The last time I traveled to France, I was neither a mother nor a woodworker; I was a newlywed and a journalist. This spring, two decades after that honeymoon, I returned to Paris, where I realized that, as a middle-aged mom in construction, I view the world through a new lens.
For example, looking at a colossal oil painting at Musée D’Orsay, my first reflex was to examine the joinery of the massive gilded frame. The mitered corner was the length of my forearm, so I wondered how large le biscuit in the joint must be.
Meanwhile, after stumbling countless times on the way up the Eiffel Tower à pied, I wondered if in the 1880’s Gustave Eiffel adhered to measurements of the modern International Residential Code, which stipulate that stairs must be no taller than 7 3/4 inches with a 10-inch minimum tread and a nosing projection between 3/4-inch and 1 1/4 inches, to prevent people from tripping.
Upon visiting the Louis Vuitton Foundation and seeing a gallery installation of unembellished lumber, I caught myself estimating whether the timber’s dimensions would suffice for some repairs on a rotting pergola of similar millwork back home.
None of these questions would have crossed my mind in my life before construction college.
But it was the changes in my photography that spoke the most about my evolution over the last 20 years. Last time I was in France, I snapped a bunch of photos of myself in front of things. Me in front of the Eiffel Tower. Me in front of Sacre Cœur. And a lot of wine and cheese in front of me. On this trip, my camera focused on my traveling companion. The Louvre and Arc de Triomphe make for lovely backdrops, but in the eyes of this middle-aged mom in construction, my 12-year-old son was the most interesting thing in France.