adventures in baby-raising vol. I: avoid getting kicked out of places.

my new ride.

Getting around Paris with a now almost ten-pound baby attached to me has limited my daily jaunts around the city, keeping me at home more than I'd like to be. It is also cementing the additional baby weight onto me where I feel like I will be in a perpetual state of stretch pants since nothing fits yet. Between the gray bone-chilling weather that is winter in Paris, it taking about an hour to get out of the house where I always forget something and having been recently reminded that we now live in a world where attacks have become a new norm, has made leaving the house increasingly undesirable. 

I look back on my early Paris days of 2009 and marvel at just how carefree life was. I had no attachments and felt safe from senseless acts of violence as I blithely lived out my Paris adventures as if I was Brigitte Bardot. Never did I imagine that I would be a matriarch to a household several arrondisements away from where I started, and living with the fear that I could be helpless in protecting my baby from this new world we live in. Unsettling doesn't even begin to describe how this feels.

When I do leave the house now, after days in when it starts getting a little too "Flowers in the Attic" as I watch the season progress from my window, it is usually for a good reason, like going to the market, the post office, or one day in particular getting my baby's passport photo taken.

I feel like in general getting passport photos taken is such an arduous task. Very few people look attractive faced front and center with their hair tucked behind their ears with their lips pressed together. Can't the standards be changed to something a bit more glamorous, or at least appealing? I feel bad for government officials who have to look at these terrible photos all day long. When I look at my official document photos (and well, photos of me in general at the moment) I wonder, "God, do I really look like this?" My photo on my French resident card is particularly unfortunate. My eyebrows are uneven from an ambitious plucking session where one eye looks like it has a caterpillar sleeping above it, and the other is in an eternal state of inquiry. It is so noticeable that the last time I was at Charles de Gaulle Airport, I was asked what happened by the customs agent who then advised me to always get my eyebrows shaped by a professional. Merci.

On the day of the baby's passport photo, I bundled him up in his Michelin Man puffy coat that sends him in such a screaming frenzy and stuffed him into the carriage, where all you could see was a little head floating in a sea of plush. While he doesn't love being constrained, the soothing nature of the stroller has him asleep within seconds. And thank God for that. I'm not an advanced enough mommy to handle walking down the street impervious to a wailing infant. 

It was a late autumn day where the city under the blanket of foliage looked like it had been gilded with a paint brush. I was wishing that the baby would wake up to see his first autumn; the leaves falling from the trees similar to the way that the first sprinkling of snow falls. 

I arrived at the photography shop that I carefully selected, as they specialize in infant passport photos. Pushing the door with one hand and with the other stabilized on the stroller, it would not open. I tried again, but to no avail. A man inside the shop could be seen through the window watched me struggle, but did not offer much more acknowledgment of my presence than staring at me with indifferance. It was then that it occurred to me that the store was closed for lunch, something after all of these years in France, I still fail to take into account. With ten minutes left of his break, I politely nodded to him in a way that I thought communicated that I respected his break and would wait. I clicked the break of the stroller and took my phone out to do what all new parents do when they have a free moment: take yet another photo of their baby sleeping.

As I was snapping away, hoping that a fresh fallen leaf would find its way onto the stroller for his official "look! baby's first fall" pic, the door of the photography shop jolted open. 

"Qu'est-ce que vous voulez?" The man who had been staring at me through the window said with some force.

Sensing that I had somehow disturbed him, I didn't answer his jarring question asking me what I wanted, and told him that I was more than fine with waiting until he reopened at 3 pm. Since it was such a beautiful day, I had no problem hanging out for another five minutes. He ignored my sincerity and motioned with impatience for me to come in. Okay. Being a new stroller driver, entering the store consisted of a few thuds, bangs and cumbersome maneuvering of my new wheels as I tried to get up the small stoop. Watching the baby shift from side to side as I awkwardly handled his vehicle while the man huffed in my ear from my inexperience only made me nervous, not to mention really hot as I felt like my scarf was slowly trying to strangle me.  

I was asked again what I wanted but this time with a little more gusto, I told him passport photos. 

"French passport photos?" He barked. (Yes, barked.) 

I confirmed French, as well as a set of American sized photos. 

"We don't do that." He said pulling his head back as if my request was simply unheard of. 

I explained that the difference between a French and American photo is merely the sizing by a few millimeters. Surely a photography store is able to create different sized photos, right? 

"No." He insisted, shaking his head to underscore the impossibility.

Okay, no problem. I'll just get a set of photos compatible for French documents, I told him. 

He then peeked in the carriage and flung his arms up in the air.

Now what did we do? 

"Mais, il dort!" He responded to my thoughts. 

Well, of course the baby was sleeping, he was fresh out of the womb. That's what babies do, they sleep, I wanted to tell him. I also wanted to remind him this was my first time taking passport photos for a newborn and came to him because I assumed it was not his. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) I don't have a quick tongue in French and couldn't convey a snippy response to his apparent distaste for us. Once he was done shaming me for having a sleeping newborn baby, I'd had enough and asked him to simply ease up. 

"Doucement, monsieur," I said to him, gently holding up my hands to press against the aggression he was imposing upon me. "Soyez gentil."

"You don't think I am being nice?" He turned to me with wide eyes.

"Well, frankly, not really," I admitted with a shrug. 

"D'accord, on a fini," he said, tripping over the stroller to open the door. "Cassez-vous, alors. Bon journée."

Not quite sure what was going on, as my brain was translating, I stood there frozen in shock. Cassez-vous? Wait, what was going on? He was not just telling me to leave his store but telling me to get the hell out. Cassez-vous! Who says that to a customer? A woman? A new mother? At least he was speaking formally in vous...and then it occurred to me that it was possible he was speaking in plural, which meant his rage was also directed towards a newborn who dared to fall asleep in his "studio." Seriously. What. An. Ass.

With my jaw literally dropped as he stood there holding the door open, he gripped on about how he opened the store five minutes early for me and that I was ungrateful. On the sidewalk I screamed, "I told you to finish! I was in no rush!" but before I could relay even a fraction of my point, the door had been slammed in my face leaving us on the sidewalk with my embassy appointment days away without official passport photos. 

I looked down at the baby whose blue eyes were starting to open, unaware of the mayhem that has just taken place, and was responding to his surroundings. He couldn't process the information fast enough as his eyes flickered to the sounds of cars and pedestrians on the sidewalk, the cool air, and his mother in mild distress grunting in aggravation over getting kicked out of a store. His eyes then followed an gold autumn leaf that trickled from above and fell on to the blanket he was bundled in. He laughed. And it was just perfect. In a world that can be so ugly, sometimes it's worth seeing it through the eyes of a baby's small scope where everything is new and simply beautiful. 

(But really, fuck that guy.) 

we are all paris.

Hi there...if anyone is out there. It has been almost two years since I've posted here and while I'm sure most of the regular readers of this blog have moved on to read about the crazy adventures of another young, wide-eyed and quirky gal who found herself in the City of Light, I've been lucky enough to stay in touch with many of you whom I can call friends of mine, be it in real life or through social media. So whether you are just passing by, or we spoke last week, or we haven't been in touch for I while, I say hello again.

It seems like a lifetime ago, on one fateful New Year’s Day, I asked myself what I wanted for myself for the New Year. What if, I asked myself staring up at the ceiling of my shared Brooklyn apartment, what if I could move to Paris? Heeding to the advice of David Byrne in the Talking Head’s song “Cities” where he sings, “Find a city, find myself a city to live in!”  and having already lived in Olympia, Washington, L.A, and New York, surely Paris was also a suitable candidate in my decade-long quest in finding a city to live in, preferably one I could truly call home.
This flicker of an idea was then ignited after happening upon a video of my late-grandmother performing with her jazz band on French television in the late 1960s, and recalling the few times I’d met her, that after living in Paris for over thirty years, she decided that it was one of the greatest cities in the world. As a native-New Yorker, hearing this declaration, intrinsically I raised a skeptical eyebrow, but still, I wanted to know more and decided to "test" the city out.
A three-month stint turned into now almost seven years and while Paris has not exactly been the 3x5 postcard that my daydreams convinced me that I would be framed in, my grandmother delivered on her promise that Paris was something to see through the eyes of a resident. Sure it rains over a hundred days out of the year, the brasserie coffee is tangy and bitter, and simple tasks constantly test my vocabulary and patience where learning how to properly explain the complexities of an exploding water pipe would make the difference between a plumber coming sometime that week to at some point that day. But I’ve made it home where the city’s imperfections, like a beauty mark, continue to both intrigue and endear me. 

The tragedies of 2015, however, produce a reality that simply (and admittedly naively) never occurred to me would take place in Paris. As many of you know, I am a new mother. Seven weeks ago I gave birth to a precious little baby boy. He has been our little joy and at times our pocket drama queen who has brought such a special spark to our otherwise quiet life. 

Friday night we were invited to a friend's house near Bastille to introduce our baby. The invitees were a medley of friends celebrating different milestones in their lives: our newlywed friends whom we haven't seen since their wedding over the summer; our friends planning their wedding for next summer; and another couple who is expecting their second child in mere weeks. With the baby inching towards being two months old, we didn't see a problem with taking him out to give my dear pregnant friend a break and go to her. After all, it was not that long ago that I was pregnant and towards the final weeks appreciated having people come to me. 

On the brisk fall eve, we bundled our son up and slid him into the Ergo Baby carrier that my mother insisted on because she is unconvinced that the long piece of fabric that consists of the Boba Wrap will secure her first grandson (despite the many tutorials I have demonstrated.) After a quick stop at Nicholas wine shop, our mini family headed out for a first night out as three since the baby's birth. To put it simply: I was excited. It felt good to be out and to be in a place where I don't feel like I'm playing a role of a mother. I am starting to finally feel like one.

Dinner was what we expected from your typical Parisian social gathering with empty wine bottles steadily outnumbering full ones, charcuterie and cheeses sliced, vinyl records spinning and rooms sporadically clearing from mass cigarette breaks on the balcony, granting me carte blanche to select the next album with my baby nestled quietly and soundly against my chest. 

Around 10 pm, we decided to call it a night and scrolled down the parental checklist to ensure the baby's comfort for the small trek home: diaper changed, pyjamas on, belly full. Check, check, check. As we put our coats on, the host received a text asking if she was okay. Then, (and pardon the reference) like an episode of Gossip Girl, at the same time everyone's phones chimed from Facebook bings, texts notifications, Gmail chimes, phones ringing. Being someone who does not receive many phone calls or even texts, being included in this digital symphony immediately set off an internal alert that something was not right. Why were we all being simultaneously contacted?  

As soon as the news hit that a series of barbaric attacks were taking place not at all far from where we were, without giving it a second thought, I took my coat off; we weren't going anywhere. 

It's not a cliché when they say children are like sponges. With every half hour that passed with more information streaming in and the milieu at our friends' place going from curious to concerned to crucial, my once sound baby appeared to be absorbing every single one of our emotions. He had gone through the two diapers and was quickly filling up his last one. His pyjamas and onesie were soaking wet from sweat, and his eyebrows remained furrowed as he puffed and moaned from the sudden shift of energy. By midnight, we were out of supplies. His last diaper was full, he had long drank the last drop of formula, and I could not offer my breast because I'd had two glasses of wine and needed to wait for it to pass through my system, which would have taken about two hours. So when a baby is in need, what does he do? He cries. Over the news reports, phones ringing, frantic conversations, we had a screaming baby. 

Uber was not picking up passengers, nor were cabs, as Aurélien and our friends made phone calls to get someone to pick us up. This was like new mommy boot camp, putting my newly acquired skills to the test. How could I calm an unconsolable baby during a time of crisis? Thankfully, relief came around 3 am when a cab agreed to get us. Charging down the street towards a taxi in the middle of the night, with my 7-week-old screaming baby in a declared state of emergency, was an experience I could have never predicted when I decided to move to Paris on a hunch.

I thought having been here for Charlie Hebdo where our home is not at all far from the Kosher Marketwas a level of intensity that could not be surpassed, but alas here we are, again, months later with a heightened level of shock, grief, and fear. 

As a general rule of thumb, I avoid sticking my nose in French politics as I still feel like a visitor here even after all these years, however, the events that took place where there was a universal uncertainty as new information was being revealed by the hour created a conformity with me with Paris, and Paris with the rest of the world.

Mirroring the same harrowing emotions I was swelled with weeks succeeding the 9/11 attacks, I was reminded that you don’t need to be a native of a country in despair to feel its sorrow and the overwhelming response of love and support that Paris received worldwide is living proof of that. I simply cannot wrap my mind around some criticism I have read over the French flag Facebook filter just days after such a gruesome attack. Now is not the time to be sanctimonious or analytical over how people chose to offer support, but I suppose my white-knuckle feelings about this are for another blog post.   

Paris, a city rivals the toughness of New York in its resilience, we are keeping our heads up, we are honoring with heavy hearts the victims, and praying for their families as well as our uncertain future. I no longer feel a divide in the city I am proud to call home, as I am not only a foreigner, but I am a mother, I am an Italian-American, I am a New Yorker, I am Charlie, and like everyone who mourned with us worldwide, I am Paris.