French Morning English Edition has an announcement: we’re pregnant in Paris…oh wait, not anymore! After nine months of a growing belly, it’s time to take that baby out for a walk on the quais de Seine.
My life in Paris pre-baby could be summarized by a short list of some favorite things. Walk on the banks of the Seine at the end of the day and stop for a drink if I feel like it. Head to a favorite coffee shop and work all morning, losing track of time. Take naps on weekends and go out for a meal that’s not quite lunch yet not really dinner, either. In one word, flexibility. Spontaneity! Ah, the beauty of a life pre-children. Everyone told me to “go to the movies before it’s too late!” with such emphasis that I only went once in my whole nine months of pregnancy.
Now, I daydream about a night at the movies.
Spontaneity, post-partum, takes a back seat – and that’s true whether you’re in Paris or Topeka. Admittedly, spontaneity has always been a somewhat complicated notion for me to grasp. I don’t get much more spontaneous than deciding to have lunch at three in the afternoon on the Sunday, preceded by ice cream, just because. I was never the type to jump into a cab at three – in the morning, this time – to go to a club. Part of me likes to think I would totally do that now if I could, because hey, I’m up and ready to go at three in the morning these days. Come to think of it, there was a moment of sheer spontaneity in the early days of the baby’s life: when she was two days old, to be precise.
You know those essays, books, and articles on how the French are champions of chill parenting? On that day, I had the unique opportunity to witness how untrue that can be. Here I was, trying to be the chill parent: straight out of the hospital, baby in the stroller, planning on a nice walk home. Then the rain came down, as we walked out the door. Ah, unpredictable Paris weather. What do young parents do with a two-day-old in a stroller and no idea how to put the rain cover on? Probably a lot of different things, but we opted to take the bus. Yes, with a two-day-old baby. The expansive pride characteristic of a new mother swiftly disappeared as I looked around the bus… or rather, as the whole bus looked at me. “That’s a brand new baby!” I heard to my right. “How old is it?” Beaming with pride, I called out to everyone that she was a young two days old. I should have mumbled it under my breath, or maybe not answered at all. At the mention of the words ‘two’ and ‘days’, bus riders to my left and right, young and elderly, with children and without, turned to stare. No one broke out in congratulatory smiles. Instead, I was bombarded with judgment and disapproval.
Post-partum lesson one: it’s OK to lie about your child’s age in public in order to adapt it to positive expectations of your surroundings.
Following my wet, un-chill ride on the bus, I decided that we would walk everywhere until further notice. The lady at the children’s store showed me how to slip the rain cover on, and we were good to go. Paris weather being the unpredictable monster it is, I was overexcited when the rain cover came off and I could finally drop the top of baby’s stroller. Sunshine! Good spirits! A walk to the park! Ah, maternity leave heaven. My head once again held high, oozing with new mother pride, I walked down the Boulevard Saint-Germain to run a few errands. I almost – almost – didn’t notice that woman with the cigarette dangling from her hand as I began to walk past her. If you have been following Pregnant in Paris, you may have noticed that I developed a slight aversion to smokers. I say slight, but I mean heavy. As I started to pass cigarette woman, as I now like to refer to her, she did the unthinkable: a light flick of the wrist, resulting in a cloud of ash descending upon the stroller – upon my child. There was something cathartic about it, the past nine months of pent-up frustration finally getting a deserved release. Finally, I had a legitimate reason to let out my anger (sorry, woman on the street, but not all that sorry).
Post-partum lesson two: if smokers annoyed you before you became a parent, and you live in a city populated by smokers, they will probably give you even more reasons to have a problem with them afterwards.
The stroller-ash incident, which is the name it goes by in our household now, actually repeated itself a handful of times in less than a month. I see two Paris-specific reasons that explain this: a high proportion of smokers per square kilometer, and narrow sidewalks. Sidewalks! Yet another seemingly obvious part of a city’s urban planning that becomes a subject worthy of arguments once you need a stroller for daily activities. In the United States, whatever your stroller size, chances are you can fit it on a sidewalk. Usually, you can also fit another person walking in the other direction. Paris? Forget about it. Everyone has the same “fits as a carry-on bag!” stroller, yet it still doesn’t do the trick on Paris sidewalks. Busy people walking towards you? Yeah, you, with the stroller? You better veer to the side of the street as much as you can. Green trash bin waiting to be collected? Depending on your neighborhood, you might have to move your stroller to the road (but watch out for buses). Maneuvering through Paris with a baby is something akin to those obstacle courses they have in the army. I’m just hoping I get upgraded to lieutenant at some point.
I’ll admit it: having a baby in Paris is actually fun. No, really: you’ll simply have to wait until next time to find out why. Didn’t someone once say that the French like their complaining? Well, if there’s one thing having a baby doesn’t change, I think that’s it.