With little kids in tow, excursions don’t always turn out as you’d imagined.
Last Wednesday I drove the four children to Reims, planning to meet Michael after he’d finished teaching at the university campus in the city.
Reims is famous for its 13th century cathedral, a Gothic masterpiece. For 600 years it was the site of France’s coronations, with the French kings being anointed with oil from a “Holy Ampoule” which stories told had been delivered by a white dove at the baptism of the first King of the Franks, Clovis I, by Saint Remi in 496AD.
The city is also at the heart of France’s Champagne region, home to the tasting rooms of many of the world’s most prestigious champagne houses: Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot, Pommery.
I pictured us strolling down a beautiful street together, perhaps enjoying a coffee and some French pastries while the children smiled and laughed melodiously, and then going together to see the spectacular Reims cathedral.
Instead, we had chicken nuggets at McDonalds.
This is how it happened…
I’d fed the children sandwiches before we left home, but they weren’t hungry at that precise moment. Two fell asleep during the one-hour car ride, which for some reason meant they had to cry for much of the twenty-minute march from the parking space to the cathedral area.
“I can’t wait to see Reims cathedral!” I declared enthusiastically over the sobbing. “This is one of the most famous, amazing cathedrals in France!”
“In the world, actually,” Michael added helpfully.
The kids were less impressed. Two were still crying, and the other two were whining that their feet hurt. (My feet were also sore, since I’d foolishly worn my stylish boots instead of running shoes – because this was a really special day when I was going to Reims cathedral with my darling husband…)
Well, I was pretty sure that they were hungry, (plus three needed a bathroom), so when we saw the golden arches and they shouted “MCDONALDS!”, it seemed like a sensible option. (Little French cafes with ‘prix fixe” menus are great, until you multiply it by six, and throw in two fussy eaters and everyone in a rush. We only had a couple of hours in Reims, because Conrad had soccer/football practice at 5pm).
It took a while to order because this McDonalds forced you to enter your own order via a touchscreen kiosk. I couldn’t find the bulk size chicken nuggets, and then I accidentally cancelled the whole order.
“I’ll get them started,” Michael offered. “You run over and look at the cathedral.”
At first I protested, because I really did want to see Reims cathedral with the whole family. Seeing how little time was left, I ran the few minutes down the street.
The cathedral façade was magnificent: an enormous rose window, framed by two towers more than 250 feet high. Inside the cathedral, I stood and stared, awestruck. The scale was astonishing: the roof of the central nave soared 125 feet high, supported on massive stone pillars topped with carved leaves. The stained glass windows were a rich, intricate mass of color. Hundreds of beautiful statues decorated the walls.
It felt like a place designed to inspire awe and wonder, to urge reflection on life’s greatest questions: humanity, the divine, the soul. I could have sat there serenely for a long time, while the light filtered through the colored glass. Instead I had about three minutes, so I walked quickly to the end of the 500 foot nave, glanced at the Impressionist windows, and rushed back outside.
Back at McDonalds, the kids were really happy. “MUM!” they shouted (because why speak at normal volume?). “THE BARBEQUE SAUCE IS ALMOST EXACTLY THE SAME AS THE ONE BACK HOME!!!”
With that, we went back to the car. I was a little incredulous. It must have been one of the lamest tourist visits to Reims ever undertaken.
This isn’t really a complaint. We’re spending three months in a beautiful French village. We can go back to Reims soon – hopefully with more time, and maybe some peanut butter & jam sandwiches. Technically, I did get to see Reims cathedral! (And, the local supermarket does sell champagne).
It’s simply a fact that doing anything at all with kids in tow is a bit of a circus. No matter where you are, much of every day is taken up with getting them dressed, making food, cleaning up after the food is eaten (or not eaten), washing kids, washing kids’ clothes… It’s busy, messy and definitely less romantic.
All the same, I’m betting now that if we come back to Reims Cathedral in the future when the children are grown up, just the two of us, it’ll be that day at McDonalds that we remember with full hearts.