We have been standing on Ave des Invalides for for twenty minutes, waiting for the bus to arrive. I’m an AIt is an exceptionally cold day in early Janurary and I worry that five month old La Petite isn’t warm enough, even bundled into her snowsuit and wrapped in a blanket. She looks like a tiny Michelin man. I hop up and down, pushing her poussette in a circle to keep her from crying. Finally the bus arrives. I stand in front of the entrance to the back door, where it is large enough to board with a stroller. The door doesn’t open. A man dressed in a business suit signals to the driver to open the back door for me. Still nothing. What is going on? I push La Petite’s poussette to the front entrance and indicate that the driver should open the back door. He shakes his head “no”..
What does he mean “no”? I’m standing here with a baby stroller, and he won’t open the door?
. He opens the front door and gives me a pointed look, “There are two pousettes already. That is the limit. You will have to wait for the next bus.” . Shit. Is he kidding me? It’s the coldest day of the year! I can’t stand out here with a five month old waiting for a bus. . The driver closes the doors, and I swear under my breath, taking off at a slow jog down the street. . My stomach starts to churn. I am a good 45 minute walk from home. I can’t take the metro because there is no way I can maneuver this gigantic stroller down the stairs and through the turnstyle. The poussette is too large to load into the back of a taxi, even if I could hail one. My pulse races, more due to panic than to the fast pace at which I am now bolting down the street. I would enjoy the walk home if I were on my own, But right now I am afraid of freezing my precious little baby. What kind of mother am I, subjecting her to such extreme cold? True, we are in Paris, not Antarctica, but it feels very cold. Damp cold. Bone chilling cold. Of course she is dressed in her snowsuit and blanket, but what about her little exposed face? I feel like a horrible mother. I should have kept her at home, in the cozy warmth of our apartment. It was only due to my own need for social interaction that I dragged her out on the coldest day of the year. I try and reassure myself that people all over the world live in colder temperatures than this. Minnesota, for example, is extremely cold. But I doubt moms walk their babies in strollers outside. I’m sure they drive them around in heated minivans. Alaska is cold. Don’t people plug in their cars to keep them from freezing? What about Eskimos? Now, there is a culture that survives extreme cold. Somehow, thinking of Eskimos while racing down the streets of Paris, pushing Isabelle’s poussette, is not reassuring me. . So here I am, stranded on Avenue des Invalides….freezing. At least it’s not raining. I jog down the street, hoping that the next bus comes along soon. Luckily, I only have to jog two stops before the next bus 28 pulls over. This time, the back door opens, and I manage to wheel the giant pram on, parking it in the “poussette” section. . The bus is jam packed, since it is now heavy commute hour. The ticket stamper is in the front of the bus. I look at the unstamped ticket in my hand. There is no way I can fight my way to the front of the bus, through the wall-to-wall mass of passengers, while the bus is swerving back and forth. This route has got to be the windiest in all of Paris. Every few seconds, the bus swerves. All of the passengers are thrown to the right and then the left. I make sure the poussette’s brakes are tightly locked, holding onto the handlebar just in case. I certainly can’t leave my baby in the poussette, swerving back and forth while I try and jostle my way through the crowd to reach the machine. I’ll have to just wait until it clears out a bit and I can run up and back during a stop at the light. . While I am contemplating my situation, a hand taps me on the shoulder, “Madame, votre billet?” . I turn to see a woman in a navy Parisian Metro Transport uniform scowling at me. I hand her my unstamped ticket. . “But this is not stamped. You have not validated your ticket.” . “No. I have been unable to leave the poussette while the bus is so crowded and swerving,” I decide to reply in English in my most American accent. . “This is an infraction of the rules. C’est interdit!” Her scowl deepens. . I indicate the stroller. La Petite is happily making goo-goo eyes at the stern woman who doesn’t even smile back. Who doesn’t return a smile from an infant? Only in Paris. “I have a ticket. I have been unable to validate it.” I am starting to get angry now, “How am I supposed to stamp it when the machine is located in the front of the bus, the bus is filled with people and I have a baby in a stroller?” . “You have not validated your ticket, Madame. That is an infraction,” the broken record continues. . She takes out her ticket pad. Is she actually going to write me a ticket? I am slightly curious about how one issues a ticket to a person, not a vehicle. It’s not like I am wearing a license plate. How is she going to trace it? As curious as I am, I really do not want to be ticketed. I continue to play the Dumb Tourist, though I am actually wondering how the hell I am supposed to get this ticket stamped without leaving the poussette. . “You must leave the poussette, make your way to the front of the bus and validate your ticket. Or, you should ascend the bus properly, from the front, validate the ticket and proceed to the back,” she explains in monotone. I am beginning to think that perhaps she is part robot, like in one of the Shwarznager movies. She shows no sign of emotion. . I am about to explode. How can I possibly board the bus from the front? Is she blind to the fact that SUV size poussette that will only fit through the double doors in the back? Does she actually expect me to leave an infant unattended in a rocking bus while I push my way to the front to stamp a damn ticket? I have an idea: put the damn ticket machine in the back of the bus near the rear entry door! I am about to explode when I check myself, and will myself to reign in my anger. Getting into a head-on fight with the Transport Police is probably not going to do me any good. I just want to get home. So I choke down my fury, paste a smile on my face and reply in the calmest tone I can muster, “I did not realize it was interdit, Madame. This is my first time on the bus. I am visiting a friend. I have bought a ticket. I did not realize it must be validated immediately.” . She peers at me, almost squinting. What has happened to this lady to make her so downright mean? She considers the situation as if she was a judge presiding over a national case. “I will forgive the infraction this one time. This is your warning. You must validate the ticket immediately next time.” . I peer out the window and am relieved to see that we have reached our stop. Well, not quite our stop, but only two stops away. Close enough. Time to get off. . “Merci, Madame,” I hastily unlock the poussette’s brakes and begin the ungraceful task of maneuvering the beast out the door, jostling the crowd as I go. Safely on the pavement, I suck in a breath of cold air. Still shaking with a combination of anger, embarrassment and vulnerability I run down Ave du Maine, heading to our apartment, Isabelle bouncing along in the poussette, clearly enjoying the ride. . I have barely made it up the two flights of stairs and into our apartment before I burst into tears. I just feel so vulnerable. Why are people here so mean? Why does no one ever smile? Sometimes I just feel so alone. . I look down at La Petite’s sweet little face. We are collapsed on the sofa, her little lips immediately latched onto my boob, famished after the journey. She is sucking away like a starving person. I am completely worn out. I had hoped that the playgroup might provide some new friends for me. Or at least some other moms I could relate to. Instead I feel even more isolated. The run-in with the French Transport Bitch was just the icing on the cake. All I want to do is hide. The cold weather only reinfores the cold shoulder I feel so often here in France. If only La Petite and I were bears, we could hibernate through the winter and come out in the spring, when things are bound to be better.
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