Where Are the Kids?
During the week that Adele was home, she felt perfectly well. We weren't house-bound, I just needed to keep her away from other kids. This meant that we were out and about in Paris a fair amount, doing daily errands like going to the post office, market and making occasional stops at cafes. During our afternoons in the city, I was reminded of something that struck me immediately when we first arrived but I have since kinda stopped noticing.
On weekdays, you don't see kids out in Paris. Like anywhere. They're just not around.
When we first moved to Paris, this struck me as completely odd. 'Where were all the kids?' I kept wondering. I couldn't figure it out. Not only were they not out on the streets (in strollers, with parents, on bikes or scooters) but they weren't at the playgrounds either. I'd see the occasional stroller being pushed but even that was pretty rare.
It didn't take long to realize what was up: The kids -- including babies and toddlers -- were all in "school."
I recall taking my two up to Parc de la Villette (an entertainment complex in the 19e with a kids' museum, movie theaters and massive park) one weekday soon after we arrived. Cole and Adele had not yet started school and wouldn't for a couple of weeks. I had intended to use the time to help them (and me) get acclimated, adjust to the city and generally prepare to enter a new school, a new neighborhood -- a new life. A trek to the city's best kids' museum seemed like the perfect thing.
Except when we got there, it was almost completely deserted.
We had the vast, interactive play areas pretty much to ourselves. Again, I was dumbfounded. Having spent my kids' preschool years in Boston (a super kid-friendly town), we were regulars at places like the Science Museum and Boston Children's Museum and just about every other tumble-gym and playground within the greater Boston area. These places were almost always packed with parents just like me. Our kids attended preschool only a few hours a day; we needed things to do or we'd all go nuts.
Not so in Paris. From a very early age, most French kids are put in high quality, super affordable, state-subsidized daycare. (Or parents hire nannies.) Then, after an extended period of paid maternity leave, moms (and dads) go back to work, to their same jobs that have been legally safeguarded during their absence.
And here's more. Upon return to her full-time job after the birth of a child, a mother has a legal right to reduce her work hours to part-time. The employer cannot legally deny this request. Can you imagine?? Think of all the hand-wringing and suffering so many of us go through over the question of whether to "work or stay home." It's such a fraught catch-22 with too few options for real part-time work that creates such a financial squeeze even if we do try to pull it off.
Again, not so in Paris. The rules here are simple enough: Kids go to daycare or school, parents go to work. Weekends are spent together. Hmm, pretty good.
Of course, there are downsides (like much less time with your kids when they're little) and no system is perfect. And there is obviously much to be said on this topic. I do intend to get into it. But not today.
For now, I'll close with this idea: Paris truly is a wonderful playground -- for adults. Perhaps the best there is. In fact, Greg and I have long-referred to it as "Adult Disneyland." The one for kids is an hour train ride away.
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I occasionally blog for The Huffington Post. Here's a post I did recently about a very tragic event at Adele's preschool.
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