I reach the top of the Arc de Triomphe and catch my breath. Paris stretches in every direction. Oh, how I love this city! Filled with emotion, I give my companion"s hand a squeeze and we gaze at the view. Then she turns to me and asks, â€œNow can we go to a playground, Mommy?
My traveling partner is my 8-year-old daughter Coco, with whom I have spent the past three Thanksgivings in Paris visiting friends. When I tell people that we"re Paris-bound, the follow-up question invariably is, â€œAre you bringing Coco? I tell them that â€œwe is Coco and me. Phil, my husband, is staying home.
Coco is my perfect traveling companion. A New York City kid, she feels completely at home in Paris. To her, Paris is just like Manhattan's except that hamburgers are topped with fried eggs and skinned rabbits are sold in markets. She is a non-complaining walker, can find something to order on any menu, enjoys going to museums and loves poking around in shops. She accepts tidbits from my meager knowledge of French history without questioning their accuracy. And when I want to sit quietly and soak up the atmosphere, I hand Coco her Beverly Cleary book and she reads until I"m ready to move on.
But the piÃ¨ce de rÃ©sistance is that Coco loves being with me. I"m aware that in a few years, hanging out with mom, even in Paris, may not be what Coco wants to do. Now"s the time to accumulate fabulous memories that I"m hoping will help us through the dreaded teenage years.
I love seeing Paris through Coco"s eyes. The first time she saw the Eiffel Tower sparkling, the glow on her face rivaled its 10,000 lights. While climbing the tower of Notre Dame, we were equally excited when Coco spied birds" nests and eggs in the rectangular windowsills. I was thrilled when she dashed over and stared transfixed at a Delacroix painting of a tiger and her cub in the Louvre.
The daughter of a Francophile, I was raised on a diet of classic French dishes, Madeline, Babar and Le Petit Prince books, with Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel records playing in our living room. Phil doesn"t share my enthusiasm's hence ma petite traveling companion.
During our trips, Paris"s romantic atmosphere rubs off on my impressionable daughter, and I become the object of her affections. Once, Coco looked at me in the middle of writing a postcard to her daddy and said, â€œI wish I could write a postcard to you so I could tell you how much I love you. When we"re in Paris, Coco repeatedly tells me I am the best mommy in the world.
I was puzzled at first. She"s an affectionate child, but her behavior in Paris is way over the top. Then I realized that in addition to responding to the romance of Paris, she is responding to my transformation.
When we"re in Paris, we are both heady with love. She is enchanted by her happier and freer mom, someone with an intense vacation high who says â€œyes every time she requests ice cream. This mother doesn"t constantly remind her to do her homework or issue the pick-up-your-room-right-now-because-in-five-minutes-we-need-to-leave-for-gymnastics directives. I am delighted to leave that person behind, too.
Traveling together allows Coco to learn things about me and see her mother in a way she"s not seen me before. And she"s right's I am much more lovable in Paris.
Sally Marshall, a freelance writer, lives in Manhattan with her husband and daughter.