At one of our first ex-pat events, I sat on an unwelcoming green velvet chaise, suffering through a shaky rendition of “I Love Paris.” The nails on the chalkboard were both literal and figurative as my husband and I could only use “adore” to weepingly talk about the lives we had left behind. Paris was the land of romance, culture, dreams, and for us, a stark reality. That we had left our friends, our language and our comfort at home came quickly into focus when our days were stressful, wrought with confusion, and empty of friends.
As the red white and bleu dust settled and ease decided to intermittently make an appearance, we were cautiously beginning to allow ourselves to embrace life in Paris. Additionally, the EasyJet terminal became our Cheers, and our Target travel suitcase got more mileage than the once frequented treadmill. Our home base of Paris was truly home, and our weekends were spent trolling vibrantly colored souks, hiking in the sheep-dotted Cotswolds, delighting in the modern amenities of Dubai, castle-gazing, culture-hopping, language-learning, and learning what it meant to live. We loved Paris for the travel it afforded us.
A snowy Iceland in March was where it ended. I was 7 months pregnant, and watching the Northern Lights dance in haphazard streaks across the pitch-dark sky was a final image to hang so many memories on. But the new and daunting ball and chain from our petit Henri gave birth to an unexpected and revelatory change in how we saw Paris. A change that was forced upon us, yet critical and monumental. For a second time around, and much less trepidatiously than the first, we were embracing Paris. Paris was no longer our springboard but, instead, our playground.
Playing in the park under the shadow of la Grande Dame, drooling over Cartier jewels on a Saturday morning, combing through clementines at an open-air market, and feeling like it doesn’t get any better. And for our son, his once-blank canvas is now dripping in experiences and adventures that we could never mimic anywhere else. From Greenpeace protests to lavish, any-time-of-year wedding shoots, while careening around the Champ de Mars in his bomber hat with his red plastic soccer ball close by, our son truly witnesses life happening on a day-to-day basis. Whether the situation bred the curiosity, or the curiosity propels us forward, we find ourselves looking towards each new day as an adventure, and Paris allows us to live it that way.
Recently, as new parents do, we decided that in order to properly prepare for and battle the “Terrible Twos” we should read “The Happiest Toddler on the Block.” One clear winter evening recently as I sat bundled on the couch paging through my book, my son got my attention so he could point “Eichel” out to me as it twinkled above the buildings across the street from us, standing tall and majestically over the night sky. I put the book down and gazed up at “Eich” with as much wonder and awe as my toddler son. I cast the book aside, thinking that perhaps with Eiffel Tower on his block, and all the wonders that accompany it in this magical city, it will be enough to make him happy.
A few years back, sitting discontentedly in my Paris apartment, I would have given any amount of money for Dorothy’s ruby slippers. Or a sturdy pair of sneakers to help me run Mach speed to familiarity and comfort. But as time has ticked on, and circumstances changed, the City of Lights has illuminated the big picture for me in a way I never thought possible. Fate brought us here, and love has kept us here. A change of heart, and a chance to really live. As my son sits contentedly in his stroller, swinging his coveted Eiffel key chains, we stroll under the Grande Dame en route to the aquarium. He gazes up, mesmerized, taking in the enormity of it all. Crossing the street, he turns around, catches my eye, and murmurs in his little toddler-ese, “Encore.”
About the author: Formerly in the field of education, Ashley Benz is now once again the student as both a new mom and an American living in Paris. She enjoys chasing her son around the Champ de Mars, volunteering, traveling, reading (well, used to, before her son was born!)and taking life by the horns.
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