It was a difficult choice to make–deciding when to travel across the country to apply for Sarah’s Certified Birth Abroad and passport during a predicted second wave of COVID cases in France. But, ya gotta do what ya gotta do. Elijah meticulously prepared our application and we left Paris on a Wednesday in the middle of our last break from school with a two-year old and one-month old in tow.
Some friends allowed us to borrow their car, which was a huge blessing for us, as we were able to limit our exposure to others on our journey and travel at our own pace. We knew that evening President Macron would announce new measures to combat the intimidating number of daily cases mounting in France. The French are pretty funny about communication. They just don’t really do it—communicate. And when they do, measures are implemented on very short notice. So discussing the possible new restrictions was a great way to pass the time on our 6 hour drive.
We arrived in Paris that evening and were able to stay at an Air bnb a little further out of town. It was a surprisingly spacious apartment of a bachelor who had graciously prepared for our arrival on very short notice. Of course, BOTH our kids threw up within 10 minutes of our host’s departure. (But would it be family trip with little ones if no one threw up?)
It took us a while to be settled for the night, as there were no restaurants open, and both of our kids were as needy as ever after being in the car all day. We finally found ourselves settled on the couch, ready to listen to Macron announce his plans for the country. As we suspected, he declared that France must enter a new confinement, starting that Friday (the day we were to drive home). This meant a reinstation of using “attestations de déplacement”, no traveling outside your region, and more specific measures to come. Even though we had only arrived in Paris a few hours before, we decided we needed to cut our trip short and leave as soon as we could after our appointment at the embassy to give us time to responsibly get back home.
The next morning, we navigated the subway system for the first time and I realized how ill equipped I am as a Houstonian to handle urban public transportation. Thank goodness for technology—this was a time that my millennial self would have felt absolutely lost without my phone. We lumbered our way through the turnstiles with a stroller, a toddler, a baby and two backpacks, looking like incompetent American tourists, checking our app, and verifying that we were at the right platform. I am sure that we provided some entertainment to commuters that morning, shoving our bulky selves onto the train and awkwardly trying to fit in where we didn’t belong.
After getting settled, I had a strange moment of reflection where I looked around, seeing a half empty train car with Parisian commuters, each with a mask on, passing the time in their own way before getting to their stop. Living in a pandemic had become so routine—hand sanitizing stations were everywhere. Stickers on the floor of the train marked suggested places to stand or sit to encourage social distancing. Each person glanced around, with their faces covered, avoiding contact with others. It felt like this weird mixture of foreign and naturally learned behaviors.
Could I have predicted 5 years ago, that we would be here, wearing masks with every other person, and it being so normal? I don’t mind it, but it catches me off guard some days. Mask mandates have been much more strict here than in the States, and they have become such a normal part of every day life. But yet, there are times where I lament at the thought of them, wondering how much longer we will be “in this.” During our anxious, quiet train ride, I mulled these things over, verifying at each stop that we were actually heading in the correct direction, counting down the stops before we had to get off.
We emerged from the subway with a sense of accomplishment, in awe of the beautiful and surprisingly empty downtown “quartier” we would get a small glimpse of. It was odd, being blocks away from the Louvre and other cites, knowing we wouldn’t get to see them because of the times we are in right now.
But we were laser focused: get in the embassy, complete our application, get out of Paris.
Our time in the embassy was a bureaucratic blur. It felt like most appointments like this: waiting, presenting various forms, waiting again. Anna entertained herself with stickers at each window, and after a while we found ourselves swearing to the truth of our application and being done! We executed the return to our apartment quickly and juggled a quick brunch while panic packing and preparing the car to leave.
I have noted since having a second kid, that actually getting out the door takes a surprising amount of time. It’s like this vortex of time when you find yourself trying to complete several tasks simultaneously, and not actually completing any of them—you realize that someone is only half fed or dressed when you glance at the clock with a new sense of urgency, wondering how so many minutes have already passed by. (Which makes me panic a little when I think about traveling with more than two kids some day in the future)
After an enormous amount of effort and coordination, we waded through the heavier than normal traffic to get out of town, thankful that we were leaving when we did. From Paris, we spent the rest of a very long day driving through France. It wouldn’t be a cross cultural adventure without some bizarre experience. For a memorable stop on the way home, we pulled off at a rest stop with an elaborately constructed mushroom themed playground. Yes—a mushroom playground. It was so very “French” as each of the structures was made from recycled materials. Traveling on the eve of a national confinement has its perks—we were basically the only ones there! After an impressive spit-up episode, as required on a travel day, we embarked on the last leg of our drive. We got home that night with two extremely cranky children and some interesting memories of Paris.