There is maybe nothing more Parisian than packing up a couple of baguette sandwiches and a cool bottle of chardonnay, maybe grabbing a blanket, and then heading out to picnic on a sunny day.
This is exactly what we did this last Sunday with the added joy of bringing along Zef, our six month-old baby boy. We didn’t want to travel too far from home so we decided on Parc Andre Citroën. There is a good reason for this. Traveling around the city with your baby can be exhausting. Our thought was that if we chose a park within walking distance, maybe, just maybe, if we were really lucky, Zef would fall asleep in his stroller on the walk and then Mommy and Daddy could have a lovely adult picnic.
Surprisingly, this almost worked! We got to the park just a little after 1pm after a meandering twenty minute walk down la petite ceinture, the repurposed train line next to our house that connects with Parc Andre Citroën. By the time we arrived, Zef was snoring soundly in the afternoon sun.
We found a spot under the shade of one of the few trees dotting the green open lawn of the park, spread out our blanket and commenced unwrapping our baguette sandwiches. My wife doesn’t drink, so in lieu of that cooled bottle of chardonnay, we took advantage of the free sparkling water available from the public fountain in the park.
Side note: Only in Paris would one find public fountains that give sparkling water! It’s like free Perrier on demand!
This got me thinking about some other parks around Paris that make for great picnics and as I looked at our packed stroller, everything you need for the baby for this sort of outing. One of my all-time favorite parks to picnic at is the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in the 19th arrondissement. This sloping park has some great views out over Paris toward the Eiffel Tower and the domed white splendor of the Sacre Coeur atop Montmartre. However, with a baby, it’s not practical to trek across the city for a picnic… not when you factor in the picnic blanket and basket, stroller, diaper bag and everything else you need for an afternoon out with baby. Really, the absolute best park is whatever is in walking distance!
Remember, the romance of the picnic is in the simple food, the conversation, the bringing of the “indoors” outdoors and, perhaps above all, the ambiance of people — both kids and adults — shedding that rigid, cold city façade that we’re all guilty of wearing and cutting loose and playing around under the warm summer sun.
It’s not surprising that the French really “get” how to picnic. In fact, they were the ones that created the idea of le pique-nique way back in the 17th century in the first place and then popularized it as we know how to picnic today about a hundred years later, shortly after the French Revolution when the parks of Paris became open to the public. It became fashionable to take a meal and head out to the park!
The romance died for us about halfway through our sandwiches. Zef started crying from the shaded perch of his stroller. He had only slept for about 30 minutes, hardly sufficient for his afternoon nap. I thought I could get him back to sleep so I took him on a walk around the park, leaving my wife to her sandwich and sketch pad. An hour later, and we were no closer to getting back to sleep. We returned to our picnic blanket. I sat down, finished my sandwich, and then my wife took Zef for a walk in the Baby Björn while I broke out my typewriter to jot off a letter to my friend.
Another side note: I have a thing for typewriters and when we were packing to go to the park I threw my lightweight Smith-Corona onto the stroller thinking it would be somehow romantic to write for a bit in the park.
Zef was no closer to sleeping when she returned with him. He was excited as any other kid I saw running around, enjoying their Sunday at the park. His eyes, ever alert, darted back and forth, following the kids kicking soccer balls, playing badminton and running through the fountain.
This got me to thinking: How do you picnic with a baby?
The short answer is that you can’t. Not really. Not unless they are sleeping. What you really do when you picnic with a baby is that you move your babysitting outdoors. Now, it’s not so much that you’re picnicking; it’s that you’re entertaining a demanding, ego-centric little human in some shaded patch of an outdoor space where soccer balls, shuttlecocks and frisbees are being kicked, batted and thrown about. You’re left to hope that some strong-legged 13 year-old doesn’t send ball careening directly for your baby’s face or some strong-armed 8 year-old doesn’t let loose the flying blade of a frisbee that you’re positive could decapitate your yet-to-sit-up-by-himself baby boy.
But it’s all fun and romantic, right? Well… yes… it is. There is a fantastic pleasure to be had in picnicking with your baby. Just make sure to lather on plenty of sunscreen and bring a couple of their favorite toys along to keep them occupied.
Lucky for me, Zef is developing a fondness for typewriters of his own.