Here’s a story that I forgot to tell about our trip to Paris. When we were sitting underneath the staircase in the Eiffel Tower, desperately trying to escape the heat, Seri and I downing champagne while the kids ate their ice cream cones, Gavin asked me a very important question.
“Ilana. Can you tell us a story?”
“Like a made up story?”
“No. A funny story about your life.”
“Well, when Mazzy was about two-years-old…”
“No. I mean, a story before Mazzy.”
Interesting. Nobody had ever asked me this before. Certainly not my own kids. I thought about it. Were there any stories from before we had kids??? Of course there were. But they all seemed to involve boys or illegal substances. I thought harder.
“Oh! I have one! It actually happened in Paris!”
I told them about the time I went to Paris with my sister. I was flying through Paris after a business trip (this was back in my twenties when I had a cool advertising job) and my sister arranged to fly out and meet me for the week. She had just finished college and was living in Maryland.
I arrived in the morning and got myself situated at the hotel. Then I went out to grab a few provisions so I could surprise her with croissants and French pastries when she arrived, which was supposed to be about an hour later. While I was walking back from the pastry shop, I got a call from my mom.
“Myriah missed her plane.”
“Oh crap, okay. So when will she get here?”
“She hasn’t even left Maryland yet.”
“She thought she was leaving on the day she’s actually arriving.”
“I don’t understand.”
“She’ll be there tomorrow.”
That day I ended up shopping, strolling and hanging out by myself.
The next morning, my sister finally arrived and we had a good six days ahead of us to trek around Paris and enjoy ourselves. We had a whole itinerary planned (minus one day) with locations and times all mapped out. I was in charge of directions and Myriah was in charge of keeping us on schedule. She was the one who wore a watch and it’s worth noting, this was before mobile phones synced up with local time.
It would all have been going swimmingly if it wasn’t for those damn French people. Every time we arrived somewhere, from our pre-arranged bus tour to restaurant reservations, people seemed to take issue with us. Neither of us spoke French very well (it was my worst subject in junior high) so the only thing that we understood is that everything we asked for was “impossible.”
“We have a 7pm reservation.”
“You mean you can’t seat us?”
“No, it’s not possible.”
“It’s not possible to seat us? Or it’s not possible to seat us right now and we have to wait?”
“It’s not possible to seat you. It’s too late.”
“I don’t understand. We have a 7pm reservation.”
“And you can’t seat us?”
We would have this same conversation almost everywhere.
I remember getting into a big argument with the woman behind the desk at the place where we had arranged our bus tour.
“You’re too late for the tour.”
“What do you mean?”
“You need to come an hour earlier.”
“Why would we have to be here at 3pm for a 4pm bus tour?”
“Because it leaves at 4pm.”
“I know. That’s why we are here.”
“It already left.”
“Why did the bus leave early?”
“I don’t understand. Can’t you just let us on?”
“It’s not possible.”
We were really frustrated and clearly not understanding the rules. We decided to head back to the hotel, using a public bus. The sign at the bus stop said the last bus came at 5pm and one arrived every 15 minutes. At this point, it was a little after 4pm, so we waited. And waited and waited and waited. We kept checking the time and checking the bus schedule to make sure we didn’t have anything wrong. We kept debating whether to leave but then we’d say things like, “You know as soon as we leave, the bus is going to come.” So we stayed and waited some more. After over an hour, when it was well past 5pm, we finally accepted that the bus wasn’t coming.
“That’s so weird that they wouldn’t have any buses running for the last hour it was in service,” we lamented. “That would never happen in New York City.”
On the last morning of our trip, Myriah got a call from her boyfriend back at home. The phone woke us both up and she talked to him briefly. “What was that about?” I asked her, still half asleep.
“He seemed surprised that we had not left for the airport yet.”
“Should we have left for the airport already?”
She checked her watch. “No. We don’t have to leave for another hour.”
“Okay,” I said and rolled back over and closed my eyes. Myriah woke me up again.
“Maybe he’s right and we should leave now.”
“Well…how long does it take to get to the airport?”
“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “But according to my watch, we have over three hours before the flight.”
“Okay, well, that seems like plenty of time.”
“Yeah. Still. That’s not like him to be so concerned.”
She seemed really nervous she would miss her return flight as well, so to appease her, I said, “Alright. Why don’t we leave now to be safe? It can’t hurt to get there early.”
She agreed and we quickly packed up our things and left.
In the cab to the airport, I started to reflect on the trip and slowly, I began to notice a pattern. I asked the cab driver, “Sir? What time do you have?”
I turned to my sister. “What time do you have?”
“Uhhhh…Myriah, has your watch been set an hour behind THE WHOLE WEEK???”
We both froze and looked at each other. It all suddenly made sense. We missed our restaurant reservation by an hour, which is why they couldn’t seat us. The tour bus didn’t leave an hour early; we arrived an hour late. The bus service wasn’t running because it was already over by the time we started waiting. The store didn’t kick us out for odd unexplainable reasons. It was closing. The friends we tried to meet who never showed up, probably did show up and thought we were the no-shows. The museum that closed an hour earlier than it said in our guide book actually closed exactly on time; etc. etc. etc.
The French people weren’t such assholes after all. Instead, we were the stupid Americans.
Gavin and Mazzy laughed and laughed as my story came together. (I left out the French assholes part.)
“I can’t believe Ya-ya did that!!!!” Mazzy exclaimed.
“Me neither! I never trusted her with travel plans again!”
“I can’t believe your phones didn’t tell the time!” Gavin was incredulous.
“I know. Olden times, man. We couldn’t even use our phones to take pictures. Had to carry a separate camera. And there was no GPS! We had to walk around with an ACTUAL MAP!”
“WOW.” Mazzy and Gavin couldn’t believe it.
“Tell us another story, Ilana!!!!”
And that’s how the rest of our night went. Even as we walked to dinner and all the way through dessert, Seri and I took turns telling our stories and the kids just wanted MORE. There was nothing about potty training or their first steps. Just stories about our childhood, going to college and moving to Manhattan.
I talked about the time I dressed up as the Queen of Hearts as part of an ensemble Alice in Wonderland costume with my housemates in college. While they were all waiting in the car to go to a Halloween party, I ran into a bar to grab one of our friends to come with us. In the five minutes I was in that bar, an MC called my name as the winner of their costume contest. I got to go back to the car with my friend and a trophy.
I told them about the time my mom thought it would be a good idea to open the sunroof in our car during the Great Adventure African Safari and a giraffe stuck his head in, stole our grapes and then almost got his tongue stuck as we all screamed while she tried to close the sunroof back up with a VERY SLOW automatic button.
There were more stories that I won’t go into here (and many more that I really wish I could remember), but I swear, Gavin gave me a gift that day by asking me that question. He let Mazzy know that there was life before her and that it was something she found interesting.
I don’t know why it never occurred to me to tell my kids all my stories. I guess because I have been focusing so much energy telling parenting stories for the past seven years, I forgot that fun stuff happened before Mazzy and Harlow too.
When I think about it. My favorite stories, the stories that I remember as family legends growing up, were the ones my dad told us about growing up with his brother. Like the time he broke his brother’s fish tank and the downstairs neighbors came up to tell his parents that it was raining from their ceiling. Or about how his big brother used to always steal his dessert, so one day he baked brownies with ex-lax to get him back.
I wonder what stories Mazzy and Harlow will tell their kids when they get older? Maybe Mazzy will tell her kids about the time her mom made her trek through Paris in 100 degree weather and the only thing she wanted to do at the top of the Eiffel Tower was hide under a staircase to escape the heat.
At the very least, they’ll both have tons of material to remind them.