Around this time last year I learned to never underestimate the brainpower and clarity of a 4 year old. Regressing in this story 2 years prior, my daughter Olivia (2 years old) was crawling around on the floor while my husband and I were going through the CPR recertification process. We didn’t realize that she was watching all the training until we went to take the written portion of the exam and we heard an odd grunting from her. We turned around to see her performing CPR on Resusci-Anne with an accuracy that nearly warranted a card of her own. If only they would have allowed her use of a pink crayon in place of the No. 2 pencil. That was her only downfall.
In the many months to follow Olivia and I played CPR on her dollies, on each other and on the Jack Russel Terriers. Poor dogs. For my own entertainment, which is the root of nearly all of her aberrant doings, I also taught her the international sign for choking. If you are unaware there was an international sign for choking, it is placing one hand on top of the other at your collar bone/neck level much like you are choking yourself yet not actually grabbing your throat. We then added the international sign for choking to our CPR routine on Barbie and the dogs.
Now I bring us back to Olivia at 4 years old. Half her life has passed since she first learned CPR and the international sign for choking. The novelty of it all has worn off for me and we had forgotten about it. I had moved on to other modes of pediatric entertainment for myself
Last year at this time, we found ourselves sitting around the teppanyaki bar at a Sushi Bar in Cairo, Egypt. Earlier in the day we gave Olivia the choice between riding camels to the pyramids, taking horse and carriage or riding horseback. She opted for camels. We walked to the Great Sphinx from the pyramids because my husband was claiming some sort of camel-groin injury by then and refused to get back on the camel. In the evening we gave Olivia the choice of food for dinner. Of course, wouldn’t every 4 year old would pick sushi in Egypt. As we sat on the high bar stools around the rectangular cooking surface, Olivia states, “Mom. I’d like to have Taco.” I replied to her, “Oh no honey, Tako is Octopus…not a taco.” My cute little 4 year old daughter leans over to me and says, “I know…I really want to eat the suckers” and then made her hands shaped into suckers while making a slurping noise that still turns my stomach just thinking about it. So she ordered Tako nigiri.
Our food arrived and we all dove into our plates. I felt Olivia tapping me on my arm and when I looked at her she was doing the international sign for choking. I told her, “Please don’t ever do that when you are not choking because I won’t believe you when you really are.” Her eyes got very large and she shook her head yes and did the sign again. She really was choking on the Octopus. I do not order Tako and had forgotten how rubbery Octopus is. She couldn’t chew it and it became stuck in her throat. I patted her a few times on the back. Nothing. So I did the Heimlich maneuver on her and it popped right out. She started crying and we, along with everyone sitting around the teppanyaki bar, were very relieved. The waitress who had rushed over said, “I’ll just take this away.” Olivia screamed, “NO! I’m not done.” This time I cut it up for her and she enjoyed every last bite.
Later that night I gave her a big hug and told her how smart she was for properly using the international sign for choking and also for remaining calm. She looked so proud of herself. That dissipated when I then explained now that I saved her life she was to remain my indentured servant forever or until she saves my life at which point she would be free. She looked blank for a moment, a bit shocked and stunned. Then she laughed hysterically and said, “Ok Mom, I’ll stay with you forever.” Pediatric entertainment.
I walked into my friend’s house one day and noticed a huge wonderful oil painting of a mother and a father standing with two children standing in front of them and a small child on peeking over the shoulder of the father. I told my friend Liz, “Wow I love that painting, is that new?” She replied “No. That is my family; I am the one on my dad’s back. We had it done when we were little and my mom just gave it to me.” I thought how wonderful that piece of art was and how nice to have it passed down.
Recently I was in a business in San Francisco that had an installation of local artists paintings and I fell in love with one of the artists style. I initially thought it would be great if he could do a portrait of my 5-year-old daughter, Olivia. That is when I had my epiphany. I contacted the artist and commissioned him to do a family portrait. The key was that he is a local budding artist so he is affordable. While I was creating a memory for her I decided to incorporate a fantastic family journey we experienced, hoping to further instill her experience in Egypt from her then 4-year old mind. Now she sees the painting on a daily basis and couldn’t possibly forget sharing a camel with her father while riding next to her mother on her camel in the Sahara desert past the Pyramids of Egypt and the Great Sphinx. I can visualize 40 years in the future, my daughter explaining to her friend “that is me, the little one sitting in my dad’s lap.”
We flew across the Red Sea leaving Saudi Arabia and landing in Egypt. After having worn my abaya for nearly a month, I must admit I didn’t want to take it off. It becomes comfortable … oddly enough. There is something comforting in being able to keep to yourself and be private. There is something nice about losing the button off your pants prior to a fancy dinner and it not mattering in the least because you are wearing an abaya anyhow. I was told that women often leave the house in their pajamas because no one can tell. I did not remove my abaya and headscarf until we landed in Luxor which included one prior stop. I figured I would be ripping it off first chance I got but it didn’t turn out that way.
The tombs and temple complex Karnak at Luxor were amazing and we preferred it to Ciaro and the pyramids. If it is even possible for one super amazing city can be topped by another even more super amazing city. We were repeatedly informed that our 4 year old would not remember any of our trip. One male friend who had traveled there recently informed me that “Egypt would be a little dry for her, no pun intended.” None taken. We hoped that she would remember this once-in-a-lifetime experience that she was having at 4 years age. We did not have a plan to help us force the experience into her long-term memory but a serendipitous plan slowly unfolded.
As a side note I must explain I have spent the last 20 years working with people with Acquired Brain Injuries (ABI). One man I worked with was an alcoholic and a roofer which is a really bad combination. Odds are you’ll slip off the roof eventually. People with ABI have very little or no short-term memory but can happily discuss anything in that happened years ago because it is in their long-term memory. Every day I would tell my client the roofer the same joke which goes like this, “My dog can talk. I asked him what was on top of the house and do you know what he said?” And every day my client would shake his head no. I would tell him the punch line and he would laugh like he had never heard it before. One day, as usual, I told him the joke and when I said, “do you know what the dog said?” my client then blurted out with a hearty laugh and replied “Roof!” I had made it into the long-term memory somehow. This is the principle I am using to help my young child remember a fabulous travel experience. Although I am not repeating it every day, I am sure she is thankful, I incorporate information from time to time and ask her open ended questions that makes her pull up information from her experiences to answer the questions. Hopefully I am slowly placing it into her long-term memory.
Olivia stuck out like a sore thumb in Egypt just as she did in Saudi Arabia. Although there were plenty of Americans and Europeans in Egypt, they were all Grey-Hairs as Egypt is a vacation destination reserved for AARP-ers. Olivia learned to yell “No Touching!” in Saudi Arabia as the men ran to her ready to pinch her cheeks. In Egypt it was different because they ran to her giving her presents. This was especially odd in that every person we came across in Egypt had their hand out wanting to be paid. Luckily for us, the man who rented us camels to ride to the pyramids fell in love with her immediately. He instructed us to “wait right here” and ran off returning with a statue of the pyramids and sphinx. He gave it to Olivia and told us that he was also going to give us his son to marry her and that he, himself, was a Texan. Texas was a big theme in Arab countries. Many people asked if we were from Texas because we had a Texas accent. My husband is from San Francisco and I am from Northern California.
This little statue was the building block for us to create a long-term memory for her. We created a shelf in her room with one souvenir from each country she has traveled so that she sees it often but subtly. This is where the pyramid and sphinx sit. She began reading a book series from the library called The Magic Tree House so we purchased the one in the series called Mummies in the Morning for her personal collection. It is amazing how much Egypt stuff (for lack of a better word) is available. So we integrated a little here and a little there…Egypt playing cards, Egypt action figures, Little Einstein’s Egypt play set. Just enough to intermittently jog her memory. It lends many opportunities for discussion and open-ended questions such as “remember when you woke up in Dad’s arms and you were in front of King Tut’s Mask in the Egyptian Museum?” Or “I remember that mommy mummy that had her baby mummified with her” to which Olivia quickly corrects me and says “No Mommy, that wasn’t a baby it was her pet baboon!”
My daughter was born on the last day of spring. When she was about to turn 4 she gloriously announced she would like to have a “Princess Party…you know…Snow White. Ariel. Sleeping Beauty.” I took a deep breath trying to cope and conceive of the fact that I could actually be further immersed in Princess. This was when I had my epiphany. I replied to her “Sure. No problem. But why not a REAL princess. Like….say… Nefertiti?” She agreed that was a WONDERFUL idea and I was off the “Disney” hook. We went to the library checking out everything we could find with regard to Queen Nefertiti, mummification, tombs, Egyptian children and all things Egypt.
On the last day of spring in 2007, twelve little citizens of San Francisco arrived at our house for the celebration after having deciphered their invitations written in hieroglyphics. They wrapped each other up like mummies using toilet paper then I taped a world map on the wall and they played Pin the Pyramid on Egypt. We spray painted cigar boxes gold and the kids glued gems on them prior to searching for treasures in the back yard such as pencils with cat images, rubber snakes, gold coins and colored Lucite rings. The kids also had an archeological dig in the sandbox for small plastic dinosaurs (it is really hard to find bones when it is not October so dinosaurs had to do.) The grand finale was the amazing golden pyramid cake. The children went home with their “goodie bag” consisting of the golden boxes filled with their new Egyptian treasures and a DVD of The Prince of Egypt.
Who knew 6 months later we would be in Saudi Arabia just across the Red Sea from Egypt. My husband and I decided we would be remiss if we did not actually show Olivia the real pyramids since we were so near-by (6 hour flight) so we made a left turn on our way out of Saudi en route France landing in northern Africa.
To be continued…
Posted by: Lori Chaplin
Time: 12:47 PM
Prior to leaving on a long travel adventure, I came across a great photography tip that I applied to nearly every picture. It is the Law of Thirds. When taking a picture divide the view finder into thirds, both horizontally and vertically so that you now have 9 imaginary boxes. Where the lines intersect are the four natural focus points when looking at a picture. Pick one of these points and this is where you want to put your subject. The bottom horizontal line is where you want to put the horizon. Or you can put it on the top horizontal line if you want more foreground, so that you have 1/3 sky and 2/3 landscape. If you want the focus to be on the sky, 2/3 sky and 1/3 landscape. The beautiful part of digital photography is that you can do both and decide later which you prefer. The picture to the left demonstrates the Law of Thirds pretty accurately with Olivia’s face placed at a focal point where the horizontal and vertical imaginary lines intersect.
Bottom line: do not put your subject in the middle. It will be a far more interesting picture with your pride and joy off-center. You are setting composition and telling a story when you apply the Law of Thirds and it becomes a natural response the more you take pictures.
Another travel photography tip I can offer, I came across by accident. My 5 year old daughter has a fabulous pink Noor dress from a prior season of Tea Collection. I am now kicking myself for not getting it in every bigger size possible because it is the perfect dress for posing in pictures. The Stav Dress in the current fall collection is a great alternative. We call her pink dress “the traveling dress” because it has been to 5 different countries in its short life. It shows up great from a distance enhancing the picture and close-ups are not distracted because it is without any pattern. Specifically the pictures we have from Egypt, where everything is a nice camel color (except the camels which were white), really popped with the solid bright pink dress.
After our travel adventure we shared our pictures with our friends. The oft-dreaded travel pictures your friends are obligated to view politely. We were shocked at the responses. Our friends were “amazed at how great the pictures were” and most asked what type of camera we used. It was not the camera so much as it was the composition telling the story.
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.
We were living in Saudi Arabia for a month last year. Sometime between Non-Christmas and Non-New Year and right in the middle of the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, my daughter and I had an amazing cultural experience which only a rare few Americans get.
I had walked outside the gym I was in but quickly returned inside to gather my daughter, Olivia. It was important to me that she not just be in Saudi Arabia but instead to experience such an amazing country. Especially in this day and age were it seems so many people judge the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Muslims in negative way. I wanted her to be able to FEEL the difference in the air. I wanted her to sense it from her insides.
In that moment, at 6:15 pm in the evening, we both FELT something special in the air. We FELT what the difference was to be Saudi Arabian. The sun was going down and it was about 75 degrees. The sky was orange and darkening. And every mosque in the city of Jeddah was in prayer. Every mosque has loud speakers that project the prayer being said inside by a man. There are mosques everywhere, seemingly on every block in the city. And every mosque had a calm male voice chanting a prayer, almost singing. I said to my daughter “Olivia, what is that we hear?” And she replied, “they are praying.” I said “Isn’t it amazing! Nearly all the people in this city, the whole country for that matter, are all praying at the same time. They are ALL doing it. Isn’t it amazing? I really want you to listen and try hard to remember this for your whole life. This is very special.” Then I said to her “why aren’t we praying?” She replied very matter of factly “oh … that’s because we aren’t Mussie.”
Today, as I started to write this piece I stopped and sat down with my 5 year old snuggled on my lap. I talked to her about that experience. I asked her if she remembered Ghada’s gym and she said yes. I asked her if she remembered the special night when we went outside to hear all the prayers from the mosques. And she shook her head… no. My heart dropped. I wanted her to remember. I needed her to remember. I felt if she could remember and absorb this part of the whole Saudi experience it might give her a core of compassion for others who think and believe differently than she does. I needed her to remember so she would have respect for Muslims all over the world in a time where it is more than necessary. But she didn’t. So I told her the whole story, everything we said to each other on that warm Arab night. And when I told her the reply she gave “oh…that’s because we aren’t Mussie,” she said to me with her head slightly tilted and very serious….”Mom. They aren’t Mussie. They are MUSLIM.” My heart rose again and I now know she has the respect I wanted her to learn from it. She can’t remember the night but I know in my heart she absorbed the experience and the message.
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.
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.”
Posted by: Lori Chaplin
Time: 10:14 PM
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.