metro became a team effort when workers in business suits hoisted the pram over turnstiles.
A policeman posed with Lotte after tickling her chin (“He did what?!” a French friend asked, disbelieving). Strangers struck up conversations in cafes, forging profound connections.
One morning, early in Père Lachaise cemetery, pausing for crawling practice on the grass, we were caught by a gardener. Instead of admonishment, he waved exuberantly, yelling “Beeeeebeeeee!”.
He also let us know that security guards would suggest we move on, but, he winked, they never come until 9.30am.
“It’s so beautiful,” he sighed “to see new life in a place of death.”
Had it been me commando-crawling across the grass, that story would’ve ended very differently.
Suddenly I realised I was experiencing The World 2.0. This was travel at kneecap level – slower, more detailed. Where the big picture is skipped and tiny, enthralling details emerge, seen through tiny eyes. I can now tell you the way the trees wave in the Place des Vosges when lying on a pram rug.
I can let you in on a secret. Near the Musée Rodin, we found a walled communal vegetable garden. I never would have found it unless focused on finding two new parks daily.
And when it’s raining, the kind folk at Musée Picasso Paris will pull you to the front of the queue, offer a towel and usher you downstairs to the most state-of-the-art change room. This room will make you think ‘Picasso who? It was the most exciting discovery of the day’.
When you travel with a toddler you find new experiences and destinations. You see the world through their eyes. There’s a season for everything, and for a few years travel is more about prams than cocktails. Before Lotte was born, a hotel with a buffet and Frozen performances at 4pm couldn’t be anything other than hell. Now? Sign me up.
These days, a decent playground is as exciting as a 4th Century Khmer ruin. In Zermatt, Switzerland, the mountains were gorgeous, but the highlight was the family of ducks we fed before breakfast.
If you find that showing your toddlers the world becomes one of your great loves, grab the travel bull by the horns. Make the most of the wonder years by immersing them in different cultures.
With work opportunities, we’ve lived in the French Alps and Germany, and a friend is intending to head to Spain’s San Sebastián for a year with a six-month-old.
I’ll readily admit, the temporary loss of my mothers’ group, friends and family initially hit hard – but when again will these opportunities present themselves after toddlers hit school?
Now with two under three, life would generally be easier staying in one postcode. But I think back to the week in Paris, the week as a new mother, alone with my girl, time not quite standing still but stalling in the most delicious way. Nowhere to be, no distractions, no timeline.
I conveniently forget the challenges:
Catching Lotte licking the wheel of the stroller.
Surviving germ-splattered Paris sidewalks.
That special hell that is baby jetlag.
The Olympic sport of baby and toddler suitcase-packing.
Should you do it? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. Even when my firstborn is 21, I’ll look at her and think “We’ll always have Paris”.
‘The Adventure Mamma’ is just that – a travel journalist who happens to be the first Australian woman to climb and snowboard descend Mt Elbrus (Europe’s highest), kite skied 500km across Greenland, walked across Spain and climbed Kilimanjaro. But now she’s on the biggest adventure of all, motherhood. Join her and her mountain munchkins as they make daily life an adventure, big and small. @theadventuremamma