top of page
  • Writer's pictureRachel Ogilby

A Day In The Life of An American Mom In Paris

Note: This is a day picked at complete random, because I had been craving a writing session and this gave me an excuse to start tapping away on my keyboard. Paris is, obviously, full of incredible things to see and do. We take advantage of being here often by going to museums, exploring children’s activities, visiting with friends, and traveling around Europe (as you may have read in some of my other posts).

Sometimes I think a simple day like the one I describe below is a bit boring, but then I remember all the unique parts of our life now that I take for granted – visiting bakeries and passing flower shops constantly, using the metro, getting our stroller down two stories of a spiral staircase, and even mundane errands which are made entertaining by the language barrier and entirely foreign environment. Every day is an adventure! I enjoy our days of spontaneity and exploration, and I hope you enjoy reading about the one below.

Jardin des Plantes

Sometime between 1 and 2am - When you’re feeding a newborn all night, when does the day officially start? Knowing it must have still been the middle of the night, I nursed my 2 month old back to sleep, then clumsily searched the sheets for his pacifier. He was often sleeping next to us in bed, a practice that was controversial but one that worked well for us during this survival period.

I avoided the clock at nighttime. If I realized what time it was, my brain would quickly begin calculating how much time I had left to sleep, how long it had been since the last feed, the last diaper... before long, I would start thinking about what I needed to do the next day. Instead, I actively avoided looking at my watch, which glowed in the dark and forced its secrets upon me if I accidentally bumped the nightstand where it perched.

4:47am - After a failed attempt to persuade our newborn to sleep in his own crib, I became curious. How much longer could I sleep? I checked the watch: 4:47am. I had a few more hours until our 18 month old would wake up. He would either begin the morning chatting happily away and singing to himself, or crying for us to come rescue him from his crib.

7:15am – I hear our oldest singing, “hoo hoo” at the owl hanging on his crib. After a few minutes, it turns into grumpy whines. “Honey, Carter is up,” I groan to him. I feel hungover, even though I’ve had nothing to drink the night before. I tell myself I will drink more water today.

My husband groans too, as 7:15 feels like 3am when you’ve been woken up every hour and a half. He gets up and closes the door behind him, preparing for an hour of breakfast and play time and allowing me to get some more rest. Our littlest Peanut is still next to me, asleep, for now.

8:20am – I emerge from our bedroom feeling at least 50% better. “Thank you,” I mumble, half asleep but wanting to show gratitude. I had heard Carter’s happy feet running around and he barged into our bedroom twice, but I was so tired I had fallen back asleep each time.

My husband reads our son a few more books and somehow simultaneously takes Peanut from me to change his diaper. I get myself breakfast and start boiling water for coffee. Chris is my morning champion. I can already assume the dishes from the night before are clean, and likely the kitchen has been wiped down too. Carter’s breakfast for tomorrow will already be in the fridge.

I thought about our newborn as his soiled outfit gets changed for the 3rd time in 12 hours- when was the last time he had a bath? I couldn’t remember, but I put it on my mental to-do list for the next day.

9:00am – My husband offers to put Peanut in the baby carrier and wear him for his morning nap – a huge favor, since he will now likely sleep for 2 hours or so instead of the 37 minutes (exactly) that he would sleep on his own in the crib. It also frees me to take care of Carter and myself. Chris sets up his laptop on the raised kitchen counter to start his workday, and I attempt at getting our toddler down for his morning nap. I calculate the amount of morning naps he’s refused over the last week and decide there’s a 50/50 chance that he falls asleep today.

Since I’m breastfeeding both babies, I’m always relieved when Peanut is cared for while I get Carter to bed. Nap time can be tricky when I’m by myself, since Carter nurses before he sleeps.

While I breastfeed Carter I go through my mental checklist. I have a blood draw to get done, and I must do it on a day that my husband works from home. We have odds and ends of errands to do, all things that have no real timeline but would be nice to check off my list. I give Carter a giant smooch on his cheek and place him in his crib, then wait until he turns back to me before I leave the room. He looks at me, expectantly, and I wave to him. He grins and chuckles. It’s a sweet little routine we started a few weeks ago.

9:30am - I head to the shower, taking my coffee with me (I find it by the sink, cold, an hour later). After getting dressed I check with my husband – “How’s Peanut???” I get the thumbs up, which means he’s still asleep and, in theory, will not need me in the immediate future. Chris knows I need to run to the lab, and I grab my purse and head out.

I walk towards a laboratory not more than a quarter mile from our apartment. I need to get my thyroid levels checked now that I’m postpartum. I’ve been on medication since I had my thyroid removed a few years ago, and my dose changes while pregnant. I could come to the lab with the kids, but there’s a long set of stairs from the administrative counter to the upstairs lab and it’s not practical to bring our stroller along.

I enjoy a minute of alone time (even if it’s to get poked by a needle). I check my WhatsApp messages – the app used by seemingly every country except the United States to communicate – and see that I have a few girlfriends I have been meaning to respond to. I respond to as many as I can in the few minutes I have on my walk there.

The entire lab experience is a piece of cake. The first year in Paris, I walked 45 minutes to The American Hospital where I would pay 40-60 euros for a blood draw. I didn’t know what to do otherwise, and it was a familiar setting since I was getting prenatal care there (and eventually gave birth there, too). But a few months ago, I decided to try a lab near our apartment. It was public, not private, so I paid nothing. And I walked three minutes to get there. I felt silly for not doing it sooner.

I entered the lab and handed over my blood draw prescription and my vitale carte (my identification card that links me to the social security system for healthcare). “J’ai une ordonnance,” I mumbled shyly, not knowing if they were the correct or appropriate words to state that I had an order.

I was tempted to do an errand after the lab draw (after all, when was the last time I was by myself?!?!) but instead walked back home. I would get the results by email later that day.

The health care system was so much easier to navigate then the one we came from in the US; I almost took it for granted. It felt so long ago that I had to take time off work to drive to another hospital in-network (even though I worked at a hospital) to wait in line for an hour to get a blood draw. Sometimes I had to pick up my results physically from another location, or wait two weeks to receive them in the mail. The healthcare bills made me cringe. The blood work was a necessity; it was difficult to think about paying for this labwork for the rest of my life.

As I entered the apartment, I heard Carter chatting happily in his room. I’d only been gone for 15 minutes, but apparently he’d been awake for most of them. “He’s been up for a bit,” my husband said, shrugging. When Carter was happy, we often left him in his crib – he was usually playing or reading himself a book.

10:30am – As the happy chatter turned to eager requests for company, it became obvious that first nap was doomed. I had planned to do some writing, but babies find a way to keep our day spontaneous.

I decided to get out of the house for a bit to give Chris some quiet. I organized myself as best I could to prepare the day – I doublechecked the number of packed diapers in our go-bag, threw Carter’s sippy cup and some crackers in, and second guessed my need for two books I had packed previously (ultimately and bafflingly deciding to pack a third one).

I opened Carter’s bedroom door, unzipped his sleep sack (a French sleep custom that I fully embraced) and let him loose. He laughed and stomped his way into the living room, just outside his own room. Chris handed me Peanut, who I then fed and changed. Somehow another thirty minutes disappeared.

11am – I strapped Peanut to me in the baby carrier and hoisted Carter onto my hip. My husband ran our stroller down the two flights of stairs so I didn’t have to make two trips. Our apartment building has an elevator, but it doesn’t reach our apartment OR the ground floor – it only stops at half stories, so it feels pointless.

We’re lucky to be able to store our double stroller on the ground floor, which I use almost exclusively if I’m home alone. However, our tiny stroller (the Parisian YoYo, which you will see everywhere in Paris) is wonderful to use if we’re not going far and I want to wear Peanut in the baby carrier. It’s narrow and light, and maneuvers so well you can turn it with one hand.

I slid our go-bag into the bottom of the stroller and gave Chris a kiss goodbye. Our first stop was the post office – I had written a get-well letter to my Nana, who was recovering from surgery. I had no idea what type of postage to buy to send a letter to the US. Thankfully, an employee stood near the entrance of the post office, eager to help the next customer.

“Bonjour,” I said, and she said it back.

“Pouvez-vous m’aider? Je ne parle pas bien Francais…” I said to her (“Can you help me? I don’t speak French well…”). She helped me navigate a touch screen to purchase postage for my letter, seeming genuinely happy to help. Done! A seamless experience. I was grateful and energized by the first errand going so well.

Next up was recycling some old batteries. It was the kind of errand that I might have ignored for months in my pre-baby life, but it was now a welcomed task that walked us past busy streets which entertained my toddler. Plus, batteries are tiny, but our apartment was also… tiny. The less random items sitting about, the better.

I walked into Darty, an electronics store. I had learned that they took old batteries when I sent out an inquiring text to my English-speaking moms group.

I walked towards the elevator. “Madame? Madame!” An employee said something else in French, and eventually switched to English when I didn’t turn around.

It’s easy to tune out conversations when they’re in a language you don’t understand – so while I didn’t mean to ignore him, I had. “It’s broke,” he explained in English. “There’s an escalator.” He motioned to my stroller. “Do you need help?” “Ah! Non, merci monsieur,” I replied, and headed towards the escalator. I had learned how to position my stroller on escalators with efficiency – a skill I had found necessary while navigating public transportation with a baby.

I dropped the batteries off into a bucket in the back of the store, feeling comically delighted by my accomplishment of such a mundane, simple task.

As I left the store, I remembered that I was close to a bakery we frequented on weekends. They had very good baguettes, and we were on the hunt for a new place to buy them. Our favorite bakery just down the street had hired a new baker or changed their recipe, and the baguettes were now too dry (I know, I know, it sounds ridiculous but it’s true).

I popped into the bakery, resisting the temptation to buy a croissant for Carter or a pain aux chocolate for myself. I left with just a baguette in hand, proud of my determination. The bakery was admittedly too far away for it to be our daily go-to, but it would provide a yummy addition to our lunch today.

The errands had gone quickly, and I decided to stop into Monoprix, a store I like to compare to Target in the states. Paris had seasons of sales, including the beginning of winter and end of summer. The store advertised it loudly on it’s windows, “SOLDES!”. I went in telling myself I would just look around, and maybe grab a birthday card for my sister-in-law.

Surprisingly, I (mostly) did just that, leaving with some swifter replacement pads and a birthday card that read “Joyeux Anniversaire” (Happy Birthday).

We were relatively close to a playground, and since it was lunch time I figured Carter might have a few kids to play with. I texted Chris, “Plan on a late lunch – taking Carter to the playground”. He responded with a thumbs up. We liked to have lunch together as a family when he worked from home.

The French moms were all at work, but there would still be kids on the playground with their nannies or grandparents. The noon rush was nothing compared to playgrounds at 4:30pm – this was right when kids were picked up from creche (daycare) or school, and nannies would bring the kids to parks and playgrounds until 6ish. Then it would become suddenly quiet again as families were in their homes getting ready for dinner.

We have many parks and playgrounds to choose from in Paris. Each one offers something different than the next – one is better for smaller kids, another shares its space with picnic tables and grass, and another has brightly colored animals and numbers painted on the ground. They all had one thing in common - benches surrounded the playground, so adults could sit and rest while kids played. I only recently realized that benches are not the norm in US playgrounds.

Carter played for thirty minutes, spending half the time running over to a poster with animals found in Paris. He pointed to it and exclaimed, “Beee!”, indicating there were birds displayed. He did the same every time he saw a pigeon. “Yes, honey, you’re right! That’s a bird!”, I would respond. I helped him up the stairs of the playground and was surprised when he confidently swung himself down the slide.

“Weee!” he said, and I laughed. He’s growing so fast! I thought to myself. Only last week he timidly inched to the top of the slide and waited for me to help him slide slowly down.

I wondered if I could safely get a picture of him to send our families while simultaneously helping him get up to the slide. I liked to send pictures to our families every day, and they often expressed how meaningful it was to wake up and see Carter and Peanut (we are six hours ahead of our families in the states).

Carter was known to take little spills, especially when tired from skipping a nap. I decided to live in the moment rather than risk it, and I took mental pictures of his little sweet face. It filled with joy each time he went down the slide, and he had a determined look as he climbed the stairs.

I was vaguely aware of the other kids and adults around me. Most of the adults sat on benches, a steep contrast to me who followed Carter around. However, their kids were significantly older and didn’t require as much supervision. Peanut stayed asleep on me in the baby carrier, and from time to time I would help guide his pacifier back into his searching mouth.

It was a lot, physically, to have Peanut attached to me for so much of the day, but I also knew it was precious time that would be gone quickly. I thought I had many more months of baby wearing left with Carter, but they were long gone, maybe aside from future hikes we’d do with him on our back. I had plenty of moments where my body ached and I wished for space, but also moments of gratitude that I could snuggle my baby for so many hours a day.

No doubt it meant a lot to him being close to me, and I counted on it creating a bond between us. Truthfully, I was often distracted by our bounding toddler, and I knew I didn’t give Peanut as much one-on-one attention as I gave Carter at the same age.

Before Carter could get too tired, I popped him back in the stroller and we began the 16-minute walk home. Living in the city meant everything felt close to us – we could get nearly all we needed within a 20 minute walk. It was a fun way to live, and a stark contrast from our car-heavy lifestyle in the US.

Living without a car meant smaller grocery hauls, but our refrigerator in our Paris apartment was half the size of our American one. This meant we bought groceries more often, but also that the food was fresher when we ate it and we tended to have less food waste. We had grocery stores so close to us we could go daily without it being a hassle.

We had a bakery just down our street and two different food markets 15 minutes away. A park at the opposite end of our street was Carter’s favorite place to pick up mulch and rocks, and we could walk 5 minutes to the closest metro station. There must be 20 restaurants within a five-minute walking radius of our home.

It's no surprise, then, that we passed another bakery on the way home. It was situated at a roundabout where we walked through many times a week – one I loved, as it felt familiar and inviting. The center of the roundabout had a statue of someone I should know, green moss around the base of it that threatened to climb higher. A pharmacy graced one corner (there were many in every neighborhood, all owned by different people), two bakeries sat across from each other, a car rental agency filled another corner, and the rest of the roundabout was filled by restaurants.

Each restaurant had its own personality – one boasted Lyonnaise food (a city just two hours south of Paris by train) and live music, another had beautiful fake pink flowers and twinkly lights that draped above the outdoor seating, and another had fun safari wallpaper which entertained our toddler during one dinner. Yet another was a burger place that proudly stated “Oeufs any style” in a Fren-glish we have come to see frequently. One of the bakeries was named “The French Bastards”, which took us off guard originally; however, discussions of the name were quickly replaced by discussions of the decadent Nutella-filled pastries.

I stopped into the opposite bakery, one I hadn’t explored much, and bought one more baguette. We could have a “baguette sampling” during our search for our next go-to bakery!

Our final stop was at a pharmacy close to our apartment – I had purposely saved this errand for last. In Paris, if you or your child need a vaccine, your doctor gives you a prescription and you buy it at the pharmacy. You are responsible for bringing the vaccine(s) to the next appointment with you.

Vaccines were often covered by social security, and if not a mutuelle (private health insurance required by all employers) would pick up the rest of the payment. The vaccines always needed to go in the refrigerator within 30 minutes of buying them and until just before needing them.

I handed over my carte vitale and the orders for the vaccines. The pharmacists surely knew us by now (and knew how terrible my French is), but I always appreciated that they still greeted me in French. I experienced this at our local bakery too – the employees were so familiar with us that they sometimes asked where our son was if I came alone – but they always spoke to us in French unless I asked to speak in English.

I took this as a kindness, and assumed they were giving me the benefit of the doubt that I had practiced my French since we last spoke (or that I wanted to still try!).

12:40pm - Before long we were heading back into our apartment building; the pharmacy was only a stone’s throw from our front door. I called Chris and let him know we were home, and he met me downstairs to get the stroller. I held Carter’s hand as he walked up the stairs, Peanut still in the baby carrier. When I was alone, the stroller would sometimes wait downstairs for an hour while I put Carter down for a nap or until I had him secured in his highchair.

Parisians are known to appreciate cleanliness, privacy, and quiet. I hoped the neighbors didn’t mind the stroller occasionally being left in the hallway. It was possible that someone could see it and complain to our building caretaker – though in the year and a half we’ve had a stroller, we hadn’t experienced any complaints yet. On the contrary, neighbors sometimes asked us how we were doing with two babies or how old each of our boys were. And our caretaker often followed me upstairs with the stroller if it looked like I could use a hand.

There were two adorable sisters who spoke perfect English across from us and always offered to help us if we needed it, and a lovely woman on the ground floor who was so kind to us; I had been in her garden more times than I could count, and nearly every time I saw her she had a new treat for me to try or had just made herbal tea to offer me. Our baby monitor service reached her garden, and we had shared several meals together while Carter napped.

Chris and I often marveled at how quiet and calm our apartment building felt – though we were very close to a busy street, it was quiet nearly all hours of the day (aside from intermittent construction). The neighbors were quiet too, and we could count on one hand the number of times we had heard voices while in our apartment. We were told that Parisians appreciate privacy, and we already knew that being quiet was a form of respect. Trains, buses, and metros in Paris are often fairly quiet – even when crowded. If people are loud, they are likely not French.

A trip to the nearby zoo in Vincennes

Once upstairs, we had lunch and Carter took an afternoon nap. I unexpectedly got a nap too, passing out on our bed while holding our little one. Chris’s workspace was also our bedroom (and also Peanut’s bedroom), so he typed away on his laptop a few feet away from me. I woke up thirty minutes later, feeling better than I had this morning. Sometimes I was so tired I was nauseas, and thankfully that feeling had passed a few hours ago. I remembered I still needed to drink more water.

Though I genuinely enjoyed using the metro, I was grateful that our errands were so close to home. Using the metro was trickier with two babies, but I still used it a few times a week. I relied on the help from strangers to assist me in lifting the stroller down or up stairs up to six times before the trip was over. I could lift the stroller by myself with Carter in it while carrying Peanut, but I tried not to. It was certainly not as safe as lifting it with two people, and while I was strong, I knew I still had recovering to do after giving birth a couple months ago.

The afternoon consisted of FaceTiming my mom (we talked almost every day), listing a few baby items on Facebook Marketplace (we needed every space available in the apartment), and reading books to Carter (his favorite activity). I was also trying to coordinate help for later in the week – Chris was leaving for a last minute work trip, and I had to take Peanut to an appointment.

I could bring Carter, but it would be difficult. We had two babysitters established here, but one was back home in Lebanon for the summer, and the other sprained her ankle and was unavailable for a few weeks. I messaged friends and tried to think of something creative.

It was another reminder that life over here had its pros and its cons. We didn’t have family nearby who could help in a pinch, and it sometimes felt like feast or famine when it came to in-person support. We either had family members sleeping in our living room, or we had just our friends, acquaintances, and babysitters to lean on. I didn’t get many breaks from caring for the babies, aside from my husband. It was both joyful and exhausting, but I found it worth it, for now, to be in a place that we loved so much.

On the other hand, I found it incredible how much support I did have in a country so far from my own. The thing about living Somewhere where so many people are from Somewhere Else is that we’re all looking for support systems. I’ve found incredibly supportive women here, from colleagues of Chris to moms on the playground to women met through official groups like Message.

I often say they are the only reason I’ve found success here in Paris as a new mom. The thing is, they get it. They have also moved to a new place, often following their husband’s work, and have also learned to navigate a new city, health care system, and language. There’s a strong feeling of “we’re all in this together”. We’re looking to establish connections and find common ground.

I once broke the screen of my phone, and I sent a text out to the moms group to ask if anyone knew where I could get it fixed. Four different people knew four different places I could go, and one person even stopped somewhere to ask for a price quote. Before I knew it, I was welcomed into a stranger’s apartment where I changed my son’s diaper, had a refreshment, and was offered a block of Halloumi cheese (after shocking my host that I had never heard of it) while waiting for my phone to repair.

Another amazing example was just a few weeks prior. My husband left for a week-long work trip, and I was alone with a 5 week old and my 18m old. The week included multiple doctors appointments and other new experiences. I leaned on my girlfriends – and amazingly, two different friends came over every single day. I didn’t cook all week (couldn’t have if I tried, anyways) and I was overcome with gratitude.

Sometimes I think it’s easier to make friends here then your hometown or country. Since people are looking to make real friendships quickly, they are often very open. I often wonder if the people I meet here also happen to have a similar set of values and thus are naturally easier to connect with. Additionally, it’s an expat lifestyle, and people leave as fast as they arrive. If we don’t mesh, no sweat, we move on!

But I digress.

The evening was a blur, as it often is, which included reading more books to Carter, bath time (a tub we pop into the shower, as we don’t have a built-in bath), and attempting to keep Peanut quiet enough at bedtime so that Carter could fall asleep. Our apartment is about 600 square feet; it’s small for two adults and two babies, but we’re making it work. In fact, we love our apartment, even though it is so small.

Often, Chris takes Peanut in the baby carrier for a walk while I get Carter to bed. It also gives me an opportunity to shower or do some self-care. When he returns, I take Peanut to bed, and Chris finishes up dishes and puts away dinner. It’s quite a hustle, but we know it’s temporary. I’m proud of us for doing so well in such a small space.

The Museum of Man at Trocadero

We’ve learned so many skills now by necessity – a few years ago, I would have been quite wide-eyed if you told me we’d be living in another country raising two kids. A few months ago, I was struck with panic as I tried to visualize how I was going to get out of the apartment with both kiddos. And yet, we adapt. It’s amazing how much one can learn, and amazing what becomes the norm.

I often reflect on the skills I have that may seem impressive to moms back in the states – using the metro with two kids, carrying groceries back home in the stroller, getting to doctor’s appointments and navigating the healthcare system here. But I also lack many skills they have – I haven’t practiced unloading and loading kids and groceries into a car, I’m not an expert at using our car seat, I don’t know the resources available for parents and children back home.

I do know that moms everywhere are incredible. I remember having a sense of wonder at all the moms that passed me on the street after Carter was born. You go, mom, I would think to a woman walking by with twins in a stroller. I would also marvel at the French women dressed beautifully and walking their children to or from school, wondering how they found the energy. I applauded my mother and my mother in law for their careers while raising kids. I had the luxury right now to put everything on hold and just take care of our babies, and that alone felt like a full-time job (with mandated overtime).

I ended the night listening to a voice note from a girlfriend while snacking on dark chocolate and watching Peanut sleep beside me in bed. The voice notes were more personal than texts – it was precious to hear my family or friends’ voices and hear their excitement of trying something new (or sometimes hear their pain as they described a struggle). I was grateful for the time spent updating me; I felt much closer than a whole ocean away.

I’d sneak out of bed in twenty minutes or so to brush my teeth, but for now, I enjoyed staring at my infant as he slept. I held tight to each moment, knowing that one day the long nights - and maybe even our life here in Paris - would be distant memories.

Bastille Day

125 views0 comments


bottom of page