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.
While I do take pleasure in seeing my children dressed in the perfect outfit for a special outing, I am just as happy to see them dressed up in mis-matched play clothes of their own choosing. I am generally not driven so much by appearances as by ideas and the beauty found in all of the little imperfections in the world all around us. So, many of my friends find it somewhat odd that I work for a children’s fashion company. When asked why I love my job so much, the answer is always the same. Apart from the fact that I truly enjoy tackling the operational challenges in both the apparel industry and in entrepreneurial ventures, I am so enthusiastic about Tea because I love the ideas and inspiration behind the company. The founders of Tea embody the core values (to be Inspired, Global, Warm, and Mindful) so completely, and it permeates throughout the organization. It is a privilege to be able to work to build this organization and develop the tools and infrastructure to support and sustain this vision as we expand our reach to new customers each year.
Lizzie, Daddy and I set out for a whirlwind tour of the east coast a few weeks ago. I knew exactly what to pack: a huge variety of Lizzie’s favorite Daily Tea pieces. For 10 days, I packed about 20 styles of dresses, shorts, tank tops, and leggings all from the Daily Tea Summer Collection. Because all the pieces are either red, white, or blue, they all match each other. This was a life saver as we traveled through airports, in rental cars, to Granny’s house, and in and out of welcome home parties. If Lizzie got wet (still a beginner with juice boxes), dirty (who can get a bib on a 20-month old?), or sweaty (yes, babies sweat in 100 degree weather!), I just quickly pulled out another great piece of Daily Tea and swapped it out to make sure that Lizzie was comfortable and stylish throughout our journey. Plus, Daily Tea washes and dries easily (no ironing), so all her clothes came out of the suitcase wrinkle free and even survived a washing in our family cabin’s 30 year-old washer! The knit dresses were especially helpful as we tried to keep Lizzie comfortable for the car rides, but still looking dressed up for her traditional Southern Relatives.
A great tip for the plane is to start with a layering tee, a tunic, and leggings. If the tunic gets wet or dirty, take it off, and your little one still has on a cute top and leggings. And, the tunic buttons up, so no fighting to get it over the head! Or, pack an extra pair of bloomer shorts. After flying in her warm leggings, we swapped out the leggings for bloomer shorts when we landed in North Carolina to give her an outfit that was better for hot, muggy weather. I will definitely be using Daily Tea for our little citizen’s next adventure!
As an employee of Tea, it is evident how much emphasis is put on making the foreign familiar. I have seen the world through my Tea travel allowance in both the countries of Costa Rica (2007) and now Greece (2008). This program brings us all closer together as employees since we have the ability to venture to distant lands and experience the beauty of new people.
I decided to visit Greece in June as I was fascinated by the history as well as the seaside landscape and warm people. My first stop was in Athens where narrow roads and stone walkways winded throughout the urban sprawl. The Acropolis was a strong sight sitting upon a hill. The columns and ancient art were magical.
I then took a ferry to the island of Mykonos where I thoroughly enjoyed the beaches and white and blue buildings. The people were fun, fashionable and full of life. The pita sandwiches and olives were amazing.
The village of Oia in Santorini (my next stop pictured above) was truly dreamy. The Caldera was breathtaking. The steep cliffs and winding stairs were an architectural feat. My room was actually built into a cave, a sort of rustic paradise. The white and blue domed churches were numerous and incredible. The local art vendors were a real treat. I ended up purchasing some painted dinner plates in hues of blues, greens, whites, and yellows. The scrolled design will always remind me of my time there. I was lucky enough to meet a local man who grew up on the island. He was one with the sea and took me out on his boat to see the volcano and swim in the ocean hot springs. The black rock and red sulfur mud reminded me of the power of the earth….a memory I will not soon forget. The old ruins of a castle, the sunsets, and the wine country were truly incredible. I loved meeting the locals and sharing in their meal traditions. A restaurant owner shared about his life on the island as well as his distant relatives in America. We learned from each other and I shared my experiences too.
My final stop was Crete where the mountains intersect with valleys of olive trees and amazing coastline. I was amazed with the diverse landscape. I remember driving by an elderly man sitting at his family owned olive oil stop. It was evident that the olive trees were a way of life for him. I made a stop in Hania where I had an authentic lunch in a little restaurant tucked away in the pebble paved streets. When I walked into the place the floor was sunken low and tiled in a square shape. I learned that it used to be an ancient Turkish bath! What a cool place to have lunch!
Greece is full of life in both the present and the past. The art, music, food, warm people, architecture, and water were more than I could have dreamed about. There was truly so very much to be inspired by!
We had been in Istanbul, Turkey, for only a few days and already knew that we stood out. When the carpet sellers who lined the streets of the Sultanahmet, the city’s ancient historic district, saw us from the back, they took note of my husband’s close-cropped hair and yelled out, “Soldier! Soldierman! Mr. Army, Mr. Navy! Come inside and see a carpet. Maybe your pretty wife will like one, you buy it for her! Maybe not. You don’t like, you need not buy, but come look!”
But when they got a good look at our fronts, with the small, wriggling bundle strapped to my husband’s chest, they changed tactics. As soon as they saw our infant son held fast in his baby carrier – his eyes open wide and bright, taking in the extraordinary and beautiful city surrounding him – they took a slightly less aggressive approach.
One man walked toward us with his arms open wide and asked, “Please, excuse me, may I kiss your baby?” Others pulled photos of children and grandchildren from their wallets and invited us into the shop to see still more. Yet another seller asked us to come into his shop to see some carpets that he was sure our son would adore.
“Your son,” the man said, giving us his best sales pitch, “he may not remember Turkey. I don’t think so. But you will help him remember. Maybe the carpet will help him remember. I think, maybe yes.”
Memory. This was a small point of contention with us. When we told friends and family of our plans to travel with our son to Turkey, our announcement was sometimes met with disapproval – and always with many questions: What will he eat? Where will he sleep? Won’t the plane bother his ears? And the most-asked question: Why go through the hassle of taking the baby at all, when he won’t remember the trip?
It was only this last question that we had some difficulty answering, wondering a bit about the answer ourselves.
On our last full day in the city, we went to explore the Aya Sofya basilica. The baby had thus far been fascinated by Istanbul and, on this day, was just as intrigued with the immense interior of this building.
Enchanted by the history and majesty of the former church/mosque, none of us saw the schoolchildren approach. But all of a sudden, there they were – 20 or more – swarming around my husband and son, reaching for my son’s hands and kissing his face.
At first, I was a little worried that the baby would be unable to handle the onslaught. As a typical 8-month-old, he is fairly accustomed to being adored. But not like this. Still, when I looked over at him, to see if I needed to intervene, he was laughing so hard his whole body shook. He reached out his hands to touch as many of the children as he could reach. His delight in seeing so many smiling faces looking up at him was palpable.
All of a sudden, a young boy in the crowd noticed me and asked in heavily accented English, “You are mother? Excuse me, thank you, what is the baby name?”
“His name is Chet.” I replied.
“Chet.” He repeated the name a few times, working it around his mouth as if trying a new, intense flavor. “My name is Kerem. Hello, Chet Mother.”
The other children took note of the introduction and followed suit. I soon heard shouts of other names.
“I am Nazim!”
“My name is Berol.”
“Hello, my name is Alev, thank you, goodbye.”
“Kadifah, hello, how are you?”
And then a little girl with gorgeous dark eyes looked up at me and mischievously said, “My name is … my name is Jennifer Lopez!” The children laughed wholeheartedly at the joke, and my son laughed with them, the echoes joyfully reverberating in the great dome of the building. I couldn’t help but smile, knowing that my son’s first trip to Istanbul had offered him more than many – and even we – had thought possible.
True, he may not remember the specifics of the mosaics in the Aya Sofya or the grounds of the Topkapi Palace. But I believe that the most important aspects of any journey like this stay with you whether you are 8 months or 80 years old.
This trip included children’s laughter, the same as at home and yet still able to make a powerful impression no matter where you happen to hear it. Add the sublime mystery of ancient buildings, full of colors and echoes that stir the heart and mind. And, most importantly, the spirit of adventure that wells up inside as you stare out on a new and fascinating landscape – perhaps even better when held aloft in a baby carrier – and anticipating the magic of whatever comes next.
One recent Sunday morning, my son, husband and I were gathered around the breakfast table enjoying pancakes. The television was on across the room, and a new show came on called “Travels to the Edge with Art Wolfe.” Wolfe, as I learned later, is an internationally acclaimed photographer, and of course the series host. The episode captured us immediately with its imagery of a country familiar to our family—India.
My husband’s father is originally from southwest India, a state called Kerala which is known for it’s lush greenery, tropical weather, beautiful backwaters, and—as locals love to boast—almost 100 percent literacy. My father-in-law Tom came to the U.S. in the mid-1960’s for his medical residency, where he met his future wife Linda, a Chicago native with German and Norwegian roots. Tom and Linda eventually settled in Texas, where they had four children. Their family traveled to India many times when the kids were young. Having made the trip once already with my husband (before we had our son), I have great respect for my in-laws trekking across the world with four young children!
As we watched the show from our table, my husband and I tried to make conversation with our son about the connection he had to the people on the screen. Some were bathing or washing their clothes in the Ganges river, others were riding bikes or driving rickshaws, and still others were engaged in deep prayer in honor of an annual Hindu pilgrimage. We said things like, “Grandpa is from that country; it’s called India.” My husband also told a story about how when he would visit as a child, his family had “helpers” who would wash their clothes just like we were seeing on the show—beating the clothes against the rocks, a rhythmic but effortful job. I was reminded of my trip there, where I felt so fortunate to meet my husband’s grandfather shortly before he died. He had been instrumental in India’s push for independence, a contemporary of Gandhi, and later a Congressman and vocal advocate for education in his home state.
And then something small but meaningful happened. While to me, these people on the screen were fabulously interesting, they looked nothing like me or the family I had grown up with, and so I felt content to know that my son might feel a connection even if I didn’t. But it occurred to me that my husband might feel very differently; so I turned to him and asked, “Do you feel connected to them?” His face grew quiet, serious and almost sad, and he said simply, “Yes.”
I don’t expect that my son will feel the same subtle sadness or internal conflict that my husband and his father feel – a sense of having a toe or a foot in one culture while the rest of his body is in another. However, sensing how important it is to expose our son to his history, his family, and the many inputs that combined to make him who is he is, I see now that raising him with regular reminders about his ancestors is more than just a fun or different exercise. It will be vitally important to the quiet places in our hearts that we don’t always know are there and a deserving tribute to the people who came before us.
I don’t go around thinking of ways to make sure my kids appreciate cultural differences while avoiding judgments and prejudice. I don’t have to – my daily conversations with them, or more importantly, what I overhear them saying to each other, reminds me that teaching my children to respect our differences is a daily process, something achieved in small steps during every aspect of our lives.
Parker asks: “Mommy, why am I pink and you’re brown?”
Owen observes: “That lady talks weird. Is she speaking Spanish?”
After Martin Luther King Day celebrations at school, they both want to know: “What does it mean to be black?”
The first one is the easiest. “Our family has people of all shades in it, and we love each other even though we don’t look the same. Families are about love, not skin color.” I list all the pink and brown aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents who love them. I tell them they’re lucky to have all different kinds of people in their family.
The second one would be easier if Owen wasn’t using his “outside” voice and the woman wasn’t standing next to us. I swallow down the embarrassment. “She’s just speaking differently than we do, but we shouldn’t call people ‘weird’ just because they’re different.” Now, I have to admit my ignorance, which I figure is better than getting it wrong. “I’m not sure what language she’s speaking, but people from different countries speak different languages. That’s why it’s important to learn more than one language,” I tell him, “so you can talk to all kinds of people.”
I have to think quickly on the third, and toughest, question. The problem is, I’m not even sure what it means to be black. I don’t think the kids, at 6 and 4, are ready for my discussion on race as a social construction that has little real-world value – even my college students peer at me in confusion when I bring this up. In fact, when I’m talking to the kids I try to avoid terms like “black” and “white” to describe people because kids take things so literally, I know they won’t understand that pink people are called white and brown people are called black. And what about medium brown people like Owen, or people like Parker who are pink in the winter, light brown in the summer, and always blonde?
I decide on the simplest version of the truth. “Being a black person just means that some of your family members have brown skin. But what’s most important is the kind of person you are, whether you’re nice to other people, whether you try to learn new things, whether you play and have fun and are happy.”
“Are you black, Mommy?” Yes.
“Is Daddy?” No.
“Are we?” Yes. (Kind of, I think but don’t say it – we’ll get into the complexities later. Also, I’ve learned that I should never answer a question that wasn’t asked, and they didn’t ask whether they were half-black. I knew all those episodes of Law & Order would come in handy).
They look at me in silence, and I’m worried that more questions are coming, that, like when we discussed God and death, one answer would only lead to three or four more unanswerable questions to which I don’t have answers.
After a long moment, Owen says, “Okay, mommy.” Parker echoes his big brother, and they move on to more pressing matters.
“Can we have mac-and-cheese for dinner?”