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.
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.
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.
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.
This past weekend we celebrated Diwali (the Indian new year) in a restaurant in New York with about 50 other adults and numerous children –some Indian, some not. We are not Indian, but I have spent a lot of time in India and speak Hindi and always like to find ways to encourage my daughter Zoe to learn about this amazing part of the world. We often celebrate Indian holidays with our Indian friends, make frequent trips to Queens or uptown for the best Indian food, and we look forward to taking our daughter to India at the first chance that we get.
Diwali is a Hindu festival which is known as the festival of lights and is celebrated with four days of burning lanterns. Diwali celebrates the marriage of the Hindu deities Lakshmi and Vishnu (though there are theories which dispute this origin). In India and Nepal Diwali is a national holiday.
I remember celebrating my first Diwali in India. In the South Indian town that I was living in it was tradition to decorate everything inside and outside of the house –computers, cows, living spaces. Tea lights were set up throughout the home and fireworks went off in the sky for four very noisy days (and nights) as a thank you to the deities for things on earth. Everyone wore new clothes for the holiday and took a bath in the morning before putting on these new clothes.
Today Zoe was dressed in an Indian outfit and ate Indian food while Bollywood music played in the background. She scribbled on coloring books of Hindu deities and lanterns. She loved the food and had a great time playing with the other kids. My hope is that as Zoe grows up Diwali, as well as other Indian holidays and customs, will be something that she recognizes as a familiar and fun celebration that we do every year.
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.