My daughter appears to navigate the choppy waters of high school with ease. She’s earned straight A’s while juggling Key Club and spring musical. She has bonded with some true friends and sidestepped peers who are cruel in person or online. Some mornings though, she wakes up so anxious and nauseated she can hardly eat or move.
Like most kids, she was not invited to every Sweet Sixteen party. In the age of Snapchat, she watched those parties happen live on her phone. The snaps disappear after twenty-four hours, but their damage lingers. The videos stabbed her in the heart.
When I asked what she wanted for her sixteenth birthday party, she said quietly, “I don’t even know. Maybe dinner with a friend and then be done with it.” The hurt in her voice stabbed me. I told her, “Let’s ditch the party and go to Paris.”
She squealed and blurted out a dozen run-on sentences before taking a breath. She couldn’t wait to see Paris for the first time, eat fancy pastries and do some world-class shopping on the Champs-Elysees – at least through the designer windows.
Most of all though, she wanted a real photo shoot. She takes hundreds of pictures of herself daily to feed the insatiable beasts of Snapchat and Instagram, but she wanted this to be different.
At six years old, her heart-shaped face, wide-set gray eyes, and sweet disposition endeared her to photographers and landed her a modeling contract. As a single mom and physician however, I couldn’t cancel my patients on short notice and drive her to auditions. Over time, the offers stopped coming.
So I found a photographer online and booked him for the last morning of our trip.
Then a friend texted me. Notre Dame was on fire. I turned on CNN and stared transfixed with the rest of the world, as bright orange flames licked, then devoured the wooden roof. When the iconic spire broke off at its base and crashed to the fiery floor below, I felt stabbed again.
The eight hundred year-old cathedral burned five days before I could show it to my daughter in all its glory. I was smacked by the fact that for better and worse, nothing lasts forever, not classic monuments or teenage struggles.
We arrived on Easter Sunday and tried to get close to Notre Dame. Barricades held back the tight-packed crowd. I’d expected devastation, but the stone towers rose solidly into the pure blue sky. She was still magnificent. The roof was gone, but “Our Lady” would recover.
My daughter laid out her two outfits carefully the night before her photo shoot. She woke up at 4:50 am to do her hair and makeup in our tiny bathroom in Montemarte. We took an Uber to our designated meeting spot, arriving twenty minutes early.
The wind picked up and clouds threatened as the photographer began clicking, on a plaza overlooking the Eiffel Tower. My daughter made the best of the weather, letting her black chiffon dress float in the wind. Then we huddled in a narrow doorway as a brief shower passed. I gave her my raincoat to keep warm. She never stopped smiling.
We ducked into a cafe for a hot chocolate, where she changed into a blush skater dress and blue leather jacket. She reminded me of a modern Audrey Hepburn. The photographer was so pleased with her. He said, “I love it when people make an effort. This is Paris, after all.”
The sky cleared and the sun came up over the Louvre as she posed again.
I don’t know when I’ve seen my girl so happy.
I wanted my daughter to know she is more than the cheerleading squad she wasn’t chosen for, the honor roll she missed by a fraction of a point and the boy who kissed her then never called. She is also more than the eating disorder she fights to overcome.
Paris showed her, despite her worst days, she too will recover.
K M Walker is an OB/GYN, author, lover of radically original characters (in fiction and life), Creole speaker and Portuguese wine drinker. She is obsessed with twins. Find her (bring coffee or wine or don’t bother) on FB at KMWalkerAuthor, @KMWalkerAuthor and at KMWalkerAuthor.com.