Approaching the building we heard the familiar lilt of Jingle Bells…in Spanish. And there she was – a black-clad Elvira-esque character leading the kids in ballet moves. Plie, arms up! On tippy-toes, arms down! Now CORRE CORRE CORRE and stag-leap across the room! One! Two! Three.. Leap! Quatro! Cinco! Seis… Leap! FELIZ NAVIDAD A TODOS! Hooray!!! The room was festooned with garlands and Christmas tree construction paper art and menorahs and hand-turkeys and stars, and looked every bit the global festival.
It struck me that we – here in the city, in 2008 – are wildly lucky to be able to step into a crazy, mixed up scene like this and feel right at home. Our children will feel even more so, as diversity is imprinted in their spongy minds as the natural order of things.
Growing up in a small town in Western Massachusetts in the 70s, my parents and I spoke reverently of “Other Cultures”, for people who lived elsewhere, looked funny, and had strange habits and different languages. Our great hope was that we’d be able to travel to – even to live, for a time in – a Foreign Country, to Learn their Customs. Foreigners were positive, to be sure, like museum pieces to be admired and studied; but I never knew I could really know a kid who wasn’t mostly like me.
Of course I grew up, and traveled, and lived abroad, and forcibly re-programmed myself to approach the world differently. Those early reactions still linger, though. When I travel, it is still with a residual hesitation (Am I going to point my chopsticks the wrong way? Will I shake someone’s hand improperly? Should I bow? Will I stand out more if I dress in their clothes, or mine?)
It is – therefore – with overwhelming pleasure and pride that I watch my 2 year old plie and stage leap and chatter just as easily with his Peruvian friend and the Indian girl, and little Marcello from Italy, and Tumbe from Kenya, as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Which it is, really.
We’re just back from a fantastically chaotic 5-week travel binge- Boston, Cape Cod, New York, Chicago, a lake in Wisconsin, home (with a double-case of RSV caught somewhere in the germ-swamp of OHare).
Cape Cod: a whirlwind of parents and grandparents and children and sandy feet and beach crabs. 9 grown-ups looking after 6 kids, all under 4. Milo taught Alastair how to eat shells. Eeek.
Which was all a far cry from New York City, where we spent two glorious weeks in that perfect end-of-summer balmy – but not baking-hot – weather. It was a fun routine of elevators (“Mino push the buddon please to go down down down?”); cheerful doormen (“Mino say heddo to friend man?”); stroller rides to Washington Square Park for its plaza where the men drink from paper bags and play chess; and lots and lots of taxis, policecars, firetrucks, and other vehicles of New York’s Finest, including a fine horsie with tickly whiskers who says Neigh.
The lake in Wisconsin was the pinnacle of kid craziness. We had 10:11, with no child over the age of 6, and only one other over the age of 3. We stayed in our friend’s great-grandmother’s chalet-style rambling lake house, with a massive lawn sloping down to the lake, a rowboat, sailboat & motorboat, on-site tennis, and a huge porch that afforded the adults some wine-drinking and politics-talking time (Sarah Palin…really???) while the kids careened around the yard. Milo learned about bumblebees and spiders, and why we should only look and not touch. Alastair learned how to say “guh, glerrrrramph” and whack at the other babies.
Home via Milwaukee, where we stopped by Calatrava’s amazing bird-ship-like art museum sailing out over Lake Michigan for some play in the lobby. A magical white, windowy, watery open place with shocks of sculpture color, perfect for running and gazing and wearing out kids before our long (delayed) flight home.
I realized then and there that our then-23-month-old, Milo is a true Little Citizen of the World. We were in a (perfectly engineered for strollers) taxi in London, heading for Heathrow, about to take the final leg of our 5-week journey back home to San Francisco.
“Milo”, I said, “do you know where we’re going now?”
“AIRPORT!” he cried (we had discussed this at length previously).
“That’s right honey, but do you know where our plane will be going?”
“No sweetie-pie, we’ve been there already. Where do you think we’re going now?”
“Nope, not this time! We’re going home to see Penelope (our beagle).”
“Uh..no. We live in San Francisco. Remember?”
“Airplane go Denver?”
“No Milo. We’re going home to San Francisco. Remember your bed there with the monkey mobile?”
“Mino’s hotel big bed?”
“Not exactly – we’re going to our house in San Francisco with your own big-kid bed. Remember that?”
Milo wide-eyed, “No.”
Five stars, two thumbs up and a snap-snap for our neon orange stroller bassinet. It looks like a small hockey duffle and won admiring stares from just about everyone who’s ever traveled with a kid (or a peewee hockey stick). We put our then three month old son – Alastair – in it on the airplane, zipped it up to his neck, and stuffed him under our seat like luggage. Settled at our feet with the vibrations of the plane, he peeped out and grinned when he wasn’t sleeping peacefully from San Francisco to Europe.
The bag carried flowers, Alastair with flowers, dirty laundry, Alastair with dirty laundry, wine and cheese, things we were sneaking through customs, and Duty Free. Thanks to it (and his chic Tea suits), Alastair got lots of extra attention, and we got a bit of extra sleep on the plane.