Planes, trains and toddlers

Owls must live in the woods behind our French gite, since they hoot softly through the night, from the early darkness when the 700-year-old tower outside the bedroom window is dramatically lit by flood-lights, until shortly before dawn when the pigeons begin cooing.

At almost exactly 5am the first train arrives at the little station across the road, collecting commuters for their 50 minute journey to work in Paris.

I’m already very familiar with these sounds of the night at our new gite, because for the first three nights, our four children took turns staying awake from midnight right through until six o’clock in the morning. I’ve actually decided that managing jet lag with young children is worse than taking them on a long haul flight. They’ve all been waking up at different times, and just as I fall sleep, another one pops up and wants a ‘midnight snack’ and playtime.

Last night they all slept properly for the first time (well, they all woke up once, but at least they went straight back to sleep). So, predictably, I ended up awake until dawn. Hopefully tonight we’ll all crack it.

So, how was the journey? Overall, it was better than I’d expected. Here’s the run-down:

1 – Drive from eastern WA to Seattle (6 hours) A challenging start when 3-year-old Victoria heartily threw up all her breakfast over herself and her seat. In retrospect, it would have been better not to combine Grandma’s pancake breakfast with both a water-painting kit and a short-cut on winding lanes. Luckily we had two changes of clothes.


Ready for Seatac security, with five items of hand luggage and a bag of food


Victoria and ‘Popcorn’ Unicorn, chosen as a special toy for the trip

2 – Seattle airport (3 hours): Airport playground! Everyone was thrilled. I even got a coffee. On the way to the gate I discovered that small children aren’t very good at carrying their own hand luggage, so I ended up with five bags to get onto the plane. Still, they weren’t very heavy.

3 – Flight from Seattle to London (9 hours): In-seat entertainment system was a huge hit. The three older kids chose their own movies and games (they even helped each other with the touch-screens!) Meanwhile Gaston and I watched the same two Paw Patrol cartoons without headphones for four hours.

img_8429.jpgThe cabin crew members were all charming, even when Conrad summoned the stewardess by calling out “Hey! Woman!” Kids were delighted to be served apple juice and to be given tiny overnight kits with mini-toothpastes and socks. They were more skeptical about the sundried tomatoes in the mac and cheese (who would do that?), but they filled up on bananas and the after-dinner hot chocolate.

After the meal I took Gaston down the plane to see the moon through the window by the restrooms, and he told half a dozen people on the way: “We’re going to see the MOON!”

IMG_8439.JPGWith a little over four hours left, I told the children to go to sleep. And…they all went to sleep! Well, Gaston did wake up after two hours and screamed hysterically for about half an hour, but I told him a very, very slow and soft story about a boy named Gaston who was friends with all the Paw Patrol puppies, and he crashed out again.

4 – London Heathrow (3 hours): Our connection started off well, with great excitement about the moving walkways. (Not to mention the terminal transfer bus! Expressing great excitement over each step of a long trip is a pretty effective tactic). Terminal 5 had another airport playground, a sort of two-storey jungle gym with tunnels and slides. Awesome!


5 – Flight from London to Paris (1 hour): The challenge of only four hours sleep began to hit home. Everything started going downhill. By the end of the flight, the two older boys were semi-scuffling in their seats and the younger kids, now abruptly awakened from a deep pit of sleep, both began sobbing hysterically. I half-dragged them both off the plane by the hand (plus the five pieces of hand luggage…actually we forgot one bag, but the other passengers figured out that the Disney Princess bag must belong to us). Disappointingly, Paris CDG does not bring strollers to the gate, so I continued to drag them down a ramp and all the way into the passport hall. There was one border officer processing EU entrants, and absolutely none working on all other passports. The two youngest children laid on the floor, Victoria screaming piercingly and Gaston howling. Even my ‘last resort’ box of “Mike and Ike” candy didn’t really help. After about fifteen minutes a second officer turned up, and we were mysteriously moved to the front of the line. A blessing for everyone. It was lucky that I had a six year old who could push a stroller holding two younger siblings out of the terminal, because I couldn’t have managed the luggage cart at the same time.

6 – Taxi to the Gite (50 minutes): Everyone was more content, and there was a lively discussion amongst the children about whether unicorns, fairies and dragons actually exist, inspired by Popcorn the Unicorn. Victoria started crying again when Conrad said that they did not. Meanwhile we were driving past industrial areas near the airport, and a landscape of flat fields, and then into country villages of stone-built houses and old churches.

It would have been hard to miss our arrival at the gite: in front of us was a massive, superb square tower more than 100 feet high, connected to a round turret and the end wall of the original chateau built in 1311. The gite is set in the back corner of a large courtyard surrounded by more stone buildings, some of which appear to have been originally attached to the tower.


Michael emerged, and the children set off running towards him over the cobbles. Gaston promptly tripped and lay there sobbing, but the journey was over.

I have plenty more to write about this lovely village and its surroundings, the pain au chocolat of course, our progress with registering the children for the local schools and Michael’s first university lectures. So far, it has all been fantastic. For now, I plan to catch up on sleep!

7 thoughts on “Planes, trains and toddlers

  1. Elizabeth Baumgartner says:

    Eleanor, you are a lovely, lovely woman and mother. That was an epic trip never done alone by the likes of me.
    The French countryside is one of the most beautiful lands in the world. Your children and Michael are lucky to be there with you. I’m enjoying your posts, and wish you all good fortune and wonderful times together.
    Love, Aunt Elizabeth


  2. Barbara Baumgartner says:

    Hi…or whatever they say in France!! What a trip!! One you will always remember, but not the Children!! What a wonderful experience for all of you. Eleanor, what a lot you will have to write about!! Continue the stories so that we can live vicariously and get the feel for all of you!! Thanks, Bud and Barb


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