Just Deux It

(Randy Mays - For The Washington Post)
By Pamela Gerhardt
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, July 9, 2006

We booked the apartment in Paris. And that was it. We hadn't planned anything past the point when my husband and I set foot on the plane last summer -- our first trip without our children, domestic or abroad, in a car, plane or train.

Having flown internationally with the kids in recent years -- France, Budapest, Austria, Italy -- a kind of auto-dread descended as we shuffled our way through security. I remembered one eight-hour zombie promenade through narrow aisles with a squirming toddler on my hip. Stress crawled up my spine as I recalled two hours stuck, and seat-belted, on the Dulles tarmac while my 3-year-old's bladder filled beyond endurance.

On this flight, however, something really weird happened. We fell asleep.

And woke up over Paris, cuddled under the synthetic fibers of an airplane blanket. We pushed up the plane's window shade, smiled at the nice-smelling French flight attendant and licked full-cream yogurt off plastic spoons. So far, so good.

A French friend once told me, "The French, we are more approximate than the Americans." Perhaps our dearest hope for this trip was to let go, feel free, get lost. What better destination than France?

My sister had agreed to watch the kids. I was a wreck in the weeks leading up to the departure date. Little arms break. Drivers ignore small, pink bicycles. Oceans loom large. What if they needed me in the middle of the night? What if my sister hated me afterward? She was driving eight hours from South Carolina just to baby-sit. I made lists: Foods the kids like. Numbers for friends. Directions for Metro.

Four days before departure, I made my husband rent an international cell phone for $140 a week. "That way, my sister can call while she's making a peanut butter sandwich and ask which kind of jelly the kids like," I said, feeling quite good.

"At $1.70 a minute," he gently reminded, then added, "Our kids are nearly 8 and 5. They can talk to her about jelly." He got the phone.

Finally, I finished the lists. I secured all details. I took a breath. Something still nagged me. A real monster, hunkering beneath all those little worries slowly reared its ugly head. Something dark and unique to a 15-year relationship with kids.

"What if we run out of things to say after one hour in the first cafe?" I asked him. "What if," I added, "we find out we can't stand each other?"

Oceans loom large. Perhaps there is nothing like international travel to separate you from what you know. And force you to face what you don't.

When my more relaxed sister arrived, she laughed at the three-foot-long schedule I'd spread out across the dining room table. Surely, she seemed to say, you don't expect . . . She suddenly developed Euro articulation. "Nice shed-ules," she said.

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