An unfiltered fire hose of flaming condemnation

Je m’appelle le croissant

In this photo Marlo is holding my Mother’s Day present, something called a SONNENGLAS, a mason jar with a solar panel lid containing LEDs that you can light up when the sun goes down. It was developed in South Africa as source of light for people in areas with no access to electricity, and they asked me if they could send me one. Considering that my children will not make me breakfast in bed or give me a few hours off on Sunday, I said yes. When it arrived I opened it in front of them and said, “Look! You gave me the gift of light!” And told them to nod as if they had any fucken clue what I was talking about.

No, I am not batshit crazy. I am a full-time single mother, but I can see how the two conditions are so easily confused.

Earlier this week on Facebook I started crowdsourcing ideas about where to stay and what to see when I go to Paris this summer for three weeks while my children are in New York. This summer they will be gone for almost seven straight weeks, a number of weeks so high that my stepfather—a skilled woodworker who had a few unfortunate encounters with a sliding miter saw—doesn’t have enough fingers to count them all.

Sorry, Rob (that’s my stepfather’s name, and I know my mother is reading this to him). One day you had to know that your severed fingers would eventually make an appearance on this website.

He is seriously fantastic at Halloween parties.

Leta has the option this year of attending six weeks of sleepaway camp in New Jersey. She’s been keeping in touch with her friends from her three-week sleepaway camp last year through Snapchat and Instagram, and she’s been begging me to allow her to be gone for the whole shebang. I fully support her decision and desire to do this, because holy shit! Remember the camp in Parent Trap? The original one from 1961 starring Hayley Mills? The one with the cabins and the lake and the dreamy idea of being out in the woods with friends and suddenly finding out you have a long lost twin you never even knew about?

Minus the twin part—unless her father attends the camp and she sees him and is all DUDE I LOOK JUST LIKE YOU—that’s the kind of camp Leta gets to go to! TANGENT: you guys do know that Hayley Mills is the mother of the lead singer of Kula Shaker, right?

I know some of you are scratching your heads right now going, Hayley Mills? Kula Shaker? Who are these people? These things? What on earth is she talking about? Well, guess what, Brianna. (Or is it Briannah? Is it Bryanna? What is it with the urge to add the “y”, people. I’m looking at you, UTAH.)

IT’S CALLED GETTING OLD AND IT HAPPENS TO EVERY ASSHOLE ON THIS PLANET.

Because of the logistics of Leta’s camp schedule, Marlo will be in Brooklyn with her father the entire time. Normally I would try to break up a seven-week stint into smaller, less heart-breaking segments of time away, but this is how it has to go down this year. And when I look at that space on my calendar, I can feel my sternum starting to crack against the pressure building inside my chest. I have said this so many times, and I’ll say it again: I hate being in my house when my girls are not here. It hasn’t ever gotten any easier, the pain of it just sinks a little lower in my bones each time they are gone.

My friend Casey commented on that post and I hope they don’t mind me sharing what they said here, because they so fucking get what I’m talking about:

The ONLY thing that has helped me through this shared custody disaster is always doing things that are annoying to do with a kid on the days I don’t have her. Like going to Target. Or the gas station in the rain. Dropping books off at the library without getting a kid out of the car and convincing her to get back in. Day drinking. Shoveling snow. A month in Paris.

I am so happy for my kids and the experiences they are living. They will be able to call upon so many bits of wisdom throughout the rest of their lives from the physical and emotional ways they have navigated living so far away from their father as kids. However, it still sucks.

Knowing that this time away from them is fast approaching, I took the advice of a friend and decided that I should seize the opportunity to visit the one place in the world that I haven’t been, the one place I want to visit most. I had grand ideas when I was 39 about spending my 40th birthday at the Eiffel Tower, but life took a few major twists and turns and nosedives. Instead, I will be spending my 42nd birthday at the Eiffel Tower while using the energy and inspiration of the city to write about how I survived the worst year of my life.

It’s going to be a fucking page-turner. Well, at least the part about my depression. And how someone tried to use it against me in a court of law.

Was that a spoiler? Hell, I haven’t even told you guys about the IV track marks I had to hide from the teachers at school. And I wasn’t doing any drugs.

I need to get out of my home, away from everything here that would distract me from this project, the things I would use to procrastinate—all the crap I could get organized in my house and in my office, the work I need to do in the yard, the emptiness of my girls’ bedrooms. And what better place in the world to write the story of coming up and out of a darkness so terrifying that I had to be willing to die in order to stay alive: the city of light.

So far I have booked my flight and have a house/dog sitter for the first week that I am gone. I am still looking for recommendations on where to stay and what to see, and I’m trying to find a house/dog sitter for the latter two weeks. My intention is to write during the day and to walk and explore the city in the early evening, a few day trips here and there.

I welcome any ideas you have to share, and I want to thank you. Thank you for being here. Your being here has opened up the world to me, and I won’t ever take that for granted. And I promise you I will not squander what you have given to me.

  • When I visited Paris many years ago, we stayed in a hostel in Le Marais and I definitely recommend the neighborhood. So lovely.

  • Of course I know Hayley Mills! But I liked Pollyanna better than Parent Trap, being a huge fan of the book growing up and all (I grew up in Brazil, the book Pollyanna by Eleanor Porter is very popular there, it’s even the name of my sister-in-law — only one L and one Y, and she’s never had the book, haha). Anyway. I hope you have a wonderful time in Paris!!

  • Cristina Hanganu-Bresch

    If you have the money: Hotel Raphael. It’s luxurious and because you’re staying for so long, you need a good place. It’s Rive droite but don’t let that deter you.

  • Dina

    There are endless good places to eat and walk and watch people around Paris. And many museums and small shops you have got to check. Are you sure you’ll have enough time to write and still eat all that good food? I went to Paris last fall with a friend for a long weekend and stayed in an tiny Airbnb in the 20th arr.. Maybe next summer you can plan a tour for the book you are writing?

  • Tara

    I would love to see Paris. I’d love to see anyplace and anything other than the pajama encased butts at Walmart.
    Can’t tell you where to eat or stay – but I CAN tell you – great idea. When my kids went to their fathers it felt like biting foil – every second of every minute of every day.

  • Susan

    I don’t have any ideas to share because I haven’t ever been there, but I wanted to say I adore all of you. Can’t wait to read it as I have read both of your books.

  • Erin

    The original Parent Trap is on Netflix, finally! I’d recommend doing some walking tours in Paris, you’ll learn a lot that way and see so much of the neighborhoods. There are some cool GPS-guided tours too, if you want to be solo.

  • Jennifer Cafferty-Davis

    I have never been to Paris, but as a fellow foreign traveler, the best advice I EVER received (and which came in handy in Rome/Capri/Florence) is this: get lost because that is where you will see the most authentic parts of foreign travel. Get OFF of the beaten path. Take pictures of the quiet and intimate parts of the city, not just the main touristy spots. Close your eyes and open your ears – HEAR the life of the city.

  • KristenfromMA

    Well, at least the part about my depression. And how someone tried to use it against me in a court of law.

    Say WHAT? I haven’t heard any details yet and I’M ALREADY OUTRAGED.
    —-
    Can’t recommend where to stay as I haven’t been either, but as an Art History major I have to tell you to go to Sainte Chapelle. And the Musee d’Orsay.

  • jawnbc

    Did you study French at all in high school or college? Because if you did, I heartily encourage you to book a 3 week immersion course while in Paris—ideally one that meets in the mornings only. You language skills will skyrocket, you meet some kindred souls, and they’ll probably facilitate seeing bits of Parisian life that you would otherwise never see.
    Otherwise my only tip is this: French people are intensely private to the point of seeming rude to others. Don’t expect invites to dinner parties or the use of informal “tu” with mere acquaintances. Socialising tends to happy in public spaces (hence the massive number of bistros, cafés and rests) until a strong bond is forged.
    Side trips: Brussels (sooo underrated), London, Barcelona (6 hours on TGV to BCN).

  • Erin

    A nice day trip would be Fontainbleau – it’s a charming small town centered around a huge palace and gardens that housed a bunch of famous folks. You can get there from Paris by train!

  • jwatkiss

    Paris is so lovely! But also one of the toughest cities I’ve ever visited. It’s only because Paris doesn’t bend to you. There is no gentle introduction. It drops you straight into its beautiful chaos, and waits for you to bend to it (Especially if you arrive via Gare du Nord). Patience. Flexibility. It’ll all be ok. Watch Amelie, stay in Montmartre. Wander, eat, drink, ponder, love.

  • Féline Lo

    BEST SANDWICHES IN THE WORLD! At Le Marché des Enfants Rouges. OMG MUST DO!!! The Marché des Enfants Rouges is said to be the oldest market in Paris, built in 1615. THE BEST SANDWICHES IN THE WORLD ARE MADE HERE! The guy is old, and disorganize but his food is amazing! Come early at 12PM because the line is long (BUT you can drink booze while waiting, so grab couple beers at the opposite stall, or bring mini wine bottles). He usually closes early at 2PM on Sunday, and only opens til 4-5PM on Fri and Sat because he works LIKE A BOSS. Crepes, and vegetarian options also available. Get the sandwiches, not the galette one, (it’s still good but def not the same as the sandwiches) Have it toasted! He uses all the ingredients that are sold in the market (the bread is from the stall next to him, he literally just put his hand over to grab some breads when he runs out :’)) When you wrap your mouth around a crispy baguette slathered with the finest olive oil, and taste the salty ham in contrast with a few tiny cornichon, you are hooked. It is simple, but perfection! His crepes are also amazing! There are also 5-6 small stalls where you can have freshly cooked dishes – Moroccan, Japanese, Italian, Afriacan… all delicious – to be eaten at the communal tables at either end of the market. Remember it is only opened during the weekend Fri, Sat and Sun at 12pm (closes at 2pm on Sun)
    Also I’m sending you my spreadsheet btw. The best day for me in Paris is to walk around Île Saint-Louis all afternoon, and eat Berthillon ice cream the whole entire time <3. St. Malo and Mont. St Michel are also great for short trips. Stay in the right bank (left bank is over). I second Le Marais for best area to stay. Enjoy your time there! XOXO

  • Malorie

    First, I love that you’re back sharing these things with us – second, Paris. Enjoy every second of it and then hop a train to Bruges. Talk about some serious alone-time-self-contemplation-inspiration-city. It’s tiny enough to navigate without the stress of language barriers and trains. If you want to get real crazy with the Zen, visit the Beguinage Convent that’s located there. Have the best time.

  • Rachel Van Parys

    Cler Hotel (on rue Cler) is small and really lovely and aesthetically pleasing, with great views of the Eiffel- it’s only a few blocks away. Other than that, I can only recommend drinking lots of Sancerre and wandering as much as you can. Bonne chance, looking forward to reading what comes out of it!

  • Amy

    You mean I’m going to have to go THREE WEEKS without a Manic Rambling Spiral podcast?! ((See how I just made this all about ME?!)) I really hope you enjoy the hell out of your trip. You can tell John R. Bray if he would like to talk to himself for an hour, I’d still listen.

  • Kirsten Hansen

    Paris is wonderful. I much prefer it over London. But I have no recommendations because I think it’s best to discover the city for yourself. OK, I’ll amend that…I love walking in cemeteries so I would encourage you to do that…and not just Père Lachaise. Montmartre is lovely too.

  • kth201

    Amsterdam is only a 3 hour train ride away from Paris. Just saying!

    Also, Barcelona is lovely and strange and everyone should visit it.

  • Margot Benish

    Highly recommend City Walks: Paris, Revised Edition: 50 Adventures on Food by Christina Henry de Tessan. Been to Paris a ton while my dad had long term work assignments there and we all loved these as a way to see the city on our schedule.

    Go see Monet’s water lily paintings at Musee de l’Orangerie. I want to live there.

    Buy a pack of 10 metro tickets from the ticket window to save yourself the hassle of having to buy them each time. HANG ON TO YOUR TICKET as you need it to exit the metro too.

    Enjoy!

  • Michael Mathews

    I don’t have the kid logistics, but I got laid off earlier this year. Today I am on the last full day of a 4-week vacation to places I have always wanted to see. I think this may be the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.

  • Michael Mathews

    Some of the best meals I’ve had were when wandering Paris, outside the usual touristy arrondissements. The servers didn’t speak very much English and I didn’t speak French very well, but I managed to order and the food was good and authentic.

  • Erin Marie

    My best friend and her husband just spent a little over a week in Paris and Giverny. Giverny is the small town (village is probably a more apt term) where Monet lived and painted. She said spending a few days there was lovely after the hustle and bustle of Paris. She was, however, startled by the size of the rabbits in Giverny. Apparently they are of the floppy ear persuasian and was so large she wondered what they were feeding them.

  • Barbara Christiansen

    Best falafel in the world at L’As due Fallafel in the Le Marais neighborhood. I was in Paris alone for a few days when I was pregnant with my first child, and all I ate were amazing falafel/veggie pita concoctions (and they’re vegan!). (Okay, I also ate ice cream and pastries and crepes…) You can buy them at the window (from the sidewalk) or go inside the crowded cafe.

  • Rebecca

    I went to Paris when I was 18 and did not appreciate it, much to my shame, but the one museum that I would have gladly spent days in the Rodin museum. The sculpture is amazing and the best thing I have ever seen. Also, have a wonderful time and I’m so glad you’re back!

  • Maegan Gorham

    My favorite neighborhood is the Latin Quarter, and Shakespeare & Co book store is a must. It’s a quick walk across the bridge to San Chapelle and Notre Dame. Most hotels along Boulevard Saint-Germaine are just a few blocks from the Seine and a great walking path through the city.

  • anne

    Go to la Marais and eat the falafel and the lemon meringue pie. Also look up David Lebovitz because he is a blogger and American and lives in Paris and seems to be the nicest person in the world and I like to live vicariously through him. He does food tours sometimes.

    Also I second Amy’s comment about MRS. I’d listen to JRB talk to himself while you’re gone.

  • RachelFD

    Paris is lovely in summer! Empty as can be. Take all the other suggestions and get off the beaten track (though, to be fair, the beaten track is beaten for a reason and there are obviously wonderful and amazing things to be seen on it). The Musée d’Orsay is free the first Sunday of every month, but even if you can’t go on that day, it’s worth the admission price. It’s much more manageable in a day or half day than the Louvre, and has an incredible collection in a beautiful building. I wholeheartedly recommend a meal, or at least a glass of wine, at Le Baron Rouge in the Bercy/Nation area. On Sundays they serve oysters. Even if you don’t eat them, the atmosphere is well worth it. There’s a nice brasserie around the corner, Le Chat Bossu, that WILL make vegetarian food for you if you ask very politely in French.

    I would second the recommendation for a day trip to Fontainbleau, as well as to Versailles (the palace is amazing, but the town is equally charming). Just be prepared to walk a bit! That’s the other advice I would give…invest in a quality pair of stylish walking shoes or sandals. In Paris, more than any other city I’ve ever been, I wanted to walk. Yes the metro is convenient, but there is so much to see above ground, and it’s worth it. I spent a few months last year backpacking around Europe, and I’m glad I spent as much time and money on my shoes as I did, especially when I was in Paris.

  • Advice: eat all the foods. Not the paleo ones, unless you really want to.

    Get a gyro in the Jewish quarter. Rent a velo libre and bicycle across the city. Visit the gardens. Buy two euro champagne at a corner grocery after staring at the yogurt aisle. Look at the ingredients on the bottles in the pharmacie. Stare at people and paintings. Look at the age of things, the color of things, and the flowers in old roundabouts.

    Drink it in, weird smells and all. Take the metro somewhere. Jam way too many museums into your time, and then regret having to leave because you missed a few. Then go back.

    Bring your damn sunscreen. And when you burn because you missed that spot, buy Biafine at the pharmacie. It’s a 2nd degree burn cream that costs $45 on ebay and $4 in France. That shit is the nectar of skin healing.

  • Joy Fairclough

    I live in Paris and have been reading you for 10 years. I’m not going to overload you with information about where to eat in the Marais (yes the felafel is excellent;) or what museums to go to. You’re going to be here for a long time and your ideas about writing during the day and wandering in the early evening to take in the sights and eat at restaurants is just perfect. There’s so much to see and do here and so many beautiful neighborhoods to discover that I don’t think you’ll need an itinerary. Soak it up and

  • Joy Fairclough

    …if you get stuck for a good vegetarian restaurant recommendation, you can look me up. I’m the Joy Fairclough who works as a calligrapher in Paris. Congratulations and you’re going to have such an amazing time.

  • Joy Fairclough

    (or if you get language fatigue, n’hésite pas !)

  • First of all: If you do the “touristy” things – which is perfectly fine, because mostly, they’re worth it -, be prepared that you won’t have time for quiet contemplation in places like Sacré-Coeur, Notre-Dame, Sainte-Chappelle, Louvre, because it’s usually one long line of people shoving each other through the building. Still, worth it, I say.

    Personally, I’m a big fan of getting to know a city by boat, and the Bateaux Mouches are a good way to give you a quick overview of what you want to take a closer look at. I think they also offer a hop-on/hop-off option, but I’m not quite sure. Otherwise, there’s Batobus.

    Museum-wise, Orsay is a must-see, I guess. I also loved Musée Rodin and especially the Musée de Montmartre because there is a lot to learn about the history of the quartier Montmartre, and it’s where Suzanne Valadon painted whom I’ve always admired. Montmartre is nice to just stroll around in, and if you feel like it, go to Les 2 Moulins, which is where Amélie worked in the movie.

    Also, as a rather morbid kid, I remember that I loved les Catacombes because what seven-year-old doesn’t enjoy an underground ossuary? Ahem. I also remember loving the vibe of the quartier latin back then.

    Versailles, yep, definitely. Watch A Little Chaos before you go because of the gardens and because Alan Rickman. Sigh.

    Centre Pompidou for the architecture, don’t miss the Tinguely fountain nearby.

    Generally, prepare yourself that you will not be able to do everything and see everything, and that this is perfectly fine. Spend an afternoon in a park reading and observing people. Just breathe in the city air (and realize that Paris smells kind of bad in a very unique way. Ha). Macarons are overrated. Croissants are not.

    Well, this got long and my recommendations aren’t even that spectacular. Unfortunately, I don’t remember a lot from my last visit to Paris two years ago, since I was there with my husband who’d never been there and was all “You love this city! Let’s make this extra special! Show me everything you love about it!”, while I was in the throes of a bad head cold and just wanted to die. Ah, such fun memories.

    (Also, to clarify: I live in southern Germany close to France and Switzerland, so it’s a four-hour train ride to Paris. I should go more often.)

  • Kate

    My biggest tip: try to take a little time to learn some basic French sentences! People really appreciate it when you at least try. I moved to Berlin for a bit to write my first book (was going for a month, stayed for 6 – I don’t have kids obviously!) and not speaking the language can feel really isolating. Overall I really enjoyed my little writer’s retreat but ~travelling to write a book~ definitely wasn’t what every movie ever made taught me it would be. Prepare yourself for feeling a bit lonely and try to combat that by making an effort to speak to people in their language!

  • Erin Reece

    The French are actually incredibly kind and helpful as long as you’re willing to try speaking to them in their language. It doesn’t have to be perfect. So I would suggest learning some basic French phrases before you go and then use Google translate (or some such app) to fill in the rest! I haven’t been to Paris in a long time, but I remember that the metro is extremely easy to use and that I adored Sacre-Coeur and Mont St Michel. Find a good travel guide (lonely planet?) and go for it! What a lovely trip it will be! I’m jealous! Can I come? 🙂

  • Heidi

    Single-parenting? A house without your kids? (I initially wrote “home” – but it is no home when the kids aren’t there.) The pressure building up in your chest as the time approaches that your kids are leaving? Depression used against you in a court of law? Yes. All of that. I feel your pain. Truly. There’s nothing to make it better, nothing I can say or do to ease it, except, maybe: me too. I feel you and I’m holding space for you this summer. And I’m so happy for you – and proud! – that you’re taking this time to go to Paris. I hope you share your trip with us.

  • Leigh

    I know you’ll miss them like a limb, but Paris! So glad to have you back writing again, and so glad you’re putting that hell year behind you.

  • Jenny Petersen

    I SO ADMIRE YOU and am ten thousand percent thankful that you are writing again.

  • Rowan Tree Design

    The absolute BEST translation app is Reverso Context. It allows you to search colloquial phrases as well as words. I used the hell out of it last time I was in Paris.

  • Saray

    You must go eat ice cream at Berthillon on the Ile St. Louis. Do not go to any of the cafes around it that say they serve Berthillon ice cream. The real deal is their original shop. Accept no substitutes. Order the pamplemousse (which is a sorbet, not an ice cream) or any of the other sorbets (or ice creams, but…you know, not vegan). Eat the pamplemousse. Experience heaven. Go back the next day and the day after that.

  • Melissa Davis

    I’m sitting here thinking, dam I hope she’s writing another book. Sigh. I get this so much. The hardest being, I just had the toddler I was adopting, given back to his birth mom. After 15 months in my house. So that…yeah, I wish I could go to Paris. That sounds amazing. Instead I’m taking my almost 13 year old (how does this aging kids thing happen?) to Disneyland after school ends. Not the same, but still a good distraction.

    I know nothing about Paris, but please write about it, so I’ll know where to go when I someday get there.

  • Downloading this now. I took years of French in high school and college but that was 20 years ago. I’m going to brush up on it a little, but I will need all the help I can get. Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Oh, Melissa. That is absolutely devastating. I am so sorry, and I cannot possibly imagine how much pain you are in right now. Sending you the best thoughts I can. Disneyland with your 13-yr-old sounds fantastic, actually. Distraction, that’s the best word to describe it.

    I will write about Paris, all of it. I know I’m lucky to be able to go, and that’s why I’m doing it. Life is too short not to seize what life offers up.

    All my love to you.

  • Thank you! I am taking this leap and HOLEEE SHIT it’s a little terrifying. But I have convinced myself that the terror is actually exhilaration. It’s good to be back.

  • PARIS! Hard to describe what it’s like to go from feeling like I did for so long… to now. I am so happy to be alive.

  • “Me, too.” This. Thank you. I hope that what I write while I’m there reaches out to you like you just did to me. And to so many others who need it. Thank you.

  • I can remember a little bit of it from my French classes in high school and college, but I will brush up a tiny bit before I go. Can’t wait to see Sacre-Coeur and Mont St Michel.

  • SuperMomish

    Paris is my second favorite city on the planet. Mostly because it’s like New York City with a much prettier accent. 😉

    Go to Montmarte. Stand on the hill and look out at Paris from in front of Sacre Coer. Do it at twilight. Your world will be forever changed.

    When I went, we rented an apartment in the Marais. It was nice to have a “home” to stay in while there.

  • haha! We are going to try to record multiple episodes in the coming weeks so that there isn’t too much of a lapse. I will see if I can find Monsieur Lebovitz.

  • Melissa Davis

    Thank you. It’s…I don’t have words for it honestly. Tomorrow will be two weeks. I was told three weeks prior to his return to her. I hate the system. They didn’t do what they were supposed to in the first two years of his life. So here we are. And yep. Disney will be good. I hope Paris is good to you. I believe it will be.

  • Ellie

    I live in Paris! Happy to show you around.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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