American Mom in Paris: After School Picnics

American Mom in Paris: After School Picnics

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girls-picnic-EiffelTower
Photo ©Stacey Pavesi Debré

When my French husband and I relocated with our French-American daughters – Viv and Gogo – to Paris last September, I had spent the previous year preparing to embrace a very temporary stay-at-home moment.

I figured it would take me three months, 6 at most, to wrangle the newness into the same kind of order and familiarity we enjoyed after 9 years in Washington D.C. We were no strangers to this land. My husband was born and raised here, we were married here, we’d been visiting at least twice a year for more than a decade, and I speak French.

I’d give myself six months before finding a great magazine, newspaper, or non-profit which needed my American expertise to bedazzle their events efforts, and be on my merry old way in our new home.

Graphic Eiffel tower move
Photo © Maxim Zarya/123RF

That’s not exactly what happened…

The transition to Paris as a family unit was super smooth. My husband slipped back into the rhythm of daily life here as if he hadn’t been gone 16 years. Our girls took some time to adjust to their new school and the new language but they were fluent in both by Christmas. And, while the girls were in school, I became the resident concierge, making friends with neighbors and local shopkeepers; setting coffee dates and playdates with the moms of our girls’ favorite classmates; exploring each street of the neighborhood and visiting the surrounding quartiers for points of interest; finding enriching extra-curricular activities; feeding a steady stream of photos and anecdotes to family and friends back home via Facebook.

Now nearly a year in, despite panic over loss of financial independence compounded with a modern woman’s conscience, kitchen aversion and other symptoms of career withdrawal, I find myself on a slow drift away from the urgency of a complete return to work.

I perceive more reward in the luxuries of time and presence with my children, quite probably because I’m in Paris.

One such reward is Wednesday afternoons, when I pick the girls up from school at 11:30am. At first, I did it out of guilt. After all, what kind of stay-at-home mom has her kids lunch à la cantine AND puts them in the after-school periscolaire program on Tuesdays and Fridays? But picking the girls up early from school only to return home to lunch and nap seemed so … un-special.

Fortunately, the way home winds through the infamous Champs de Mars. Once the French military marching grounds and also where a rebounding monarchy massacred republican protesters, the place is best known today as the home of the Eiffel Tower. But in my circles, we pass the Iron Lady by in favor of the playgrounds, carousels (especially the antique hand-cranked Manège 1913), and les Marionnettes du Champ de Mars, where Guignol, a beloved French hand puppet, invites children to join in his adventures Wednesdays and weekends.

Picnic basket
Photo © 123RF/Elena Shashkina

And any outing is improved by the thing our little girls like best: a picnic on the Champ de Mars. Very nearly at the park’s mid-section, just behind the Guignol puppet theater, is a wonderful little glen. When the sprinklers aren’t on, this quiet, green enclave has become our urban surrogate for the suburban backyard the girls only otherwise experience visiting their American grandparents. Trees to climb, space to run, underbrush to explore, pigeons to chase, the girls have a ball even if it’s just the two of them. No toys required. Plus, the landscaping lends a cozy, almost intimate, ambiance for your picnic, a rare treat in a Paris public park which generally discourages loitering.

If you decide to venture there, head to the southeast quadrant of the Champ de Mars between Rue Marinoni and Rue de Belgrade. Take the path that runs to the left of les Marionnettes du Champ de Mars (when you’re facing the theater) and find a cozy spot in the glen just behind the theater.

Where to stock up for your picnic in the Champ de Mars

Rather not haul a basket there? Visit the local shops nearby for picnic-perfect French treats:

  • Le Champ des Délices bakery (145, rue Saint-Dominique) We love their baguette “tradi graines”, sandwiches, and pain au chocolat.
  • G20 Supermarket (143, rue Saint-Dominique)
  • Saint-Dominique Primeur (141, rue Saint-Dominique) for high-quality fruits and vegetables
  • Les Viandes du Champ de Mars (122, rue Saint-Dominique) for delicious picnic charcuterie or roasted chicken
  • Pizza la Gourmandise (28, rue Augereau) for takeout, if traditional picnic fare doesn’t appeal to you

The girls love these simple picnics. For my part, as long as I’m a stay-at-home mom, I think I’m going to love this city that gives us every reason not to stay home.

Stacey Pavesi Debré
Stacey Pavesi Debré is a Taiwanese-Italian américaine, born in Ohio, raised in California, groomed as a model in Tokyo, then educated at Cornell University in Ithaca. Upon graduating, she apprenticed in the events industry at TIME magazine and Teach For America in New York City, and was seasoned at The Atlantic magazine in D.C. She is now navigating Paris with her Parisian husband and two daughters. She is a major fan of French pastries and French panache – separately or together – and endeavors toward eventual fluency in the French culture without losing any of her beneficial American qualities.

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