In my mind, I had been planning this trip to Paris with my daughter forever.
My expectations were running high, and as it turns out, they were miles ahead of my daughter’s own ideas about Paris. I should have known better.
Shortly after we were married, my husband and I spent two weeks exploring every neighborhood, street, and corner of the city. The Eiffel Tower was our first stop. Climbing up to the first level, we looked out at the Seine, the Bateaux Mouches, the Louvre, and the various bridges, and threw out a wish that we would soon become parents. I remember thinking that this magical city was the perfect place to declare our intentions to start a family. We were still hoping to conceive a child, but not too long after that trip we began the process of adoption.
Years later, as I was cleaning house one afternoon, I happened across a small journal I had kept on the trip. Thumbing through the pages, the date November 19th, 2000 jumped out at me — the same day as our daughter’s birthday! I read on and realized with amazement that while we were making our wish atop the Eiffel Tower that chilly November day, somewhere in Siberia, Russia, our daughter was being born.
Until that moment, I had never made the connection between the two events. Immediately, I knew I had to take her to Paris; to let her see the very spot at the Eiffel Tower where our journey to become a family had begun.
The trip to Paris finally materialized in April 2015. We had already traveled extensively with our daughter by then, and she proved an able traveler — game to try new foods, adaptable in new surroundings, and with stamina for long days of sightseeing. Still, with her 14th birthday we began to experience more of the quarrelsomeness and contrariness that teens are noted for. I should have heeded the first warning signs as I began planning the trip.
“Why do we have to go to Paris?” she moaned, as if a trip to France’s capital city was the worst fate that could befall a girl.
“It’s a beautiful city. I want to show you where Daddy and I stood on the Eiffel Tower on the day you were born. Besides, you loved London; Paris is equally wonderful, just in different ways,” I said.
It’s true, she had loved London. We went there when she was 12 and she embraced the Tube, the double-decker buses, and the outdoor markets with enthusiasm. She even outdid us at the Natural History Museum where, after spending five hours exploring every exhibit, she found one more and insisted on seeing it.
But 14 ½ is not 12. And Paris is not London. Listening to Mom ramble on about Impressionism and Art Nouveau architecture and Gothic cathedrals and the history of cabaret life in Montmartre is not compelling when your whole world revolves around Korean pop music, anime, and noticing cute boys. Never underestimate the power of a sulky teen to drag down the mood for everyone.
Breathe, I thought to myself.
Her rejection of Paris was, on some level, a rejection of me. It was her declaration that she has her own interests and her own ideas. Even as I realized this, I mourned the connection I had hoped to make with her in this magical city. My dream of looking over the rooftops of the city together from the Eiffel Tower crumbled in the bickering that occurred each morning as we tried to draw some enthusiasm from her and collectively decide what to do with the day ahead.
On the fourth morning after a particularly rough start, I found myself feeling utterly defeated. My anger gave way to bitter tears. Silently the three of us walked to the Metro, still not knowing where we were headed that day. As we walked, I realized that I had to get away; I had to give up the tug of war that my daughter and I were engaged in. And I had to find the Paris that I loved.
When we arrived at the Metro station, I announced that I would spend the day on my own and meet them back at the apartment in time for dinner. My husband looked at me dumbfounded and tried to be the peacemaker, but my mind was made up.
As I walked away, I felt my strength coming back — I felt myself coming back. I spent the entire day in the 16th arrondissement, visiting museums and exploring a residential section of Paris I had never been to before. When I returned at the end of the day, my husband and daughter were already at the apartment, with a few tales of their own to tell. The raincloud hovering over us had blown away.
After that, things improved. She loved the Louvre. She reveled in the Egyptian sculptures and managed to find 26 representations of Anubis, her favorite Egyptian character. She discovered that French boys have great hair. She decided that Paris has too much graffiti, the people smoke too much, and the drivers are crazy, but the bread is really good.
Paris captivated me at age 26 when I had the interest and the confidence to fearlessly wander the streets, museums, and markets. Even with all her opinions and flip comments, her sass and her spunk, my daughter was still just 14. I had expected too much.
My daughter had to find her own Paris, and I had to get out of the way in order for her to do it. It wouldn’t be my Paris; it couldn’t be my Paris. Paris reminded me that my daughter is not me. She must find her own way in the world. As parents we can share what we love and what we’ve learned, but our children are free to accept or decline our offerings. As much as it pained me not to have her love my Paris, seeing the city through her eyes — the good and the bad — was ultimately worth it.