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Last March, I took an unforgettable 40th birthday trip to Paris with my husband, Ted. I dreamed of traveling to the city ever since I started studying the French language in 7th grade. But, tant pis, life got in the way. It was hard to justify a European vacation during the rigors of graduate school, or when we moved to Maine from New Jersey, or after experiencing back-to-back pregnancies. However, as I approached 40, a trip to Paris made sense. What better way to celebrate, than to go on a trip I’d been wishing for since age 13?

We rented a studio apartment in the Marais—a stunning section of the city not unlike the Village in New York—with shops, restaurants, galleries, and fashionable young Parisians strolling the streets. We spent our days biking the city using the Velib rental service, which had a station right around the corner from our studio.

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The view from our apartment - St-Gervais-et-St-Protais Church.

The view from our apartment – St-Gervais-et-St-Protais Church.

For parents of two young children, the trip was like une rêve. We enjoyed long, leisurely bistro lunches with bottles of Cotes du Rhone, sat in Le Jardin des Tuileries and people watched, experienced an avant-garde exhibit on dancing at The Pompidou, and browsed neighborhood shops—like the wonderful Mariage Freres tea emporium and Puyricard artisan chocolates—without rushing (a luxury for a mom if there ever was one). After reading My Life in France, I lived out my Julia Child fantasies and signed Ted and I up for an afternoon class at La Cuisine Paris, where we learned to make French tarts. The week made me feel as if I’d entered a time warp, before kids and school schedules became the focus of my days.

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Ted puts the finishing touches on his Tarte au Citron.

Still, even with this gift of time, I found myself missing my children. Whenever I spotted a little one on the street, I’d think of L and W, and wonder what they were doing at home with their grandparents. While I snapped photos of the expected—the façade of Notre Dame, my husband posing near Pont Neuf, colorful flowers at the Marché Place Baudoyer Farmers’ market— I also found myself taking pictures of French children during our travels.

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A young girl considers joining her friends as they gather around this trio of costumed ladies.

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Mother and son listen to the Hurdy Gurdy during the farmers market.

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I loved this little girl on a scooter at Luxembourg Gardens.

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A little boy takes flight at the Eiffel Tower carousel.

Seeing these children at play made me long for my duo. While I was filled up with the sights and sounds of the city, I couldn’t wait to see L and W again. The thought of our happy reunion made leaving Paris a little easier…. that, and enjoying a gorgeous, Amorino gelato on our last full day.

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There’s no turning back the clock when you go on vacation, but Paris certainly made this mom feel like a kid again!

To celebrate L’s 6th birthday, her grandmother decided to treat the family to lunch at the American Girl Café. If you have a little one over five, you can imagine the excitement surrounding this visit. However, I was apprehensive. Would the store be a tourist trap, and would a birthday celebration be worth the expense? One look at my daughter’s face when we arrived, I knew grandma made the right choice.

Outside American Girl Doll Place. L’s enthusiasm is contagious.

Like Disney, it’s hard not to feel like a kid again at American Girl Place. There are unique dolls, clothing, and cute accessories everywhere you look. On the second floor, we discovered a department featuring dolls from different eras, as well as McKenna, the 2012 American Girl Doll of the year. There’s also a section for shoes, which my daughter loved (hmm… I wonder who she takes after), plus a hair salon, sweet shop, and doll hospital.

L. discovers the shoe section.

We could have continued shopping, but it was time for L’s birthday lunch. The third floor café looks like something out of Eloise. The striped wallpaper is black and white, and the accents in the room are bright pink.

After a short wait, we were escorted to our table and L’s doll, Kit, was given a special chair. Once we were seated, the waitress delivered warm cinnamon rolls and a drink menu. L. ordered pink lemonade, and the adults indulged in peach Bellinis and strawberry Cosmos.

L. adjusts her birthday crown with Kit at her side.

Aunt C. toasts her niece (and shows off her drink).

Lunch was surprisingly good. L. chose a plain cheese pizza, but the rest of us enjoyed generous salads and sandwiches. Dessert was the most exciting part of our meal. L. was thrilled when the waitress presented her with a beautiful little birthday cake and ice cream.

A simple salad with grilled chicken, cherry tomatoes, and feta cheese.

Yum.

The whole experience, from shopping American Girl Place to the delicious cafe lunch, was a treat for us all. Thank you, grandma!

American Girl Place
609 5th Avenue
New York
212.371.2220

Traveling Hazards

It’s been a long while (10 months!) since I’ve posted here. I started Meet the Hazards to continue writing about life with little ones after my column at a local family magazine came to a close. Writing about my family, and gently poking fun at our highs and lows, helped me plow my way through young motherhood.

Life has changed since I started this blog in 2009. My children are in school full-time, I’m taking on more freelance assignments, and my other blog, Cute Potato, is thriving in a way I never imagined.

Wow, how these kids have grown!

Still, I have a soft spot for Meet the Hazards. It’s fun to go back and revisit these small moments in our lives. My hope is to keep up this blog, but in a whole new way. If you know my family, you know we like to visit new places. There’s rarely a month that goes by that we’re not traveling in some fashion. Sometimes we’re road tripping in our home state of Maine, or traveling to new places throughout the country. This year, T and I even flew to Paris to celebrate my 40th sans kiddos, but that’s another post.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about life with kids, changes are the norm. I hope you’ll join me for this new adventure!

Before children, I romanticized about choosing a family Christmas tree. I grew up in a house where my dad assembled an artificial tree every year. The idea of going to a Christmas tree farm, or even a local tree sale, delighted me. Little did I know that selecting a tree would be a low point in our holiday season.

Year 1 (2007): Lauren is 20 months old; Will is 5 months old. My husband and I are smart enough to realize that visiting a tree farm is too big an undertaking with two babies. But we think, “Hey! Wouldn’t this be a great time to take our Christmas card photo?” The kids were not up for a photo shoot, as evidenced here:

Hmm... maybe it's the oversize lobster claw mittens that upset Lauren?

Year 2 (2008): I’m fairly certain we were scarred from year one. Ted asked my mother-in-law to join us, so that someone could manage the children while we made our selection.

Year 3 (2009): Back to the original town sale. I stay in the car with the kids, who show no signs of interest. Ted chooses the tree, I give him the thumbs up, and we’re out of there. So much for a family experience.

Year 4 (2010): We get brave and decide to try visiting a Christmas tree farm with the kids. We visit post lunch when Will (age 3) gets tired. This is probably the most miserable Christmas tree shopping experience of my life. We end up leaving the boy in the van with his hat pulled over his eyes.

Lauren (age 4) doesn’t like the tree we’ve selected. She wants a Charlie Brown version, instead.

And here is my poor husband, trying his best to smile for the camera.

Year 5 (2011): Something happens. We return to the same tree farm, half-expecting one of our children to have a melt down, but no one does. The whole family is in a good mood and excited to find a tree. It’s a Christmas miracle 5 years in the making.

Twist and Pull

Yikes. I’ve been absent from this blog for a while, but for good reason. We’ve been celebrating some milestones in our house, especially Miss Lauren, who turned five this spring.

I didn’t realize that children could lose teeth at this age, until I noticed that one of Lauren’s classmates had developed a gap-toothed grin. How could this happen? Weren’t they mere babes?

A few days later at the dentist’s office, the hygienist noticed Lauren’s two front teeth were loose and an adult tooth was growing behind them. I wondered aloud how I couldn’t have noticed this development, since I help brush her teeth almost every night. Lauren’s baby teeth were rooted so deeply, they would not come out on their own. Instead she would need to have the teeth extracted.

I snapped this photo just before our visit to the dentist.

With this news, my dentist-phobic husband went a little crazy. Did I ask how the dentist would go about extracting Lauren’s teeth? Would she need Novocain? Would she be in pain? I hadn’t asked, which may seem odd, but Lauren’s dentist is so perky and jovial, she managed to erase any concerns.

Unlike her parents, our daughter manages medical situations with aplomb. Lauren was looking forward to the dentist visit and when we arrived, she skipped down the hallway. I could feel myself getting anxious. I should have listened to Ted. Maybe I should have asked more questions.

Lauren’s dentist knows how to manage the Pre-K set. When she applied the topical solution, she said, “This is a little paintbrush we’re going to use on your teeth. A dentist is kind of like an artist, don’t you think?” Lauren nodded. “I’ll let you hold this tiny sand timer. You tell me when the sand has reached the other side.” I was so glad I hadn’t let her watch the Wizard of Oz since the Wicked Witch threatens Dorothy’s life with an hourglass.

Be warned: don't watch this scene in the Wizard of Oz before taking your child to the dentist.

When it came time for the Novocain, the dentist continued, “Now I’m going to spray some water in your mouth.” I saw the giant needle, but Lauren didn’t thanks to the ladybug sunglasses the dentist had put on her earlier. The woman thinks of everything.

There is no delicate way to explain the extraction tool. The dentist simply said, “Okay, Lauren, we’re going to use this tool to twist and then pull.” Ugh. The first attempt didn’t go well. The metal tool slipped on the tooth and made an awful noise. Lauren squirmed in her seat. “What was that?” she wondered.

After the slip up, Lauren looked worried, but by then the teeth were gone. The dentist sent us home with a tiny treasure box with two baby teeth, some instructions and a lot of gauze. Poor Lauren was shaken. Even though the bleeding stopped, she refused to take the gauze out of her mouth until we reached Whole Foods (where I treated her to ice cream for bravery).

That evening, there was much to do about the placement of the teeth, so that Tina the Tooth Fairy would be able to find them. I told Lauren to place them in the special pillow her grandmother gave her, but she worried Tina might not find them there. Instead, she opted to keep her teeth inside the plastic treasure test the dentist provided, but with the lid open. “Tina’s really small, Mom,” she told me. “It might be too hard for her to open the box and fly at the same time.”

When she was safely asleep, my husband arrived in our room with the treasure box. I emptied its contents into my hand.  Lauren’s baby teeth were beautiful; small and delicate like two perfect pearls.

Anger Management

My 3-year old son Will is testing his yelling skills these days. Usually the hollering starts over something simple, like, how I put on his pants. He’ll fuss with the waistband, look at me disapprovingly and say, “I don’t want the pants this way! I want them this way!” And he’ll tug them a little to the left. To manage his frustrations, I offer the usual parenting advice—use your nice words, your inside voice, your manners, etc. But after awhile, the yelling, paired with a fingers-on-the-chalkboard whine, had me rattled. I fought the urge to shout back, then one day, something altogether surprising came out of my mouth:

“Spell it, don’t yell it.”

I could have shot flowers out of my nose. Will was remarkably silent.

“If you want to me to help you,” I said. “Please don’t yell at me. Spell pants instead.” Again, silence. Now don’t get me wrong, I know a preschooler can’t spell pants, unless he’s taken a crash course in Your Baby Can Read, but asking him to spell pants piqued his curiosity.

“Momma, can you spell it for me?” he asked.

“P-A-N-T-S.”

He repeated the spelling back, smiled and returned to the floor to play with his Star Wars figures. I was beyond pleased.

Of course now, like anything that’s too good to be believed, Will is asking me to spell everything. New Jersey. Underwear. Pneumonia. The last of which tripped me up. Seriously. Try spelling pneumonia out loud.

But I’m not complaining. R-e-a-l-l-y. It’s a lot quieter in my house. And my son is learning, which is so much better than yelling.


Cleaning House

While reading about simple IKEA bookshelves on the family design site, Oh Dee Doh, I discovered a link to Becoming Minimalist. The blog details the life of a Vermont family of four and their quest to live more simply. Dad Joshua Becker writes quick, readable posts about his family’s goals and successes. After reading a few entries, I was ready to become a minimalist myself.

Why? After the holidays, new toys, knickknacks and assorted sundries make our modest, 3-bedroom cape feel overloaded. Our house is without a doubt, a minimalist’s worst nightmare. My intentions are good however. Prior to Christmas, I thought I’d make room by taking 3 loads of toys and books to our local kids’ consignment shop. The great unloading was freeing. We gained some shelf space and I felt like Martha Stewart on her best day.

But now I am back to square one, shelves covered in books and magazines, toys on the floor, craft supplies scattered on the kitchen counter. Madness! So you can imagine the relief I felt when I came across Becoming Minimalist. Becker recommends starting off small—clearing out a desk drawer, bookshelf or medicine cabinet—before managing big, overwhelming projects like the toy room, garage and basement. By doing so, he says, a person can enjoy small victories each time. I like the sound of that.

Today, I went through the kids’ giant box of dress-up clothes and put aside extra hats, outgrown ballerina outfits, bandanas, pirate swords and wands. I collected the bounty in a kitchen bag, posted the items on our town’s Trading Post and within the hour, the dress-ups were sold. Victory number one! The whole project—cleaning and posting the items—took about 15 minutes. I feel more organized already.

The kids' dress up closet rivals Vogue

More dress-ups... we could open a theater company

Can our family become true minimalists? We’ll see. I’m not sure we can accomplish object free shelves and floors, as described on this minimalist design guide, but I love the idea of pairing down and living simply. I’m hoping this small start will lead to some peace of mind.


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