We started off the day taking the metro to one of the big High Speed Rail train station hubs in Paris - the Gare De Lyon. It brought me right back to my 25 year old self when I took nearly 3 weeks off work and backpacked (alone) my way through much of Europe using a EurailPass, staying in hostels or rent-a-rooms, and subsisting on a diet of paninis, cheese and pastries! Such incredibly fond memories of visiting 10 countries in less than 3 weeks, traveling all by train. The countries I visited on that trip: France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Denmark, and Belgium. The best trip ever. So, walking into the big train station flooded me with all these memories and I was in my happy place. Ellie was less than thrilled because we weren't actually going to be going ON any of these trains and having any big adventure of our own so she was feeling a little bummed out when she learned that our only train rides for the day were going to be the metro. Nothing a "chocolate chaud" (hot cocoa) couldn't fix....
We then took the bus to the beginning of the Viaduc Des Arts (at the Avenue Daumesnil, very close to the Gare de Lyon). The viaduct is essentially a super old train track (that stands OVER the roads) which was converted into a delightful, lush and super cute walkway across that area of town. It is mostly used by joggers (since jogging the streets of Paris is not realistic, which is why you never see anyone jogging the streets, they are all in the parks, which are HUGE, or on these special walkways). The viaduct is about 3 miles long and Ellie skipped along most of it. She has energy to spare that kid. It was a super duper trek and we really enjoyed an "elevated" path with a little "greenery" around us, coupled with a great view of the street life and architecture all around and below us.
We then grabbed a croissant snack and enjoyed it under the cutest little statue before continuing on our journey, crossing over a gorgeous bridge, and finally back to a metro station. We then rode on over the opposite side of Paris, to the Jardin D'acclimatation where I had signed Ellie up for one of their afternoon kid workshops (polynesian flower craft). When I had registered her and emailed the director of the program, she had assured me that Ellie being a non french speaking child would not be an issue. Ellie was a bit apprehensive and shy (which is totally NOT her under normal circumstances but throughout our entire stay in France she was very anxious around other french kids because the inability to communicate with them was debilitating and paralyzing for her. It was interesting to see how it really changed her inherent personality). So, we get to the sign up room only to learn that there is not a single adult there who speaks even broken English. No one. And because parents are not allowed to stay, I'm starting to wonder if this is going to work.
I start having this speedy internal emotional and intellectual debate about what I should do. Realistically, nothing seriously bad could happen where language would pose a medical emergency type situation... but her inability to communicate with anyone in the class and not follow the teacher's instructions would probably really suck for her... and stress her out...and this is supposed to be a fun time for her... and as I am sitting here running every scenario in my head and Ellie is pleading with her eyes for me NOT to leave her here and clinging to my arms... and I am about to cancel... a little 8 year old Turkish girl also enrolled in the workshop comes up and, speaking very useable English, takes Ellie by the hand and tells her she will be her "friend" and help her. Ellie's shoulders drop and all the tension evaporates from her body and she joyfully waves goodbye to me and runs off with her new little Turkish friend and I let out a deep breath because apparently I was holding my breath during this several seconds of internal debate. So, while I am still feeling a bit anxious about leaving my kid in the hands of an 8 year old (with regard to her ability to communicate with others, clearly the adults are supervising the kids), I decide to take these precious 2 hrs and go shopping at the Champs-Elysees (very closeby) and enjoy my first alone time without Ellie glued to my side. I had left my cell phone # so I knew they could reach me if needed. I did text my friend Agnes and tell her how stressed I was about leaving Ellie behind in a situation where she could not communicate at all with anyone other than this one little Turkish girl. Agnes very astutely pointed out that by the time I would return to get her, Ellie would be running that place with the help of her Turkish Interpreter.... this made me laugh out loud and totally shook off all the remaining anxiety I was still holding in. As expected, her prediction was accurate. Ellie managed to take charge of the roomful of little french speaking girls thanks to her "interpreter." That girl..... :) She was all smiles when I picked her up. I profusely thanked the little girl and her nanny.
We then stayed at the Jardin facility and enjoyed the amazing playgrounds, train and rides. The Jardin is kind of like the new Happy Hollow, without the zoo part. Another observation here about the differences between the French and the Americans: The french playgrounds are SO much more fun than the ones here in the US. They have ziplines and really dangerous and challenging things to climb and are just way cool. American playgrounds are entirely too "safe" in my opinion! Additionally, the moms totally do NOT hover. Like, at all. They are off enjoying their coffee and conversation and rarely have their eyes trained on their kids' activities or whereabouts. Never would a little french kid think to call out to their mom to ask for help getting up on something or being pushed on the swings etc... they are expected to "figure it out" and "work it out" if there is a conflict. Even little crawling babies are pretty much left to their own devices. This was a bit nerve-wracking for me as this 9 month baby kept climbing up onto the zipline structure and had I not been there to intervene would have been knocked off several times by the kids zipping off of it. So, there are pros and cons to this very "hands off" approach. The pro is that these kids grow up VERY independent and self sufficient. They button their own jackets, tie their own shoes and attend to their needs at a very early age. They learn how to work out their conflicts and battles on the playground on their own and quickly figure out conflict resolution techniques as only children know how to, without needing a parent to mediate it. They are far less clingy than either of my two kids were (and to some degree still are). The cons are just more a matter of safety. The kids get hurt! At every playground we visited I was one of the very few parents who was actually by my kid's side (which, truly, had more to do with aiding communication and translating than anything else) and I can't tell you how many kids I had to help up, brush off, or check on after a bad tumble... Most of the playgrounds are fenced in and the parents sit in the benches OUTSIDE of the park. It's pretty interesting. But you know what? The kids are much more resilient and certainly tougher. They just MANAGE, you know? There's definitely something to be said for that. I feel like I work really hard at NOT coddling my kids but compared to French moms I am a total helicopter-parent. I need to work on that especially since I was raised by a frenchie mom who instilled a tremendous amount of resilience, independence and fortitude of character in us and I kinda like how I turned out in that regard.
We then headed home for a late dinner and Ellie was thrilled to be reunited with Manon whom she played with until bedtime. Another fantastic day. :)
AS A REMINDER THESE IMAGES WERE TAKEN WITH EITHER MY IPHONE OR A POINT AND SHOOT AND ARE NOT REPRESENTATIVE OF THE WORK I PRODUCE FOR MY CLIENTS! (just gotta say that!)