I just came across Language Littles dolls today. What a great idea for raising your little citizens! The dolls say 25 to 30 kid friendly phrases in ten languages. You can buy your little one a Spanish, French, Italian, Russian or even a Greek speaker. If you want to introduce your kid to Spanish, Lizzie can help you out. When you press her right hand she says a series of greetings. Her left hand holds the words for numbers and animals and her knee says “Te Amo.” What a great way to introduce new languages to your little citizens!
A dedicated, long-term Army National Guard soldier, my husband loves the adventure and the challenges he’s found in the experience of serving his country. As his wife and the mother of two young children, I have been relegated to our home for much of this time as a single parent, accepting the vicarious window to the world he provides… but sometimes toting a baby and a backpack for a distant rendezvous with our soldier!
National Guard families do not live on military bases and, as a result, we don’t necessarily live in an environment where there is support or understanding of a lifestyle that regularly pulls families apart and throws them back together.
My main task in raising our little citizens of the world is to create this sense of community for them in the Midwestern college town in which we reside. At the same time, I try to extend this sense of community to the world and explain how, while their dad is not always able to be with us, he is representing us as Americans wherever he goes. His role as a soldier requires that he work closely with soldiers and civilians of other nations, that he is good at both teaching them what he knows and listening to their needs, in order to build a more peaceful world for all of us.
Our kids’ first impressions of the world come from us, their parents. And even when their own feet aren’t touching far-away soil, the impressions their dad shares with them help them understand both the similarities and the differences between people everywhere. Every time we find ourselves “left behind,” we are simultaneously given the opportunity to learn about another corner of the world to which our soldier is flung. Germany, England, Poland, Afghanistan… the list continues to grow.
The trinkets Daddy brings home, the photos, the stories of unique experiences (marching 100 miles with Polish soldiers on an annual pilgrimage, sharing a field breakfast with British soldiers, shopping at a bazaar, and even throwing sandbags along the banks of the Mississippi River in the USA) keeps our children’s eyes wide open. We are reminded constantly that while we all need food, shelter, and clothing, those things come in a huge variety of forms. And being reminded that so many of our counterparts around the world live with far less than we do begets gratitude for our home and simple, but comfortable, life.
At home, I find that there is nothing quite like being a single parent to force one’s wings to stretch. Leisure time may take a backseat for a while, but the qualities of independence, strength, and resourcefulness only grow. Staying close as a separated family takes extraordinary effort, but that pays off in resilience. I have a basket, manila envelope, or box on hand nearly all the time, in which artwork from the kids, mementos of their accomplishments, newspaper clippings, cards, and letters are deposited for Papa; in return, we receive email, phone calls, and occasional packages from him, through which we remember who he is, how much he loves us, and learn about what he’s encountering. We visit the library and attend diverse cultural events on our local university’s campus to learn more about the people and customs of places where Daddy is working. When we have the opportunity to meet somewhere as a family in the middle of a lengthy training or deployment, we are willing and ready to pack a few bags and snacks and print the driving directions or make the plane reservations to make memories for all involved.
When our daughter was nine months old, she and I met her dad in Frankfurt, Germany for a week spent traveling the Romantic Road. The first breads she nibbled were hearty European rolls, given to her at every restaurant (along with the German proclamation “Sie ist laut!”—“She is loud!”—in response to her happy squeals) and she woke with us under eider-downs to the tolling of church bells in small villages. We held her on our shoulders to walk cobbled streets, stopping to let her dip her hands in centuries-old fountains, and I nursed her on a hidden bench in a leafy public garden. The time changes were difficult, but reviving myself with strong, smooth German coffee was a pleasure. Best of all, I found my previous assumptions of Germany as a cold, industrial nation to be unfounded in the warm reception we received as a family vacationing in a place of Old World beauty and impressive efficiency and service.
That spirit of curiosity, openness, acceptance, and grace wherever it may be found provides a foundation for my husband, and for me with our children, to continue our travels, whether independently or together. Perhaps whatever place we find ourselves in will look especially bright when our company is found in its midst.
My father first proposed the idea for a family trip to celebrate his seventieth birthday when I was 3-months-pregnant with Zoe. We knew that at the time of the trip “the baby” would be a little over a year old. We went through several possible locations for the big trip –Japan, France, Morocco, the Caribbean. We decided on Costa Rica partially because it seemed like it would be a fun, interesting and relaxing trip to take with a young toddler, and it was.
One of the great highlights for all of us was seeing Zoe reach one of life’s great milestones during the first few days of the trip –she learned to walk. She had been taking steps for a few weeks but it was on the trip that she really took off and walked on her own. Of course she had a very excited fan club of parents and grandparents cheering her on.
Zoe was very different on this trip than on our summer trip to Europe. While she is still very young I did feel that she got more out of this trip than the last. She was giddy with excitement over the butterflies and giant cats in La Paz. She loved going in the hot springs at Arenol. She loved the beach at Papagayo and loved playing in the sand and swimming in the ocean. She loved all of the tropical fruit. Most of the people that we met were incredibly warm and friendly to her and she enjoyed making new friends. As she becomes more aware it becomes more and more fun for us to travel with her and to see her excitement at doing and seeing new things. The trip was such a success that we are taking another –next month we are going to California and Wyoming.
While I was living in Japan with my husband and two small children, I kept a running blog of our experiences. At one point, a friend asked me if there was anything about living there that really drove me crazy.
Honestly, there was very little about living in Japan that annoyed me, including some of the cultural differences that I understand drive many Americans crazy. For example, I knew a lot of Westerners who were constantly incensed while driving — muttering curses at pedestrians who didn’t yield to cars, etc. But since I was most often the pedestrian and not the driver, I tended not to see what’s so wrong about that. And I think many Americans in particular get annoyed at the whole “rules are rules, and they must be obeyed no matter what”-aspect of Japanese culture, but I didn’t run into many instances where I was truly irked by that. Bemused, perhaps, but not angry. If you lived in a country with so many people crammed into such small spaces, you would find that following the rules allows for a more peaceful coexistence than you might otherwise find. (Imagine riding the subway in New York City during rush hour and finding that it is almost totally silent – no one speaking to anyone else, no laughing, nothing. That’s the norm in Tokyo.)
However, one admittedly minor incident did get under my skin, both because it adversely affected my five-year-old daughter, and because it illustrated the downside of always following the rules and not recognizing the usefulness (and in this case, kindness) of making an exception. I took my daughter out to dinner at a local restaurant where she remembered getting a toy at the end of her meal when we’d been there in the past. This time, we sat down, ordered off the menu, and ate our dinner, but when we got to the checkout counter, there was no toy for my daughter. There *were* toys, right there in front of us, but the cashier told us they were only for kids who ordered off the children’s menu. We hadn’t been offered a kids menu, but that didn’t phase this woman. Neither did my daughter breaking into inconsolable sobs when she realized that she wasn’t getting the (crummy, cheap) toy that she so desperately wanted. Obviously, the woman was just following the rules. No kids menu, no toy, even if the kid had ordered a full-price adult meal
Needless to say, it soured my daughter on that restaurant from then on, but it did provide us with a lesson on one aspect of Japanese culture that we would encounter at other times during our stay in Japan. Recognizing that it was a cultural difference and not just rudeness on the part of the cashier helped both of us understand where the woman was coming from, and prepared us for similar experiences in the future.
Zoe loves cats. Her first word was “cat.” She loves to chase her cats and squeals with delight when she catches one (they don’t like this at all). She calls most animals “cat.” When my mom saw a “kittens for Obama” pin in a store she had to get it for us. We wear it proudly on our stroller. I love it for the Obama part. Zoe loves it for the picture of the kitten which she points to each time she gets into the stroller and says “Cat! Meow!”
Apparently my 13-month-old isn’t the only baby in lower Manhattan with a political view. Two blond boys have a sticker on their double stroller that reads “I’m an Obama kid.” A two-year-old whose mom runs a monogram business has “Go Obama” stitched in oversized letters onto the back of his Bugaboo. Other babies wear clothes that show their political preferences. My friend’s son is often seen wearing an Obama t-shirt. The other day I saw a little girl eating lunch at Whole Foods wearing a pink bib with a picture of Obama’s face. While I haven’t seen any babies for McCain around these parts there are a large selection of McCain baby shirts for sale online.
I liked these shirts and started to shop for one for Zoe. But then I stopped to think about how parents project political views onto their children. Is this appropriate? I asked some friends for their view on the subject. One friend told me that she doesn’t like when people project their political views on their baby because a) the baby didn’t choose this view, and b) it commercializes an innocent baby. I understand her opinion, but as another friend put it, as parents, we are constantly teaching our child about our family culture, which defines us as a family, and our political beliefs (along with religious beliefs, heritage, history, interests, sporting affiliations, etc.) are a part of what make up our culture. It is our job to teach all of this to our children. She also told me that she wanted her son to be a participant in this historic election which is also the first election of his lifetime, and to have something to prove that he was “there.”
I felt that both of my friends had very valid points. In the end I did buy Zoe a political shirt. It says “My Mama’s for Obama.” I hope it comes in time for Zoe to wear it on election day.
I came across a wonderful video about global citizenship earlier this week from A Place of Our Own. If you have a few minutes, click here to watch the short movie. Its a great piece on how you can teach your little citizens about the great big world.
Avoid red-eye flights – All flights from the U.S. to Buenos Aires are red-eye flights. We had the time and didn’t think our daughter would do well on a red-eye, so instead we flew Mexicana airlines to Mexico City during the day. We stayed at the airport Ramada hotel (recommended) and continued on the next day to Buenos Aires. This worked well for all of us, especially for Grace as she only had to nap on the plane, not try to get a full night’s sleep. This plan backfired on us on the return though when Mexicana canceled our return flight and we ended up on a red-eye anyway. Some parents say their kids do well on red-eyes by sleeping all the way through, so do what you think will work best for you and your child(ren).
Rent an apartment – Apartments for rent are widely available in Buenos Aires because of a hotel room shortage and because of investment real estate. Many of them are cheaper than comparable hotels. We paid $120/ night for a very nice 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment in Palermo, a great neighborhood to stay in with a child. We rented through ApartmentsBA and found them professional and, apart from a few minor hiccups, easy to work with.
Keep your child on the time at home – If you’re from the West Coast that is. If you’re from the east coast the time difference is only 1 or 2 hours (depending on time of year), from the west coast it’s 4 or 5 hours. We kept our daughter on Oregon time by still feeding her dinner an hour before bedtime but at 8 or 9pm instead of 5 or 6pm. This way we were able to stay out until 9 or 10pm and sleep in until at least 8am. Argentines don’t even think about dinner until 9pm so by keeping her on a later schedule we could actually eat when locals eat.
Bring a portable booster seat – While most restaurants in Argentina have high chairs, some don’t. Of those that do have them, every single one we saw was actually just a tall chair with no straps or even bar to keep the child in. This might work with an older child but our daughter would have simply slid right out. Thankfully we had brought The First Years On The Go Booster Seat which fit nicely into the restaurant high chairs and kept our daughter in place.
Don’t bring diapers and wipes – We had heard diapers and wipes would be expensive but they really weren’t. Major U.S. brands (Pampers, Huggies) were available in every grocery store and pharmacy, so we were never without a place to buy them.
Do bring baby food - If your child is still eating pureed baby food you’ll need to bring it with you or bring a hand grinder to make your own. We had heard jarred baby food would be available but we checked in multiple large grocery stores and it never was. Our daughter was old enough that she was also eating table food, so it wasn’t a problem for us but could be a big headache for someone with a smaller baby. Our daughter drinks whole milk which was easy to find but formula also seemed easy to come by.
Bring a baby carrier – We highly recommend the Ergo baby carrier, no matter where you are traveling. See our list of essential travel gear for more information. We used it daily in Buenos Aires.
Bring a plastic changing pad. Diaper changing stations were very rare in public bathrooms. We either changed Grace’s diaper on the floor on a changing pad or just waited until we returned to the apartment. Since we returned at least once a day for naps this worked most days but there were a few emergencies where the bathroom floor had to do. We were told all McDonald’s have changing stations and McDonald’s are everywhere.
“Miss Valerie, I love you.” Mila dictates as I write on the back of one of the post cards she has picked out for her dearest little friend, who has recently moved away. The two girls were born within days of each other three years ago and have been nearly inseparable since. We saw her and her family off several weeks ago with some sadness but also with expectations of many more years of friendship ahead. Although Valerie and her family will be living in England, much too far for play dates, the two girls have already begun what I hope will be a long and cherished correspondence.
For the moment their correspondence consists of post cards from the zoo, descriptions of pets, colored drawings, and passionate declarations of affection such as only a toddler can muster. “I miss you! I made this card for you and it’s so lovely!” “I love you…Miss Valerie, I love you!” It’s endearing in the extreme.
Even now, however, I encourage Mila to consider describing in her letters some of the sights she’s just seen on her trip to the Windy City or to her grandma and grandpa’s Midwest farm, sharing with Valerie the experiences she’s having in the world that her little friend can no longer experience at her side. In turn, Mila can learn about life in another country through Valerie’s descriptions of the places she sees and the things she does as she settles into her new life across the ocean.
It dawns on me that this is an avenue of learning about the world that we’ve taken pitiably small advantage of until now. Valerie has been Mila’s dearest little companion and, of course, it is natural that they wish to be able to continue to share their small experiences and that we, as their parents, should wish to encourage it. What a great opportunity for developing as an early habit the lost art of correspondence. But what of the child we sponsor overseas, a child not many years older than Mila herself…might he not also be excited to receive letters and Mila in turn to learn about what life is like for a child whose home and situation are vastly different from her own? What about old college friends now living in other countries, friends with children who might enjoy a pen pal as well? Would Mila be able to develop friendships by mail, to forge connections through these children to Haiti, Croatia, India, China? Of course there would be less history involved than there is with Valerie, so there may be fewer passionate declarations of love and affection, but the potential for cultural exchange must surely be there.
I find myself making mental lists of all the young children we know on an international basis. It’s a bit much to expect that Mila will be interested or able to correspond with all of them, but she loves to send cards and she loves to receive them so, as I say, the potential must surely be there…and it occurs to me as an afterthought that I’m definitely going to need more stamps!
Our friends and family are not surprised that at one-year-old our daughter has already traveled more than many adults. With a great-grandmother in London who was anxious to finally meet her first great-grandchild, a trip to England within Zoe’s first year was a given. We decided while we were over there why not make an adventure out of it. So, as a friend of mine put it, at nine-months-old Zoe “did Europe.”
Our first stop was London and of course introducing Zoe to her G.G. Nita for the first time was truly amazing. Of course all Zoe knew was that she was getting lots of attention from a lot of people in London who had been waiting to see her.
We moved on to Vienna where we visited an old friend of mine and her Austrian husband and their 22-month-old son. They live in a house with another family with two small kids and have a steady stream of friends with little children coming and going. Zoe had a blast playing with all of the “older” kids. Best of all we got to see Vienna not only with locals but with local babies. The Vienna zoo and the kiddie pool were not only highlights for Zoe but for us too. As New Yorkers with a baby it was great to see how Austrian babies spend their days.
In Prague we realized some of the limitations that go along with travel with baby. After a long lunch in the main square during which Zoe sat in her stroller for a little too long we attempted to take a tour of the Jewish quarters. I don’t know what we were thinking! No more than five minutes into the two hour tour Zoe made it clear that sitting in her stroller inside a temple with nothing to entertain her other than an old lady telling the history of the Jews in Prague was just not going to happen. We left and gave ourselves the abbreviated version of the tour –basically we walked in and out of a few of the temples and museums.
Considering how young she was, I don’t know how much Zoe got out of the trip. But for her mom and dad this trip was a major step in reclaiming our sense of adventure post-baby. The trip was the proof we were looking for that we can still get out and do the things we love to do –at least many of them. Not only is travel with a baby possible, it was even enjoyable. We plan to continue to take family adventures and know that each year Zoe will take a little bit more from the trip.
Friends with older kids have told us that we lucked out because Zoe was at an age where she happily sat in the stroller –that travel will only get harder (we’ll let you know if this is true later this month when we take her to Costa Rica). But the way I look at it travel was never about easy –staying home is easy. So why not grab the umbrella stroller, throw some diapers (and Daily Tea clothes) in a suitcase and get on that plane!
Have you ever “lost” you kid? Maybe you haven’t admitted it publicly but it happens to many families. It happened to us at Disneyland last weekend. I was parking the stroller and asked our daughter to hop out and get in line with Dad. A cast member told me I would need to move my stroller to “stroller parking.” I followed a path to stroller parking far removed from the ride which we were waiting. I quickly parked the stroller and did a brisk walked back to the Astro Orbiter in Tomorrowland, almost a jog. I was unaware that my daughter had followed me. I returned to the ride with my husband in line. We looked at each other simultaneously saying, “Where is Olivia? I thought she was with you!” Quick expression of panic and we both take off running.
This is the part that saved us. Every time we go to a public place like Disneyland, Del Mar fair, Legoland, Sea World, San Diego Zoo, San Francisco zoo or any of the other places we would never had been found 6 years ago….we take pictures of our daughter on our cell phones. Front, side and back view pictures AT the site. This would allow us to show a picture of her in the outfit she was wearing and the hairstyle she had on the same day if she got separated from us. We always figured if we had a current picture on our cell phones we could easily show it and forward it to others if needed.
And we needed. Within seconds of missing Olivia at Disneyland, I showed the picture to the man who made me move the stroller and he began pointing and saying “Ohhh the little girl with pigtails. She is right there with another cast member!”
Slump of relief.
She did all the right things, found a “manager” and stayed put once she felt she couldn’t find us. But having the picture expedited the situation. Once back at Astro Orbiter, another family asked us if would like our place back in line and confessed they had a stomach ache too from the sympathy pains. I told them how I found Olivia and they immediately took out their cameras and took a picture of their 7 year old. I am sure that will become part of their “public place” routine. I can now personally recommend it to all parents.