Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Where Are the Kids?

Bonjour! Finally coming up for air after two weeks of sick kids at home. Adele had what was originally diagnosed was chicken pox (but turned out to be a skin infection. Thanks, doc). Cole had strep throat. Then I got strep, too. All better now, just in time for school to close on Thursday. (Yes, they're still in school. Can you believe it?)

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.

- - -

I occasionally blog for The Huffington Post. Here's a post I did recently about a very tragic event at Adele's preschool.

Thanks for stopping by Paris Déjà Vu. If you've enjoyed what you read, sign up to follow me. Merci et à bientôt!


At July 3, 2012 at 6:01 PM , Blogger Nate said...

I've never recommended Paris for families because I've never seen kids there. Now I know why.
BTW, does that street sign mean "no running with children in the street of scissors?"

At July 3, 2012 at 6:52 PM , Blogger Bonjour! said...

Hi Nate,

I will say that although you don't see lots of kids in "adult places" in Paris, it's still a pretty great place for families, especially on weekends and Wednesdays (when school is closed!)

As for the photo, I have NO idea what it means and am hoping someone might be able to explain it. Anyone? When I saw it, I wasn't sure if it meant 'no holding hands with short people" on this street? No 'walking down this street' at all" Or, could it actually mean, 'no kids??" I doubt it but couldn't resist snapping a pic. Thanks for commenting!

At July 4, 2012 at 10:41 AM , Blogger Manda Kim said...

Lovely post - light-hearted and amusing, but informative and interesting too! Who would ever know these kinds of things about Parisians (and the French system in general) if it weren't for...well, You!!
Love your writing :)

At July 4, 2012 at 11:35 AM , Blogger Roni Travelingbunch said...

It's too bad that people don't think of Paris as a family destination. I always find other cultures very interesting especially education system and habits so thanks for sharing that..

At July 6, 2012 at 9:40 AM , Blogger ChaumiereLesIris said...

I know so many happy, working French mothers. There's a good reason for this, as you point out,

At July 12, 2012 at 11:34 AM , Blogger Bonjour! said...

You've made my day! Thanks, Mandy. :)

At July 12, 2012 at 11:39 AM , Blogger Bonjour! said...

Hi Roni - In many ways, Paris is a wonderful city for families. The quality of life is high, parents get ample time off to spend with their kids, healthcare is very affordable and public schools are high quality. It's just that kids' and adult's spheres are not considered one and the same. I'm working on updating the blog with family-friendly outings and restaurants very soon...There are many. Thanks for commenting!


At July 12, 2012 at 11:40 AM , Blogger Bonjour! said...

Oh, I agree, I agree! And you don't hear anything about "Mommy Wars" here...whether they are real or media constructed (a bit of both in my opinion). Thanks for commenting!

At August 18, 2012 at 2:45 AM , Blogger Emmy said...

Hey Paige!

The street sign means: "fin d'aire pietonne", it signals the end of a pedestrian-only area.

I love reading your blog. I was born in France and lived in Paris as a teenager-young adult. I have been in the US since 1997 but I miss my beloved Paris and love coming back as a "tourist" with my young son :)


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