It’s Nice

Last August, in the throes of helping my children through jet lag, new microbes, and the sensory onslaught of visiting family in America, I decided I needed a vacation to myself. Tom was booked to take one with his dad the following month, but I had nothing on the books. I began to fantasize about skiing. Growing up in Maine near cheap slopes, I skied frequently as a teenager with friends and it’s something I’ve dearly missed in my adult life (though giving it up was worth those three years we lived in Hawaii). I began to browse deals to ski resorts in Switzerland or Austria.

Then my friend M emailed me and said “I’m putting together a girls’ long weekend in Nice, France for February to get some sunshine. Maybe Monte Carlo. You in?”

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Au revoir, skis.

England’s winter was comparatively mild, with almost no snow. I’m grateful for that, since most of our friends and family at home were dealing with the fallout from not one but two polar vortexes, but it was excessively rainy. Just endless weeks of mind-dulling 4pm sunsets over gray landscapes and frosty-cold horizontal rain. I’ll take the colors of the Mediterranean, thanks.

Yes, I am a soft, spoiled person. But I’m a soft, spoiled person who got to walk around with seven other fabulous ladies in the south of France sans children for three days.

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See that coat? That is the much-lauded travel coat. Now, the entire purpose of the trip for 3/4 of our traveling companions was to run a road race. The remaining 1/4 of us are staunchly (and in my case, paunch-ly) lazy. One of the runners mentioned that her daughter wanted to see her run, so my non-running friend attempted to get a video only to find that her camera hadn’t recorded.

“Go!” I said. “I bet if we sprint we can get ahead of them–it’s just for a second!” So we did, and I pivoted into a running start…directly into the path of a bicycle that had been diverted off the usual bike path by the temporary bleacher seating along the road.

I swerved. He swerved. The coat flapped open, and one of the handlebars ran along the interior and punched through a button-hole, leaving a 3″-4″ gash. We gaped at each other for a second before determining that we were both okay and he pedaled off.

(She got the video, by the way. You can hear panting in the background.)

Later, my friend remarked “You could not have planned that if you tried.” I certainly wasn’t going to take it out on the cyclist–even if he spoke English that was such a freak occurrence that it couldn’t have possibly been any fault of his. In any case, 14 quid at the tailor later and all was right as rain, with a visible but as discreet-as-possible repair (and I have serious reason to doubt anyone’s going to be staring at my upper thighs for any length of time anyway).

Aside from the universe emphatically reminding me that I am ridiculous, it was a delightful trip. Nice is a pleasant place to spend a few days (just don’t tell the British guy screaming profanities into his phone about what a dump it was and how he’d be back in Monaco in a few days–from what I saw there were equal amounts of palm trees and dog poo on the sidewalks).

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More than a few days would be boring (not to mention expensive–the food prices! Blerg!) but we snuck in a day trip to Monte Carlo too. The water was blue and fresh-looking, there were swaying palm trees, and while it wasn’t quite tank top weather it was certainly warm enough to enjoy a bread-based brunch outside with a dear friend and a glass of Sancerre.

And really, isn’t having to break a meal into toddler-friendly bits and helping yourself to a glass of wine at 10am what traveling without your kids is all about?

I’ve already booked another girls’ weekend for October. Iceland (and its spas) is going to be AWESOME.

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Talking About Bodies

In a completely age-appropriate twist, the girls have taken an interest in how bodies work. We’ve always had good luck with Maggie in regards to books in that we can put out books on topics and she learns really well from repeated readings. However, the echolalia got us in a spot of embarrassment when we were trying to explain the concept of pregnancy. The book My Mom’s Having A Baby was phenomenal, but its factually correct and technical descriptions led to this exchange at the grocery store:

Clerk: Your mommy is having a baby!

Maggie: Daddies have sperm.

Me: *dies inside*

My embarrassment wasn’t that bad (particularly since I’m recounting it to you and possibly to Margaret’s future romantic partners), but it highlighted the need for exact speech. This kid doesn’t do euphemisms.

So off I went to the library. My first grab was The Magic School Bus Inside The Human Body, which is very busy and packed but okay for Maggie and Moira as long as we don’t read EVERY sidebar. Main pro: comic-book format. Main complaint: their travels through the body required me to go back and re-explain the digestive system so the kids didn’t think that nutrients flowed back down the spinal cord. Minor quibble, since there’s a full body map near the end, and it’s a lot of fun to read.

Moira, for what it’s worth, really enjoys shouting “ACHOO!” at the end when the bus snot-rockets out of poor goofy Arnold’s face. Good times.

Speaking of Moira, we noticed her eyeballing Daddy rather curiously in the bathroom one day so we decided to also get Who Has What? This book is phenomenal. What I really love–aside from the no-nonsense technical terms–are the equality-based details. One is the emphasis that girls and boys are mostly alike (both like to play catch, both like to snuggle dolls and stuffed animals); the other is that mommies feed babies from their breasts or from bottles! No judgment! And daddies can feed their babies bottles of pumped milk or formula! No judgment! There are also a ton of little details that make me happy: a drawing of a woman wearing hijab with her daughter at the beach, one of a mommy breastfeeding and a daddy bottle-feeding. What I REALLY like is that the main sibling characters–a little boy and little girl, natch–are people of color and part of a multiracial family with a white dad and black mom. All the background characters are an assortment of cultures and colors. Everybody gets their represent on. I have heard a lot about the author’s book It’s Not The Stork and if Who Has What? is any indication, we’ll have to borrow that one too.

My only minor quibble was the line about how when you grew up it would be your parts that determine whether you’re a man or a woman, but I figure we’ll build on the basic foundational biology aspects of anatomy before getting into the gender-as-a-spectrum-and-a-cultural-construct/transgender topics/body dysmorphia discussions.

And for some hands-on discussion, we got the Hape 5-layer Girl Body puzzle. Loves: the layering, the opportunity for discussing different systems, the ability to manipulate the parts. Dislikes: as far as I can see, even for the boy puzzle counterpart, this comes in white skin-blonde hair only. Not so much on full representation, which is disappointing but I suppose unsurprising.

It’s been a heck of an education around here! Now hopefully Moira won’t break down the bathroom door to say “WHATCHA DOING?!” to her father. Again.

Packing Challenge: Accepted!

Over a year ago, I stumbled upon the ScotteVest company and promptly set about haranguing Tom for the 18-pocket trench coat for my 30th birthday. It was to be, I thought, a classy entry into my fourth decade of travel. Since he’s a man who can take a hint (particularly one dropped on him in Acme-sized anvils) I did receive it and have used it on two trips now (Paris and Dusseldorf). I love it. It’s ridiculous. It’s absurd. And it makes me so happy.

However, it came with a caveat. “Since you can use your trench for all the items you’d normally put in your carry-on, I expect you to go on your girls’ weekend in February with just the trench and the bag you got in Morocco.” 

…Hmm. Well. A long weekend in Nice and Monaco with just a coat and a bag. This is the bag, by the way. A perfectly ordinary handbag, no Tardis-like properties contained within.

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“I can do that,” I mused to my friend. “I think, anyway. I’m sure I can!”

“Well,” said my friend. “You can’t do it dirty-traveler style. You actually need to bring multiple pairs of underwear.”

I didn’t tell her I was just planning to borrow hers when she was done using them.

KIDDING. That’s disgusting. But, honor slightly impugned, I realized she was right: I needed to fit multiple outfits for a warmish-but-not-that-warm destination in February, and it’s for a Girls’ Weekend. For those of you who are not closing in on double-digits in your partnership, let me enlighten you: you’ll probably dress better for your girlfriends than for the person legally obligated to put up with your nonsense ’til death or packing challenges do you part.

I used my birthday and Christmas gift money to get some cute day-to-night dresses, some cute walking shoe-to-evening flats, and decided to renounce the 12th Commandment: “Thou shalt not wear leggings as pants.” (The 11th is, obviously, pack multiple pairs of underwear and don’t borrow your friend’s, or even joke about it.) This is what I had to fit in the bag:

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Clothes in a packing cube, toiletries in the government-allotted quart baggie, extra shoes, electronics charger (for point-and-shoot camera and Nexus 4, which contains all the media I like to travel with–the charger is a 4-port USB hub/current converter that came with four different electrical outlet prong configurations that snap on and off as needed, and it is easily the best $20 I’ve spent for our electronics), and an assortment of lady products that I shant be bringing home with me, if you follow. The packing list laid out like this:

2x leggings

1 tunic top

2 sheath dresses in wrinkle-free fabric

Undergarments for every day

Suede flats

Going on my body on the plane and in the coat: pair of black leggings (will double as pajama pants), black and silver TOMS, tunic top over tank top (tank top will be used as pajamas), a travel hot-air blowdryer/brush, passport, wallet, camera, other vital docs.

Even Maggie observed the process with incredulity. “Why? Why are you doing that?”

(Did I mention she asks “Why?” questions now? Every time she does my heart does cartwheels and I have to pause before answering because holy huge BFD Batman.)

“Because Daddy dared me.” 

“Daddy…dared you?”

Then I had to explain what “dare” meant while clutching my satchel between my knees to force the center compartment shut, which is more breath than I’ve expended on exercise in some time. Here’s the final result:

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Sure, it looks like it’s going to pop and I had to dig out the cross-body strap because there’s no way that sucker is going to fit on my shoulder, but there it is! Packing for a trip without my children is an odd experience (“Hmm, I don’t actually need to pack wipes…”) but it’s fun to try it now and then. I’ll miss them terribly but it will be fun to travel and have occasion to wear clothes that are not to be drooled on or used as a napkin.  

…But if you hear about a woman in England who got stopped for carrying hair styling implements in her coat pocket, you’ll know where to send bail.