It was our first weekend in Paris, beautiful and sunny outside so we thought it would be a good day to take the kids on a neighbourhood wander. We do lots of little wandering adventures in the city where we live so they are both very used to this. We have made it our mission since Johnny was quite young to to try to get him used to as many new situations as possible to help him be more flexible to the unknown or the new.
So we decided a walk through Montmartre and a visit to Sacre Coeur would be a great fun. Sunday was “car free day” on the little winding busy cobblestone streets so it would make it a bit less challenging for the kids with all the tourists and tour groups navigating this area as well. We knew there was a carousel and a little playground at the base of Sacre Coeurso that would allow some fun time for the kids plus sensory integration time for Johnny.
There is a little tourist train that you can take from the Moulin Rouge all the way up to Sacre Coeur which we considered doing since Johnny and Princess love kiddie trains but since it was “car free Sunday” we thought all the tourists in the streets would make a slow run on the small train. Johnny loves the Paris metro so we took the metro to Anvers stop and then walked 3 small blocks through a souvenir shop zone to the base of Sacre Coeur. As promised in the guide book there was a small playground where Johnny and Princess played a chase game going up the ladders and down the slide along with Parisian children. Then the kids went on their first Parisian carousel that was double decker with many unique things to ride not just ponies. In the picture you can see how high Johnny is in reference to the woman sitting far below on the bench.
Then we had a surprise for the kids…with a metro ticket we took them on a funiculaire instead of the hundreds of stairs up to the church. They got a seat with view and could watch Paris disappear further into the distance as we rose higher and higher to the natural high point in Paris which Sacre Coeur was built on. We would have to wait in yet another line and the funiculaire car might be a bit crowded but we thought we could pretend it was a fun ride and the kids love rides. Johnny did get a bit anxious about the crowds waiting but his curiosity about riding this won out.
At Sacre Coeur, we did as many quick photos as we could since the crowds around the church because of Sunday Mass were thick and we just wanted to get into the church. Again the crowds and the line-ups were making Johnny restless and anxious but he has always found peace sitting in a pew in a church and just gazing at the stained glass that he was eager to just get up the steps and through the big old doors. Inside Johnny quickly realized that he was inside a Catholic Church and this was familiar to him. The routines and rituals that he has been taught at school calmed him as he reached with his right hand and dipped his hand into the holy water and did the sign of the cross. “Mommy this is a church just like **** ****.” It was interesting watching him generalize a skill even if its something you do in a church but now its in a completely foreign church in a different language but he found the familiar. We sat in a pew and let him have the time he needed to look around and take it all in and find “his” calm.
After Sacre Coeur, we decided to take the kids on a slow wander through Montmartre and see where we could grab lunch. The streets here are old and narrow made out of cobblestone filled with lots of tourists. Crowded areas can be challenging for Johnny and then if you add all the interesting things to look at it could be overwhelming for him. Tacky tourist souvenir shops are everywhere and he wants to go into everyone and buy something. Not for himself but for me but it becomes a challenge explaining that I do like scarves, and yes Parisian women love wearing scarves but if I buy one I’d like to buy one at a shop that sells scarves that do not have PARIS emblazoned on it. Before he decides we are on a mission to find a shop like this I bought a Paris scarf as a gift for a neighbour instead. I’ve learned that I have to be very quick with my thoughts when he is anxious like this and try to find ways out of him using retail therapy to make himself feel better. He can get very insistent that “Mommy needs” a certain something and I confess I am still working my way through this endearing mission that he goes on to make himself feel better without me buying whatever it is at any given time to avoid a meltdown.
I spotted a Gelateria and I decided as a reward for handling this new experience of wandering around spontaniously let’s have a cool refreshing desert before lunch. It definitely worked even for a “rules based” boy like Johnny. Then he was open to wandering a little more and let us try and figure out where to eat instead of getting anxious that we were not diving into the first place he saw with tables and chairs. He had noticed a day earlier that when he passed one Brasserie, a couple were dinning and they were eating escargot. “Mommy those people are eating snails!!! That is yucky.” So one of the things he did while we hunted for a place to eat lunch was as we walked by and stopped to read the menu sign, he would quickly look at what was on people’s plates. “No snails Mommy so we can eat here.” The Place du Tertre was full of restaurants under tents which I didn’t remember from a past visit to Paris so artists with easels were battling for space and attention to the impromptu brasseries. We decided to dive into a Pizzeria. When we decided to go to Paris I knew we would have to have a different philosophy about where to eat and what we would eat. This would be the kids first big adventure in a different culture so we needed to be cognizant of this. Pizzza and Pomme Frittes made everyone happy with the taste of the familiar in an unfamiliar place bringing on a more relaxing mood.
After lunch we wanted to do more of our neighbourhood wander and visit…
We found a Starbucks for another refreshening cool drink, escape from the heat with A/C and clean washrooms. We thought everything was going okay but suddenly Johnnny wanted to go in specific direction to go to the metro and go back to the apartment. The only problem is that it was not the right way to the metro but I’ve found that when he insisted on a direction then that doesn’t make sense his anxiety is very high and he’s looking to “pull the plug.” So we had to negotiate how to do this. We showed him the map over and over again to try and calm him and show him the points of interest and where we would go next. The map is fantastic to use for a visual learner who is getting anxious and is having trouble processing the words he hears now. Johnny was in a new city and in a very different part of Paris that our apartment was located in so he was disoriented.
We knew Johnny wanted to see the “Moulin’s” so we knew we had to being to walk towards the metro stop and not begin to walk in circles to make him feel better. In the end we did find all the Moulin’s and the most famous one at all….the Moulin Rouge. At the metro stop there was a big vent blowing air that the kids were standing on and getting their clothes blown about alls Marilyn Monroe which was a nice unexpected fun reward. So I guess we should always be prepared for the fun unexpected to solve any anxiety challenges that could be around the corner.
Later I asked Johnny what he liked on our day wandering around Montmartre.
” I liked the slide and playing with the kids
I liked riding the carasel…..on the top.
I liked the elevator funicular.
I liked the Catholic Church…..2 churches Mommy…..the one with the priests singing
Why did you get upset?
The crowds and there were no cars
Where did the cars go
It was no car Sunday son. We call it car free Sunday.
I don’t like that.
It bothered me.
Cars are for roads not people Mommy.
I can’t argue with that. My boy is very literal at times and see things as black and white where “rules are rules.” At other times he lives in the details of life and sees the kaleidoscope of our world. I hope that by taking him on a travel adventure like Paris he will learn to be more flexible and appreciate putting his toe in the grey areas and open himself up to enjoy life’s little surprises. If he hadn’t followed his natural curiosity he wouldn’t have found what was behind the doors of this medieval church in Montmartre. The sounds of monks or priests singing in latin filling the church and put a look of wonder and flash of joy on his face. If he hadn’t settled down he would have missed it.