We’ll Always Have Paris: A Mother/Daughter Memoir by Jennifer Coburn

imgres-1Last week, when the publisher of this book offered 4Mothers a review copy, I did not think things would move quite so quickly.  I said, “yes”; it arrived by FedEx the next morning; I sat down intending only to have a quick look at it, and by that evening I had devoured most of the book.  I could not put it down.  And I could not wait to tell you about it.

Jennifer Coburn’s memoir is about her travels through Europe with her daughter, Katie, and “We’ll always have Paris” is her mantra as she plans for their first trip.  It’s a wistful kind of thought, as is, indeed, her prompt to take the plunge and travel alone with her daughter.  Coburn’s father died when she was still in college, and she begins to fear her own mortality.  She begins to fear that she must hurry up and make special memories for Katie.  Just in case.  If, she thinks, anything were ever to happen to me, my daughter would have the memory of this amazing trip and would be able to say, “We’ll always have Paris.”

As the years pass (and she continues to fail to die the dreaded early death!), so begins a tradition of taking a summer month to travel to a country in Europe.  Her husband is unable to travel with them because of work, so these are strictly mother-daughter trips.  Coburn is a wonderful guide, not only through the cities she recalls, but also through her daughter’s perception of the cities.   We see Paris through the eyes of a nervous mother, who clutches tightly her maps and itineraries, and an excited girl who just wants to immerse herself in the experience.  I especially loved the scene in the famous Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company, which offers a bed for the night to book-loving travellers.  Because Coburn is a writer, they are offered the “deluxe” accommodation, and eight-year-old Katie pleads with her mother to take the offer of this experience.  While Katie falls immediately to sleep, unfazed by the standards of hygiene, her mother frets and tosses and turns.  Mother and daughter are excellent foils, and it delighted me to read the evident pride Coburn takes in her daughter.  What made the book especially riveting, though, is how Coburn interweaves the tales of their travels with memories of her late father.  She deftly ties in themes from their experiences to memories from her childhood, and I marveled at how skilfully she wove together the joyful and the difficult strands of her past.

I shut the book and began dreaming about where I’d love to take my kids.

And that, as it happens, is the subject of our posts this week.  Along with our guest Roseanne Carrara, we are doing some blue sky thinking about where we would go on our dream vacations with our kids.  Money and time are no object.  There are no constraints.   Where would you take yours?