In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought we’d revisit the purest of all the love stories- The Middle School Dating Scene. This timeless phenomenon has made millions of parents the world over wonder why they are not paying for single-gender private school through the ninth grade. I listen to the stories Lindsey tells me every single day about the boyfriends and girlfriends of the seventh grade, and I wonder anew, Were the romantic endeavors this ridiculous when I was in middle school? Well, of course they were, I’ve just invested a lot of time, life experience, and self-help books in an effort to mitigate the awkwardness of my middle school experience.
Lindsey does not have a boyfriend. We’ve been pretty clear with her that it’s completely unnecessary at her age, and she agrees. I periodically check her texts and she’s not on social media, so I’m pretty confident that there are no smoochie shenanigans going on that I am unaware of. Just because she is not engaged in these soap operas, does not mean that she isn’t privy to them playing out around her. I am blessed everyday by the tales of love and loss that occur among her peers.
Every story sounds something like this: 6 thirteen-year-old girls text Tyler because their friend Suzie likes him. Tyler just wants to be friends with Suzie because he actually likes Kylie, one of the 6 girls on the group chat. Tyler finds out that Kylie likes his best friend Jake so he decides to ask Suzie out via text (because any girlfriend is better than none). They agree to officially start dating the next morning (the Official Start Date is a real thing, it’s like establishing an anniversary before the relationship- please don’t spend a lot of time trying to understand this) only she gets to school and dumps him, via text, before first period.
As the mother of a 13-year-old girl, my job is to listen to this and take it somewhat seriously so she will trust and confide in me when the bigger deal stuff comes down the pike. My listening strategy is to be the Empathetic Mom Who Gives Relationship Advice. In reality and from the overflow of my heart, I want to say, “This is all bananas and you aren’t allowed to date until you are married,” but that doesn’t foster a strong Mother-Daughter bond in these turbulent teen years.
We recently had a talk about liking boys and as she talked her way around the whole scenario, she told me, “I think I like the idea of liking a boy, but I don’t want to be anyone’s girlfriend, does that sound crazy?” Nope. You sound like a sane teenage girl confirming what biology has long known, the frontal lobe of the brain is not formed until 25 years of age. Knowledge is power, so remember that when you enter the dating world TWELVE YEARS FROM NOW.
A lot of the power couples in middle school tend to be the same players recycled into new relationships. The boyfriends in this pool are a fascinating group. What 13-year-old boy is ready to meet the emotional needs of a thirteen-year-old girl? Or even throw his hat in the ring and WANT to give it a shot? Paul and I are the parents of a thirteen-year-old. We have a lot of education and relationship experience between us and we struggle to make sense of her emotional needs. Most days we just try and stay out of her way. Are these middle school Casanovas ahead of their time? Peaking early? Doing TED talks on relationships? WHO ARE THESE BOYS EXACTLY? I have a 15-year-old boy living in this house that I still have to remind to flush the toilet, so godpseed entrusting him with romance and emotional intelligence.
Speaking of my son, he is currently reading Romeo and Juliet in English. I am no fan of Shakespeare, but I think the bard captured one universal truth in his tale of the Capulets and Montagues that still rings true today: Adolescent romance will only end in tragedy, therefore avoid it until you are past the age of melodrama.
Or at least until you have your driver’s license.
Happy Valentine’s Day! May it be full of sweets and devoid of group chats.
I started the 2018-2019 school year living with the tension that I have a freshman in high school and only 4 more years left of the Carter Four in this house together. Now, that’s not the end of the world, but it is the end of an era and it really made me pause and think about what will have mattered the most when we look back on these four years. It has made me reflect a lot about the Mom and Wife I want to be, but it has also made me think about the Person I want to have become when the era ends.
I’ve never been a New Year’s Resolution person because you can decide to be or to do whatever you want on March 23 or November 18 if that’s what suits your fancy. This year, however, I was wallowing in the tension of change so when January hit, I decided to really set some personal goals and expectations for myself. I tried this last year without any sort of structure and only two goals: 1) Keep Lindsey from developing a Slime Lab in her bathroom and 2) Start writing. I was only able to follow through on one of those goals in 2018. The good news of 2019 is that I think she’s through the Slime phase and I started the Blog mid-January. I also bought a journal/gratitude/goal-setting calendar to give me some structure going into this year and frame the things that really matter. One of the first things the journal had me do was reflect back on what I learned the previous year. I thought for about 2 seconds and wrote these words down.
I’m not sure where these words came from because I don’t think I’ve ever said them in a conversation, but the more I stared at them the more I realized how true they are.
I’ve suffered at the hands of my own insecurities more times than I can count and worry and comparison have been my lifelong companions. Around the time I hit 30, I thought I had overcome them, but looking back, that’s when I had children and so I basically reassigned them a new duty post. I have fretted my way through every single stage of life these kids have gone through. I don’t know why that is. I think as the Mom we are down in the weeds so much with their lives and there are countless things we make comparisons about. We don’t even need to go on social media (although that’s a minefield in and of itself), the very first pediatrician visit will tell you the child’s height and weight and what percentile they fall in- and the comparison begins. Join a play group or a Mom’s Bible Study and you will inevitably fall prey to women telling you their 2 year old progeny’s aptitude for soccer or how many Bible verses the 3 year old has memorized in Latin. We listen to this and somehow start playing along. I can’t tell you how many times I have listened to these comparison conversations and gone home to worry myself into a sleepless night. I reached a breaking point in 2018, where I ramped up the comparison and worry traps to such insane levels that it drained me of the joy of watching my kids be the actual people their Creator made them to be. By the end of 2018, I watched things that I had worried and made myself sick over earlier in the year, work out in beautiful ways. Not perfect ways. Not the way I would have scripted, but infinitely better ways because the adversity I wanted removed from their life taught them (and me) that focusing our energy on the unknown or what other people are doing is a colossal waste of time.
I think at the heart of worry and comparison is fear. I tell my kids all the time: We all, every one of us- act out of our insecurities. Teaching my kids that truth gives some consolation when hurt, rejection, or bewilderment happens. It also teaches them to empathize. They have insecurities too. They know what it feels like to make a bad choice from a place of fear or insecurity. When you can feel empathy for someone who has hurt you, it releases you from all the “less than” feelings. We aren’t victims, we’re all just fellow sojourners, doing the best that we can. Making mistakes along the way. Figuring things out.
I’m developing a strategy to fight the worry and comparison. I’m learning to zoom the lens out. Stop focusing on the One Thing- whether it’s grades, classes, sports, friends, or getting into a college. All of those things tend to work themselves out without worry and comparison. Zooming the lens out is a hard thing to teach to your kids, who have a limited experience on this planet. It can also be a difficult thing to do as a parent because we only have the experience level of our oldest child to draw from. When experience is not an option, I think gratitude is the only way to persevere. When you don’t make the team you hoped to make: I am grateful for good health and an active lifestyle. When you don’t succeed in a class you took: I am grateful for the opportunity to learn how to be a better student. When someone says something hurtful: I am grateful for the loyal people in my life that show up for me. Every one can give thanks. It doesn’t take a long life of experiences to be grateful.
I don’t know if this is the perfect path, but I’m willing to bet it’s the path to a healthy perspective and I will take that over the insecurity, worry, and comparison. I want better for my kids than the path I made for myself. And I want better for myself at the end of this era than the path I took those first 30 years. We’re trying the wide angle lens and gratitude.
This week we completed the African Market project and when I say “we,” I mean all the humans with the last name Carter that reside in this house. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but what that actually means is that it takes a village to do their school projects. This particular project is a seventh grade event that has tempted me to home school both times the rubric dropped.
The primary purpose of the African Market Project is to teach the kids economic principles like labor, cost, supply & demand, etc. The secondary purpose of the African Market project is to boost alcohol sales in the county. That’s just my theory, but one could make an argument for it. The children are partnered up and they have to make some kind of “African” craft, track their costs and labor, set a price, and barter with the other groups to exchange their goods. If you think this is a wonderful idea you have either no children or children that are too young to have been assigned group projects. Trying to find time for two thirteen year old girls to get together and make African handicrafts and a trifold of economic data when they are both engaged in sports and extracurriculars is much like negotiating peace in the Middle East. We all WANT it to happen but despite the best intentions and multiple interventions, it’s likely not going to happen.
So Lindsey and her partner decided to divide the labor with one handling the math/economics/trifold and the other making the craft. Guess who got the craft? Hint: The same person who suggested this is a ploy to boost alcohol sales.
When Lindsey came home and told me we were going to make Dreamcatchers for the African Market, I was immediately concerned. I taught Middle School Social Studies for seven years and have a working idea of what is historically and culturally accurate. I asked her if this was approved by the teacher because Dreamcatchers are NATIVE AMERICAN. She assured me this was fine and Stephen (who I made 20 African drums with 2 years ago out of styrofoam and masking tape) assured me that the real lesson was the economics of this and not the historical accuracy of the handicraft. Perfect. A traditional African Market that sells origami and home made slime. These kids are ready for AP History.
We started the planning phase by searching Pinterest for ideas. Lindsey found one tutorial that was in Spanish and took about 100 hours to complete. I found one that looked about 20 minutes long made by the type of Super Crafty Mom who thrives on school projects. Actually that’s not fair, she was quite clear in the video that her four year old desperately wanted a Dreamcatcher. He was having bad dreams and this whimsical craft was sure to bring him “only good dreams, ” which is ironic because I was fairly certain these Dreamcatchers were going to bring me nightmares.
We got our supplies and sat down to begin this project. We were sitting on the couch wrapping sueded cord around the hoops when Lindsey said, “This is kind of fun. It’s almost like pioneer times.” This would be a good time to interject that Lindsey has a very romantic idea of pioneer times. She recently told me she wished she lived in pioneer times because then she would not have to take geometry. I informed her that if she lived in pioneer times she would be married to a 40 year old farmer with 6 kids washing and mending clothes, cooking dinner, milking cows, and making him even more babies. She replied,”Good grief, Mom. Why do you have to be so negative?!” Why? Because historical context matters.
But back to our Native American Dreamcatchers for African Market.
We started the complex part of weaving the twine around these hoops so that the “bad dreams” will have something to be caught in. Super Crafty Mom assured us in the YouTube video that this would be “easy,” which is code for “This is where it all goes horribly wrong.” The one thing I can say about helping my kids do projects is that no one has ever been suspicious that a parent did the work. I am so bad at this kind of stuff and the only fruit that comes of it is that my kids learn “adult vocabulary” words that tumble out of my mouth unbidden.
The process of making these 10 dream catchers took about three days. We needed them done before Paul and I left for a trip and the kids were headed over to my Mom’s (and Nana has paid her dues with school projects). We had a weekend volleyball tournament and volleyball practice so that cut back even further on how much time we could dedicate to this. Paul dabbled on one after he watched the YouTube video that we had playing on a loop. Of course, he had to make a fancy pattern and use complimentary suede cords because it’s important for him to be recognized as the Artist in Residence.
That brought us to Tuesday night or the Final Hour to get these done. Lindsey got home from practice around nine pm, hyper, hungry, and with zero focus. At one point she was wandering around playing the harmonica while Paul and I were fabricating Dream Catchers. I called Stephen over to help, and he said, “No way. I did this project two years ago.” (As if this family has never helped him complete a project.) His refusal was rejected because we are in pioneer times and everyone has to help. He lined out the feathers, string, and beads and we pushed through with the assembly line method. At 10:30, finished and relieved it was done before midnight, Paul suggested we have a glass of wine to celebrate but I overruled that and poured bourbon. Project completion calls for hard liquor. And thus, the secondary purpose of this project was realized.
Here’s the thing about these school projects. I hate them with a passion while we are in the midst of them. I hate the deadlines and rubrics. I hate the mess and space it takes up. Ugh, it stresses me out so much.
The four of us laughed so much during this whole experience and we will talk about the African Market Project fondly 20 years from now. So as much as I hate school projects, dreamcatchers, and crafty Mom YouTube videos… thanks. Thank you all for the memories.
Day 7: Today began with an inauspicious start because sleeper trains are terrible. Six people in a hot bunkhouse with no moving air while rumbling along the railways of France is not conducive to rest. Not to mention the domestic dispute that went on in the hallway between two passengers and assorted other drama. Our train got stuck about an hour outside of Milan, where we were supposed to change trains, but because the train doors wouldn’t shut automatically we sat for an hour and a half while they shut them manually. This meant we missed our connecting train to Florence. We got rebooked and when we arrived in Florence, we faced a transportation strike that had shut down roads around the train station. We hiked with all our belongings about 2 miles to meet our coach.
We rode over to Piazzale Michelangelo to enjoy the famous majestic view of Florence. I love this city! It takes my breath away. We then got back on the coach and headed to Pitti Palace to meet our guide. We are here on a Monday and all museums are closed on Monday, which excluded us from seeing the David and other famous works of art in the Uffizi. The guide gave a simple overview of Florence but everyone was dragging. After the tour ended I grabbed Stephen and took him around and explained to him some of the important attractions of Florence and the influence of the Medici on this city. We had a lunch of Tagliatelle with Boar Ragout and we ran to the gelateria Paul and I enjoyed when we were here 3 years ago. We also purchased some of my favorite perfume that I can’t find in the USA and we bought Stephen a leather wallet embossed with his initials for whenever he finally decides to get going on his driver’s license.
We met up with the group for dinner and made our way back to the hotel. Most of us are exhausted, but there is a contingent that plans to stay up and watch the National Championship which begins around 2 am local time. Go Tigers. Roll Tide. Bless all the hearts.
I’m sad that Florence could not have been a better experience for everyone in the group because it is such a beautiful city and there is so much beauty to enjoy, history to learn, food to eat, places to shop, (wine to drink) etc etc etc. Unfortunately, evil sleeper trains are the tool of the devil and they won this day. Tomorrow, we depart for Rome and Vatican City so we rest in the hope that at the seat of the Church, we will turn this thing around and finish the trip strong.
Day 8: Last night I slept for 9 hours so Italy is obviously my home away from home. That, and I was wrecked from the sleeper train and probably could have slept standing up in a monsoon. After a delicious breakfast and 3 coffees, we boarded the coach for Rome. We had a stop at a small Italian rest stop/gourmet grocer and everyone was able to taste and enjoy some of the “fruits” of Tuscany. Stephen and I enjoyed a cappuccino and he once again shared that this is his favorite trip he has ever been on in his whole life. My heart is full.
We arrived in Rome around noon and headed for lunch in Vatican City. Stephen and I picked a restaurant together and he had a fettuccine bolognese and I had the ravioli. After lunch, he asked me should we have an espresso like the Italians do and so I ordered us two. He said, “So we drink this black, right?” I said yes, and he threw it back like a shot of tequila. Bless. So as we sat there and I added sugar to mine and nursed it for 3 sips, he broke the silence and said, “You’re a good mother.” I was a little taken aback because it came out of nowhere, but I finally asked what made him say that. He just shrugged and said. “You are. You are a good mother.” And that moment, right there in a cafe in Vatican City, is more sacred to me than all the art and antiquities of the Holy See.
We browsed a few gift shops because Stephen has decided that buying Lindsey a little statue of Michelangelo’s (naked) David would be the best souvenir ever. Of course, Lindsey is appalled by all nudity and would even prefer men not take off their shirts at the beach. Stephen believes the David randomly appearing in her room, like a nude Elf on the Shelf would bring him joy for all eternity.
We met up with the group and our Italian guide, Marina, who would take us through the Vatican museum, The Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. The museum is filled with so much art and the kids seemed to be pretty amazed by it. Everything in Rome is so old and as an American, it really gives you a perspective on how young our country is. There are things here that predate the birth of Christ and Romans consider 1776 to be modern. The Sistine Chapel brought one girl in our group to tears and by the time we got to the Basilica and saw the altar of St Peter’s Baldachin and Bernini’s The Gloria of the Holy Spirit, there was a lot of quiet awe. We finished the tour and headed out walking through Rome towards dinner and Gareth brought us to Piazza Navona. I took Stephen over to the center sculpture, The Fountain of the Four Rivers, by Bernini, and told him what it symbolized, which is a testament to my 40-something brain for retaining that information. The guide who brought us here 3.5 years ago was a low talker and her English was very difficult to understand, but I was determined to try and decipher every word because how often do you get to Rome? Maybe the things we struggle the most to understand are the ones that make the greatest impact.
After Piazza Navona, we stopped to pick up snacks for the hotel room and headed for the restaurant. Dinner was a sort of buffet and then we walked back to the coach where we boarded for the hotel.
Tomorrow is our last full day and we’ll do the Colosseum, Forum and I’m not sure what else. There will be some free time so I’m considering what I might take Stephen to see, besides just checking gift shops for the David statues.
Day 9: Today began with a bus into Rome to meet Marina at the Colosseum and have her guide us around there and the Forum.
All the kids seem to love the Colosseum and even some of the parents were buzzing as we got off the bus about how excited they were to see it all. Rome just impresses you with the juxtaposition of ancient ruins, magnificent Renaissance art, significant religious sites and antiquities, and the buzz of the modern everywhere you look. Today’s tours lasted until noon and then Gareth led us to the Pantheon where we were given about 5 hours of free time before we were to meet at the Trevi Fountain and walk to dinner.
My plan was to take Stephen to the Spanish steps, get lunch, do some shops, grab a coffee, and head over to the Trevi Fountain for gelato and to take our pictures before the group rendezvous. We did all that, but we walked in many triangles and circles to do it. Rome has the wackiest streets in the world because there are all these tiny diagonals that were probably originally made for chariots and not cars. Even using google maps, my little blue dot was waving the white flag telling me to PLEASE UBER. At one point we walked in a complete triangle and Stephen said, “Didn’t we just begin this walk 10 meters from here?” Yes, we did, Captain Obvious. I struggled to get us to the Spanish steps and then once we got there and tried to leave, we kept reappearing there. Ferdinand Magellan, I am not.
At the top of the Spanish Steps, we talked about so many things- what his favorites of this trip were, what surprised him, what he would come back to see – that kind of stuff. He said the food in Florence was his favorite but he also loved the cafe culture of France and Italy; taking time to slow down and have a coffee and just watch people go by. I could not agree more and it’s one of my favorite parts of visiting Europe. Despite the hustle and bustle to see and do all the things, there is a slowdown and enjoy element that Europeans religiously observe and it is easy to adopt.
We did some shops- Stephen wanted to hit the flagship Ferrari store so we went there as well as some shops for Lindsey. Then it was time for another coffee drink. We have both had so much espresso in Italy, we could run through a brick wall and then rebuild it.
We headed back to the Trevi Fountain and got some pictures in the daylight and twilight as the lights came on to illuminate it. It was under rehabilitation when Paul and I came to Rome 3 years ago. It is beautiful at night.
From the regroup we headed to dinner and enjoyed laughing over shared memories and the experiences of the last 9 days with our group.
I can’t believe we leave tomorrow.
Day 10: Departure day is here. Time has done a funny thing over the last 9 days. We have done so many things and covered so much territory that it feels longer than 10 days that we left. London and Paris feel like weeks ago because we have packed so many experiences into our days in Italy.
We had a fond send-off with Gareth/Gordon Ramsay at the airport, and despite his insane pace and Michelin star chef demeanor, I think we are all grateful for the way in which he handled us logistically. It’s no small undertaking to see a group of 30 around Europe and keep ahead of the plan whilst also managing safety and real-time awareness. He is snarky but good-natured and as we manage ourselves now from Rome to Amsterdam and then on to Atlanta, his absence is felt.
Before we left I chatted with him as our group was checking in and he asked me what I thought of the trip. It was excellent. So organized. So fun. So educational. And so relational. I wanted to see this with Stephen. We made so many memories together that are ours forever. Mine and his. I wanted to watch him fall in love with Europe, and I did. I wanted to see how he handled himself. He did great. Gareth asked me the big question that only this trip could answer: Would I let him come again but without me? Yes. Yes, I would. He knows what he is about when he travels. He is aware of what’s going on around him. He has a pretty good sense of direction. He shows deference and respect as a visitor. He makes every attempt at the language. He is a good traveler. That makes me happy and also reminds me how quickly he is growing up.
Watching our group has also been fascinating. This trip has been a mix of The Amazing Race, National Lampoon’s European Vacation, The Breakfast Club, and Hell’s Kitchen. The group of kids we took represent every high school grade and social group. While there were some little friend groups, the majority of these kids came autonomously, driven by a personal desire to see and experience Europe. I think that’s why our experience was so rich because they were mostly all dedicated to a deeper understanding of what they knew about these countries. I hope they see the world differently. I hope they see each other differently. I hope they are all a little changed by it, or at least they have created space in an opened mind for change to come.
Whatever the case, Stephen and I had an amazing trip.
Until we meet again.
À la prochaine.
(Travel Tip: Traveling by couchette train ranks second only to vomiting on my list of Worst Ways To Spend The Night, so consider that as you make travel plans)
Day 4: The Amazing Race across Europe resumed today with a trip back to Buckingham Palace in an attempt to see the changing of the guard. Attempt is the operative word because in this menagerie of people on a cold morning in January, I believe I caught a glimpse of a tall fuzzy hat and heard the faint strains of a marching band. Stephen held his phone straight up and videoed so I’ll catch that footage later. Or perhaps just YouTube it. I can’t imagine what this scene looks like on a sunny day in July, but I am sure I don’t want any part of it. Gareth/Gordon Ramsey said it’s tough to see anything at the changing of the guard if you are the size of a Hobbit and was looking right at me when he said it, so perhaps I have indeed realized the dream of living in a British production- that, or a British man just called me a troll.
We headed over to the King’s Cross train station for our departure to Paris and many in our group were thrilled to see the spot where Harry Potter was filmed. I am not a Potterphile, so…that was that. 9 and 3/4 WHATEVER. Grabbed lunch and got on board the EuroStar headed for France.
When we arrived in France it was dark but Gareth/Gordon Ramsay wanted us to hike up the steps of Montmartre to see the view of the city at night from that elevation. The views were gorgeous, the district around Montmartre- not very awesome. He later informed us this was the area where places like the Moulin Rouge were located back in the day, a bit “seedier,” so to speak. As this is our first time in Paris, it was a relief to hear that all of the city does not resemble a red light district, and as we drove out along the Seine after dinner, headed for the hotel, we could see a much prettier Paris emerging. Tomorrow will be another whirlwind, so I’m going to try and get some rest for it.
Paris from Montmartre
Day 5: Today, myself and a couple of others in our group were 5 minutes late for the bus and long story short, we ruined the risotto. Fortunately, it didn’t ruin any of our plans, and no actual F-bombs were dropped, but there was enough Hell’s Kitchen Shaming invoked in the name of punctuality that I was 10 minutes early for every other meet-up today. The good news is that Gareth is great about not holding grudges, so he stopped bringing it up by about supper time.
We began our day with a guide at Versailles named Veronique. She was everything I need a Parisian tour guide to be. Short black hair, red jacket, skinny black jeans, high heel red boots, a fabulous red and black satchel and when she wasn’t guiding us, she was chain smoking LIKE THE FREE WORLD DEPENDED ON IT. She was sympathetic to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, made enough references to the USA to tie things back to what the kids would understand, and kept us engaged and interested in an obscenely huge palace. She even started speaking German at one point because she had run a German tour the day before. She was probably long overdue for a cigarette at that point, but she pushed on and brought us around. After the tour we were free to roam the gardens which are mostly dirt and dead plants because flowers don’t bloom in January in northern France. Je suis désolée. Stephen and I headed for the Ladurée macaron shop. He wound up getting a chocolate bar because macarons are a texture problem for him and I purchased a box of 8. It turns out I like French macarons. I like them A LOT.
From Versailles we headed to the Louvre, where we grabbed some lunch. There is a food court in the Louvre and Stephen and I decided to eat from different vendors. That is to say, he got half of a roasted chicken from the restaurant I chose but he needed two slices of pizza as well. I gave him some euros and watched him go and order. He decided to have this entire exchange with the pizza guy in French and so he is haltingly speaking his limited French, and the guy is smiling at him in the way an grandparent does when indulging a child. Then he replied in perfect English and he and Stephen shared big smiles. After lunch we headed in to the actual museum and were given 2 hours to explore a museum that takes 75 days to see the entire thing. That’s not an exaggeration, either. It is insane how much is in that place. Of course we saw the Mona Lisa, and the Venus de Milo (unintentionally stumbled upon that one), Lady Liberty Leading the People, and various other antiquities and such. The Louvre is impressive and daunting.
Following the Louvre we walked over to Notre Dame. The Cathedral is lovely, flying buttresses as far as the eye can see. After walking inside and around it in the freezing cold, we hiked back to our coach and departed for dinner at a creperie which was amazing- ham and cheese buckwheat crepe, followed by a traditional crepe with salted caramel for dessert. After walking about 8 miles today, half of them in the freezing cold- I basically inhaled those crepes faster than Gareth Ramsey has demanded we move about anywhere on this trip, which is saying quite a bit.
From there it was on to a boat for a cruise up and down the Seine. This was an absolute delight because Paris is gorgeous at night all lit up and we could sit indoors in the heat and enjoy it. Best 14€ ever.
Tomorrow, we meet up with Veronique for a tour about Paris and we’re supposed to also have some free time to explore and buy some plastic “made in China” Eiffel Towers. Just joking! Obviously I’ll be looking for coffee, crepes, and macarons. Then we board a sleeper train for Milan, en route to Florence. More on that to follow.
I have to say that Paris has been so wonderful and today might have been my favorite day. We decided to do this trip for Stephen because he loves the French language and culture and he has wanted to travel to Europe since he was about seven years old. Travel experiences are his “thing.” Like other kids love sports, music, art, whatever- he wants to travel and learn and for whatever reason, France has piqued his interest. I don’t care what the “thing” is your kid enjoys, watching them do that “thing” is the happiest you will ever be as a parent. I watched him take a selfie of himself at Versailles (he never takes selfies). He is engaged with every guide, answering questions, asking questions, taking it all in. He speaks his limited French every chance he gets. I sent Paul a picture of him in front of the Mona Lisa and the reply was, “He looks tired and happy.” When I told Stephen what his Dad said, he agreed that summed it up. I am so grateful to be here with him.
Day 6: Today we headed back in to Paris to the Trocadero for photo ops with the Eiffel Tower. From there we drove over to the Arc di Triomphe and the Champs d’Lysse. We took so many great pictures. Then we met Veronique so she could guide us around Paris, giving us some history and orientation to where everything is located. I love Veronique. She is a chain smoking, opinionated, history loving Parisian and I am her Number One Fan. She gave us so much information and so many opinions in her Parisian accent: “I hate the Bastille Opera. Built by Mitterrand in the 1980s, you could not make an uglier building. It would be impossible. Look there is the Academie de Musique, we love it, eh? Much better!” She hates Napoleon, Macron, and everything Mitterrand built in the 1980s. Don’t even get her started on the current mayor of Paris. Charles de Gaulle was probably the last good president of France, so c’est la vie. It was all fabulous. I would love to have a glass of wine with her and listen to her talk but I think the secondary smoke inhalation would kill me. We stopped at a cafe for a break and while we all filed in to sip wonderful coffee, she chain smoked two ciggies outside, made a phone call, and was ready for Round Two of Paris.
When we finished with Veronique, we were dropped off near the Latin Quarter and given four hours free time to wander where we wished. Stephen and I looped the area and then headed for lunch. We had a meal that I enjoyed but he did not because he basically needs to eat 8 lbs of protein per meal and that’s not how the French do lunch. They also have a fondness for cheese that he does not share. Relationship status with French food = It’s Complicated. Fortunately, crepes for dessert salvaged the meal.
After lunch he suggested we try and see some of the Impressionists at the Museum D’Orsay. It was a 30 minute walk down along the Seine. Today was free admission day and the queue out front was C-R-A-Z-Y. We decided we probably didn’t have the time for it (the good news- there will have to be another to Paris!). I don’t consider this hour of walking a waste though, because even though it was cold, the Seine is beautiful and Stephen and I chatted about everything we observed along the way. We decided to try and find a cafe close to Notre-Dame, which was our rendezvous point with the group. Along the way Stephen bought a beret because of course we need a French hat in his collection of hats. We found a cute cafe for a latte and took window seats for the view. We met back up with the group and headed for the train station where we are taking a couchette or sleeper train to Milan, where we will change to a regular train to Florence.
When I saw the travel plan- this sleeper train was almost a deal breaker. Sleeping on fold out benches 6 to a cabin, sharing 2 communal toilets down the hall with 60 other passengers is not my ideal travel arrangement. It’s basically a cattle car for humans. I’m laying on my bench now and there are approximately 8 inches from my nose to the bench above me. I cannot turn to my left because the wall slants out. I’ve had more luxurious accommodations while camping in a tent on the ground. Have I mentioned that this is an alcohol free trip? Yes, well, it won’t be an alcohol free homecoming.
Day 1: Its 8:30 pm on January 1, and we are on a plane headed to London. It seems strange to count this as Day 1 because it’s just travel, but I am excited and a little anxious. Excited, because Europe! Huzzah and other appropriate British expressions. Travel is fun! Anxious, because traveling with 30 kids and adults on various mass transits is disconcerting especially when I am used to traveling with Paul Carter, who handles all vacay logistics while the kids and I follow behind him like ducklings after their mother. I think I am either up for this or an excellent actor because no one has called me out. I guess they’ll let anyone take other people’s kids to Europe these days.
This is a cool opportunity for Stephen to see places he has only read about and he is genuinely excited for it. One of the reasons I wanted to come along was to watch him see all of this for the first time. That sounds stalker-ish, but if you’re a parent, you get it. Of course the other reason was to head off any international incidents, as Stephen was the child that set off Canadian security in Toronto when he attempted to smuggle a Nerf gun in his backpack across the border. That was 7 years ago and much has changed, but one never forgets security pulling your 8 year old out of line to search him for weapons. So off we go on our European Adventure. May we learn and experience amazing things and manage to avoid being locked up abroad.
Day 2: We hit the ground running in London with little and no rest. I had a little and Stephen had none. The good news is that he managed to watch Deadpool 2, The Death of Stalin, and The Cloverfield Paradox overnight on the plane, so he was definitely “fresh.” The first thing that needs to be addressed is that in the United Kingdom, people speak with a British accent. I adore it. I mean, I quite adore it. It feels like I’m living in a BBC production. Every book I’ve ever read set in London feels very alive to me right now.
We walked over to St. Paul’s Cathedral where Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles in what my 9 year old self deemed the most romantic thing ever (which says everything about what tween girls understand of romantic relationships). We broke for lunch and as this is a trip of high school students we chose to dine at Pizza Express. Most of the boys ordered the American pizza, as you do when in England for the first time. I’m being cheeky (because I am very British right now) about the pizza, but honestly it is pretty cool watching these kids navigate so many things for the first time. Trips like this aren’t always just about history, architecture and culture. A lot of what we learn in new settings stretches us and teaches us things about ourselves we never realized.
After lunch we did more walking over the Thames and down by Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, over to Covent Garden, Leicester Square and on to Piccadilly Circus. So many cool things we’ve heard about, seen pictures of, and finally were able to experience. My biggest takeaway today is that London is an amazing mix of traditional and innovative. It’s a vibrant city and I rather enjoyed it.
The weather was chilly today and with all the walking and lack of sleep overnight I think we’ll all crash at the hotel, which is where we are headed now.
Our guide through this entire experience is Gareth, which is the most British name ever. It’s like the King James Version of Gary and you can’t argue the authority of that. Gareth is the father of two teens himself, so he kind of gets who his audience is. He is snarky and gives as good as he gets. He looks a bit like Gordon Ramsey with glasses, but has not cussed anyone out for mucking up the risotto.
I’ll keep you posted as we go if that changes.
Day 3: Gareth Gordon Ramsey is a world class sprinter in men’s dress shoes. We were up, breakfasted, train, tube, and meeting a tour guide to walk to Buckingham Palace in short order and that was the pace car for the race that was today. Buckingham Palace was very cool because it’s so iconic. We went from there to Westminster Abbey, Parliament (Big Ben is covered in scaffolding until 2021-so plan accordingly) and the statues in Parliament Square. We grabbed lunch near the Tower of London and had two hours to wander all through there. We did not see the Crown Jewels as that is not the jam of 15 year old boys, especially when the queue is an hour long. Stephen’s official response: NOPE. After the Tower we made a mad dash for the London Eye. I cannot emphasize how chaotically fast this was- so many people and so much sprint walking while slaloming around baby strollers, slow pedestrians, pick pockets, street corner evangelists, and assorted shady games of chance being operated on the actual sidewalk. We made it on the Eye which was a great opportunity for views and pictures, shout out to London for not raining on us these three days. The 30 minutes on the Eye was just enough time to catch our breath for the sprint/slalom back across the Bridge and to the tube which we rode to dinner. Dinner was followed by another tube ride to the Theater for “Wicked.” I know nothing about Theater but it was a fun show. Very clever. (I’ve picked up quite a few British colloquialisms these last 48 hours). From the Theater it was back on the tube and back to the train, where we now sit headed for our hotel, at 11:23 pm.