France has been enjoying weeks of unseasonably warm weather. Our recent trip to La Rochelle and the Tarn was an illicit April glimpse of summer vacation. The karma will probably swing back and it will rain all August just like it did in 2007, but I don't care at the moment.
And le Petit discovered ice cream.
It's not as if we'd been trying to keep it from him all these years. I'd offered it to him plenty of times, even the deluxe stuff from Berthillon, but he regarded it suspiciously as if it were steamed broccoli and refused to try so much as a spoonful. In one memorable parenting moment in the summer of 2009, he even threw a fit in a crêperie when we dared to order him a sundae from the dessert menu.
Strange, yes, but I made peace with it. I decided it just meant more dessert for me, and was that such a bad thing?
Then my in-laws offered to take us to a trendy ice cream shop on our visit to Ile de Ré, an island across from La Rochelle, midway down France's Atlantic coast. It is the French equivalent of Martha's Vineyard, with cute million-Euro cottages, expensive boutiques, calm beaches, salt marshes and kilometers of bike trails. In May, hollyhocks bloom along every whitewashed village wall, and from Easter vacation through September, the tourists line up to eat real ice cream at the port in Saint-Martin.
"I don't want ice cream," le Petit whined. And in impeccable three-year-old logic, if he doesn't want it, no one else should want it either. So I tried to change his mind.
"But they have ice cream cones, just like in your book."
"Ice cream... in a cone?" Le Petit was suddenly intrigued. His favorite book right now is a German picture book with detailed scenes of a village in the summer. There's an ice cream vendor, and children and even a dog are enjoying ice cream cones. So although ice cream was out, an ice cream cone was a whole other matter. Once at the counter, he informed Grandma that he wanted raspberry ice cream because it was pink, his favorite color. He then ate his cone with great concentration and without allowing himself to be distracted, like a Michelin reviewer at a starred restaurant. And he loved it. Three stars for sure. The next day, when we drove back to Ile de Ré, he started asking for another ice cream cone at ten o'clock in the morning, though he had to wait more or less patiently until after lunch.
A week later, my husband and the kids and I were in Puycelsi, a fortified medieval village in the Tarn near Gaillac, in southwestern France. We fell in love with Puycelsi, with its lovingly restored houses perched on a hill with a sweeping view of forest, field and vines. I'll admit it's perhaps just a tad over-restored, with expensive cars with foreign plates parked all about, but it would be hypocritical of me to care too much: I'd be that rich expat, if I only had the means. My husband and I fell in love with the biscuiterie on the main square that made spiced butter cookies, apple cakes and fresh bread. To keep le Petit happy during our slow stroll through the streets, we promised him an ice cream cone. But when we finally got back to the café that advertised ice cream, we discovered it was closed.
The owner was out front doing work on his patio, and when he saw le Petit's face fall at the news he'd have no ice cream that day despite Daddy's solemn promise, he stopped and offered to go in and put an ice cream cone together after all. I was almost more giddy than le Petit was, for there's nothing better than seeing the world turn unexpectedly magic for your child. The raspberry sorbet was made on a local farm, and though I didn't get a bite, it looked delicious.
A few days later we were back in La Rochelle. We couldn't walk past the ice cream shop in the center of town on our way to the port without demands for more pink ice cream. Grandma obligingly bought a pint to take back to the apartment, and even bought a cone to go with it. Le Petit insisted on eating the ice cream before his dinner--his "growing food," in the family parlance--and I was too tired and lazy and amused to fight it.
"Mommy, is ice cream growing food?" Grandpa had helpfully suggested that it was, but le Petit, covered with pink sticky stains from cheek to cheek, wanted to double-check.
"Um, not really. But you know what? That's OK."
The next day, once we decided we'd go back to Ile de Ré, le Petit was determined to get yet more ice cream. It was Easter Sunday, and the lines at the ice cream vendor were even longer than before. Le Petit hugged my leg as we waited our turn.
"I want the green one, Mommy," he said, pointing at the pistachio bin in the freezer case. My mother-in-law was skeptical, knowing le Petit's infamous reluctance for novelty.
"Plutôt framboise, non?" she asked, urging raspberry.
"Oui, framboise!" he answered with enthusiasm. But once he got his cone he burst into tears because he'd wanted raspberry and pistachio, and the world was suddenly entirely unjust. Luckily I had a second scoop of pistachio on my cone, and I quickly spooned it onto le Petit's. Tantrum averted. We all licked and munched pensively, and when le Petit's cone was all gone, he tugged on my arm.
"Next time we'll get red and green ice cream," he said resolutely.
Then he tugged again a minute later.
"Mommy, I want another ice cream cone!"
"No, hon," I laughed, "You only get one."
"But I want another!"
We walked slowly around the port.
"You know, you can't have too many ice cream cones at once. If you do, you'll get sick."
"But I want to get sick!"
A few rogue clouds were slinking across the sky plotting showers, but the sun was magically bright in the late afternoon. Le Petit kept repeating his request.
"You know, ice cream is 'sometimes food,'" I said finally with my best wise parent impersonation.
"But Mommy, I want 'sometimes food' all the time!"
And I thought, I just want to hold hands with my kid and walk along slowly having these illogical conversations, ice cream optional. And although le Petit kept on asking for ice cream, he didn't seem too unhappy just talking, either.
The cloud just above us started leaking sparse, heavy drops onto our heads, but no one seemed to care.