Tom took our innocent, defenseless, unsuspecting three-year-old son to Great Clips to get matching father-and-son mohawk haircuts. This is why my husband should not be allowed to make any fashion, style, or grooming decisions without supervision. He boasted that both haircuts costed a grand total of $22, and I told him he paid $22 too much. Maybe this doesn’t rise to the level of child abuse or neglect, but there ought to be some kind of fine or corporal punishment for subjecting a helpless child to ridicule.
There really is no place like home. It’s wonderful to travel abroad, but there is something so indescribably comforting about coming home. One thing that struck me is how big the sky is at home, specifically in Las Vegas. It’s so expansive and blue. Many of our days in Paris were overcast and gloomy, especially toward the end of our stay, and between narrow alleyways and densely crowded buildings, sometimes all we saw was a meager gray strip of the wintry Paris sky. I can’t get over how enormous, cloudless, and sunny Las Vegas skies are. On our first day back, the kids rode their tricycles around our cul-de-sac and it felt bizarre to be able to go outside without having to put on a million layers of clothing and to have so much open space. Everything in America seems so huge and spacious, if a little sterile and generic. Our house is GIGANTIC. My bedroom is the size of our entire Parisian apartment.
Getting reacclimated to our former lives is disorienting and exhilarating. Not only do we have to adjust to blinding sunshine, we’re once again recovering from jet lag and culture shock. It’s pretty amazing how many times our kids have experienced jet lag recently. I love how they’ve acquired a taste for things like salted fish, saucisson, and escargot. I’m not sure how much of our travels they’ll remember as they grow older, but I know the time I’ve spent with them is a priceless investment in who they will become, not to mention in myself as a parent and as a person. I feel like I’ve changed, but I can’t tell exactly how.
In the past several months we’ve gotten proficient at one point or another at calculating exchange rates for U.S. dollars to Euros, British pounds, Japanese yen, Thai baht, Singapore dollars, Malaysian ringgit and Vietnamese dong. Super-processed, factory-made foods are less appealing than ever. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to travel as a family and experience different cultures and cuisines. Sometimes a foreign destination doesn’t live up to your expectations or to what you’re used to at home. Or — what usually happens — your vacation was so fantastic that it’s disappointing to come home to your depressingly ordinary, everyday life. I feel like we got the best of both worlds: being enthralled and enriched by new adventures, and gaining an enhanced appreciation of home.
We scaled the Eiffel Tower, shopped on Rue Cler, walked the Luxembourg Gardens, enjoyed happy hour in the Latin Quarter, admired the Pantheon, made a pilgrimage to Sacre Coeur, wandered the avenues of Le Marais, peeked into Place des Vosges, strolled along the Seine, roamed the Jardin des Tuileries, posed for pictures in front of the Louvre, trekked the length of the Champs-Elysees, climbed the Arc de Triomphe, toured Notre Dame, viewed the Hotel de Ville, explored the historical castle of Chateau de Vincennes, meandered through the Parc Floral de Paris, frolicked in Parc Monceau, marveled at Versailles, and made Montmartre our home away from home, among many, many other adventures. Thank goodness we had six weeks to go at our own leisurely pace!
Alas, the time has come for us to bid adieu to Paris, armed with memories that will last a lifetime.
Surprisingly, I did not get sick of French food during our six week stay. We had duck confit, steak tartare, and pâté on several occasions and the kids ordered escargot every chance they got. I loved that so many of our meals required no cooking — just plates of charcuterie, cheese, delicious, crusty baguettes, and, of course, lots and lots of wine. Sometimes we included a fresh salad. I’m not a freak about taking pictures of every single thing I eat, I just took enough to remind me how very, very well we ate in Paris.
My birthday in France was a bitingly cold, overcast day. Probably not the best day to take the family to Versailles, but that’s what we did. After roaming the palace and grounds until we couldn’t stand the cold any longer, we stopped for a snack of pizza and moules frites, and then later that night Tom and I headed to a local bistro for my real birthday dinner. In my rapidly advancing old age, all I want is to celebrate with a good meal, good wine, and good company. Mission accomplished.
Pictures of our romp through Versailles can be found here:
We left my mom and the kids behind in Paris and took the train to London for a four day/three night jaunt. It was our first time there and I fell in love. With London, and with my husband again. I can’t explain how happy it makes me to wander the streets of a new destination, arm in arm with my husband, exploring and discovering an unfamiliar city. I loved looking at the architecture (evident in my pictures — the majority of which are random buildings — found here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/117364714322873137486/albums/5967448634114615345?sort=1) and seeing the mix of old and new, a modern city with such a rich history.
I’m not really into visiting museums when traveling to a foreign country, especially a country I’ve never visited before (I’d rather be out and about exploring the town), but London has some of the most amazing museum collections in the world, on par with Paris’ Louvre, and because admission was, unbelievably, FREE for all of these incredible museums, we couldn’t resist spending an hour or two wandering through a few of the most impressive: V&A Museum, National Gallery, and British Museum. I can’t wait to bring my kids to London when they’re older to spend at least a couple of weeks just touring its superb museums.
Per Tripadvisor’s recommended three-day itinerary, we also saw the musical Billy Elliot, which was not my cup of tea. It relied so heavily on children’s performances (the starring character is an 11-year-old boy) that I felt like I was watching a talent show, not a professional musical. It also brought to mind London’s unsavory past of relying heavily on child labor. I am such a mom for not enjoying a performance because I was worried about how intensive rehearsals must be for the children and how late they get to bed after each show ends. I also don’t find it remotely funny or entertaining when children swear or use crass language for comedic or shock value, but the rest of the audience didn’t seem to agree with me.
Despite the steak and kidney pie that tasted like ass, and the fact that I nearly had a heart attack when I realized we spent US$60 on a fairly standard breakfast, and US$50 on afternoon tea consisting of some pastries, bland finger sandwiches, and tea, London was absolutely fantastic, and I know for sure we’ll be returning.
I had a drink with a strange man, and I couldn’t tell you why I did it. All I can tell you is that it seemed like a fine idea at the time. I had been feeling depressed since New Years Eve, even though Tom and I had (at least nominally) reconciled and were being civil toward each other. I was despondent over the state of my marriage, which seemed doomed to mediocrity, and continued to harbor some ill-will toward Tom because I blamed him for our disastrous NYE.
After we had taken the kids to the park playground earlier in the day, I announced that I was going for a walk. Tom didn’t offer to go with me but instead changed into his pajamas and settled in for a leisurely afternoon at home. My despondency grew as I walked around Montmartre, feeling unloved and unappreciated, lamenting my loneliness in what was supposed to be the most romantic city in the world.
I ended up on Rue Abbesses, a popular tourist hangout lined with trendy shops and cafés, and stopped at a random café to order vin chaud, hot mulled wine, which I sipped at an outdoor table while reading a book. There was a couple smoking and chatting two tables away and I was so engrossed in my book that I barely noticed when a man squeezed past me to sit at the adjacent table. He started smoking and then asked if the cigarette smoke was bothering me, to which I replied, “No, no. I’m fine, thank you.” I turned back to my book only to be surprised when he leaned over to to ask, “You look so sad, are you? Why do you seem so sad?” I didn’t know how to respond. Tom has told me many times that I wear my emotions very visibly, but I thought, surely I’m not so obvious that a total stranger can see dejection written all over my face? Again I responded, “No, I’m fine, thanks.” He eventually finished his cigarette as I finished my wine, and when I signaled to the waiter for the check, the man sitting next to me suddenly asked if I would like to have a drink with him at a bar nearby. I declined and told him that my family was expecting me, but he persisted by saying, “Just one drink. A glass of wine perhaps? It’s just two or three minutes from here. You can come have a drink and then join your family afterwards.” My instinct was to refuse firmly and definitively, but I hesitated. Ordinarily I would’ve bolted from that scenario but at that moment I was feeling particularly low, or maybe I was vulnerable, I don’t know, but I wasn’t in my normal state of mind. My first thought was, Would Tom mind? I thought to myself, No, he probably wouldn’t. Then I thought, Why not? What’s the harm? We were in a heavily populated tourist area and it wasn’t like I was going to follow him down a dark alley. Maybe it would be an interesting experience to have a drink with a local. Why not?
“It’s close to here?” I asked, reluctantly. Yes, he assured me, just a couple of blocks away. I heard myself actually accepting his invitation: “Umm…okay…maybe just one drink…” Did I really just agree to follow a stranger to a bar? Apparently yes, because I was gathering up my things to leave with him, self-conscious because the couple sitting at the next table over had witnessed the entire interaction unfold, and I felt their eyes watching me judgmentally and imagined they were thinking, “Mon Dieu! What a slut! Oh la la!” I did not have any improper intentions. I was simply curious about his motives, and wondered whether I really looked sad or if that was just a pick-up line, and I wanted to see where a local would go to have a drink. I’d never done anything like this before and wanted to see what would happen, what it would be like to have a conversation in a foreign country with a person I didn’t know.
Like he promised, we were at the bar after a short walk, and it wasn’t until I was sitting across from him that I was able to examine his face and demeanor. He was skinny, almost gaunt by American standards. I guessed his age to be late thirties or early forties. His narrow face was heavily lined and something about the way he looked reminded me of a weasel. He had a weasely face. He looked almost as uncomfortable as I felt, and our conversation was awkward and stiff, with a lot of pauses and silences. At one point he went outside to smoke a cigarette. It’s weird, and hard to explain, how I cared and didn’t care about his opinion of me. For the most part, I honestly didn’t care what he thought of me. I didn’t feel the need to impress him; I definitely did not want to flirt. I didn’t want him to be interested in me, but a small part of me (my pride? vanity?) wanted him to find me interesting, or at least not boring. When we first sat down he asked if I was married and I said yes, with two children. Something flickered across his expression that I couldn’t put my finger on: disappointment, confusion, resentment? For a second I imagined that he was annoyed with me for breaking some unspoken but widely understood code of conduct for women who are approached by men at cafés: do not accept an invitation to have a drink if you’re married because you’re wasting his time and leading him on. Duh. But I hadn’t been thinking along those lines at all, not even close. I obviously hadn’t thought this through.
He went on to vilify his ex-girlfriend who was (according to him) superficial and frivolous, like all French girls (according to him). He complained that she used him and racked up massive debts on his credit card for clothes. He was done with French girls, sick of them. American girls, on the other hand, he found interesting. “People say to me, ‘Americans are stupid; they are fat.’ But I say to them, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ I love American movies. French, European movies are so boring.” I was both offended and amused by his pandering and his caricature of Americans. I had to come to the defense of my fellow Americans; I told him that America had such a diverse population that included all sorts of people, including really intelligent ones. And there were stupid and fat people everywhere. He agreed and said he wished he could meet someone like me. Then he asked if I was happy in my marriage, if everything was going well for me? I got really uncomfortable and stammered that I had a good husband and a good marriage, but that my husband and I had gotten into a fight, which was the reason why I was alone that evening. I explained that when you’ve been married for 14 years like we have, sometimes you take each other for granted and you’re not as nice to each other as you were at the beginning of your relationship. At this he expressed genuine shock. “You’ve been married for 14 years?? My God! You look like a baby!” I would have assumed he was lying if he hadn’t acted so surprised; it’s been a long time since anyone’s accused me of looking like a baby.
Throughout our conversation I had the feeling that he rather regretted extending his invitation, just as I had rather regretted accepting it. He didn’t seem to find my personality and wit, or lack thereof, very stimulating. I was boring and pathetic, even to myself. So I was surprised when he asked me to have a meal with him sometime, anytime. In fact, over the next several days he would be helping out his friends in the very bar where we were having drinks, and I could stop by anytime, either alone or with my family, and he would make me or us something to eat. He then wrote down his contact information and handed it to me, along with a business card for the bar. He asked multiple times whether I would be interested in having another drink with him or sharing a meal, and I was confused. Now that he knew I was married, what was he getting at? Did he think I was lonely? Did he feel sorry for me? Or did he think that because I confessed having had a fight with my husband, I might be receptive to an illicit rendezvous? He suggested that I could bring my family, so maybe his intentions were honorable. But then he emphasized that if I ever wanted to have a drink or a meal, or go on a walk with him, to just contact him and he would be free to take me out. I didn’t know what to think so I quickly finished my glass of wine and asked him to let me pay for my own drink. He adamantly refused, insisting that he had invited me.
I wanted to buy a baguette so he walked me to a nearby boulangerie, gave me a hug and we parted ways. It was nothing like a first date, or any kind of a date at all, but the awkwardness of the encounter made me feel so grateful that I didn’t ever have to date again, and I was relieved when it was over. When I got home, I almost blurted out to Tom and my mom that I just had a drink with a strange man, but stopped short because I realized how inappropriate that might sound to my mom. As soon as she was in the other room, I told Tom that I had a drink with a strange man, and he reacted exactly as I had expected. He smiled and asked what did I have to drink, and what did we talk about. When I explained that a stranger had invited me to a bar, and I went with him and had a glass of wine and made small talk, I think it dawned on Tom that the encounter wasn’t as innocent as he had assumed. He probably thought that someone had espied me at a café, sent a drink over, and approached to talk to me. When Tom realized that I had affirmatively accepted an invitation to have a drink, and followed a stranger to a bar, he said, “I don’t know what to say,” and got up and left the room. We had just started eating dinner and I was at a loss over how to explain to my mom why Tom had abruptly gone into the bedroom and shut the door. I couldn’t tell her the truth, which was that my husband couldn’t bear to look at me because of something I had done. Up until that point, I didn’t think I had done anything wrong. I thought I was being harmlessly spontaneous. Tom and I don’t get jealous over one another and we don’t try to make each other jealous. We have such absolute trust and faith in each other that there simply isn’t any room for jealousy. But now, looking back, my actions could be construed as the actions of someone who was scheming to make her husband jealous. That was never my motive. I would rather have absolute trust and faith over jealousy any day.
I swore to Tom that I honestly didn’t think he’d care if I had a drink with someone I randomly met at a café, and I wouldn’t have done it if I had known that he would react this way. He wouldn’t come out of the bedroom and I had to give my mom an absurdly implausible excuse about him having a stomachache because of some beer that he drank. I was, eventually, able to coax him out of the bedroom, because I can’t stand my husband being upset with me, and I will say and do whatever it takes to make him feel better and to reassure him about us and our relationship. I just wish he’d do the same for me.
We screwed it up royally. And it’s a shame because we had all the ingredients to have a really great night. Originally my mom had planned to return from Germany on January 2nd, but as a favor to us she returned on New Years Eve to watch the kids so we could go out that night. We made a reservation at a nearby brasserie/bar that had festive decorations and promised to have a DJ for its NYE entertainment. Our late dinner started with some delicious foie gras pâté and a dozen raw oysters, followed by lots of red meat: steak frites for Tom and beef tartare for me, all accompanied by plenty of wine. Dessert was a trio of crème brûlée with coffee. Shortly before midnight, the DJ set up his equipment right next to our table and the new year was ushered in with happy revelers dancing to pulsating music. Too bad we were fighting the entire time. It had started that morning, when Tom made an unkind remark to me. Apparently he didn’t think it was a big deal, certainly nothing warranting an apology, so I was left to fume all day as I waited for him to approach me. It wasn’t until we were on our way to the restaurant that we really started bickering, about parenting, negativity, passive-aggressiveness, defensiveness, being rude and inconsiderate toward your spouse; all standard, mundane stuff.
Tom is the most non-confrontational person in the world. His desire to avoid conflict is matched only by my stubbornness. He didn’t think we needed to openly address and resolve our issues because he was no doubt hoping that once I had a few drinks in me and was sufficiently buzzed, coupled with the fact that it was NYE, I would be willing to set aside any grievances and just enjoy the night. Stupid, stupid man. It’s really hard for me to pretend to be happy when I’m not, and with my husband it’s impossible for me to pretend at all.
Our tiny table was sandwiched in between the tiny tables of two other couples, and I bet no one expected that I would be loudly berating the shellshocked-looking man sitting across from me for a good portion of the night, least of all the shellshocked-looking man sitting across from me. If Tom thought that I wouldn’t fight with him in public, within hearing of other couples sitting on both sides of us, on New Years Eve, then he was dead wrong. I was never going to see these people again in my life, what did I care? I got really worked up and emotional and a couple of times had to dab my eyes, at which point Tom tried to change the subject by telling me a really boring story about his shaving experience, which story was not well-received.
When I get myself worked up into a rage, it takes me forever to get over it, even if I really want to. I didn’t want to be fighting with my husband at a restaurant in Paris on New Years Eve. I was mad at both of us for not resolving our stupid fight earlier. Very often, the thoughts in my head are at odds with the words that come out of my mouth. I say really spiteful things when I’m angry. In my head, I kept telling myself to just let it go and try to salvage the night. It’s New Years! A fresh start! Time to forgive and let bygones be bygones and appreciate your loved ones and all that crap. So when Tom asked if I had any reflections about the past year, in my head I thought about saying, “I’m really grateful to have had this sabbatical from work which allowed me to travel and spend time with my family,” but instead the words that came out were, “You ruined my day AND my night AND my entire year, and you’ll probably ruin the rest of my life!” When he had asked for a truce earlier in the night, instead of conceding I heard myself say, “I HATE YOU!! I HATE YOU SO MUCH!!!”
My heart holds onto anger with pitbullish tenacity, even when I know I’ll regret it later. I just can’t stop myself from feeling the way I’m feeling. It has to run its course and go away on its own, usually only after exhaustive scrutiny and analysis. I need to dissect and discuss every issue ad nauseam, evaluate it from every angle. I need points and counterpoints, proof, objectives, and resolution. Tom just wants to move on. He would be perfectly happy if we never discussed a single point of contention and all disagreements were resolved with blowjobs. But fights are never about a single issue or a single point of contention. There’s history and baggage and the evolution of a relationship, of a marriage. I wasn’t thinking only of his unkind remark from that morning. I was thinking, how did we get here? I remember we once went out to dinner while I was in law school, and a middle-aged couple seated near us at the restaurant kept looking in our direction. Finally the woman leaned over to us and said, “My husband and I have been trying to see your fingers, because we were trying to figure out if you were engaged or newlyweds. You look so happy and in love.” I smiled, rather smugly I think, because at the time we had been married for five years, and I was confident that we would always be madly in love with each other. I thought that my husband was incapable of being mean to me, and the euphoric stage of our relationship would last forever. I thought that we were better than other couples, and the way we felt about each other was special. Now, I’m confronted with the reality that we’re just like everybody else. We have the same arguments as everyone else. We play the same hackneyed gender roles that countless husbands and wives have played before us. There is nothing special or unique about us. How did we get here? How does any relationship get here, especially when you vow at the beginning of it, that you’ll never turn into one of those couples? How do you go from always sitting next to each other at restaurants because you want to hold hands and smooch while you’re eating, to staring blankly at each other from across the table because you’ve run out of things to talk about? How do you go from having sex twice a day, to twice a week, to twice a month, to only on special occasions? How do you go from not being able to keep your hands off of each other, to forgetting to touch each other at all? How do you go from hours of googly-eyed exchanges, to thinking that everything your spouse says is stupid and annoying, or tuning them out and not even bothering to listen? How does marriage go from being completely effortless to something that requires attention and work? I’m not saying that I want us to regress into lovesick puppies. I just don’t want us to be like pieces of furniture to each other. Even if that’s what happens to other couples, even if it’s the natural, inevitable course of relationships. Making a snide remark or being not-so-nice to your spouse once in a while is not shocking, unnatural, or outrageous behavior. It’s normal. My husband isn’t a bad person or a bad husband. He just acts like a guy who’s been married for 14 years. But if I’m okay with that, then in a few years he’ll act like a guy who’s been married for 18 years. And so on and so forth, until we’re like pieces of furniture to each other. It’s easy to not let him get away with it, to adopt a zero tolerance policy toward anyone who doesn’t treat me the way I want to be treated. The tricky part is being able to get over myself in time to not ruin everything and to be able to answer honestly when I ask myself, am I always as nice to him as I want and expect him to be toward me?
The new year itself was very anti-climatic when it arrived. Tom and I were sitting across from each other in silence, looking around and occasionally glancing at a large clock on the wall that we later learned was running slow. Around what we thought was five minutes before midnight, people at the bar started hollering and whooping and whistling and I pulled out my phone to find out that it had already turned midnight. We looked at each other and then he came over to sit next to me, put his arm around my shoulders and kissed me on the cheek. I knew I was supposed to turn my head and kiss him — that’s what I should have done — but I simply could not bring myself to do it. I was too hurt and angry to kiss my husband on New Years Eve. It was the first time since I started kissing that I didn’t kiss anyone at the beginning of a new year.
I saw young couples embracing each other, older couples locked in passionate kisses, friends wishing each other happiness and health. A few times some revelers tried to draw us out of our shells by shaking hands or encouraging us to dance, but for the most part we were bystanders observing the merriment around us without participating in it. I can only imagine what onlookers must have thought about us: the uncomfortable-looking man sitting next to his scowling companion, the unhappy couple. We’ve never celebrated New Years in a foreign country before, and we’ll likely never do so again in Paris. We (I) really fucked it up.