A bird is chirping, and my boys are sleeping next to me in a hotel room flooded with morning light. The October air is golden, chilled with autumn, and from my pillow I see a sloping mansard roof filled with windows, framed by long wooden shutters and clusters of flowers. The sun is rising, and Paris is waking up outside.
It’s like waking up in Vienna again and it feels like home. Where Vienna is yellow and green, Paris is black and white. There are bakeries with buttery croissants and bicycles mixing with morning traffic, and when you walk outside, there are long avenues lined with trees and endless places to go. The best part is that Eli and Jake are right here next to me.
I love being surrounded by beautiful things, by a belief that grandeur is possible, that unlike what the news makes us think, we can be led by thoughts and ideas that build dreams and make things better instead of tearing the world and its people down. The news would have us believe we are terrible, evil, incapable, when in truth most of us are faithful, hopeful, and decent. How else would we get out of bed every day? It seems so much easier in Paris.
My teenage boys with their long legs and rumpled hair don’t fit in the bed so well anymore, but this weekend with them in Le Merais was a heaven of the same thoughts, the same schedule, the same routines, that I didn’t know how much I missed. You lose those things as your children grow older and your daily lives diverge. How did Mike know I needed to have these things close again?
We walked 10 miles a day, to Ile de la cite, Notre Dame, Le Louvre. We visited Sacre Coeur, bought macarons and glace, and tried beef tartare, vongole, and croque monsieur at the bistrot down the street. At Relais d’Entrecote we had a late evening of steak frites, and walked down St. Germain at a respectable Parisian hour to buy cinnamon sugar crepes. We visited a park for Elie Wiesel not far from where we stayed, also not far from the Place des Vosges and a playground full of laughing children. An ivy-draped gate led to a quiet courtyard for people more comfortable with stillness.
We walked almost everywhere because Jake and Eli didn’t want to see the drunk people on the Metro. Down streets with cheese and chocolate boutiques, to Cafe Mericourt for breakfast and a hole in the wall selling Banh Mi. The gardens around the Eiffel Tower and the Tuileries were flocked with people, strolling through the perfect autumn afternoon and spreading out blankets and baguettes for their toddlers. We took a bike tour down Rue Montorgueil and St. Honore, learned about shoes, french onion soup and escargot, and had an amazing thing called kouign amman from the oldest patisserie in Paris. I watched my boys cross streets with confidence, wondering how they turned into such confident young men, and whizzed after them down bike paths along the Seine.
I didn’t expect my sons would be carrying my suitcase without being asked, reading maps, downloading transportation apps, and navigating the metro without my help. When did they learn to do this? My heart tugs at the sight of mothers walking their children through the Paris morning to school, until I remember that this was our life, too, a few years ago in Vienna. We crossed streets and rode the tram, and after school they took the public bus home from play rehearsals and swim practice alone. That’s where they learned to do this.
In the room we rested our feet before dinner, and I listened to my boys tending their farms in HayDay; making apple pies, storing crops, foraging for mushrooms, and feeding beef jerky to their dogs. As they edge toward the alluring freedom of growing up, I’m flooded with peace that they still embrace the innocence of farming games, and don’t mind spending a weekend in Paris with their mother.
My babies are growing up, and it’s leaving all of us a little unsteady. It’s like we all know we’re losing something, and we can’t make it stop.
I’m at a place where I don’t want to get rid of things anymore. Their clothes, their books, their socks on the floor, are not part of a never-ending present, but are becoming memories of precious years when they are children and I am their Mom. This too shall pass, whether or not I want it to. Right now, I don’t want it to pass at all.
Outside the window, a low sun casts pale light over decaying cornfields and rivers cloaked in fog. I’m sure the sun looks this way at this time of year in latitudes all over the world, but the reticence of autumn is Europe now, where for over a decade these landscapes have been Austria, Ukraine, Hungary, France, where I did my best to be their mother. This is what they know, their blonde heads gazing out the window, at the memories that will be their childhood.
I hope the the memories they remember are mostly the good ones.