Within just a few hours of being in Paris, everything changed – and I don't mean just the language and the landscape. Once off the train, a surprisingly relaxing six and a half hour TGV to Gare de Lyon, we all went from being peaceful to on edge almost instantly.
In the taxi, where the unfriendly driver didn't warm to me despite my grammatically correct statements about the weather and the traffic, the boys were making up jokes and laughing. They suddenly sounded very loud. When I told them to keep it down, I noticed that it was the first time I had hushed them in days.
At our apartment, a petite Dwell-worthy loft on the fifth floor decorated with easily breakable items, we were told the building residents are unhappy with a very loud group renting out the first floor flat and are subsequently angry at anyone in the building also renting out their flat. Surrounded by hostile neighbors, again I had to tell the boys to keep it down both inside the apartment and any time we were in the hallways or walking up and down the stairs.
Once out on the street to look for a place to eat, people weren't at all happy with Ezra on his skateboard. One woman screamed at him in rapid fire French, and when he looked at her dumbfounded, she turned her rant on me. Je m'excuse, I said. Il est toujours jeune. She turned on her heels, muttering insults as she went. Even though the kids weren't acting any differently than they had in Barcelona, I was chastising them every four minutes, constantly worried I would piss someone off.
Paris, it's nice to see you again, but you are nowhere near as laid back as Barcelona. In Paris, I am full of "no" and "don't" and "stop." In Barcelona, I was all "of course" and "go ahead" and "don't worry about it."
Exactly how much does my environment affect my parenting? Fifty percent? Eighty percent? What about when I'm home? If Philadelphia had a personality more like Barcelona, would I be a more patient, chill mama? In Philly, when I reprimand the kids for being loud or rude or inappropriate, are they really being that way, or is it because someone is eyeing me and makes me think they're being that way?
Is there a way to circumvent the mood of my surroundings when I make choices as a parent? Because I know all of the hushing and worrying is making the kids more tense. It's making Michael and I more tense. We're doing more arguing and less relaxing. The French are messing with my vacation vibe.
"The French just wake up in a bad mood," says my friend who lives here. "They're always angry about something. Just do what you like."
I'm going to try. I'll try not to worry that I'm pissing off some unseen neighbor or contributing to the general opinion of Americans as loud and rude and devoid of culture. There really are better things to worry about – but not while we're on vacation.