TLDR: Bring your kids.
This is most definitely #firstworldproblems, but I assure you, I am not #humblebragging. Three weeks into our monthlong family visit to Paris, I stand by what I've said since my first son turned one: traveling with small children is just baaaarely worth it.
If you are seeking rest and relaxation, cultural stimulation, leisurely meals, or the pleasurable discovery of new vistas, traveling with children is not for you (actually, having children is probably also a poor choice). If, on the other hand, you are keen to acquire a smattering of new gray hairs while testing the limits of your spousal relationship and parental devotion, go for it!!
The relative success of the actual voyage - two flights, a 4-hr layover, and about 8,000 miles - left me overconfident about the rest of the trip. I had spent the days leading up to our departure fretting about what to carry on board, and wondering how my husband and I would manage 40ish hours without sleep (our first flight left at midnight, which meant starting the trip on a sleep deficit). It turned out to be the most enjoyable flight experience I've had since becoming a mom -- I actually got to watch two movies and enjoy a glass of wine while our 2-year-old was drunk on unlimited screen time, and our 3-month old mostly slept, sprawled out on the blessedly vacant seats surrounding us. When we finally arrived in Paris, groggy but alive, I was ready to accept my black belt in parenting, toss the kids into the arms of their grandparents, and park myself at a picturesque sidewalk café with a carafe of red wine and a good book.
BUT THEN THE JETLAG KICKED IN.
Overcoming a 12-hr time difference as an adult is a struggle. Doing it with two kids results in a kind of sleep torture usually reserved for Guantanamo inmates and the parents of newborn multiples. It turns out that while my children were perfectly content to be in a new country and climate, their biological clocks were very faithful to their point of origin. You can take the kids out of Hawaii on a jet, but their circadian rhythms follow by canoe.
My older son's system was sufficiently jostled from the trip so that his hours weren't totally upside-down, which I guess would've been worse. He instead settled into a baffling routine of round-the-clock naps lasting no longer than 3 hours, which meant he'd pass out at, say, 9pm, and then wake up at midnight, ready to rock and roll UNTIL SUNRISE, at which point he'd fall asleep again. The baby, being a keener sleeper in general, seemed more willing to adjust, but of course the racket caused by his older brother prevented that from happening.
This lasted for two weeks. It was bad. Worse than the first weeks home with a newborn. I was a very, very grouchy zombie. At some point, for the first time since becoming a parent, I didn't even want to touch my children. I just started crying.
Meanwhile, we had social obligations to fulfill. Visits with all the members of my husband's mother's side of the family, then all of the members of his dad's side of the family. Friends to see. Job interviews for my husband. The combination of sleep deprivation and overstimulation led to the worst meltdowns my toddler has ever had, while I started honing in on every potentially irritating quality of Parisian life: The dogshit on the sidewalk. The interminably long, formal meals. The absence of dryers (everyone hangs their laundry). The ridiculous square pillows. Couldn't the French just admit the inherent superiority of the rectangular pillow and be done with it?? Were they clinging to their stupidly shaped headrests out of national pride, or just to offset the miserable narrowness of their beds??!!
I know, I know. Some people dream of a vacation in Paris. But having lived here for two years and become intimately intertwined with one of its natives, I can assure you that there is nothing more authentically Parisian than Complaining.
Anyway, eventually the fog cleared. It helped that we separated the children for a few days, as I took off to visit friends in the South of France with the baby, and my husband headed north with his parents and our toddler. With one week left before we leave (and replay this shitshow on the other side of the globe), our kids have finally settled into a somewhat normal sleep pattern, enabling us to function like somewhat normal human beings. And I've regained the ability to appreciate all the lovely things this city is famous for: The architecture! The art! The divine baked goods and dairy products I can consume in massive quantities because BREASTFEEDING!
To be honest, though, being here - even lucidly - is stressful, because it's not really a vacation -- it's a trial. We are debating if and when we want to move as a family back to Paris (where my husband and I first met), which is a daunting prospect. Living here as a freewheeling twenty-something was one thing; settling in as a grownup and a mom is another. A big question looms in the background: Am I ready for my family to become...French?
But first, sleep.