I came to Paris with a three-month plan: go, see… and take it from there. Lacking any foundation like the security of a job, contacts, a suitable apartment or having much money, this plan had all the makings of a disaster. But I had to go. At twenty-eight years old I had yet to experience The Great Paris you read about in legacy literature and hear mused about in film dialogue. I wanted to experience the city as a local. I showed up on Paris’s doorstep naïve and hopeful.
The three-month trial swelled into several years. Paris built me up and broke me back down. It enchanted and embarrassed me. The city led to the quietude of marriage and the now constant movement of motherhood. Paris has given me nine lives. Having been a tourist, a wanderer, an outcast, a local, an expat wife, and now, an expat mom, these layered experiences ironed out the jagged edges of living abroad. Good thing. Because if being an expat felt like the ultimate exploration into the unknown, the birth of our son Georges made me discover Paris once again, this time through the eyes of a mother.
Re-experiencing the City of Light as an Expat Mom
Being a new mom in Paris started off with some obvious changes. I had to learn the bus because our metro did not have an elevator. Something I once considered a perk in order to sneak in an extra few steps became a burden in the last weeks of my pregnancy and first few months postpartum. Because picturing my first precious moments of motherhood did not include the imagery of pulling myself up the stairs breathlessly and begrudgingly, sounding like Marlon Brando in The Godfather.
If my husband Aurélien and I dared to eat out, it was no longer which restaurant had herb-infused craft cocktails and photogenic décor. Rather – does the place have a high chair? How quickly can we eat before our kid notices we are in a restaurant?
And then there was fashion. Ah, Paris, the soi-disant fashion capital of the world. And yet, for me, leggings became the new wine. They were (and are still) worn at the frequency I drank France’s beloved import.
These changes were anticipated and even embraced. But as Georges grew, our one-bedroom apartment in the 12th shrunk. The walls closed in on us with each new toy he was gifted. We stepped on jouets that squeaked back in revolt. Or accidentally set off the computerized dogs who bark “Ode to Joy”. Our apartment was one pack n’ play away from being the set of a bad comedy about new parents.
Life in the French Countryside
With space and storage being the antithesis of Paris, we moved to the small medieval painter’s village where Aurélien grew up. The village was only an hour away, but culturally it felt much farther. This move was my introduction to life outside of Paris.
Forget whether the restaurants have high chairs. The question now: is the restaurant even open? With the gastronomic choices limited to crêpes or crêpes, businesses operate on a sleepy town schedule where lazy Sundays stretch into Mondays. The default expectation: whatever you are looking for, don’t, because it’s closed.
While the restaurant options may be restricted, note that we do have seven—seven! — hair salons. Our supermarket and pharmacies takes afternoon siestes, which I learned the hard way when I showed up in the pouring rain in need of feminine products.
The winding cobblestone streets that make every photo look like I live in a Disney cartoon have their charm, just not when you are pushing thirty pounds of baby and carriage. Wearing my status as a newly minted mom in the country, I grunt in defeat each time the wheel gets caught in the crevice of the uneven stones. I can sometimes be seen carrying (while still grunting) the stroller across the more rugged streets.
A New Chapter, Written With Others
I was raised in New York and lived in large cities like Los Angeles and Paris. I’m often asked if I get bored living in such a small town. I don’t know what being bored feels like anymore. I haven’t been bored in almost two years, because, well, children.
But also because I am absorbing another facet of French living, where residents raise chickens for eggs in the backyard. Our town has a communal organic garden. Long walks through the Fontainebleau Forest are seeped in history, back when the kings of France came for the weekend from Versailles.
To emphasize the fact that we are no longer in Paris, we arrived the week of France’s massive centennial flood. As we were unpacking boxes on our side of town, residents on the other were transporting their belongings like nightstands and garment racks in chipped rowboats to dry havens, while ducks swam alongside the roofs of parked cars. A more extreme introduction into rural living, we pulled up our rubber galoshes ready to start this next chapter.
But this one, unlike my first years in Paris, will be written together. If Paris gave me nine lives, I can only wonder how many the French countryside will give me, alongside my family to experience the laughs, the long days and cobblestones together.
- If you’re visiting Paris with family, staying in an apartment will give you more space to relax, make mealtimes cheaper and more kid-friendly and you’ll have a washing machine to clean clothes after the inevitable spills and accidents. Here are 12 vacation apartments to consider on your next Paris trip!
- If you enjoyed this article, check out the author Liza Czarina Michaud’s debut novel Slanted and Disenchanted.
- Need to connect and make friends? Here’s how to meet like-minded parents in Paris.
Written by Lisa Czarina Michaud. Looking to travel? Check out Plum Guide and our Marketplace for fabulous vacation rentals in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long or short term, or buy in France? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates or click here. Looking to bring France home to you or to learn online or in person? Check out our marketplace shop and experiences.