Last month, I took an incredible trip. To Paris.
What made it even more incredible was that my companions to the City of Light were my two daughters. The girls are 12 and 13 now, and I just knew what the trip would be…deep conversations about life and philosophy as we sat in Parisian cafes sipping coffee (or Evian, as the case might be)…long strolls along the Seine contemplating the things in life that change and the things that stand the test of time…visits to the world-class art museum of Paris absorbing culture and history…indulging in the gastronomic pleasures of the greatest city on earth. A memorable experience.
SPOILER ALERT: None of those things happened.
As it turns out, 12 and 13 year olds don’t view Paris in the same way that their 30-something mother does. This is how the trip started: after a red eye flight and two hours of recovery sleep in the hotel, we left for the Eiffel Tower tour I had pre-booked for us. We skipped right past the 2 hour line and climbed to the summit. We gazed out at the breathtaking view of the city.
And then five minutes later, the girls said, “Can we go now?”
OK, I got that. It’s not like the view was changing, right? We saw everything you could see, and it was time to move to the next thing. So I asked them what they wanted to do.
“Dunno.” Times two.
But wait! I’d specifically asked them to each look up three things they wanted to do in Paris before our trip. So I asked for their lists.
“Eiffel Tower,” said one.
The other agreed. “That was on my list, too.”
Well, what else?
I’ll admit, that’s when I lost my temper a little bit. After all, they hadn’t researched a single cafe to visit for philosophical discussions? Not a single monument to admire?
“Dunno.” Times two.
By the way, it was right around then that it started to rain. Not a heavy enough rain to send us back to the hotel, but just enough to get us wet and cranky.
There is literally no answer more frustrating as a parent and as a Nerdy Chick than “Dunno.” So I made an executive decision: we were going to the Musee D’Orsay.
I can’t tell you how the thought of that excited my girls. No, really, I can’t tell you. There are no words. Because they had no words.
We got on the train from the Champs de Mars (just soaked enough to be aggravated) and headed to the Musee D’Orsay. This involved a double decker train, which is when the girls finally showed a little excitement about the Musee D’Orsay. Though I’m pretty sure riding on the top level of the RER should not have been as exciting as seeing some Monets and Van Goghs.
When we finally got to the museum, there was no line for entry. Score! Right?
Yeah, well, there was no line because the Musee D’Orsay was closed. So, there we were, wet, tired, unable to experience the cultural depth of a Parisian Museum.
That’s when one of my daughters said, “This is great!”
Huh? “Why?” I asked, “The museum is closed!”
“Well,” she answered, “we can totally say we went to the Musee D’Orsay, and we don’t even have to go in and waste any time.”
At that point, I did exactly what I should have done from the start.
I laughed out loud. And I let go of all of MY plans for OUR trip.
They don’t know this, but right then, I felt like my entire parenting experience was being reflected in that moment. Because isn’t that what we do as parents? Make grand plans of what our lives with our children will be — then spend the rest our lives realizing those plans were all for naught?
I wanted OUR trip to go a certain way. But it was MY way I wanted. And that wasn’t fair to the other people in my OUR.
For the rest of our time in Paris, other than making the girls go to the Louvre (they had to see the Mona Lisa), we made no other specific plans. In fact, we basically just walked around the city as we pleased. And we had an amazing time. Once I let go, WE were able to make the trip a memorable experience.
At the airport coming home, I asked the girls if they would remember the trip the way I will?
“Dunno.” Times two.
What can I say? Incredible.