December 12, 2008

souvenirs and little citizens

This is #5 of an ongoing dialog of our travel which included 4 countries and a 4 year old. Please check the prior archives for the previous sagas.

We flew across the Red Sea leaving Saudi Arabia and landing in Egypt. After having worn my abaya for nearly a month, I must admit I didn’t want to take it off. It becomes comfortable … oddly enough. There is something comforting in being able to keep to yourself and be private. There is something nice about losing the button off your pants prior to a fancy dinner and it not mattering in the least because you are wearing an abaya anyhow. I was told that women often leave the house in their pajamas because no one can tell. I did not remove my abaya and headscarf until we landed in Luxor which included one prior stop. I figured I would be ripping it off first chance I got but it didn’t turn out that way.

The tombs and temple complex Karnak at Luxor were amazing and we preferred it to Ciaro and the pyramids. If it is even possible for one super amazing city can be topped by another even more super amazing city. We were repeatedly informed that our 4 year old would not remember any of our trip. One male friend who had traveled there recently informed me that “Egypt would be a little dry for her, no pun intended.” None taken. We hoped that she would remember this once-in-a-lifetime experience that she was having at 4 years age. We did not have a plan to help us force the experience into her long-term memory but a serendipitous plan slowly unfolded.

As a side note I must explain I have spent the last 20 years working with people with Acquired Brain Injuries (ABI). One man I worked with was an alcoholic and a roofer which is a really bad combination. Odds are you’ll slip off the roof eventually. People with ABI have very little or no short-term memory but can happily discuss anything in that happened years ago because it is in their long-term memory. Every day I would tell my client the roofer the same joke which goes like this, “My dog can talk. I asked him what was on top of the house and do you know what he said?” And every day my client would shake his head no. I would tell him the punch line and he would laugh like he had never heard it before. One day, as usual, I told him the joke and when I said, “do you know what the dog said?” my client then blurted out with a hearty laugh and replied “Roof!” I had made it into the long-term memory somehow. This is the principle I am using to help my young child remember a fabulous travel experience. Although I am not repeating it every day, I am sure she is thankful, I incorporate information from time to time and ask her open ended questions that makes her pull up information from her experiences to answer the questions. Hopefully I am slowly placing it into her long-term memory.

Olivia stuck out like a sore thumb in Egypt just as she did in Saudi Arabia. Although there were plenty of Americans and Europeans in Egypt, they were all Grey-Hairs as Egypt is a vacation destination reserved for AARP-ers. Olivia learned to yell “No Touching!” in Saudi Arabia as the men ran to her ready to pinch her cheeks. In Egypt it was different because they ran to her giving her presents. This was especially odd in that every person we came across in Egypt had their hand out wanting to be paid. Luckily for us, the man who rented us camels to ride to the pyramids fell in love with her immediately. He instructed us to “wait right here” and ran off returning with a statue of the pyramids and sphinx. He gave it to Olivia and told us that he was also going to give us his son to marry her and that he, himself, was a Texan. Texas was a big theme in Arab countries. Many people asked if we were from Texas because we had a Texas accent. My husband is from San Francisco and I am from Northern California.

This little statue was the building block for us to create a long-term memory for her. We created a shelf in her room with one souvenir from each country she has traveled so that she sees it often but subtly. This is where the pyramid and sphinx sit. She began reading a book series from the library called The Magic Tree House so we purchased the one in the series called Mummies in the Morning for her personal collection. It is amazing how much Egypt stuff (for lack of a better word) is available. So we integrated a little here and a little there…Egypt playing cards, Egypt action figures, Little Einstein’s Egypt play set. Just enough to intermittently jog her memory. It lends many opportunities for discussion and open-ended questions such as “remember when you woke up in Dad’s arms and you were in front of King Tut’s Mask in the Egyptian Museum?” Or “I remember that mommy mummy that had her baby mummified with her” to which Olivia quickly corrects me and says “No Mommy, that wasn’t a baby it was her pet baboon!”

 

 

plies and the tumbe

Bleary-eyed from lack of sleep and coffee, I stumbled into preschool today with Milo.

Approaching the building we heard the familiar lilt of Jingle Bells…in Spanish. And there she was – a black-clad Elvira-esque character leading the kids in ballet moves. Plie, arms up! On tippy-toes, arms down! Now CORRE CORRE CORRE and stag-leap across the room! One! Two! Three.. Leap! Quatro! Cinco! Seis… Leap! FELIZ NAVIDAD A TODOS! Hooray!!! The room was festooned with garlands and Christmas tree construction paper art and menorahs and hand-turkeys and stars, and looked every bit the global festival.

It struck me that we – here in the city, in 2008 – are wildly lucky to be able to step into a crazy, mixed up scene like this and feel right at home. Our children will feel even more so, as diversity is imprinted in their spongy minds as the natural order of things.

Growing up in a small town in Western Massachusetts in the 70s, my parents and I spoke reverently of “Other Cultures”, for people who lived elsewhere, looked funny, and had strange habits and different languages. Our great hope was that we’d be able to travel to – even to live, for a time in – a Foreign Country, to Learn their Customs. Foreigners were positive, to be sure, like museum pieces to be admired and studied; but I never knew I could really know a kid who wasn’t mostly like me.
Of course I grew up, and traveled, and lived abroad, and forcibly re-programmed myself to approach the world differently. Those early reactions still linger, though. When I travel, it is still with a residual hesitation (Am I going to point my chopsticks the wrong way? Will I shake someone’s hand improperly? Should I bow? Will I stand out more if I dress in their clothes, or mine?)

It is – therefore – with overwhelming pleasure and pride that I watch my 2 year old plie and stage leap and chatter just as easily with his Peruvian friend and the Indian girl, and little Marcello from Italy, and Tumbe from Kenya, as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Which it is, really.

making christmas memories

The holidays with little ones can be crazy. Just getting presents bought, wrapped and shipped, and Christmas cards out on time can be about all a new mom can handle. And for the past four Christmases our family has been doing the bare minimum to get festive. Only half the decorations come out, very little baking is done and gifts are bought online to save time.

But my oldest is almost five, and this year I decided it was time to start making some memories and teaching Christmas to my kids. It was clear they were understanding more and more about Santa. But I wanted them to get the whole holiday in more than just a commercial context. So that meant a little reflection on my part. What things are important for me to share about this season with preschoolers?

December can be filled with shopping and spending or it can be about savoring the lights, colors, songs, smells and tastes of this month. Because once January and February comes, it continues to be cold and it’s back to business as usual.

I had read in a Wondertime article about a mom who did an activity a day with her kids during Advent in lieu of candy/gifts everyday. We’ve done the candy Advent calendars and still do because it’s just fun to have chocolate, but this year we took our wooden Advent calendar and filled it with fun things for us to do together as a family. Things that, for me, make the season what it is. So here are 24 days of activities:

Make paper snowflakes and decorate the windows
Learn/sing some traditional Christmas carols
Decorate the house with decorations
Make a gingerbread house
Make Christmas cookies for a friend
Celebrate St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6)
Decorate the Christmas tree
Read a Christmas classic
Do something nice for someone we don’t know
Look at Christmas lights
Bring food to someone who needs it
Go see The Nutcracker
Celebrate St. Lucia Day (Dec. 13)
Attend a Christmas event
Make popcorn garland
Read the Christmas story
Make hot chocolate
Go ice skating
Watch a Christmas movie
Make a Christmas paper chain and hang it
Hang lights up in the house
Family game night
Buy a toy for a child who doesn’t have one
Unwrap/open one present each

By doing these, our family gets some dedicated time together. But we’ve turned Christmas “chores” into fun activities. I even had them wrapping presents and helping to stamp the Christmas cards.

Celebrating St. Nicholas Day and St. Lucia Day are important for me to incorporate in some way during the season. Saint Nicholas imparts the real Christmas spirit of giving–which is what the season is about. After living in Germany as a child for a while, this became a familiar name, but the tradition has been lost. St. Lucia Day is a Swedish holiday, one we learned about while living there. While not celebrated so much at home anymore (more at school), it’s still a wonderful way to celebrate the season.

We’re less than halfway through the month, but the kids still run to the calendar each morning to see what we’ll be doing for the day.

Linda Kerr writes at Baby Bunching, Monkey Business and DC Metro Moms.

global wonders series

If you’re looking for a new way to introduce your little citizens to the great big world, a new video series may be just the ticket. The Global Wonders animated series takes kids around the globe exploring cultures throughout the States and abroad, including in Mexico and India. The characters’ play dates feature cultural lessons, language jams, music and even talk about a variety of holidays. It looks like music CDs and videos featuring Italy and China are coming soon. Enjoy world hopping with your little ones and let us know what you think!

December 5, 2008

gift idea: global snacks

One of our writers, Dana Lightstone, mentioned briefly this week a set of great books to talk with your little citizens about culture around the globe. Amy Wilson Sanger’s World Snacks board books include Chaat and Sweets, Mangia! Mangia!, Lets Nosh and Yum Yum Dim Sum. They make great gifts for your kids and for other friends who are raising little citizens. What better way to teach the next generation about the great big world than through fun phrases and pictures of yummy food? Maybe you can even get them excited about joining you at your favorite neighborhood restaurant.

with care

What I’d find in my Christmas stocking every year as a child was often the best gift of all. Santa would fill mine to the brim- where surely the hook was about to give way to the weight of the goodies inside.

I never thought much to what the meaning could be- this tradition celebrated in many American homes every Christmas Eve. I just knew it was magical and exciting.

There is an old European legend about kind Saint Nicholas being sensitive to a family that had been well off but just lost all their money. He heard them crying as he made his rounds bearing gifts- they had nothing to eat or make them happy. There were three daughters and they had no money for dowries to marry be married.

The family was too embarrassed to accept any charity so St. Nicholas saw a different way to bring them gifts. The three daughters had washed their stockings and hung them over their fireplace to dry. In the night, he quietly climbed down the chimney and placed three purses of gold in each of the girl’s stockings that would be enough to marry them off. When the family woke in the morning to find this blessing, they were very thankful to God and the noble St. Nick.

I’ve hung the stockings in our home this year- I have four to be filled now. We’ll leave treats for Santa and his reindeer. And we’ll think of those really in need all over this world. Hoping Santa doesn’t miss a single stocking this year.

mommy’s personal princess boycott

My daughter was born on the last day of spring. When she was about to turn 4 she gloriously announced she would like to have a “Princess Party…you know…Snow White. Ariel. Sleeping Beauty.” I took a deep breath trying to cope and conceive of the fact that I could actually be further immersed in Princess. This was when I had my epiphany. I replied to her “Sure. No problem. But why not a REAL princess. Like….say… Nefertiti?” She agreed that was a WONDERFUL idea and I was off the “Disney” hook. We went to the library checking out everything we could find with regard to Queen Nefertiti, mummification, tombs, Egyptian children and all things Egypt.

 

On the last day of spring in 2007, twelve little citizens of San Francisco arrived at our house for the celebration after having deciphered their invitations written in hieroglyphics. They wrapped each other up like mummies using toilet paper then I taped a world map on the wall and they played Pin the Pyramid on Egypt. We spray painted cigar boxes gold and the kids glued gems on them prior to searching for treasures in the back yard such as pencils with cat images, rubber snakes, gold coins and colored Lucite rings. The kids also had an archeological dig in the sandbox for small plastic dinosaurs (it is really hard to find bones when it is not October so dinosaurs had to do.) The grand finale was the amazing golden pyramid cake. The children went home with their “goodie bag” consisting of the golden boxes filled with their new Egyptian treasures and a DVD of The Prince of Egypt.

 

Who knew 6 months later we would be in Saudi Arabia just across the Red Sea from Egypt. My husband and I decided we would be remiss if we did not actually show Olivia the real pyramids since we were so near-by (6 hour flight) so we made a left turn on our way out of Saudi en route France landing in northern Africa.

 

To be continued…

global gifts for the holidays

Gifts are a great way to teach kids to think with a global perspective. Two gifts really stand out to me as great globally oriented gifts –one that we gave and one that we received.

We recently went to the 2nd birthday party for a friend’s son. On the Evite invitation they asked that instead of gifts guests consider making a donation to an organization called Heifer. When I went onto the organization’s site I saw the great selection of gifts that could be purchased for this organization which aims to relieve hunger and poverty around the world. We chose a portion of a water-buffalo. While my daughter Zoe at 14 months is a little young to understand what she gave to her friend for his birthday over time she will start to understand. The birthday boy received a card with a picture of an animal that described our contribution. The organization describes this and other gifts as the “must-have gift of the year: self-reliance.” How great is that gift?

This gift inspired me: for Zoe’s next birthday and as she gets older and more aware I am going to request that some of her gifts be donations to help Ijot, a children’s library in rural India that I’ve been involved with for years. At some point I plan to bring her to the library to meet the children who use it. Children, libraries, and animals are all things that small children can relate to and for this reason they are great donation gifts for children.

On a lighter note, we have received some great board books about different cuisines by Amy Wilson Sanger. We have one about Indian snack food and one about sushi. These are two of our favorite cuisines and we always take the books with us to the restaurant. Zoe loves to look at the pictures and hear the rhymes about the food that she is going to eat.

November 26, 2008

what we bring to the table

This Thanksgiving we’re finally tossing out “tradition” and really making the holiday meal together, as a family, our own. For so long many families celebrate only how they’ve been taught from watching how it’s done on TV to the books about the Mayflower and Pilgrims and Native Americans. But one thing we’ve forgotten about that first Thanksgiving was the merging together of different cultures.

We’ve seemed to step away from that fusion and only do what’s comfortable or normal. And to be honest, it’s become quite boring. And not representative of the first Thanksgiving at all.

I don’t care for greenbean casserole but I can make a great hummus dip. It might not be a standard Thanksgiving menu item, but it’s what we like. That’s what I’m bringing, along with a cucumber salad. Who knows, this could end up our own signature dish to bring every year from now on.

Once we start departing from the cookie cutter pattern, everything tends to have a little bit more flavor. It celebrates our individuality and creativity- something very important that I hope to teach my children. And soon we realize that while turning away from a tradition that was never “ours” in the first place, we’re really creating one of our very own.

Stephanie blogs daily at Adventures In Babywearing.

sharing an american holiday

Thanksgiving is such an American holiday. And in my travels I have yet to find another celebration that’s really analogous. Interestingly enough, some of my favorite Thanksgivings were the ones spent in other countries with new friends and non Americans. I think Thanksgiving has such a wonderful history to it, and I love to introduce it to people from other places.

Our first Thanksgiving away from home was spent with a Russian family while living in the Middle East. We loved introducing them to the concept and the food. At the time, I was newly pregnant and barely able to stay awake for the feast. Good thing since they left as soon as their six-month old started to melt down. Finding turkeys in the Arabian Gulf can be tricky. They ship them in for the Americans who celebrate the holiday and if you don’t get them in time, they’re gone. I learned then one of the great things about traditional Thanksgiving food is that it can really be found almost anywhere. Stovetop Stuffing may be a bit hard to come by, but I always found the ingredients to make it from scratch. That’s one of the wonderful things about Thanksgiving food, it really is simple food.

The following year, I had a baby and was again newly pregnant. Luckily, I was only responsible for one dish–the turkey! We celebrated with a huge group of friends from the US, Scotland, Egypt and Australia. Everyone brought something from the traditional American Thanksgiving menu—even those unfamiliar with the food. I remember the Egyptian man asking about the origin of this American holiday. Those of us who were American talked about the American Indians and the pilgrims who were celebrating the harvest using our best third-grade Thanksgiving knowledge. Then the conversation transformed into more of the meaning of Thanksgiving for us–to be with those around us and give thanks for the many blessings we do have.

The following year we found ourselves replaying this ritual with a Swedish family. We had just moved to Stockholm and had very few friends around but our neighbors seemed like good people to share this holiday with. I remember my neighbor remarking that Thanksgiving food was one of her favorites–fall comfort food really helped warm up a cold body on a dark Swedish day. In return, we had the chance a month later to experience the Swedish Julbord with them.

This is where I started realizing we should be sharing celebrations with each other–even if they didn’t celebrate it. Holidays and traditions are important to understanding cultures and this, particularly American one, has deep roots in our own history. It’s wonderful to be able to experience a holiday to its fullness when you’re with people who are not familiar with it. We share it with others, and in turn, it reignites the celebration spirit within us.