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:
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.
The Tea Blog would love to feature recommendations from our readers on good books, gadgets and planning for raising little citizens. If you have any ones you’d like to see up on our site, please send them along to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
Try a new tongue. Check out a Mommy and Me language class. Or see if a local school offers language instruction.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
We at Tea believe that traveling with kids is a fundamental part of raising a generation of little citizens. Seeing foreign places opens shows them that we are all connected, a thread running through many of our stories over in TRAVEL. As the season of plane trips abroad slows down, though, why not continue engaging in citizenship by thinking locally?
Cool Moms Care is a great site to check out for thoughts on how little citizenship can be inspired on a local level. From lunches to pack and dinners to cook, to how to volunteer or donate to charity with your kids, Cool Moms Care is a rich source of references for engaging your little citizen right in your own neighborhood. You can even sign up for their “5 minutes of caring” email to receive a daily tip on how you and your kids can make a difference.
“I love Francoise. She’s such a special, pretty girl!” Mila tilts her head and squeezes her eyes shut, her own little body language for conveying love or approval.
Francoise is a rag doll purchased from a market in Haiti. My mother brought her home years ago after several trips we made to Haiti together, and she gave her to Mila when she started to show an interest in dolls. She’s really a craft item made for tourists and was not necessarily constructed to withstand much actual play. Some of her stitches are coming loose and her dress is missing a few pieces. I’ve set them aside somewhere to be sewn back on but…well, you know how it is!
Flaws aside, Francoise is an integral part of the social scene in Mila’s bedroom. Tea party? She’s there. Play food cooking lesson? She wouldn’t miss it. Slumber party in the doll cradle? If she’s not in bed with Mila, she’s tucked in tight with the rest of the dolls, carefully burped beforehand. And when Mila wants to role play with her dolls, she asks me to “talk Rosalie” and tells me that she will “talk Francoise” (they are dear friends, those two rag dolls).
When we decide to make a little house out of a cardboard box and paint it (thanks to a dear friend of my own for the idea!), Francoise is chosen as the lucky recipient of said house. We have been discussing how to decorate the house and this gives me an idea. I pull out an old photo album, and Mila and I flip through it together. “This is Haiti,” I tell Mila, “this is where Francoise comes from.” I show her some of the little houses my mother and I visited on our trips. They are brightly colored: some are pink, some are blue, some are the sea-green color of the Caribbean. Naturally, they hold great appeal to my three year old daughter. And why not? They are happy colors. I have to admit that the color of our own home, one of a thousand shades of beige to be found in this town, certainly seems rather lackluster in comparison. Mila wants the little cardboard box house to be pink and, inspired by the brightly colored homes of Francoise’s native country, decides that the shutters and the front door will be a lovely sea-green.
Later, I am applying painter’s tape to the wall in preparation for my own painting project, finally applying the finishing touches to the front door and baseboards in our entryway after a little redecorating project we began last summer. I’ve been meaning to get it done all year but…well, you know how it is! Mila is delighted. Her eyes light up at the prospect of another painting endeavor. “Are you going to paint the door blue?! Like the Haiti house?!” She is positively glowing at the thought. It’s not what I had planned but…hmmm. I suppose it is something to consider!
This is #4 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 departed our winter Christmas in Paris and jetted off to Jeddah for new cultural experiences and a new season, Hajj and summer. While there are some interesting things to do in Saudi Arabia, I understand it might not be on your travel itinerary soon but it was an experience of a lifetime for us.
We felt honored to be invited to see this very sacred country.Jeddah is very near both Mecca and Medina.We could not wait to experience living in a completely different society with drastically different customs.In the end, I would say I have never met so many kind people in my life.
We felt a huge resistance in acceptance of our traveling to Saudi Arabia from our friends, clients and even a preschool director.A small percentage of our friends and associates felt as excited as we did for the trip, a sad commentary on this day and age in our world.I was most disappointed in our neighbor who in an agitated state informed me that I, as a feminist, should never set foot in that country that demeans women and treats women as sub human.I told him that I was not sure what it would be like in Saudi Arabia and would go find out first hand before I would make any decisions about a county that I had not been too.
The Polar Bear in Paris was an amazing and unexpected treat for Olivia.The surprise in France, however, would soon pale to the surprise she would receive in Saudi Arabia.
Everything in Saudi Arabia revolves around the 5 prayer times a day.This makes any type of shopping nearly impossible.Stores open at 10am which is much like the U.S., yet less than 2 hours later the doors close and lock, the gates pull down on the windows of the store front and everything closes for the first 30 minute prayer time at 11:45am.The stores do reopen for 45 minutes but then close from 1pm-5pm.Business reopens again at 5pm but only for 45 minutes until the next half a hour prayer.They open again at 6:15pmfor an hour then close at 7:15pm for the longest prayer time of the day, 45 minutes.They then open for their final period at 8pm and the stores are bustling until 12 midnight.
Isn’t that insane? People in Jeddah think so too. There was a time when it didn’t all close down.Many people I spoke to thought it should be changed back to the way it was when it would stay open and employees would pray in shifts. For now, though, everything just closes up over and over through out the day. As a visitor, you have to resign yourself to really rush and get in and get out of the shops or grocery throughout the day.
This crazy store schedule is where the most magical surprise came for Olivia, our four year old.If you get into a store and prayer time comes you are actually locked in the store. Olivia and I had an epiphany.The two of us had our driver drive like crazy to get us to Toys R Us by 7:14pm.This meant he went 40 mph not 25 mph; Saudi Arabia is a very slow relaxed place.No one is in a hurry except the Americans who are trying to get themselves locked into a toy store!
The toy store was the ultimate place to be locked in and trapped for the long 45-minute prayer. We rode bikes and scooters around the aisles.We played video games.We read books and drove cars.And we looked at EVERY doll. Prayer time came to an end, the lights came back on and the doors unlocked.We had touched and played with every thing in the store.Of course, you cannot leave the toy store without a little something (not Saudi rule, my rule) so I asked Olivia to pick anything she wanted. She chose aBarbie-like doll called Donya who was one of four in a set of Arabian Friends.Complete with Abaya/scarf and a hip outfit with really cute purse and boots.Then I couldn’t resist buying all the Arabian Friends for her….Muna, Amal and Ahlam.
She and I often talk about that fun experience we shared in Saudi Arabia while at home in San Francisco playing with our Arabian friends. When I say “how were we so lucky to be locked IN a toy store IN Saudi Arabia?” She replies “oh well it’s ma’shallah.”
While walking along Bryggen Wharf in Bergen, Norway, I ran my fingers across the boards of one building facade. The wood had started to soften, ravished by the saltwater air and harsh Nordic winters, but it still didn’t have the pliability I would have expected. It was only one of the little experiments I did during our stay in Bergen, testing to see if the relatively recently reconstructed UNESCO World Heritage site could be trusted to represent its actual history.
The wharf had been a busy thoroughfare in the city for hundreds of years. It existed before the Hanseatic League made Bergen one of their headquarter cities and was greatly improved upon during their tenure in the 1300’s. But the buildings of Bryggen, made of wood, could not resist the fires that plagued the city. Parts of the wharf were destroyed and rebuilt, time and time again, most recently in 1955.
Before we left on our trip to Norway, I had spoken with excitement about seeing the wharf with my own eyes. Between the postcard-worthy beauty of photographs and its inclusion in several period novels I’d enjoyed, I anticipated that the brightly painted buildings, refurbished or not, could hold the magic of the city’s magnificent history for me. A friend I shared my excitement with, however, was not quite so optimistic.
“Bah, I hate those reconstructions,” Robert said. “It’s like a theme park for adults. They’ve rebuilt it, sure, but only to put in a nice souvenir shop, a snack bar, and maybe even a photographer’s studio where you can pay $19.95 to dress up like a nineteenth century Norwegian sailor.”
I discounted his comments until my arrival. To my dismay, I saw that the wharf buildings, now separated from the harbor by a busy city street, were filled with tour operators, restaurants and the dreaded souvenir shops that he predicted. And to add insult to injury, most of the shops carried all shape, size and manner of troll figurines, prominently displayed in the windows.
It was my son who took me beyond this façade, to find something altogether different.Something caught his eye down a small alley.Faced with such curiosity from a toddler, what else could I do but follow?
The wooden buildings were a mish-mash of planked walkways, stairwells and old-fashioned room outcroppings that had, over time, started to lean into each other. The alleys, with some buildings aged over 200 years, had been built upon and over, creating a somewhat surreal maze to navigate.My son thrilled himself by walking up, down and over, the weathered wood making a pleasant stomping noise under his feet.
Medieval lever systems poked out from just under the roof line just waiting for some rope and a load to heave. An abandoned wagon sat behind a stairwell, next to a large door that was probably once a stable. And back here, there were still shops. But they were hidden in nooks and crannies, visible only to the most stalwart explorer – like my son.
As I watched my son once again climb through this wooden labyrinth, I was startled by the footsteps of an oncoming traveler, made all too noticeable by the timber walkway.
“It’s something, isn’t it?” a young Australian man said to me, nodding a hello and giving my son a big smile.
“It is. Although I wonder what it would have been like back in its heyday,” I replied with a smile.
“Probably not too different from now. Up there would have been offices, sure, but down here for the masses? Places to find new berth on a ship, grab a glass of grog and a plate, maybe buy a few trinkets and find a warm bed for the night.”
He was right. As a bustling seaport, Bryggen probably always had an element of the theme park quality that Robert had mentioned. It was an intrinsic quality of the town, something vital and necessary to the success of the port. Though Bryggen’s current incarnation had adopted the more modern ice cream and plastic doll trade, it was not inherently different from what it had been all those hundreds of years ago.
As my fellow traveler snapped a few photos and moved on down the alley, I closed my eyes, breathed deep and allowed my son to draw me deeper into the jumble of staircases and alleys. It was all too easy to imagine a sailor in port for the day, meandering through the wharf to find a way to spend his earnings.
Now it was our turn. My son and I rambled, two pretend sailors on furlough, enjoying the feeling of being a little lost. We kept on until we came across a tiny shop in the shadows of a corner. Inside, we browsed the merchandise, compelled to spend the money burning a hole in my pocket.
I came away with the only thing I thought proper: two small troll dolls, their faces fixed in a comical grimace.One was for my son who had led me to this place and understanding.And the other?Inspired, I could think of nothing better to get as a memento for my friend, Robert.
I am reading Red Butterfly (by Deborah Noyes) to my daughter, Mila. The book tells the story of a Chinese princess who smuggles the secret of silk out of China. Mila is interested in the pictures, of course: the girl’s long black hair, her red slippers, the sparrows pecking mud along the road to the summer palace, the court musician plucking her pipa, the graceful coppery fish in the garden pool. But the story is about silk and about the little girl who wants to take a piece of home away with her on her bridal journey, even though it is forbidden. Much of this is beyond my own little girl’s comprehension…what does arranged marriage mean to a preschooler in the American Midwest, after all? But I want her to understand at least a little of what the story is about. I want her to understand why the girl speaks of silk as a splendor, as woven wind, why she longs to take its secret away with her on her long road from home.
I put the book down and tell Mila to wait for just a moment. In my closet I have a silk skirt. It’s not really Chinese, but it is silk. And it possesses just enough of that splendor, that woven windiness the princess describes, to do the trick. I set it in Mila’s lap and she oohs and ahs as she fingers the soft fabric. She has been curled up on the couch with a polyester fleece blanket that, for some reason, she’d become inseparable from earlier in the day. She goes from fingering the silk to rubbing it across her arms. Clearly, she is enjoying the sensation. Her expression is beatific. All at once she pulls away the fleece blanket, disdain evident in her gesture, “can you take this off, please?!” And, when the offending polyester has been removed, she spreads the silk over her bare legs, burying her hands in its whisper soft folds. Serenely, almost royally, she asks to continue reading the story. And I do. And I think, this time, “woven wind” and “swirls of silk” and “windy silken promises” actually mean something to her. I think she understands that little Chinese princess better than she did before.
After all, I cannot understand the world myself simply by reading about it. I must taste and see and feel and listen. As we all must. Mila is no different. It is not enough to simply tell her a story or teach her a lesson. I must share with her the warm spices at our favorite Indian restaurant, dance with her to the lilting traditional French songs on her favorite CD. I must let her find illumination in the woven whisper of silk against her own bare skin. If I want her to learn and to love, I must help her to experience. As we read to the end of Red Butterfly, I am already storing away ideas in the back of my mind, thinking about the books we’ve read and the conversations we’ve had and about how I might bring bits of those ideas to life for her in a whole new way.