Tag Archives: little citizens

October 17, 2008

dear valerie

“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!

zoe does europe

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!

easy and essential safety measure for your child

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.

incorporating diversity

We strive to incorporate diversity into our children’s daily lives. Our family is African-American and we know how easily others can make assumptions about people based upon cultural stereotypes. At the beginning of this year, our children started taking Tae Kwon Do. In addition to going to class twice a week, we teach them about Korean culture with food, books and cultural events. Our little citizens (ages 3 and 6) can now count in Korean and know some basic Korean phrases. They have even attended a traditional wedding.

The wedding included a ceremony during which the couple bowed down to their parents and grandparents to show their respect for their elders. The gesture was a powerful cross-cultural moment and one we explained to our kids. The continuity and value of family in Korean culture and the commitment of younger generations to take care of and respect their elders is an idea we are trying to incorporate into our own family, and where better to see it than in another culture’s ceremony.

The best part of our learning experience as a family so far, is the knowledge that our little citiznes now understand Asian culture is as diverse and varied as American culture and that there are things we can learn if we open our minds to those who appear different from us.

October 10, 2008

a weekend at my parents’ house

A weekend at home with the parents has definitely turned into an interesting concept. My dad is outside in our garden growing eggplant, string beans and bitter melon- the main ingredients for Pinakbet, a traditional Filipino dish. When we’re not eating Filipino food, my mom covers the table with Kimchi, rice, and seaweed- all necessary side dishes for a Korean feast. As a 7 year old, I remember complaining and wondering why we couldn’t have macaroni and cheese like other families? Who would have known that 17 years later I would finally appreciate this unique home my parents created?

As always, my parents add to this home, but this time, they’re adding in a new way. A couple of years ago, my parents opened their home to foster children. For the past 11 months, they have been caring for 7 year old Ben and his 2 year old sister Grace. It’s quite amazing to see how much a child can advance with a stable home and support. I spent this past Saturday listening to my mom and Ben review new words for school- spelling the words out and reading out loud to display comprehension. She tells me the Foster Agency expresses such gratitude- they notice an immense improvement in Ben’s education. My mom’s secret? “I spend three hours a day helping him with homework and then one day each weekend- he is finally starting to catch up where he needs to be… it takes time.”

What my parents are doing is not an easy thing… initially I also had such a difficult time with their decision to become foster parents. Now, it only seems natural. I am thankful for my parents- they have truly raised me to be a citizen of this world and now hopefully will be doing the same for others.

September 25, 2008

straight from the blogger’s mouth

One of the best ways to help your child become a true citizen of the world is to travel as often and far as you dare. It helps them learn to love adventure, open their mind to new ideas and cultures, and break out of routine.

Of course, traveling with children is not always easy. It’s dirty, filled with cumbersome gear and, for me, often involves wearing way too much of whatever my son had for dinner. Sometimes regurgitated.

But the secret is that those hardships are a small price to pay. In fact, I would argue that any discomfort or annoyances are, at the end of the day, completely and totally worth it. The advantages of traveling with my son — what he learns, what I learn — makes any angst about the process seem silly by the time we return home. And I’m not alone. There are plenty of other Moms out there who are traveling all over the world with their kids and blogging to tell the tale.

Looking for the best places to visit? Great hotels that won’t mind if your child stomps up and down the stairs while you check-in? Funny stories of just how much a four-year-old can barf on an airplane? Commiseration? Inspiration? Look no further than your browser. There are plenty of great Mama blogs that explore the where’s, why’s and how’s of traveling both near and far with young’uns with experience, poignancy and, most importantly, humor. Here are some of the best:

Wanderlust and Lipstick

Traveling Mamas

Travel Savvy Mom

Backpack to Buggy

Mother of All Trips

MinneMom’s Travels With Children

Delicious Baby

Kids Go Global

SoulTravelers3

Two and a Half Travelers

What about you? Know any great blogs that examine the good, bad and funny of traveling with kids? We’d love to hear about them.

September 19, 2008

don’t like ike

When the weathermen said we would be getting a storm we didn’t expect it to be of the magnitude it was. Ike rolled in and just as Mayor White said, we hunkered down. The winds started around 5pm Friday and then the rains, lightning, tornadoes and I’m sure some “unclassified” natural phenomenons began. It was the longest night of my life.

I continued to pace the house with a flashlight every 30 minutes to make sure the loud booms I was hearing weren’t broken window or a hole in the roof from a tree falling. My husband and daughter slept through the entire thing – even the loud popping and crashing of power lines and transformers every 2 minutes.

When the morning broke, it was vividly clear the destruction Ike left us. My street was completely flooded, huge 100 year old pines were literally picked up from their roots and thrown across yards, huge tree limbs and debris floated down our street like it was a river. Everywhere around us, our neighbors were in their fishing waders or rain boots, mid-thigh to waist deep in the water trying frantically to check on each other.

Meanwhile, my daughter’s allergy triggered asthma was acting up and not a single person in our neighborhood had power. In the rain and wind, I wrapped her up, grabbed her nebulizer and medicine and walked half a mile to the police station in hopes they had power. They did. The police couldn’t even give us a ride back to our house because the water was too high for their squad cars. And so, every four hours, we made the trek to the police station and accumulated an impressive collection of junior police officer stickers.

Saturday afternoon, we began the clean up. It took us six hours to get our front yard passable. I didn’t even want to look at our backyard. So without power, water and basically no contact with the greater Houston world, we did the best we could to keep a positive outlook and entertain our daughter who, at two and a half, had no clue what had happened.

Once the water receded, we ventured out into our neighborhood and to be honest, it looked like a war zone. Fences and trees were ripped apart and thrown everywhere. Power lines were snapped in half and dangling across streets. The park down the street was shredded to bits. It was so depressing, I didn’t want to go any further.

Saturday night, the rains came again. Winds were hitting about 30-40 miles per hour and of course, at 4:30 in the morning, my daughter needed another breathing treatment. Again, I wrapped her up, went out in the pouring rain and took her up to the police station.

Sunday morning when we woke, it was still pouring rain, high winds and we were flooded again. No one would know we had spent six hours cleaning the day before. Still without power and water and not a power service vehicle in sight, we waited for the water to receed and then we just headed out of town.

Now it is Wednesday, and I am writing this from my computer on a ranch in Llano, Texas. We can’t go home because we still do not have power on my block. My entire neighborhood has power, but of course, my block does not. Probably because the transformer is sitting in my neighbors’ backyard.

We’re grateful to be where we are as we have plenty of food, water, electricity (especially air conditioning!), but we are ready to go home. Ike has truly been a lesson for us. It’s amazing the things we all take for granted like power, clean water, being able to cook food and more. For a major city, such as Houston, to be completely destroyed is a really tough pill to swallow.

We don’t know when or if my daughter’s school will re-open, we don’t know when gas, food, water etc. will be available and most of all, we don’t know if we even have jobs when we return. I guess the main thing we learned from this is that even though we are very possessive of our material things, it’s not what is important. I’m not going to lie. If we go home and looters took all that we have, I will be upset; no devastated. But, once that emotion passes, I will realize that my family is safe and well and that’s what matters most.

If my daughter was older, I would take her with me to Galveston to help with the clean up efforts, but it isn’t safe. But I will have her help me deliver water and food to people near us that aren’t as fortunate as we are. A lesson in humanity and community has humbled us all in Southeast Texas.

If any of you who read or contribute to this blog have family affected by Ike, please know you and they are in our prayers and thoughts.

what if there were no christmas?

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 live in San Francisco where tolerance and acceptance survives and thrives in a 7 x 7 mile area. Last December we traveled to a country in which we, Americans, are led to believe there is no tolerance and no acceptance. We found it to be different than we are conditioned to know.

We spent December in Saudi Arabia, which means there was no Christmas whatsoever. They used to sell trees and there was evidence of Christmas but in this current day, there is no sign of it. Saudi Arabia is a sacred country, birthplace of Muhammad, dedicated to their religion. We felt the non-existence of Christmas was appropriate and took advantage of the time to become more knowledgeable about the religion, Islam. Moreover, to expose our 4 year old daughter Olivia to a different culture and a way of life. We were amazed to find she did not mind missing “the presents” at all but she was a tad disappointed when it occurred to her in January that she missed the San Francisco Nutcracker Ballet.

One day around the 25th of December, a 65-year-old Saudi friend of ours bent down to Olivia and said “Merry Christmas!” We had been in Jeddah for 20 days by then and it felt the same as if someone said Merry Christmas in April. Very odd. We panicked. What would Olivia do now that someone brought up Christmas?

Neither of us said a word and we got into the car hoping the whole thing would be forgotten. 5 minutes down the road Olivia said “Hey, maybe we should have the taxi driver stop for us to get a tree for our hotel!” Actually, it was a chauffer and home we were staying in so we got a chuckle. I took the opportunity to explain this was the month of Hajj and it is different from Christmas. When she look confused, I reminded her how she celebrates yet another religion with her best friend and how he doesn’t have a tree either. This cleared it up for her and off we went, tree-less.

Our friends took us to dinner on December 25th. Though we’d beent to dinner with them many times while we were in Jeddah, this night was special. Two sisters, a brother and their adult children took us to an amazing Persian restaurant. We spent the evening talking about everything from politics, the lack of recycling in Saudi, stories from the qura’an and to our earliest childhood memories.

Our favorite part of the evening occurred when we were leaving the house to go to dinner. Half way down the beautiful marble steps our 4 year old turned around to the butler who was standing at the door and yelled to him “Goodnight, Merry Christmas, Merry Eid, Happy Hajj.” Mission accomplished! Cultural diversity was within her.

September 12, 2008

think globally, travel locally

At a baby shower last year, the hostess had all of the guests write down two pieces of important parenting advice to put in a beautiful, handmade book for the mother-to-be. I write down what I always do when asked to do these things:

  • If it is a boy, always make sure the penis is pointing down before fastening the diaper.
  • Show your child as much of the world as you are able.

The hostess chuckled when she read what passes as wisdom in my eyes and then said, “Oh, Kayt. If only it were that easy!”

I do understand that travel is a luxury and that, in these times, air fare to exotic locales may not be a priority. But I do believe that showing your child the world is easier than one might think. You just need to think outside the airport.

Here are some of the ways that when you can’t go out to meet the world, you can bring the world back home to you.

  1. Try a new tongue. Check out a Mommy and Me language class. Or see if a local school offers language instruction.
  2. Reach out. Contact a local International organization and see if there is a Mom of that nationality who would like to get together to share language and play dates. Lots of times, they are anxious to make American friends and improve their English. It’s a great way to learn about a country and culture firsthand.
  3. Go to a International Festival. There is a great calendar of festivals and events across the U.S. on the International Festivals and Events Association Web site.
  4. Check out a book. Pick out some Children’s books that explore other cultures. Some of our favorites are “The Musicians of Bremen” by Jane Yolen and “Three Samurai Cats” by Eric A. Kimmel.
  5. Play the postcard game. When I was young, my father sent me a postcard from everywhere he traveled. I still have every single one. Those two sentence blurbs describing the picture can inspire a lot of curiosity. Ask friends and family that are traveling to send your child his very own card.
  6. Do a project. When I was young, I called it “Whirl-a-World.” I would spin our family globe and let my finger stop on a country. I’d then do research in the encyclopedia or at the library to learn more about the culture and people there.
  7. Crack that cookbook. Is there a better way to learn about a culture than trying its food? Try a new international recipe and let your child help cook it.

That’s my basic list but I’m sure I missed other great ways to show your child the world. What are some other ways that have worked for you?