Traveling With An Adult

Nancy Hatten
 

© Copyright 2007 by Nancy Hatten

Glass of wine on a table at a sidewalk cafe in Paris.

 “I’m old enough to drink there, you know,” Jason said.

 I looked up from my Paris travel guide, and snapped the cap back on my highlighter.

 “I can drink there, you know, alcohol, in Paris,” Jason repeated, as if saying it again held the chance of making the statement more palatable to me.

 “You were planning to drink on our trip?” I asked.

“Sure, why not, it’s legal.”

 My intention was for our trip to Paris to be my son Jason’s introduction to one of my favorite cities. I envisioned immersing ourselves in art and history, not swigging wine at every available opportunity.

“Well maybe a glass of wine in the evening, with dinner,” I said.

 “No way, I’m thinking out in the clubs every night, dancing and drinking.”

 I wondered if Jason was teasing me again as he was so in the habit of doing, but panic began to set in anyway. If drinking was Jason’s priority on the trip, surely we could have found somewhere closer and cheaper than Paris. He had recently turned eighteen and I deludingly told myself that maybe he didn’t drink in the U.S. and was just curious to try it somewhere where it was legal for him. The trip that I had so lovingly planned began to morph in my mind into something that I no longer wanted, and that even scared me. I began to visualize Jason leaving me on my own in the evening to navigate the metro while he pursued Parisian nightlife, without even our customary cell phones to connect us. I needed to set some guidelines to regain some peace of mind.

 “So you can’t just leave me on my own while you check out the nightlife,” I said.

 “Mom, come on, I wouldn’t do that.”

 “Okay, I mean, you’re my companion. I don’t want to be left on the streets to find my way back to the hotel if you find a club or meet people or something.”

 Jason gave me the withering look that only teenagers know how to perfect.

“And you can’t stay out really late so I worry about what’s happened to you,” I added.

 “Mom - Give me some credit here.”

 I immersed myself in the details of flights, hotels and metro lines for the remainder of the time before our departure, and tried to put my concerns about Jason aside. A determination to enjoy the trip no matter the outcome set in, and my enthusiasm mounted as we finally flew across the Atlantic. I could feel Jason’s excitement level rise too, as we looked over our Paris travel guides and discussed the sites we most wanted to see.

 When the agonies of transatlantic coach air travel were completed, I greeted Paris as I would a dear friend. A broad smile spread across my face as her sights came into view when we emerged from our first metro ride, lugging our suitcases. The city was as lovely as I remembered, although the locals had not become fonder of Americans in the twenty years since I’d last visited. That didn’t dissuade Jason and me from enjoying our exploration thoroughly, assisted as we were by temperatures in the 70’s, blue skies that made great backdrops for our photographs, and artistic and historic treasures around every corner.

 After our first full day of touring the sights, we were giddy with cathedrals and museums. Our spirits were high, but our feet were sore, and the tables at the cafes beckoned. As soon as we sat down and turned our chairs towards the street as we had seen the locals do, we were presented with a menu. Instead of turning to the food selections as had always been his practice, Jason went straight to the wine list. I tried to remain laissez-faire.

“We can get a 50ml carafe of red wine for only eight euros,” Jason exclaimed. “That will give us about two glasses apiece – we can split it. That’s a pretty good deal.”

 “How do you know all this?” I asked.

 “I know how to convert into metric, mom.”

 “I mean about how we would each get two glasses and that it’s a pretty good price.”

 “You really want me to answer that?”

 “I guess not. Well then, let’s go ahead.”

 The waiter soon passed by our table and didn’t take a second glance at Jason when he ordered the wine. Jason had done it all a little too smoothly, and in French no less. Once our carafe and two glasses came Jason poured, making sure to get the glasses as even as he could. He was right; it looked like there was enough for us each to have a second. Jason raised his glass and moved it towards mine.

 “To Paris,” he said with a flourish.

 “To Paris,” I concurred as I gently clicked my glass with his.

 I couldn’t help smiling. It was a lovely night, and the people-watching was fantastic at our corner café table on a street bustling with locals and tourists. As I sipped the wine, I felt the warm feeling that spreads in your stomach and makes you feel a little more relaxed. It wasn’t as uncomfortable or awkward drinking with my son as I had imagined. His defenses came down along with mine and we enjoyed an open conversation, free of the bickering that often entered in when we sat around our kitchen table. I began to understand why Jason had been interested in drinking on vacation. It was one more way for him to show me that he was an adult, a subtle demand that I acknowledge and treat him as one. He would be leaving for college shortly after we returned, and there had to be a change in our relationship if we were both to successfully move on, yet retain a connection.

 In the following days we explored the treasures of Paris with enthusiasm, with a bit of humor thrown in to take the edge off the crowds. At the Louvre, we took photos of the people taking photos of Mona Lisa in her protective glass case. In the churches, we lit candles and stood with our heads thrown back, gazing at the intricate stained glass and the vaulted ceilings. In the palace at Versailles, we strolled along the Hall of Mirrors, imagining all that had transpired there over the centuries and taking pictures of our reflections in the somewhat murky glass.

Each evening we were tired, and found ourselves in another café or brasserie with a carafe of wine. We sipped as we waited for our food to arrive. We learned that café life must not be hurried, but must be savored in order to experience it as it was intended. A shared carafe of wine goes well with a three course meal and some good conversation.

I was unable to deny that a major transition had take place in my relationship with Jason at a point surely before we began the trip, but illuminated because we were spending more time together than we had in years. It seemed like only yesterday that I would have insisted that Jason hold my hand while crossing every cobblestone street. Now he took my arm to make sure I got safely across, while French drivers careened around us. Instead of me worrying about taking my son for a stroll through questionable neighborhoods, I felt safer with a strong young man by my side. I had never imagined that our trip would contain the moment that I would begin to treat my son as an adult, but somewhere in a café on the streets of Paris, that happened. It didn’t have much to do with drinking wine together, but more to do with enjoying similar things and communicating on the same, mature wavelength.

 I found out many things about my son on the trip, chief among them that Jason is more confident than I knew, as willing to try new things as I am, and knows more about European history than anyone I’ve ever traveled with. The concerns I held before our trip soon evaporated, as we discovered our similar interests and stamina levels made us close to ideal traveling companions.

Jason did indeed sample the Parisian nightlife, but always after I was safely deposited back in our room and was too tired to want to step back out of it. He never stayed out very late, so I wouldn’t awaken and wonder what had become of him. I let go of my fears of what might happen, and actually enjoyed his tales at breakfast of how he lit up the dance floor, displaying the hip hop moves that the French were unable to master. I laughed out loud, nearly choking on my croissant, when he told me that they chanted the words that were printed on his t-shirt and clapped their hands in way of encouraging him to dance.

 I came to Paris with a list of must see attractions stuck in my guidebook, and we managed to see them all, without rushing through the sites, but by truly experiencing them. That would normally deem a trip a success for me. But it is not the sights that remain in my heart and mind; it is the moments of connection with my son. Snapping photos of Jason while he placed his head above the missing ones on famous sculptures, watching his eyes roll back in his head with pleasure when he tasted a particularly rich chocolate mousse, and laughing as the rain stopped for a few minutes while we stood atop the Arc de Triomphe are the memories that linger.

Travel can open your mind in so many ways - to different cultures and foods and ways of doing things, but also to your travel companion. Sometimes stepping out of the routine of everyday life can reveal aspects of a person you thought you knew everything about. Travel has a way of bringing such unexpected pleasures.

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