Tag: travel with kids

visiting tokyo and beijing

Hello, my name is Andrew and I am a husband and father of two boys, 7 and 10. My wife and I have been traveling with the boys since they were born. Since my wife was in grade school, she wanted to visit Japan and see Fuji-San, Mt. Fuji. So, when a business trip came up to Tokyo and Beijing recently, I took the whole family. The pictures of the boys in their Yukata robes were taken at a Ryokan in Kyoto. These Japanese B&B’s are extremely warm and friendly places. And, as an alternative to the skyscrapers of Tokyo, they offer a bit of the old Japan that is sorely missing in the big cities. This Ryokan had traditional cedar tubs that are filled, and overflowing, at all times. So, a tub before dinner was a must! The kids loved to learn about foods, the temples and even the architecture. Of course, the big excitement was for the Samurai swordsman!

Our trip continued to Beijing. After a day in China, our ten year old deftly noted, ‘Dad, China is the opposite of Japan’. The calm and contained was replaced with the frenetic and cacophonous. Noodles were replaced with shark fin soup and chicken feet. Clear blue warm skies turned to coal soot and down jackets. And, yet, the newness of the environment was the tread that ran through the trip. No doubt our kids experience was colored by their parents open hearts in Japan — and global concern and fear in China. We ended up leaving Beijing a day early and returning to Japan for a romping day and a half at Tokyo Disneyland. Yes, it looks just like Anaheim. Except instead of sugar everywhere, the Japanese eat rice cakes and bean paste (the Snickers marketing team simply hasn’t cracked the code on Japan!).

The last picture of our family next to an iceberg was taken a few weeks ago in Alaska. Just note: it’s summer — I don’t think I’d like to be in that same spot in November. More on Alaska (and the bear mace we had to carry in the bush) in my next post!

keeping your travel sanity

We are confirmed travel addicts.

As a couple, my husband and I traveled as much as possible and now that we have a daughter, we are pleased to announce she is one of us. Although we are troubled by the fact that she will not eat salsa, she indeed loves to travel and so we will, in turn, allow Olivia to remain in the family. Traveling is deeply seeded in her DNA. Okay, that was dramatic. The truth of it is that she thinks everyone does it and it is normal everyday life. We have had only one mild passive-aggressive objection from her and it was on her 1st birthday celebrated on the big island of Hawaii. She took her first steps there, which we thought was especially magical as her namesake is Hawaiian. However, during that week of her birthday (we celebrate “birthday weeks” at our house) we continued traveling and she continued walking in Hawaii, then California and then Chicago. This is when she went on strike and didn’t walk again for 2 weeks. We got the message, three states in one week is too much to ask of a one year old.

There are so many travel tricks that we have used over the years to make the air portion of our travel smooth. As she gets another year older we have to come up with new solutions for cohesive travel. We started her traveling as an infant using the obvious trick of breast-feeding on take-off and landing. Bottle, boob or pacifier is essential to make sure you do not have the screaming baby in row 4 that rows 5, 6 and 7 wished was not there. Seems obvious but I have witnessed many-a-parent traveling with their child screaming in pain upon the landing. The baby has to swallow to break the building pressure in the ear canal upon take-off and decent thereby keeping baby free from pain and allowing the parents to smile an elitist smile when all members of row 5 state “that is the best baby I have ever seen.” We flew today from San Francisco to San Diego and a box of soy milk with a straw and carrots were on the no-ear-pain menu now that she is 5. Although Olivia’s Berkeley/hippie pediatrician states I can breast feed until she is 6, I opt for carrots at this point.

There have been a multitude of travel secrets between her infancy and 5 years old. Some I am afraid to mention or should I say that I am too embarrassed to mention. Two of such involve the airplane bathroom. Our current all-important travel secret is… podcasts. Olivia has a Nano iPod filled with podcasts. While she prefers the podcasts I download which contain video, I have also loaded it up with stories sans video. Everything from French lessons to Sesame Street. We used to travel with the portable DVD player, which was both heavy and bulky. It was always running out of battery life but worse yet, her movie would be mid-point and she would hear the instructions to turn it of by the invisible pilot. Very frustrating for her. Podcasts are great for short flights with short humans with short attention spans. Great for driving around Saudi Arabia too but that is an entirely different story.

the story of our kids

My husband of 13 years and I are living in a tiny cottage on a strawberry farm in South Africa. We don’t have a phone, TV, AC, or microwave, and until March we didn’t even have a stove, but we are loving life. My husband is getting his PhD in ancient languages and I am writing, writing, writing. We have children on the way. Two little citizens of the world are coming to us from strange and unexpected places. Raising them in a foreign culture (for a time) with hardly two hands to rub together will be an exciting challenge. It will also be the experience of a life-time for all of us (including our adopted dogs, should they prove to have longterm memories).

After never having been outside the United States before, my husband and I decided to pack our dogs and move to South Africa. It was a terrifying and spectacular journey. We sold all we owned and headed towards an unknown world. My husband is now getting his PhD in ancient languages and I am sitting in a tiny shack on a strawberry farm, loving on the dogs and working on a new novel.

But this is the story of our kids and it really begins in the airport in DC. There was a family waiting to board the plane with us. A white middle-aged couple (the man clad in his safari best) stood with their six kids, all dressed in soft, pastel cottons. The oldest three were African girls with stunning skin, hair and smiles. They were wide-eyed with the wonder of traveling across the world, perhaps for the first time in memory. There were two six year old boys, one black and one white. They held hands throughout the airport, looking sharp in their matching plaid shirts and flip-flops. The youngest was a white girl, perhaps four years old. They were all so well behaved, despite their excitement. One of the girls leaned on her father’s elbow. He put his arm around her shoulder and kissed the top of her head.

I wanted to look away but I couldn’t. What a brilliant family this was! By the time we got on the plane, I was in love. I told my husband, “I want a polka-dotted family just like that one.” After 13 years of marriage and no success in the offspring-creating department, we didn’t know how we would get the white polka-dot, but we had long since decided to pursue the black one. The need for adoptive parents in South Africa is frightening. But like any official process in Africa, adoption is slow to happen.

Now, as we wait for our baby Xhosa son, I find myself pregnant for the first time at 34. More than ever before, I am excited about the opportunity/challenge of raising an African child. We are blessed to live in this country, to experience such an intense culture, and to be able to share it with both of our kids, no matter their color. What a gift for both of them to be born with the promise of a wider world view. In the months to come my husband and I will feel the full weight of this responsibility. How will the locals accept a white couple with a black child? How can we nurture a permanent sense of ethnic identity in both our children? Will they share a cultural affinity even though they are different colors? We know we cannot be ready for many things, including the obstacles we will face, but we enter this time with a sense of duty and gratitude and joy.

impromptu poppies

My husband’s job takes him away for long stretches and we have tried to work it out to join him when we can. As a result, we’ve traveled with our kids from the time they were born. Even though I’m thrilled to show them the world, it’s not always been easy or graceful. Lugging a sleeping 40 lb kid on the rush hour Tokyo subway is is not exactly my idea of a good time, but it is an experience to remember. Nonetheless, it’s been really important for us to expose our kids to different cultures, foods, and ways people live. (And quite frankly to wean them off mac-n-cheese and TV!)

One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that the best times are usually the ones that are very impromptu. As I prepared for our first big trip, a summer in France with the kids, I started to mentally make a list of the incredible towns, museums and places I had seen in college. The ones that I thought would be meaningful and important for my kids to see. My husband sat me down and gave me some wise advice, “Listen,” he said, “if you get a lemonade and sit in the park all day together, that’s a good day. Let them soak it in. Be slow.” I have to say, like in our everyday life as parents, I’ve come to realize that the most important and memorable moments are the quiet ones, the unplanned ones. So the picture you see is of my daughter, Ava and I. We were walking, exploring really, on the road outside the house we had rented in the south of France and came upon this incredible field of poppies. It was poppy season and they were all in bloom, in another few days they would be cut and sold in the market and the field would be almost barren. She’s older now, but we both vividly remember how it felt, smelled, the feeling of the wind and how relaxed and joyful we were. In that moment, we were so deeply connected and the world seemed really small…just her and I.

she is me

Even after two years of parenting this crazy set of children, I still feel surprised when someone remarks how alike they are. It is true, mind you – my two boys resemble each other greatly and my oldest son and my daughter have a lot of the same mannerisms. They actually match up rather well. Like kid versions of Garanimals. The “tiger” shirt and the “bear” pants are not too matchy-matchy, but they “go” all the same. My kids “go”.

And this is odd. Because, my children have biologically NOTHING that is truly “the same” about them, except that they all have this odd, coffee loving, loud, crazy mom and a rather sane, albeit exhausted father.

You see, two years ago, this little family of three consisted of myself, my husband, and a very precocious five-year-old boy named Eli. Eli is a fantastic mixture of everything my husband and I love and hate about ourselves. He was a boring addition to our family, to hear him tell it. Plain ol’ pregnancy. Plain ol’ delivery. (As the mother who WENT through this plain ol’ delivery, I beg to differ. Twelve hours of labor, an emergency c-section, and the immediate shock that the 75 lbs gained was ACTUALLY FAT and not baby…nothing plain about that!)

But two years ago, we decided to rock this little boat a bit. We decided to adopt a little girl and a little boy from Russia. They were actually from two different regions in Russia, so it took four trips to complete this.

For my daughter, we went to Siberia for Thanksgiving. Now, before you start thinking that this was a culinary move, let me save you from booking the Turkey Trip 2009. We went there on a mission – to meet this little girl that was bald and really very angry. I mean, angry in a way that only a girl can muster. Dismissively angry. However, I am getting ahead of myself.

Siberia in November is exactly as you think it is. It made Michigan look tropical. Folks from North Dakota can kiss my southern hiney with their snowfall amounts. Don’t even get me STARTED on the wimps who inhabit Wisconsin. Siberia is cold. Bone chilling cold. Sun never goes down and it is still cold COLD. And yet, the “locals” (locos?) wear stiletto heels, and walk very fast – on ice, no less. Color me impressed.

The flight into Moscow was long, but uneventful. I spent much of it trying to decide what we would name this surly child I had only seen a picture of. After 11 hours of discussing it with me, my husband basically didn’t care if I named her Delta Airlines, so I was left to hammer it out alone. The two days in Moscow was a blur of exhaustion and site seeing. The impression I left Moscow with was a sense of pride for them – simply because of THEIR pride. Did that make sense? They were so proud of what they had, whether it was something truly great or something that I thought paled in comparison to “what we have at home” – that I was proud for them. America could learn from this pride, I think. And I am from the South – where Pride is tattooed/etched/flown on a flag in most places. For me to say this…that is SOMETHING.

Another plane ride (the time change is so extreme from Moscow to Siberia that you actually end up losing almost an entire day for a four hour plane ride)…and you are in Siberia. I actually thought I would see Mikhail Barishnikov and Isabella Rosselini hovered in the corner of the dilapidated airport, huddled in conversation. At least Gregory Hines tap dancing in the alleyway? No?

The airport was…empty, aside from the passengers from our plane. The plane pulled away, as if it were a bus station, and the passengers started walking across the tarmac – towards what, I have no idea. It was a vast land of…vastness. Is this even a word? Even today, I still remember the unbelievable sense of melancholy and loneliness of that airport. To think that people used to be banished to live there…if that airport was what they had to greet them – banishment was surely the worst punishment ever. One big, hairy, cold, empty Time Out. But again, I am getting off track.

I would love to have remembered more details about the region in Siberia we were visiting. I am sure it is a lovely land, with lovely people, especially for the four whole days it thaws out. However, if you are an adoptive parent, you know that most of your mind, heart and memories center around what your new child was like at that time. And how they change into a member of your family that you cannot remember the time before them. Except that you had missed them.

I remember the big cement building, painted seaside-ish colors of pink, yellow and blue. This was a stark contrast to the surrounding buildings painted…um…concrete color. But I appreciated the effort to make it look fun, as if it were a big, 24 hour preschool. I remember that my daughter had a big bonnet on her head that she hated. I remember that she hurled it across the room. I remember that she was bald, but had a slew of polka dots on her head. I later found out this was chicken pox, but it made for a fun first memory. Do not think for a second that her prom date is NOT going to see those pictures. I remember that she was very irked with us. I suspect that we interrupted her daily watching of her soap opera, or her manicure. Or she might have needed coffee. Even at almost two, she used to steal my coffee back then and take a big drink and set the mug down HARD – as if to let us know that she was plum WORN OUT by us and could USE A LATTE.

The following March, my husband and I traveled back to Siberia to bring our daughter, Finley home. That was two years ago. She still hates dresses and combing her hair. She recently has started playing with a doll, who she insists is a boy. She spends most of her time trying to convince The Boy Doll how to play baseball. And for Heaven’s sake, to make a good latte.

She is loud. She is very messy. She has a laugh that will make you want to hear it again and again. She has perpetually dirty feet. She STILL steals my coffee.

She is not from me, but she is…me.

She just “goes.”

behind tea’s tagline

Our youngest son Neal was a best man at tea founder Leigh Rawdon’s wedding. We became close friends with Leigh and her husband and helped perform the initial fundraising for tea as well as being an early investor. After Tea got going we asked her about the tagline – “little citizens of the world”. She surprised us by saying that she’d got it from us – we’d described our goal in raising our two sons as “citizens of the world.” To help inaugurate the blog, Leigh asked us to elaborate on how that happened.

Mark and Neal were born 22 months apart in Westminster Hospital, London, steps from the Houses of Parliament. But within 8 months of the appearance of the youngest we were on a plane to a 2-year assignment in California courtesy of Roger’s US multinational employer. We made the most of the stay, traveling with the boys in the Western USA and exchanging our annual free “compassion visits” home for tickets to Hawai’i. The boys got a very early look at a different culture to which they were born!

Returning back to the UK, Roger to a European marketing job and Cilla to teaching, we took the boys on as many overseas trips as we could and vacationed extensively in France. However, it was clear to us that opportunities for career development for ourselves and better futures for the boys lay in returning to the USA, and we arranged to move back in January 1982 to Silicon Valley.

We had long held a belief that the boys should be given the fullest exposure to other cultures, customs and environments. Cilla had been raised in Zambia and Kenya and Roger had lived in France and traveled extensively in Europe, South America and Asia. We wanted them to be comfortable in any geographical environment, both as a way of developing their persona and to enable them to fulfill their work aspirations.
Over our first eight years back in California Roger ran international sales & marketing for three computer industry companies. Our house was frequently full of visitors from Sweden to Indonesia, Japan to Brazil, and Cilla and the boys joined Roger on international trips whenever school and work permitted. Coupled with annual visits to family in the UK, from 6 years old through high school the international world was very much part of their lives, and air travel not a surprise. After high school both Mark and Neal traveled for a summer through Europe on Eurorail. Subsequent to university Mark spent time in Peru and Ecuador on ecology field trips, while after law school Neal spent two years in Holland working at the International War Crimes Tribunal. Today we have two sons completely unfazed at visiting different cultures, one working as a lawyer in the US Senate, the other completing a tropical biology PhD at Duke University while living with his fiancée in Finland and spending months each year in the Amazonian rain forest in Peru.

When we attempted to give our sons a “global” familiarity the communications infrastructure of 24-hour network news and the internet was not in place and it was hard for people to understand and see lives in other parts of the world. Today, even though in the USA we see other cultures and lives nightly on television there remains a lack of understanding of these cultures and arguably an insularity of approach. The only way for people to experience other cultures is to get in there and meet them. The younger you can make your children comfortable with other cultures the better!

start traveling y’all

Prior to having a child, my husband and I traveled all over the world. We live in San Francisco and we love to travel the globe. We have been told, time after time, once we have children our travel days will be over. Heeding this information, we traveled to Indonesia prior starting a family. We chose Indonesia because it seemed to be the farthest possible place for us to travel to. It was our theory to travel to the most distant possible place because after starting a family it would never happen again. After all, that is what EVERYONE was telling us.

EVERYONE was wrong.

December of 2007 our daughter was 41/2 years old and we found ourselves in Saudi Arabia. We were wrong about travel on two accounts. One: travel is definitely not impeded by children and two: Indonesia is NOT the farthest place from San Francisco. Saudi Arabia is!

We feel our success with traveling as a family is from just that….traveling. It is so second nature for our daughter that there is never an issue. At the age of 4, Olivia had been to 5 countries. Multiple prior domestic trips also helped. I urge all brand new families to start traveling with their babies right away. No reason to wait. There are many tricks for being en route but the biggest secret to success is to start them at a young age.