oktoberfest in the family way

Inside OktoberfestI hung tightly to my husband as we entered the tent, petrified that if I loosened my grip I would lose him in the motley crowd. And so I was happy to follow where he led, too overcome with the smells and sounds of the party to navigate anywhere myself. But what I really wanted was for us to turn right around and head out.

The grand tent was filled to capacity with wooden tables, glorious ceilings and chandeliers and oh-so-many beer drinkers. The throngs of revelers pushed us so quickly towards the center of the building that I could no longer see the exit. All around us, people laughed and sang, raising large mugs high in the air. As we scuttled past, those seated would tip their glasses and exclaim, “Prost!” in our direction, seemingly wishing us both cheers and encouragement to find our own place to sit. But instead of priming me to party, the smell of their body odor and stale Maß beer became more than I could bear. I fought back nausea and tried to remain close to my husband. A waitress brushed by me, with liters of beer looped around her, sloshing some on my arm.

“I need to get me one of those!” my husband yelled over his shoulder at me, nodding approvingly at the waitress and her ability to part the crowd like the Red Sea. I knew that he meant he wanted some beer, but I would have greatly preferred her ability to cut so easily through the mob.

At some time in their lives, everyone should experience Munich’s Oktoberfest. It is a historic tradition of celebration. A great place to try some of Germany’s finest beers. And of course, it is the party to end all parties, attracting visitors from all over the world.

But at that moment, I strongly believed that visiting Oktoberfest only a few days after finding out I was pregnant might have been the worst idea ever.

Our tickets had been purchased, our hotel booked – no small feat for Munich at the end of September. And the trip was a dream come true for my husband. Though I wasn’t quite as excited, I have to admit I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to fully partake in all the event had to offer. I had planned to party like a rock star and now would be unable to have even a glass of beer. But there was no helping it. I figured, “How bad could it be?” and decided that there was no need to cancel on baby’s account. I could watch my husband have a good time. In fact, it might be better this way. I could keep my wits about me and make sure that no one ended up “in the bag” – the tent-like gurney contraption that the German Red Cross used to deal with the dangerously intoxicated attendees. But the little life inside my belly, fiddling with my hormones and senses, hadn’t been briefed on my brilliant plan.

Between the unruly crowd, the obscene quantities of alcohol, and the traditional Bavarian sausages, I felt queasy as soon as we arrived on die Wiesen. And our attempts to find unreserved seats in the beer tents only heightened that feeling. There was no way I could stay inside. I told my husband that we needed to leave at once. And lucky for him, he immediately started fighting the multitudes in the opposite direction to get us out.

Once outside, my husband gave me his best doggy look and said, “Maybe we can sit out here.” The outside of the tent had decks built around it with communal tables for those who were unable to get inside. Gulping in a few breaths of the clean night air, I was all too happy to oblige him.

As we walked towards the tables, a group of Italians immediately moved over to allow us to join them. They were all laughing and having a good time, happy to let us join their fun. And when the waitress arrived a few minutes later, they ordered the table some beer. My polite refusal garnered strange looks and more than a few gentle protests from our new friends. “You must have at least one! How can you come to Oktoberfest and have not even one beer?”

“Thank you, but I can’t. I’m pregnant, errr, schwanger.”

“Schwanger?” they asked with confusion and then briefly conferred among themselves. “Ahhh, incinto! You mean you have bambino, yes?” I nodded in assent.

They turned to the waitress and instead ordered me an alcohol-free liter of Maß. Perhaps not the cola I would have preferred but lovely all the same. At least now I could say I had tried a beer!

When our waitress returned with no less than thirteen full glass liter mugs adorning her arms – including my alcohol-free one – the Italians took no time in toasting to my and my baby’s health. As the evening progressed, I found that I was having a grand time, even without the help of alcohol. Conversation flowed over the full glasses all around me but I understood that those beers weren’t necessary to experience the real Oktoberfest. I had been right all along – being here was better sober.

I was able to see the glorious tradition of a festival centuries old. The true warmth of Bavarian hospitality as the citizens opened their city to thousands of partygoers. The beauty and workmanship of those astounding beer tents. And of course, the camaraderie and friendship that could grow out of simple luck and proximity. It was an amazing thing to behold. The experience couldn’t have been any fuller.

As I rubbed my belly, listening to the laughter surrounding me, I raised my glass of alcohol-free Maß and tenderly whispered down to the baby inside me, “Prost.”

international baby of cuteness

We were living in Germany when I became pregnant. I knew it would be a challenge having a baby in the land of fine sausage, tasty beer and stylish eyeglasses, because of the language barrier and because of a thousand tiny and not-so-tiny cultural differences. But my experience ended up being extremely positive, because, of course, the whole world loves babies, and everyone offers to help – no matter where you are. I remember one day, walking past a coffee shop, when I had one of those sudden, unexplained pregnancy pains, and people from the café rushed to bring me a chair and make sure I was okay. Shopkeepers were solicitous, and I established a great rapport with the pharmacists at my neighborhood pharmacy; it’s where everybody knew my name. From interviewing midwives in German, to taking a prenatal yoga class, to trying to communicate with the doctor about our unborn child’s body parts during the sonograms – all of these stretched and improved my German, and contributed to an incredible experience that I will always cherish. My daughter was finally born last August with the help of a wonderful midwife, who drove us to the hospital at 2 a.m. in her Mercedes!

We spent another 4 months in Germany before finally moving back to the States, which made a total of 4 and a half years for my husband and me. We still miss many things about Germany, like the Fußgängerzone (pedestrian zone), which is basically the whole downtown where everyone walks around shopping, sitting at cafes, riding bikes, playing in the fountains. It’s very relaxing compared to driving everywhere! Our experience in Germany has enriched our lives, and also lead us to discover some great baby things – schlafsacks (sleep sacks), woolen onesies which are great for winter, beautiful organic woolen clothes, and also wonderful wooden toys, made with non-toxic paints and lacquers, which is important since absolutely everything ends up in our daughter’s mouth.

In addition to being an international traveler, my daughter is also of international heritage. I am Indian from Kolkata and my husband is of mixed European descent. I am excited that I can pass on my language and culture to her. Fortunately, my parents will also be a big help as they live very close by. In fact, her first words have been Bengali ones – “eta” which means this; “Baba” which means father; now her favorite word is “bass” which means something like “there – that’s done!” She uses “bass” when she’s done with something, or more commonly when she throws something down! My husband and I are always so amazed that she’s already bilingual – pointing to her nose, teeth, hair, bellybutton – when asked in English or Bengali. It’s amazing how our brain incorporates languages. I know she will want to learn other languages as well one day. Maybe German will be one of them. She loves the word “Gesundheit” – it always makes her laugh!

I am so pleased that my family is as international as it is. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love that our world feels big – like there are so many possibilities, so many ways to communicate, so many friends, so many different things to eat and, sometimes to my husband’s dismay, so many places to shop! Our next big trip will be either visiting Germany or going to India, where my family there awaits with baited breath to see my “shada” (white) husband and our wonderful daughter.

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.

travel sites that make traveling with little citizens easier

The team at Tea has found the stories here about travel so inspiring. From photos of little citizens in Paris to memories of children’s laughter in Turkey, parents are showing us all that travel is a real possibility with kids of all ages and a perfect way to make the foreign more familiar.

Making these trips happen, though, is another story. The world’s huge, the incredible options of places to go vast, and the online information about traveling with kids, well, quite overwhelming. While you may dream of swimming in the oceans of Bali maybe you’re wondering if your kids will fit into a trip there. When you were a kid you loved visiting the Sistine Chapel, but is this still a good place for a family adventure?

If you’re dreaming of globe hopping with your little citizens and are as inspired by the stories here as we are, why not check out these sites to begin planning your next kid friendly trip? We hope they make planning travel a little easier for you and your growing world explorers:

Baby Friendly Boltholes
Ciao Bambino
Family Travel Forum
Travel for Kids


Eating l\'escargot.On our first day in St. Antoine de Breuilh, my nephew, Tyler, dug up snails from the yard surrounding our gîte. The next day, he ordered them off the menu, simmered in butter and Court Bouillon.

The twelve-year-old and his brother spent the last vestiges of that first afternoon searching for snails. Tirelessly searching along the vineyard’s floor, feeling along the cracks of an ancient stone wall, my nephews collected a dozen of the creatures for closer examination. Blossoming scientists, they both embraced and recoiled from the touch of the slick creatures, laughing with amazement as they expelled their toxic-yellow discharge after prodding.

This behavior I could understand. They were snails. Part of their charm is their inherent ickiness. But eating them? Ew. No way.

Sixteen years earlier, I had taken my own first journey to France. I was the same age as Tyler. I was thrilled to try red wine, cheeses that could outsmell dirty feet and a variety of root vegetables that were cooked in butter and cream. But the mere mention of l’escargot triggered my gag reflex. No matter how succulent, how delicious the advertisements, there was no getting over the fact they were snails. Slimy, oozing, disgusting snails.

But even as my nephew held a particularly large garden variety snail in hand, he emphatically told me, “Aunt Kayt, I want to try snails.” My sister told me he had admitted as much before they even crossed the Atlantic. When I asked why, Tyler only shrugged. “I want to see what they taste like. French people must like them for a reason.”

Indeed. But still – they were snails. I have consumed all manner of crazy things – grasshoppers, meal worms, large red ants. But I’ve always stopped short at snails. After all, a girl has to have some standards. As such, I imagined that Tyler’s desire for l’escargot was no more than just a boyhood fancy. That perhaps he would have the moxie to order them but when it came down to it, he would be unable to take a single bite.

The next day, as we sat in a charming outdoor café in Saint Emilion, the moment of truth came. When the garçon came by, my nephew ordered himself half a dozen snails with a s’il vous plait. I broke out the video camera, expecting to soon see defeat.

When the snails arrived, I anticipated some hesitation, followed by some protestations and perhaps even a little vomit. But after some initial trouble with the specific utensils, my nephew took a big bite and pronounced the escargot as delicious. His appraisal was even enthusiastic enough to get his 6-year-old brother to give the snails a go. He also declared them good.

Tyler offered me one, too. But despite his and his brother’s encouragement, I still couldn’t manage a bite. The repulsion was just too strong.

It’s funny, so often with children we think we are there to teach them, to encourage them to try new things. But for all of my supposed worldliness, when push came to snails, I found myself showed up by a twelve-year-old and his six-year-old brother.

the top five reasons sushi is the perfect baby food

My husband and I love to eat out at our favorite sushi restaurant at least once a week. At some point, my husband decided that this didn’t have to end even though we have a very active baby! We started taking her out for sushi when she was about 9 months old and now she is a regular! Here are our top five reasons why eating out sushi is perfect for families:

1) The food comes quickly! No worrying about packing extra food to tide your little one over, or stuffing them with the free bread. An order of edamame, the perfect finger food, is always available right away.
2) The portions are great finger foods. For beginners (early eaters): sticky rice and edamame are great. For more advanced eaters, grilled fish entrees (like hamachi), cooked sushi (like California rolls ) and veggie tempura offer a nice variety of healthy, easy foods.
3) A new place to play and explore. It’s a great new adventure with lots of things for toddlers to explore: the plates, cups and bowls are great for stacking, the chop sticks are a fun challenge (as long as you watch the eye-poking), and the hustle and bustle atmosphere is just noisy enough to drown out toddler complaints!
4) Mom and Dad get a break from eating kiddie food. While Lizzie is munching away on rice and avocado rolls, we get to indulge in our favorites, ocean trout and Atlantic char sushi!
5) Most importantly, we are introducing our daughter to a part of our life that is fun and enriching. We know that this will become an important family tradition that can continue as she gets older and more adventurous!

multicultural wedding

all dressed up and happy

Earlier this year our friends asked our son to be a participant in their June wedding. We were touched, and once we explained the honor to our son, he was excited to get a new outfit and hold hands with another little boy as they walked down the aisle together. My friend Anna was the bride, and she thoughtfully sent a navy bowtie with white polka dots for all the boys to wear. For our son’s wedding debut, I picked up his first pair of dress shoes, and my husband bought him a new suit. When the big day arrived, I think he was as excited as the bride and groom! He looked so proud and handsome.

As sweet as the children’s precious entrance and toddle down the aisle were, from my perspective, the best part of the day came during a key moment of the ceremony itself. Anna is Jewish, and her husband Kaamil is Muslim. She grew up in Santa Cruz, California, and he in Minneapolis, Minnesota, although his parents are from India originally. Anna and Kaamil had been married in a small, Muslim ceremony almost a year earlier. The day we were witnessing was a Jewish ceremony and familiar “American” reception, with a lot of Indian flavor thrown in: beautifully dressed Indian women in saris, marigolds all over, and amazing food for lunch. To close the ceremony and fulfill a Jewish tradition, Kaamil was tasked with smashing a glass wrapped in cloth. Our son was captivated by this and asked us about it for weeks after the wedding: “Why did Kaamil step on that glass? Did it break? Did anyone get hurt?”

Given his age, my son was not yet ready for an abstract discussion about tradition or religion. However, we thought he would understand that, “at some weddings, the groom steps on a glass and breaks it. That lets the guests know that it’s time for the party to begin.” But I think, for the children (and for many of the adults), the party really started when they laid eyes on the tower of coconut cupcakes and set foot on the dance floor. It was a fabulous day!