Personal Journey: Sweet: Trip to France with teen daughter

Lauren and the writer at her favorite ice cream shop in Paris. Mom couldn't re-create her own life-altering backpack adventure for Lauren's 16th birthday, "but I wanted to at least give her a taste of it."
Lauren and the writer at her favorite ice cream shop in Paris. Mom couldn't re-create her own life-altering backpack adventure for Lauren's 16th birthday, "but I wanted to at least give her a taste of it." (KIRSTEN BYRNE)

Paris and Normandy and Giverny and the English Channel open a girl's eyes to discovery.

Posted: February 02, 2014

We'd been planning the trip since Lauren was 7, soon after I heard about the Sweet 16 parties South Jersey parents threw for their girls. Elaborate occasions with multi-course meals, tributes, and even a first dance with Dad seemed more fitting for a bride than for an adolescent's coming-of-age. Soon after my own 16th birthday, I'd left home for a summer tour of Europe. I couldn't re-create that life-altering trip for Lauren, but I wanted to at least give her a taste of it.

The idea came when I'd married her father 10 months after relocating from the West Coast to join his family. By then Lauren was calling me Mommy. She had been eager to stand beside us with her older brother as we exchanged vows, adorable in powder-blue lace, her white-gloved hands clutching a basket of flowers. Lauren was puzzled that we skipped a honeymoon trip, asking me later where I would have liked to go. When I told her Paris, her eyes grew wide.

"Would you like to go there with me and Daddy for your 16th birthday?" I asked, showing her a magazine with a shot of the Eiffel Tower, its soaring spire gleaming beneath a cloudless spring sky.

"Can we go to the top, Mommy?"

"Absolutely," I said.

Lauren nodded vigorously, and so the deal was sealed.

Though our plans changed as Lauren got older, we finally departed in August, bound for London, with stops in Paris, Monet's garden in Giverny, and Normandy, and a ferry ride from Calais across the English Channel to the White Cliffs of Dover rounding out the itinerary. And while Lauren's journey was worlds away from my backpack adventure, I thrilled at her willingness to soak up this new world as I had so long ago. She developed a love for impressionist paintings, delved into local cuisine with relish, and became a willing and tireless tourist, taking hundreds of photos on her iPhone. Her Facebook post from our last evening in the City of Light was a photo of the two of us at "my favorite ice cream shop in Paris." But who could blame her, as she beamed into the camera, brandishing a dripping cone formed in the shape of a tulip.

We hadn't been home long before Lauren drew on our visit to the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach, Normandy, for a school essay about the U.S. government shutdown. The cemetery had closed shortly after our return due to the shutdown, and her account focused on the injustice to those traveling there for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to pay respects to countrymen and loved ones, only to find that hallowed ground shuttered. She included a photo of the cemetery's pristine grave markers, the white crosses marching in symmetrical rows toward the sea.

It didn't surprise me that Lauren got an A on that report, or that she'd taken her first step in sharing a knowledge of different peoples and cultures that I hope lasts a lifetime.


Kirsten Byrne writes from New Jersey.

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