Friday, May 24, 2013


Running up the stairs to Platform 2, we saw the TGV humming on the tracks, unmoving. But the doors had closed and the mustached, uniformed man subtly shook his head, telling us that boarding was no longer an option. Just then the train began to creep forward; seats 22 and 23 of car 14 were vacant. We missed it.

Typically, I am an easy-going traveler, one who goes with the flow. Calm. Assured. Unflappable. But yesterday, something in me snapped. It was 8:15 a.m., and I was supposed to be on a train to Paris with Graham, who was scheduled to take a AP World History exam at noon. This was the only possible date for him to take the exam, and the International School in Paris was the only location with the credentials to administer the test. We had paid the non-refundable $250 test fee and we were told that he had to be at the testing site, Photo I.D. in hand, at 11:45 sharp.

But we missed the train. I held back tears as I went into the ticket office and explained our predicament. The next possible train to Paris departed at 10:15 a.m. It was scheduled to arrive at the Montparnasse station at 11:15 a.m. From there we would have to take the Metro, and then walk about 6 blocks. We would never make it to the school by 11:45, but we had no other option. I paid the penalty to change our tickets.

Then I called David and asked him to e-mail our contact to let her know that we may be a little late but that we were coming. I did not know if "late" would be an option. Many standardized tests have strict start times, and therefore those who do not arrive on time are not permitted entrance.

Graham was cool and collected the whole time. We had hoped to grab an early lunch in Paris before the exam, but now lunch would have to wait until the test ended at 3:30--if he got in, that is. So, as is normal for Graham, food was his only real concern. While he took everything in stride, he kept asking me why I was panicking. Because I am not usually a panicker.

I think I was feeling that very rare (for me!) burden of responsibility. David, a first-born, has what I think of as an over-developed sense of responsibility. I, a baby, have practically no sense of responsibility. But suddenly, I was the one who had to get Graham to the test center on time! I really should not be entrusted with such tasks! I can't take the pressure.

We waited in the train station café until 15 minutes before our scheduled departure, then we headed up to the platform. We might have missed the second train because we were patiently waiting on Platform 2, when (by what MUST have been divine intervention!) we realized that we were supposed to be on Platform Z. Honestly, there are are only TWO platforms at the St-Pierre-des-Corps Station, and one is Platform 1, (also called Z) and the other is Platform 2, (also called V). Do you know how similar a 2 and a Z look digitally? They couldn't have used V and X? Arrrggghhhh. We arrived at Platform Z at the same time as our train, and happily got on board.

I was starting to calm down a bit as we moved through car 16 towards seats 11 and 12. When we found our places, a man was already sitting in one of the seats. He insisted that he was the rightful owner of seat 11. We reexamined our tickets. Clearly, they said car 16, seats 11 and 12. Finally, reluctantly, and quite annoyed, the man pulled out his ticket. Indeed, he did have seat 11, but he was in the wrong car. He should have been in 18. He was not happy to move, but at that point he had to surrender his post.

The TGV got us to Montparnasse right on time, and we exited the train at a clip. We paused at a sandwich stand to consider getting a bite for Graham on the run, but realized the line was too long and it wasn't moving. It was already 11:25. Thankful that we always keep a ready supply of Metro tickets, Graham and I headed down the stairs towards Green Line 12, Direction Marie d'Issy. Once we were on the Metro, I stole a glance at my watch. 11:32.

We got off at the Convention stop, and climbed out into beautiful Paris. I looked at the information that David had carefully assembled, trying to determine how I would find the school. Unfortunately, my dear husband had printed a map for me. A map. After 20 years of marriage, he still does not realize that I can't read a map. Graham can read maps, but Paris streets are not always labeled and they change names frequently. So I did what I always do in these types of circumstances: I called David. The phone conversation went something like this:

"David, we are at the Convention Metro stop, but I can't find any street names and I don't know which way to walk.

"You want to head Southwest."

(Long silence while I fight the urge to throw myself on the ground and pitch a fit.) "Honey, that doesn't really help me."


At this point he is on Google Maps, looking at the street view on his computer screen. (What did people do before the Internet?) "Do you see the 'Café Convention?'"


"Stand with your back to the Café Convention."

I dutifully position myself as instructed.

"Turn right and walk!"

"Thank you!"

We turned right and walked....very quickly. I actually broke a sweat.

Once oriented, following the map was a piece of cake. Of course it helped that David mentioned that my next turn would be a right at the Carrefour Market--those kinds of directions make sense to me.

We found the school, and then I made a classic American blunder. The e-mail I received said to go to the second floor. So I went up one flight of stairs and started looking for the right office. Not finding it, a student came to our rescue. I told him who I was looking for, and he said, "Oh, her office is on the second floor!" European second floor=American third floor. I know that one, but clearly, this day was meant to be a comedy of errors.

Up one floor, red cheeked and winded, we arrived. 11:55.  I wondered if we had made it in time. I imagined a room full of 50 students waiting in weighted silence for the 12:00 exam to begin, and Graham being told that he was too late. Instead, a warm, completely unruffled woman appeared. In a lilting Irish accent she informed us that Graham was actually the only one scheduled to take the AP World History Exam, and that the test, though indeed timed, would be administered and proctored just for him. Our tardiness turned out to be a total non- issue.

And so I left him,with the promise of cheeseburgers upon my return. I met my dear friend and my goddaughter for lunch. We wandered the streets of Paris, and then at 3:30 we returned to the school, McDonald's bag in hand, to meet Graham coming out from his test.

That boy never once seemed bothered by the craziness of the day. He gets that from me. I did not enjoy playing the role of the responsible parent, and I am so thankful for a husband who was made for the part. Me? I'm more cut out for comic relief. 


  1. God Bless Graham. I'm sure that he was the stable one during this round-trip adventure. He can be calm because he is confident!

    1. Graham is a calm and confident guy. He makes his mama proud!