Thursday, May 21, 2015

"We'll Always Have Paris" : A Mother / Daughter Jaunt Through Europe

For Memorial Day weekend in 2007, my amazing husband surprised me with a long weekend getaway to Paris.  When my students asked, "Mrs. Thiegs, will you be doing anything fun over Memorial Day weekend?" I felt like a jet setter when I responded with, "I'm going to Paris" to their wide eyed disbelieving stares. It's not typical for me to just hop on an airplane and fly to Europe, but Eric and I decided to be indulgent. He had never been to Paris, and I fell in love with it when I visited when I lived in London and couldn't wait to get back.

I packed my suitcase full of cute sundresses that I imagined myself wearing in sunshine bathed sidewalk cafes while Eric and I held hands, sipped our Rose, and people watched.  I couldn't wait to take him to the Musee D'Orsay and amble through The Louvre.  Most of all, I wanted to climb the Eiffel Tower and check out the entire city from the air.

Unfortunately, the weather was not sunny.  It actually rained the entire time we were there, and rather than sundresses, I wore the same sweater and jeans that I packed the entire 5 days since they were the only warm clothing items I packed.  The day we went to Notre Dame, our hands were wrinkled and purple from the cold, rainy weather, but we didn't care.  We were still in Paris.  Rather than staying in the rain, we ducked into little cafes and had lattes and stews, watched the rain and thought about how lucky we were to be together in Paris for a long, romantic (and rainy) weekend. We visited museums and held hands, and loved every second even if it wasn't sunny.

When I read Jennifer Coburn's "We'll Always Have Paris" I was not only transported back to the streets of Paris, but also to London, Venice, Florence, Rome, Salerno, Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, Granada and Amsterdam.  Coburn's recollections of her travels with her daughter, Katie, made me want to be indulgent again, and buy tickets for Raina, Story and my husband to fly to Paris and explore together.  There's a difference between going on a Disney vacation with forced fun and really traveling to a different country and experiencing a whole different culture.  Don't get me wrong, Disney vacations are fun, but reading Jennifer and Katie's travel adventures with language barriers, illnesses abroad, navigating foreign public transit, and eating amazing food in piazzas made me want to make those memories with my own daughters.

I loved the fact that Jennifer's husband wasn't with them (even though I would love for Eric to be able to come with us) because it changed the whole feel of their European travels.  Even though Jennifer's motive for taking her daughter on these adventures was because she had an irrational fear that she would die young and she wanted to cram memories of happy times into her daughter's head, the trips themselves were transformative for both of them.  I always marvel at how much more grown up my girls seem to me after we travel somewhere together.  When you are out of your comfort zone, change happens.

Jennifer didn't just recollect her European mother / daughter bonding adventures, but she also interwove her memories of her dad and their relationship.  As she experienced something in Europe, she would delve into a story about time with her dad who died too young from an aggressive form of lung cancer.  Both story lines, were heartwarming.  As Jennifer released some of the pain of losing her unconventional and doting dad, she also began to loosen her need to over control her adventures with her daughter realizing at an outdoor ballet in Florence "that life's most perfect moments could not be planned, scheduled, or even expected."

Katie's easy going wisdom, Jennifer's honesty about her neurotic and controlling behavior, and the beauty of Europe combine to make this a lovely memoir about holding on and letting go, about venturing into the unknown of life and making memories by living in the present vs. the past.

It brought back beautiful memories of my Memorial Day weekend in Paris with Eric as we huddled under our umbrella and got lost in the meandering streets, and it made me itchy to travel abroad and make memories with my own daughters.


  1. My first thought is, "So when are you booking that trip?!" My Mom and I have traveled abroad together five times plus many other North American trips. They're easily my favorite memories and have brought us closer together.

    I want to read this book with my Mom! Maybe she should write her own :)

  2. She should totally write her own! Maybe you two could write one together - alternating perspective chapters. I'd buy it ;) Raina is obsessed with Paris, so I think a trip there is in our not too distant future.