I love to travel. That’s an understatement. Taking my teenage cousin to Paris while she stayed with us for a few weeks this summer was a no-brainer. But the enthusiasm this budding Francophile brought to our trip knew no bounds. Each evening she’d eagerly quiz us about our favourite part of the day. And each time my husband and I struggled to answer as we fought the overtired minions into their pajamas and coerced them into their hotel beds.
The journey/experience/adventure of travel is to me just as, if not more, exciting than any of the sights we see. But at the end of a full day of exploring a major city on foot with young kids, euphoria is replaced with exhaustion. I dreaded her daily question by the train ride home. I was tired. That was all. Babywearing meant I carried an extra twenty pounds on my chest for three straight hot Parisian summer days. Mentally, I’d spent every waking second planning and prepping for the next stage with the kids. Where should we put the sleeping toddler since he would inevitably fall asleep soon? Should we do diaper changes/bathroom stops now? Do I have enough water and snacks in my bag? How long until the kids reach exhaustion and meltdowns commence? It may look like we just fly by the seat of our pants when we travel, but a lot of careful planning and coordination is at least attempted with each adventure. But was I spending so much time mentally prepping for each stage of our sightseeing that I was missing out on the fun?
That question plagued me all morning as I caught up on laundry and enjoyed our “down day” after returning from Paris. Then my middle child, and the source of most of our meltdowns and drama, came and sat in my lap. We started scrolling through the oodles of photos on my phone from the trip. But scrolling is the wrong word. He stopped, analyzed, and discussed each and every photo with me. That’ll teach me to take multiple shots of the same thing. We saw him sleeping in the stroller and in daddy’s arms. We saw him angry and on the verge of tears at Arc de Triomphe. He laughed at his multitude of faces and emotions and we discussed why he had been tired or upset. “Mommy, you should have tickled me!” he explained as though it was the obvious solution when we observed the meltdown building in his expressions at the Arc.
And then we came to the smiles. My three-year-old is my pensive child. He feels thing strongly and struggles to find words when his emotions well up. He looks angry even when he’s not. He smiles often, but NEVER for the camera. But it happened in Paris. He couldn’t hide the joy he experienced on our short jaunt in a tuk-tuk.
Right now, that smile we captured is my favorite memory from Paris. Ask me again about my favorite part of our trip. Now I have an answer. And as I process and review those whirlwind 72 hours, I’m remembering and relishing more smiles and firsts. My baby grinned from ear to ear on his first merry-go-round on a carousel in front of the Eiffel Tower. And my daughter gleefully approached each street peddler before they’d even made eye contact to practice her French with an exuberant “Non, merci!” Yes, it was a wonderful trip to Paris. And I’m loving it more and more each time I look back at pictures or remember those moments. Traveling with young kids is exhausting, but the memories we cram into a tight timespan make it all worthwhile.