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I Took My Mom To Paris, And It Was Life-Changing

Last month, my mom and I went to Paris. It was the first time we'd traveled together since I was 14, and the only time we'd ever done so without the rest of my family. As such, it was an interesting experience, to say the least. Here's why it was also life-changing.


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My mom and I aren't very close. We have a good relationship, but we aren't besties, like others boast. In fact, if I don't call her, odds are we will go months without speaking. It's not that she doesn't care about me, it’s just that she believes in letting her adult children live their lives, and besides, she has better things to do than listen to me whine about my life for hours. After working full-time and raising three kids for the better part of 40 years, she's focusing on herself, which I think is healthy.

So, when she and my dad called me on Valentine's Day, I was shocked. Honestly, whenever I see their number come up on my phone I'm sure someone has died, but this time I think they're just afraid that, as a single woman of a certain age, I might be the one to kick it on this, the most romantic of fake holidays. I use the opportunity to bemoan my upcoming birthday and casually mention that I'm thinking of taking myself to Paris for the occasion in order to feel more like Carrie Bradshaw and less like the sad Cathy comic. As "normal" people who don't think traveling alone sounds like the best vacay ever (it is), they are horrified. Since my dad spends half the year in Ghana and will be gone over my birthday month, he suggests I take my mom with me to Paris. I say something like, "Yeah, totally!" and then hang up the phone, figuring I'll never have to think about this off-putting idea again.

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Vanessa Jackman Vanessa Jackman

I am wrong. My mom wants to go to Paris with me. She has never been to Europe, and she is excited. Though this sounds like a horrible idea to me—what will we talk about for all those hours together?!—I agree to start planning the trip. Before I know it, we've arrived in France at our adorable, über-Parisian flat, found via One Fine Stay. This won't be so bad, I think for approximately five minutes before reality sets in, and then Oy, what have I gotten myself into? 

To give the discomfort of this more context, my mom and I could not be more different. I am an emotional wreck, and she barely registers feelings. She is a ball-buster, and I am a pushover. She is forever active, whereas I could curl up with a book and disappear for days. She's very Catholic, whereas I am very... Angeleno (think spiritual, not religious). I have traveled extensively, and have done so alone in Rio, Bali and other such far-flung locales. She has traveled very little, sticking mainly to the types of destinations that feel American even though they aren't. I think wine is an essential part of life; she doesn't drink. I like to eat unusual things; she's never had so much as a piece of sushi. All this is enough to make me worry about what I'm going to do with her in Europe for four days. Since she isn't much of a city person, I determine before we even arrive that she will hate Paris.

To compensate, I booked the first day like a professional tour guide. In just seven hours' time, we see the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. Just imagine, will you, the amount of waiting that all of that entails. Now, feel sorry for me. Still, it's all fresh and new and I'm a good sport at this point. Surely, I think, tomorrow we can just drink wine and watch the locals walk by, maybe do some shopping, eat a few macarons, etc.

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Not so much. The second day she wants to see Notre Dame, which means we end up in a four-hour line in freezing temperatures, after which we realize we are in the wrong place and have endured hours of misery simply to climb some stairs. At this point, I regress back to my teenage self, who was a nightmare: I'm texting boys to complain about my mom, posting passive aggressive Instagram stories and generally just wishing I were back in LA. The fact that every single person I text responds with, "I don't blame you, I could never travel with my mom," makes me second-guess my desire to have kids. But that's a story for another day.

Then, my little brother sends me a trip-changing text. "She'll never go back. Just make this trip about her." Ah, I think. I'm a total a**hole. He was right—I travel a lot, and will likely never stop, even if it means strapping a screaming kid to my chest. My mom, on the other hand, is 63, and though she is in perfect health and will likely live to be 100 like all the other women in her family, I doubt she'll make it back to Paris.

So, I change my attitude, and somehow this also helps me open up to my mom. The truth is, we don't really know each other, since I left Texas at 18 and have only ever been back to visit on holidays. To be honest, I'm pretty sure she thinks I'm a lesbian (I wish), so I think she is surprised to notice my obsession with men. She also learns I like to make people laugh, I can be assertive when I need to be, and I do not care about old churches. I, in turn, learn she does like to drink, she is much more adventurous than I thought, and she does care (very much) about old churches. It's basically as though we're two adults who have just met, and it's wonderful (minus the near-constant conflict over the appeal of churches). 

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By the end of the trip, I'm relieved to be returning to my independent adult life, and I can tell my mom is ready to return to her comparatively quiet life in the Texas countryside. Still, we feel attached to each other in a way we didn't before, and it's sad to leave each other. Before I embarked on this journey, one friend told me she had attempted a similar trip with her mother, and it had been, at times, torturous, but she was happy she did it in the end. I definitely feel the same, and I cherish the memory of this trip almost more than that of any other trip I've ever been on. Even the four hours in line at Notre Dame. Especially the four hours in line at Notre Dame.

A few days after our return, my mom emails me, "Where should we go next?" Not ready for more churches quite yet, it takes me a few days to respond. When I do, it's with just one sentence. "Anywhere you want."

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