Tag Archives: little citizens

September 19, 2008

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?

saving the world, one kid at a time

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.

francoise and the haiti house

“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!

locked inside, saudi arabia!

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 6:15pm for 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 a Barbie-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.”


September 4, 2008

bryggen, then and now

Bryggen, in between.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.

red butterfly

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.

polar bears in paris? travel to paris in december can be wonderful for kids!

Have I mentioned we are crazy about traveling? Generally we look for an island with surf, sun and Mai Tais and that is our destination. However, our most recent travels took us on quite a journey. We started in San Francisco and traveled to Paris, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, back to Paris and then returned to San Francisco. Not your average destinations of choice for a husband, wife and 4-year-old daughter. Paris in December…the dead of winter, Saudi Arabia..a country you can’t even get into without sponsorship, Egypt….don’t only AARPs go there?, and back to Paris in January…hard to believe it was even colder than December. It was the most fantastic trip of a lifetime.

This will be the start to a series of posts about our travels, tricks we found to making it smooth and easy with a 4 year old, travel disasters you might like to avoid, cultural experiences and how we are trying to make it all stick in her long term memory.

One thing Olivia won’t forget is the polar bear in Paris….

Paris was fantastic in December. We knew we would be experiencing all the seasons of the year in the next 6 weeks and we had to pack the appropriate items in just a few suitcases. We packed nearly correctly for winter in France. The key to our warmth lied in scarves and hats. Although Olivia looked tres chic in her Tea Collection denim and a pair of pink suede boots, her parents screamed “silly Americans tourists” in their white running shoes. The French DO NOT wear white running shoes.

We had only a brief stop in France before flying to Saudi Arabia where there would be no holiday season whatsoever. We were quite looking forward to that. Until Paris. In Paris we were fortunate to get a different view of the consumer season. The merchants in Paris gave a very different feel to the holidays.

All the store windows in Les Galeries Lafayette (a shopping area that is several blocks) are decorated each year for the Christmas holidays. They are not trying to advertise or sell you what is in the window rather it is a huge competition between the mall shops to have the most awe inspiring sidewalk window scene. The window displays are so popular that the sidewalks can become overcrowded to the point of not being able to see…except for the children. Kids are treated to a stair-stepped platform in front of the windows especially for their viewing. Kids do not miss a glorious thing.

After viewing all the amazing windows, from floating babies to dancing penguins, we went inside to find the elevator to the roof. On the roof of Les Galeries Lafayette during winter is the most fabulous ice maze that wanders here and there, ultimately ending at an igloo with a surprise inside… a polar bear. A 6-foot tall stuffed polar bear. Kids are running around laughing and hiding while adults are amazed by the 360-degree views of all of Paris. It was a real unexpected treat in Paris. While we will remember the amazing magnitude of the Eiffel Tower, Olivia will remember the polar bear in Paris.

take a trek from home

Is your little citizen dreaming of a trip abroad? Do you wish you could take them to China’s Great Wall or Costa Rica’s rainforest but have to savor a “staycation” instead this year? If so, we’ve found another way to get traveling: an amazing site that will take you and your little citizen trekking across the globe.

Global Trek sponsored by Scholastic is your little citizen’s passport to the world. Older kids can wander the site on their own and younger ones can mosey around the globe with your help. The site features a background, guided tour, and information about the people of each country. It even has a space for your citizen to journal about what they learn as they trek. This is a great site for making the foreign a little more familiar for your little citizens, especially the older ones!

August 28, 2008

one reason we travel: the kindness of strangers

With few exceptions, in our travel experiences locals are kind and helpful to us travelers. Having a child along seems to only augment locals’ desire to help disoriented foreigners as well as their desire to provide you with helpful child-rearing information.

Take a recent foray into an Argentine supermercado as an example. I was looking for plain, unsweetened, yogurt for my daughter Grace. It seemed like a very basic staple, especially in the large Western-style grocery store where I was shopping. To my dismay I faced a refrigerator case full of countless packaged yogurts, all of which boasted interesting fruity (and highly sugared) flavors. No supermarket staff was in sight so I turned to the other lone shopper in that aisle, a smartly dressed woman in her mid-40s, and in my most helpless tone struck up the following conversation. Bear in mind the entire conversation took place in two levels of Spanish – poorly (me) and fluently rapid-fire (smartly dressed woman). I have taken the liberty of translating my Spanish as if it were perfect and her Spanish as I understood it, not necessarily as she actually said it.

Me: Excuse me, I am looking for plain yogurt for my baby. Do you know where I can find that?

Woman: Oh of course, let’s see it must be here somewhere. (Proceeds to wander up and down refrigerated case peering carefully at each variety. She finally pulls one down and hands it to me). This one is good for babies.

Me: (After reading container) Oh I see, but this one contains sugar. Do you know if I can find one without sugar or without flavoring? Plain yogurt?

Woman: Oh but your baby needs sugar. She will like this flavor. (some kind of mixed fruit) Babies love this flavor.

Me: (Placing tutti-frutti, high-fructose corn syrup-laden yogurt in cart) Thank you, I will try it. But do you know if there is also any yogurt that is plain?

Woman: (Not at all flustered by my persistence) Yes, I think so. (Wanders again up and down the entire refrigerated case, finally pulling down a small carton which she hands to me). This one is plain. But I don’t think your baby will like it. Babies like sweet yogurt.

Me: (Trying to be as diplomatic as possible in bad Spanish) Thank you. We’ll try both of them.

The kind but insistent woman and I parted ways and I left the grocery store with a carton each of tutti-frutti yogurt and plain yogurt. To my delight Grace preferred the plain yogurt. It’s nice to be right but it’s even nicer to have a warm encounter with a kind stranger in a new place.