The day after Thanksgiving, those Parisians leaned tee-pees of wrapped Christmas trees against street corner newspaper stands, grocery market entrances, charcuterie doors, patisserie awnings. Christmas had arrived in Paris. Christmas came as black-clad crowds, called forth by dark Paris nights, settled beneath heat lamps on sidewalk cafes, a layer of plastic sheeting separating them from the misty, drizzly elements. Outside a florist shop, a small folding table and cafe chair provided canvas for an artful scattering of pink rose petals. And I navigated this world—Paris sprung Christmas—as a foreigner, thinking my foreign thoughts of tee-pees and Thanksgiving feasts and the miracle of winter roses. I considered the winter-leafless trees of the Jardins des Tuileries, groomed into boxes and exposing, as a metaphor of all things Parisian, the finely manicured bones of branches that make this city elegant. A city made only more elegant when sprinkled in roses, bundled in Christmas trees, and warmed by torches presiding over sidewalk cafes.
It’s been a decade since I last set foreign foot in Paris. Today, James finds himself hurtling at great speeds on the TGV from Paris to Lyon for work meetings. I picture him with jet-lagged head slumped against the window, French countryside painted in centrifugal streaks of yellow, brown, blue, grey against the glass. I tamp down my decade-starved yearning for Paris with remembrances and imaginings.
We celebrated Miss I’s seventh birthday last week. Seven seems like such a very large number when I’m much more used to her being three or four or, if you must twist my arm, five. With seven comes knowledge of things like 1) “base” is safe in tag, 2) knee socks are tres chic, 3) “Oh my God!” is a phrase everyone else says, 4) Lava comes from volcanoes, 5) Garfield goes on the binge-watch list, 6) school pizza is gross, and 7) “Oh, come on!” is everything.
It’s in my nature to cling to the Now. It doesn’t matter if Now is agonizingly difficult (the torments of sleepless nights, diaper blowouts, fevers spiking just as the doctor’s office closes for the day, stuffing baby bodies in snow suits in car seats, meltdowns in grocery stores, umpteenth viewings of Dora the Explorer, sneaking into church late, frustrated, and frazzled after a morning of all things kid.) I cling to it. You’ll notice two tracks of my reluctant feet dragging in the dust of those days as my own TGV hurtled me onward down life’s track.
Each stage that has evicted me (baby, toddler, preschooler, kindergartner) has ushered in something equally good, and in every case, slightly easier in key aspects than the preceding stage. This is good news for the young mamas with poo under the fingernails, vomit in the hair, and raccoon-at-noon bags under the eyes. As wonder-filled as those early days are, the baby years are the most grueling stage of parenting. Later stages get easier yet remain just as wonder-full.
I stroked Miss I’s forehead tonight as I tucked her into bed, said her prayers, yearned with all my heart for those “Now I lay me down to sleep” words to be true and kind and powerful in her life. It’s the same forehead that appeared in our lives six weeks ahead of schedule, attached to a body that collectively weighed 3 pounds, 14 ounces. That tiny forehead that I could cup in my hand is now broader, larger, fuller. It spans two or three hands’ breadths. But it’s the same skin and bone I stroked when she was an infant. Seven years brings change, but it doesn’t nullify. Time, no matter how it speeds up or slows down, seals, not steals, memories.
It’s no different from Christmas in Paris. I may be shamelessly jealous of James’ jet-lagged journey through France today, but I can’t discount the power of my memories to enrich my day ten years after I last experienced those rain-slick cobblestones. That kid-free, travel-rich period of my life had its own hard parts. I left that stage with the same reluctance I am showing toward leaving the little years of my children’s childhoods. But there is redemption in the remembering. There is something life-giving to me today about rose petals that withered ten years ago, Christmas trees then waiting to grace a Parisian apartment and now long since tossed to the curb, and trees that have produced and lost ten years’ worth of leaves. Now, these things linger as memories for the cherishing. My babies/toddlers/preschoolers/kindergartners, they’re still there too, in slightly larger, but not forgotten, form.