It was not the first time I’ve taken a daughter to Paris. Two years ago my middle daughter and I spent a January week in the City of Light, but that’s where the similarity ends. There is a world of difference in 17 and 21.
At 21, my middle daughter was living away at college and was getting close to graduation. She’d missed me and was ready for time together. Not so with my 17-year-old. She sees a lot of me. Maybe, if I’m reading the subtly of closed doors and rolling eyes correctly, a little too much of me.
This is her senior year. College comes in the fall. She is so close to independence, to getting out from under my wing and stepping out into her own life, that it’s all she thinks about. She’s been left here at home with us, without her brother and sisters who have grown up and have lives of their own. She wants what they have. She wants out.
Still, a trip to Paris is a trip to Paris. When I suggested we go just after Christmas, she signed on. For a while it looked like her sister, the one who’d gone with me before, might join us. But the real world—in the form of a real job—stepped in and it was back to one (disappointed) girl and her mother.
We landed in Paris, checked into the hotel, napped for a couple of hours and that was it. She never looked back. The minute we walked out the door of our hotel each morning, the race was on. We picked a direction, a museum or monument or quartier to visit, and she would set out, quickly leaving me to lope behind her like the family dog. Occasionally, she would realize she’d left me too far behind and would wait, her impatience only barely masked, until I could catch up. Then, after a block or two, she was off again.
She’s tall and her long legs speed her along. I am short and was carrying the bag full of cameras, umbrellas, maps and everything else that marked us as tourists. She looked like a local. I looked like a porter at the train station.
I quickly quit trying to keep up and began to enjoy the sight of her moving across the cobblestones, toward the Eiffel Tower, down narrow lanes and along the Quai Saint-Bernard skirting the Seine. I have a series of photos snapped on my phone as I trotted along behind her, sometimes quite a distance behind her. My beautiful daughter melted into Paris and I was able to watch.
Chasing her, I remember wanting desperately to be on my own at that age, without the weight of parents and siblings to slow me down. I wanted to travel alone, unencumbered. If, at 17 I’d found myself in Paris with only my mother for company, I would have done my best to shake her like so much dust out of the rug.
She led me on a merry chase from one end of Paris to the other but I’ll win in the end. She’ll go to Paris again, on her own or in the company of friends. But it will be too late. I will have marked the place. She’ll remember the little hotel I like so much, the one on a quiet street with a school and a market and rows of beautiful apartments.
She’ll order in French and think about the way I simply couldn’t pronounce Croque Monsieur without traces of my Southern accent coming through. She’ll get tired and remember the way I insisted on stopping each afternoon for a cup of chocolat, demanding a moment to savor the strong flavor and rest my sore feet.
She’ll return to Paris on her own terms but memories of our trip together will be folded into every crepe, waiting around every corner and strung like lights across the Pont Marie.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of 'Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons' and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org