It was 8:30 pm. I shut the bedroom door behind my sleepy children, wishing them a quick trip to dreamland.
We were exhausted. That whole day we had walked, biked, and waited in interminable lines around Versailles, wrangling tiny children the entire time. My eyes met Elliott’s and we laughed wearily. Not exactly a great — or an early — start to a romantic getaway in Paris.
About 15 minutes later, we’d hastily packed a bag, and Elliott had made a reservation at a French restaurant near our hotel. “Their earliest opening was at 10pm, so I guess we’ll have time to make it!” After hugging Elliott’s parents goodnight, we stepped out into the darkening streets, hand-in-hand, willing ourselves to find new energy for this much-anticipated evening.
By the time we stepped off the Metro and looked up at our beautiful hotel, I was finding a new spring in my step. We walked into the magnificent lobby, catching our breath at the marble table covered with a hundred orchid plants.
The receptionist at the desk welcomed us graciously, but I felt like she could see right through my grubby street clothes and knew I didn’t belong there. I have two sleeping babies two miles away, and I bought my jeans on clearance at H&M. She seemed as delighted to see us as the next guest, though, and I relaxed. After thanking us for using our free hotel stay at their hotel (smooth one, Elliott), she informed us she’d upgraded our room. Sweet!
Upstairs, we walked into a gorgeous gold-and-red room with soft jazz playing on the TV. A table was laid with chocolate dipped strawberries, and a bottle of champagne sat chilling in a silver bucket.
“What’s all this?!” I asked in astonishment as I picked up the card. “‘Welcome, Mr. and Mrs. Garber, and thank you for celebrating your anniversary with us.’ But our anniversary was in January!”
“Oh,” Elliott said sheepishly, “they asked me if we were celebrating anything when I made the reservation, so I said our marriage. I mean… we’re always celebrating it, right?”
He popped the champagne cork and poured a glass for his smitten-all-over-again wife.
After a few glasses of bubbly and a bit of sprucing, we stepped out into the Parisian night to find our restaurant. We’d decided to eat a real French meal, since our room was free and we have been eating mostly croissants since arriving in Paris. The little restaurant was tiny and cozy. Polite staff slipped about silently on the thick carpet, and the only English I heard came from a cheery Scotsman regaling his table with stories.
It was the first Michelin-starred restaurant we’d ever eaten in, and it was also the most expensive meal we’d ever shared; Elliott still won’t tell me how much it cost. I felt wildly out of place again, since I was wearing a dress from Liz Lange Maternity. I know, I know! I’m not pregnant and haven’t been for a year and a half, but it happened to be in my closet and was black and had probably the deepest neckline of anything I own, which is kind of what I was going for on a romantic evening out with my husband, so… if the dress fits…!
The meal was like nothing we’d ever experienced before. For their tasting menu, they brought one tiny dish after another, each exquisitely presented, vibrantly flavorful, and paired with a select wine. There was foie gras soup drizzled with lime, melting Parmesan cheese sandwiched between paper-thin crackers, a quail’s egg with mango cream in place of the yolk, and ravioli made from thin strips of pineapple.
Slowly the restaurant cleared out, and at 1 am there was only one other group — a quiet table of French friends — still in the restaurant. We noticed them settle their bill, but then they stayed at their table, chatting and sipping wine until they saw we were finished. When we stood to go, they also rose and got their coats. I was touched by what I can only assume was a gesture of kindness. Since they were having a good time, they didn’t want us to be awkwardly left alone in the restaurant or to rush through our dessert. I hope I remember to do that sometime for a young couple out on the date of their lives.
We woke on Easter Sunday morning, and I opened the curtains onto a perfect Parisian scene. We waffled between meeting our family at church for the Easter service or lingering at the hotel for a few more hours, eating a leisurely French breakfast at the cafe downstairs, and slowly exploring the neighborhood. We chose the former, which was very responsible of us, and our children’s radiant faces when they saw us made our hearts melt.
In retrospect, though, I wish we’d stayed for those few more hours. What we were enjoying was more than a romantic getaway in Paris; it was time with our very best friend. Friendship. Genuine, sweet friendship with the one person we love most in the world, the one we chose over all others and who chose us back!
While parenting small children, it’s easy to get lost in the rhythms and routines of everyday life, filled with blessings and bills and boo-boos. What we had for those few hours in Paris was uninterrupted time to just be us, Elliott and Becca, the young couple who fell in love in Boston, who skied on the weekends together, who sought out obscure ethnic restaurants, who got married in a snowstorm. We’re still those young people deep inside, plus the complexity and depth and beauty and humility of being parents of two children. When those little children grow up and move away, we want to still be best friends holding hands.
Remembering this — with champagne and strawberries if possible! — will help us keep reaching for each other in love and friendship as the years go by.
Do you agree? I’d love to hear stories of your getaways — romantic or disastrous or otherwise!