Monday, April 27, 2015

Jardin des Plantes ~ Part One

When my children were very little, we had a special park down the street from our apartment. It was in this place that both of my babies first took a ride down the sliding board. They spent hours digging in the sand...filling buckets, burying trucks and building castles. It was here that my son pulled himself up to stand on his own two little feet for the first time. As these photos carry me back to this place, I'm struck by a few thoughts.

This little playground was located in Paris, along the edge of the Jardin des Plantes. The very grand Natural History Museum is located at one end of this exquisite botanical garden, not far from our little sand box. The museum is home to many natural wonders, including some gigantic dinosaur skeletons. It's no wonder, in the neighboring playground, that to climb up to the slide, you had to scale the tale of a dinosaur! And the descending slides were built right down the front of his spine.

The creativity of this design always pleased and impressed me. We called this place "the dinosaur park" and strolled over to play there so often. As I look at the faces of my kids in these photos, I realize that they could have been anywhere.... They had no ability to put their experience here into any larger context. They didn't know that we were living in one of the most exciting cities in the world. No sense of the history...or that mom and dad were foreigners. {that would come later!} They certainly had no sense that the dinosaur they climbed on all the time was of any significance...creative, educational or otherwise.

As I look back, I think what mattered to them is that we played. That we went out, explored, had adventures and got dirty. For long stretches of uninterrupted, unscheduled time. These moments pre-dated cell phones. Every once in a while I brought a camera with me. More often than not, I brought a friend. There was fresh air, and conversation...I think these days this is called a "play date".... Back in the day, I think the moms were playing as much as the kids! Funny how, as parents, we strive to provide so much. We work to educate, elevate and equip our well we should. I wonder, though, how often that turns into an over-saturation. An over scheduling and an over abundance of stuff in their lives.

Though we lived in this most elegant {and expensive} city, we learned to make do with very little. I love looking at my two here, playing with a friend and sharing one bucket, one ball and one shovel between them. The clothes are mostly hand-me-downs, the shoes are grand parent provided. I'm so grateful that I learned to parent far away from my "natural habitat." Had we been in suburban America, I don't know if I would have learned to be content with so little. But here we were in this dazzling for me, the mom, we already had so much more than I could have ever imagined! I was profoundly satisfied, content, eager to explore and ready to learn new things. I was enthralled by the history all around us, both natural and cultivated...and tickled to death that we had a dinosaur park to play in! I realize, looking back, that we were their context. Their father and I were their "bigger picture" .... the surroundings mattered little to them.

I'd like to think that I would have found that same spirit had I been back "home" in America. But I think I needed to be pulled out of all that was known and comfortable to me, and learn this parenting thing in an environment that both thrilled and challenged me. Of all the lessons I learned as a mom, the one that came back around over and over again was this: children learn from who we are, not from who we want to be. When the heart, mind and soul of the parent is content, yet challenged... educated, yet eager to learn... present, yet pursuing deeper insight... This is the heart, mind and soul that will develop in the child. Doesn't matter where you live. Or what you have. Or how often everything turns out perfectly. For better, or worse, they really do soak up the essence of who we are.

I often say that I was an accidental mother. Not that I got pregnant by accident. But that this motherhood thing was never something that I purposed as a young woman. There is nothing, however, that has taught me more or filled me more completely than taking on this role. And as I dig out these old photos, I'm profoundly grateful for the context...for the journey my husband and I shared with these two...on good days and bad, both here and abroad.

"Look, Mom! He's standing!"
July, 1990

Joining Tamar for some
{Parisian Style}


  1. What a wonderful playspace to explore as a child - these memories are great!

  2. this is another wonderful story adrienne. so much truth and much appreciation for the smallest things!!

    my children grew up with everything and still somehow managed to star very grounded. mike once told me he doesn't have hbo, he said it's too expensive. it's such a small thing that meant so much to me as i knew he have achieved certain values that i wanted him to achieve. both of my boys are "a little cheap" and i love that about them.....AND they both have savings accounts and retirement funds that they set up on their own. i do love those kids!!!!

  3. I'm sure you are absolutely correct here. I'm always afraid to say too much because I always feel like I'm risking misunderstanding about my beloved home country, but I can say that we were happy little expats in Asia. I didn't struggle for happiness the way I so often do here. My husband says it is life stage, but I wonder if it isn't just the slippery slope of abundance and keeping up with it. That there is so little time to just live because there is so much to maintain. Somehow I know you understand. I love that. I'm totally loving the lady in red in the last photo just taking the day in!

  4. Wow. This is a place for magical moments and beloved memories! Such a wonderful experience and to hear your story of it all, right down to the last lovely photo, touches my heart. This is a treasure for anyone's childhood.

  5. I'm back now, and finally catching up on your wonderful posts Adrienne... I took this one in particularly slowly. The giant dinosaur looks marvelous, I wish it was still here! I love what you say about how children learn from their parents, my older son is going from 9 to 15, there are a lot deeper questions and observations coming from him, which forces me to be more mindful and deliberate about my answers and actions. I'm always thinking about and redefining my sense of home, and it's becoming more and more clear as the days go by that we must adapt and find joy, together, no matter where we are. xo