If the flaneurs walked turtles, then parents of toddlers have chosen to walk moody puppies who shift from sleepy and complacent one minute, to bubbly and delightful the next, to wailing and obstinate, and back ’round again. In both cases, the experience has the effect of forcing you to slow down a bit and to generally change your perspective on things.
What are my best tips for places to see in Paris with a toddler? Try for all of it. Which is really to say, nothing much in particular.
Start with where you’re staying. Venture around the immediate environs. Poke your head into the local cheese shop while singing a friendly bonjour and pick up something delightful to enjoy, regardless of whether your puppy-child will agree with its deliciousness. If parents are grumpy and hungry there’s no telling where the day will go. Next: Find an épicerie or a patisserie, or some other -erie that will allow for another little treat. If you’ve just flown in from the United States you’ll need a snack. (Don’t pay a lick of attention to the time on the clock, just get yourselves fed, and preferably before everything’s shuttered up. You’ll catch on to local culinary customs eventually.) A child in a stroller making a mess of strawberries is better than a child in a stroller wailing, and so give your little bug something to munch on and continue on your tour.
Expectations for sight-seeing need to be halved and then halved again. Long lines should probably be avoided at all costs, unless you happen to find one while the puppy’s in a particularly amenable mood or otherwise sleeping. (Never say never, etc.)
Parks and gardens are to be embraced; especially the ones that permit a bit of lounging (and or running like a maniac) on la pelouse. (On the other hand, gardens where lounging on the grass is not permitted are perhaps better left alone, lest you need to carry a child kicking and screaming from a lawn that they desperately want to destroy. Spoken from experience, of course.) If your puppy is like ours, fountains will be a main attraction. This will cause mild consternation as you repeatedly need to wrest your child from falling over the edge, but her squeals of delight at the “bubbles” will put everyone in a good mood and with a little luck on your side she won’t end up going for a swim.
If your timing is right, you’ll catch a delightful late afternoon sun glinting off the Pont Neuf, as we did. This moment might even coincide with a cheerful toddler gleefully pointing out the dogs on parade. Take time to take in the glorious open sky—a marvel for New York City dwellers like us. Walk slowly and in a direction that will guide you more or less in the direction of sights worth seeing, but without any expectation that you’ll check them all off your list. I’d warn against over doing it on the walking front (as we did) but this of course how you will manage to take in a bit of the beautiful city and so I say, carry on. (French pharmacies have an impressive array of band-aid options, anyway.) For us, a stroller was key and we even managed to boire un café en terrasse while the tuckered out toddler snoozed inside it.
The real point is this: You might well spend an afternoon sightseeing that leaves you feeling triumphant and wonderful as as if you’ve really nailed both parenting and touristing and in this case, a hearty pat on the back is deserved. The afternoon will likely also include moments when you are in the throes of an epic meltdown in which case the best idea is to slow your roll a bit and blame everything on jetlag.
Let out a bit of a sigh. Look at admiringly at older couples enjoying a moment of repose, and trust that you will indeed one day be them and that they one day were you. Don’t linger too long on the future or the past. Right now you need ice cream, and likely a nap.
Psst: Besides the obvious ones, James also took that last shot. I was busy chasing a puppy.