Years ago, I met a rather formidable older French woman who told me, in the course of our conversation, that she had offered all her grandchildren a trip away of their own choice, when they reached age 13.
She had five or six grandchildren, and they had all chosen very different places in France, other countries in Europe and beyond. One boy, to her disappointment, had chosen Disney World, but she had dutifully fulfilled her offer.
I always thought that was a very good thing to do. A chance to do something together and to really get to know each grandchild in turn.
I thought of her this week when I took my own grandson, age 12, to Paris for five days. We live in London, so this is not a difficult trip (two plus hours by Eurostar), but it is a fun one.
I have been to Paris many times for many reasons, but it is a long time since I have been a real tourist there, doing basic tourist activities.
And that is what we did.
We went to the Eiffel Tower, although due to pressures of time, we did not go up. We talked about going back another day to do so, but in the end we didn’t. He was, nonetheless, delighted to see it close up.
He wanted to see Notre Dame, as he remembered watching it on his father’s phone the day it was on fire. We duly went there and walked around. It is not open yet, but you can see a lot of work being done. Another enjoyable outing.
I urged him to try the bateau mouche, the famous boat ride on the Seine, both because it is a nice thing to do and because it would enable me to sit down. It turned out to be great success. He took loads of photos.
And we walked around several areas of Paris, including Montmartre where there is a good view.
Like those of all tourists everywhere, our feet got very tired.
Being a tourist is not only about seeing famous sites. It is about exposing oneself to all sorts of new experiences.
We were staying in a friend’s flat, and my grandson was thrilled to have the daily duty of buying croissants from the local patisserie for our breakfast. I thought he might be shy about doing so, as he knew no French at all, but I taught him the few words he needed, and he coped very well.
It seemed like a good way of giving him a small sense of independence in doing something on his own in a foreign country. He clearly loved it, even though sometimes the shop assistant replied to his carefully learned words with a torrent of French he could not understand.
We also went to a French friend’s house for lunch. My grandson learned about the inevitable cheese course between the main meal and dessert. He also learned the pungent smell of Camembert, but we did not require him to taste it.
Travelling with another person and spending a number of days together, as we all know, can be intense and difficult. When the other person is a child, you have the added pressure of 24/7 responsibility for him or her, when you are not accustomed to this at all.
I was worried about this aspect of the trip but need not have been. I guess it just depends on the person, but he was as good a travelling companion as I could ask for. Keen to learn, not anxious, not demanding, and coping well with the minor problems that inevitably arose.
I told him so. A day later he said, “You’re a very good travelling companion, too, Granny.” It does melt your heart. Grandchildren have a way of doing this, as I have written elsewhere.
And best of all, in the course of just walking around or waiting for a bus, you chat about so many things. What you are seeing and what it makes you think about. Perhaps school or friends or general worries. Perhaps your own past experiences, where they are relevant or crop up in the conversation.
It is such a good way to get to know anyone.
I am reluctant to give advice to anyone, but if you are in any way able to take a trip with a grandchild, I highly recommend it. It doesn’t have to be a place like Paris – just somewhere they haven’t been to before and where you can make a bit of a fuss over them.
I think it is easiest one child at a time. You will have the wonderful pleasure of getting to know him or her so much better.
And they will get to know you better, too. I don’t know which is more important.
It will provide a memory for that child for the rest of his or her life, that trip he took with granny (or ‘grandma’ or whatever they call you) so long ago.
And, I suspect, it is an event that you, too, will remember for the rest of your life, with pleasure.
Have you ever travelled with a grandchild? Where did you go? What did you do? Would you recommend such a trip to others?