So the prospect of our imminent week in Paris, even though I mostly go there to see grumpy relatives, unsympathetic bankers and useless doctors, seemed rather exciting. But the trip didn't start well. At Dublin airport, a security guy demanded that I throw away Little Miss Sunshine's milk bottle and fruit pouch before we went through. Now, I travel a lot and I am aware of the whole liquids-and-pastes-in-a-plastic-bag shenanigan. I come well prepared, everything is neatly packed in 100 ml containers, and albeit the inane regulations, nobody at an airport security checkpoint had ever asked me to throw away my baby's stuff, even if there was an offensive 200 ml of it. As opposed to the highly dangerous toothpaste and shampoo, growing-up milk and organic fruit purée didn't seem to pass as potential explosives. The worst these people had come up with before was to have her taste some of it in front of them. No big deal.
But this guy wouldn't be budged. Bin it or leg it. And I, the shy little mouse, went ape. To my credit, he really wasn't helping. He declared that only infant food was allowed and that my child was not an infant (hell, she's 3; admittedly, she's 3 going on 13, but his absurd heroism was about to guarantee me and everybody else on the plane a milk withdrawal-induced 2 hour-long tantrum), and he argued that I could buy her a burger and fries as soon as we cleared security. Let's just say I'm not a big fan of junk food, so you can imagine how I liked that sensitive suggestion. Niceties were exchanged, while Little Miss Sunshine started piling up the plastic trays and climbing on the conveyor belt. "It's not a playground here, Ma'am", he helpfully added. Then came the highlight of our conversation: "Those are not stupid rules, Ma'am, those are aviation rules."
When I left my new friend, in shock because of my fresh discovery of the world's stupidity and my inner vengeful Gorgon, I was clinging to my trophy: the milk I'd managed to hang on to. After a teary phone call to Mr Grumble, who had to stay in Dublin because of work ("I briefly turned into YOU! I cried. And I didn't enjoy the experience!"), I took a deep breath and braced myself for the long and exhausting adventure of travelling alone with a lively 3 year-old, 2 heavy bags and an injured arm.
My treacherous family had insisted the temperature in Paris would be a summery 20 to 25°C all week, so I arrived in open-toed sandals, cool shades, a short-sleeved top and an eager smile to be met by... a freezing cold. Grey clouds, biting rain, chilly wind — I really don't see why my French relatives and friends feel compelled to mock us poor sods who live in Ireland. I dearly regretted the nice, warm jumpers and scarves I'd left at home.
Yet I have to say I appreciate Paris now that I only visit my home town as a tourist. Not everyone is rude and hurried, and there are a lot of nice things to do, eat and drink. Even Irish whiskey is cheaper there than in Ireland, as logic will have it. And they do bake a mean croissant. Not to mention the sizzling sunshine they get in the springtime. Usually. Nonetheless, staying with your folks when you're old enough to say you did something 20 years ago can be rather trying.
Almost disappointingly, my various family crises didn't come to an explosive end, so nothing extraordinary happened, apart from a humongous hangover gained from a night out with my 22 year-old brother. Trust me, I like my wine and my whiskey, so I'm a veteran, but I NEVER had it that bad. From what I remember of it, our night was great fun. The only problem was that my younger brother has worked as a barman and knows a lot of nice people who lavished a lot of free drinks on us. When I woke up the next morning around 2 pm, I got up and immediately lay back down, lest I would pass out. No, it was never, ever that bad.
Our Dad looked stern; he was about to host an important meeting at home. We had to either be presentable in less than half an hour or vacate the premises. My brother had stumbled into the sofabed with his shoes on and looked rough. I felt so horrible that I actually considered attending the meeting, as I didn't feel fit for travel. But I really couldn't. Giving up the idea of taking a shower when my brother mumbled "What for?", I quickly gathered my stuff and ran for the door with my grey-faced sibling in tow. Suddenly the thought of crawling home to Mum seemed strangely appealing.
It took forever. We may have taken a few wrong turns here and there. We certainly didn't manage to grab lunch on the way — too complicated. And the métro is the most loathsome thing. Crowded, noisy, dirty, shaky... But we did make it to our mum's place eventually, and she delivered the compassion and the food we craved. Little Miss Sunshine had spent the night at her grandmother's and I was wondering how competent a mum I would manage to be in my current exhausted and sickly state. Amazingly, my sweet little demon went up to bed spontaneously when it was still technically the afternoon and fell asleep on her own without dinner. Needless to say, this had NEVER happened before as she usually needs a lot of milk, stories, songs and hugs to grudgingly go to sleep around the time I feel ready for bed too. I guess she too had been partying quite hard at her Gran's place the day before. Unless it's the sight of my hungover self that shocked her into an early sleep.
Over the week, Little Miss Sunshine and I gorged on chocolate, checked that each and every member of our family is still barking mad*, caught a few bugs, met a few friends and used the métro far too much, and our holiday was over before we knew it. On the plane back to Dublin, between a coughing and a sneezing fit, I got a fresh gust of the Irish sense of humour when a voice said over the loudspeakers: "The weather is bright and sunny between the showers."
Aaaaaah. Home, sweet home.
*I might say more on the topic of my dysfunctional family later. For now, suffice it to say that my medical student of a younger brother uses his slippers to pratice his stitching abilities...
Ella Fitzgerald song. Will try to do better next time.