“Does it rain more in Paris?” my son asks.
He is twelve, and we are in the car, driving home from a haircut in San Francisco. Months ago, we told him we might be moving to Paris. He was not amused. Horrified, perhaps. Angry, definitely. Adamant that he would not be going to Paris, we could not make him.
Well, we said back then, things could change, we just wanted to prepare you. But now, nothing has changed, and yes, we are actually moving to Paris. So I brought it up gently in the car, after the haircut at the barber shop in the Castro where he has been having his hair cut since he was two years old. After the lunch at Bambino’s, where they make his favorite pizza and serve the excellent Italian vanilla soda. It has been a good day, he is in a good mood, and eventually, I just have to tell him. It may as well be now.
“It looks like the Paris thing is going to happen,” I said.
I expected some anger directed my way, which is why I told him in the car. Not in the restaurant, which would unfairly force him to hide his feelings so as not to make a scene, or at home, where he could go to his room and slam the door. The car is the best place for conversations kids don’t want to have: captive audience in a non-confrontational setting, limited eye contact.
But he is surprisingly calm when I tell him the news. He doesn’t say, “I’m not going to Paris. You can’t make me.” Instead, he asks, “Does it rain more in Paris?”
I don’t know the correct answer. More important, I don’t know the answer he wants.
“It doesn’t rain too much in Paris,” I say.
“I like rain,” he says.
Ah, wrong answer. I should have known this. Having spent his entire life in Northern California, he is a child of the drought. Rain is rare enough to always be a reason for excitement, no less celebration-making than the first snowflake (not that we have snowflakes). When it rains in Northern California, we all rush outside to witness the wonder of it. In recent memory, we have often gone ten months or more without a single drop of rain, so that when it happens we become giddy with joy, astonished that there is actual water falling from the sky, like early humans encountering some inexplicable phenomenon, some sign of the end times. (“Mom, something fell from the sky and it is wet!” my three-year-old nephew said to my sister not long ago, the first time he experienced rain.)
It is not the end times, or so one hopes.
And yes, I’m sure, it must rain more in Paris. It rained once when we were there, the only time we were there as a family. My son was four. I will not tell you how old I was, only that I felt much younger then. We had gone first to London, to attend a launch party for my UK publisher, and had taken the Chunnel to Paris to meet my French publisher, for a novel that now seems like a distant memory. (As I write this, I’m four books past the novel that took us to England and France, and when we arrive in Paris, one of the first things I want to do is meet my new French publisher).
I remember distinctly being caught in a rainstorm at Notre Dame. We had no umbrella, but I was at least wearing a trench coat. I still have that trench coat and wear it every winter. If the French culture websites are to be believed, that is very French of me: to wear the same coat for eight years with no thought of retiring it. I was not trying to be French by wearing the same coat every year. I just didn’t realize, until I began writing this, how much time had passed since we went to Paris. Now that I think of it, by the time we went to Paris, I had already owned that coat for two years. I remember because I purchased the coat not long after I had my son because I always felt like a disaster, and I decided that it didn’t matter too much what I wore underneath: if I had a nice pair of boots and a trench (it’s black, un manteau noir, my French language app tells me), I could look pulled-together at any moment, no matter what ill-fitting travesties of fashion I wore underneath the coat.
Time is like that these days: time flies past in chunks that are counted in years, rather than months. It used to be I could look back and say to myself, “Where did the year go?” Now I look back and say to myself, “Where did the decade go?” Such is the hazard of parenthood: time shifts to warp speed.
I don’t remember Paris being in drought. I’ll look it up when we get home. I would love to tell my son that Paris is ripe with thunderstorms, that hardly a day passes when there isn’t a puddle to step in. I may be hoping for too much, and yet…
“I don’t want to learn math in French,” he says. “Math is hard enough in English.”
“You don’t have to learn math in French,” I say. “Why would you think that?”
“The schools are all in French,” he says.
“No,” I say. “You’ll go to an English-language school.”
“You mean I don’t have to go to a school where they only speak French?”
“No, of course not.”
“Oh,” he says, “I thought I had to.”
And like that a weight has been lifted. All this time, I though his adamant stance against Paris had to do with the fact that he did not want to leave his friends behind. I thought that he did not want to trade his big house on the canyon (when he was small, he called it, in all earnestness, The Grand Canyon. I let this go on for longer than I ought to have. It occurs to me now that, as a parent, I am a master of miscommunication) for a smaller apartment in the middle of an unfamiliar city.
I was wrong. My son, always so practical, was worried about practical things: the weather and the language. If only I had asked, “What are you worried about?” I could have saved him some fairly significant anxiety. I vow to myself that, from now on, my husband and I will be more forthcoming with our son about the move to Paris. He can’t get used to it if we don’t talk about it.
“I still don’t want to go,” he says.
“I understand,” I say. “And I’m not completely sure I want to go either. But it will be an adventure.”
Secretly, I hope it doesn’t rain too much in Paris. Unlike my son, I do not thrive in inclement weather. Nor do I thrive in noise, or amidst people with stoic dispositions. Often, I have trouble finding my way, both metaphorically and physically, even when all of the signs are in English and the streets are streets I have navigated for years.
My son, eventually, will warm to Paris. He is young, and as much as he likes his routines, he also likes new things. Also: girls. He will be a teenager in Paris. There are worse things than to be young and good-looking in the land of Baudelaire and Binoche. I have no doubt that he will meet a girl in Paris, and suddenly it will reveal itself to him as the City of Light. It’s quite possible he won’t even want to come home.
Yes, my son will warm to Paris, as will my husband, who has always liked cities, who even found much to love in New York City, where I used to go days without leaving our tiny apartment because I simply could not face it. My son and my husband will be make fine Parisians in time, I’m sure of it. But will I?
image courtesy of Lola Guti via unsplash