Traveling with Kids, Lesson Two: Wherever You Go, There They Are
As parents of three kids, my husband and I sometimes fall into the bad habit of thinking that taking care of just one of our kids (especially the oldest who we often forget is still a young child, even if she is two feet taller than her youngest brother), is A LOT easier than having to juggle all three at the same time. And, more often than not, this misconception is held up by experience and rings true, like at bedtime: trying to convince the 10yo to brush her teeth is waaaaay easier when not also being screamed at to get soap out of the eyes of the 6yo in the bathtub while at the same time trying to wrangle the 2yo into a pair of clean pajamas (and not the yogurt-banana-cereal-smeared dirty pair he plucked out of the laundry basket and is insisting on wearing) while he gleefully taunts his sibling with the soap in his eyes by dangling a toy that said wet (and now screaming) big brother told the still-naked (and now giggling uncontrollably) little brother he couldn’t play with or even touch, but was, for some inexplicable reason, left in the middle of the youngest child’s bedroom floor (and yeah, I only wish I was exaggerating).
And so it was, with this misconception firmly established, that Bill packed up our eldest child (who, theoretically at least, seemed the most independent, self-sufficient, responsible and open to the inherent differences that come with travel: different schedules and bedtimes, different social rules and expectations, different foods and flavors) and flew off to Iceland to learn yet another valuable lesson in traveling with kids: turns out… wherever you go, there they are.
Or rather, wherever your child goes, there your child is…
Meaning: you can take your child outside of the good ol’ U S of A, to explore and inhabit different cultures from her own in attempts to expand her young and therefore limited horizons, but – if your child is anything like mine – she’s still going to fight going to sleep just like she does at home, no matter how tired she is;
she’s still going to think the world is her playground and try to climb on stuff she shouldn’t;
and she’s still only going to want to eat PIZZA and nothing else. And I mean ABSOLUTELY nothing else.
Okay, maybe she’ll eat a pastry or a cream cheese bagel here and there (minus the cream cheese – nope, not kidding),
but not the thick, delicious Icelandic yogurt-like soft cheese called skyr you (read: Bill) thought she’d love.
Clearly not the fish and chips she excitedly proclaimed to you (read: Bill) that she’d eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner every single day while she was in Iceland.
Definitely not the hot dogs, lamb stew, reindeer steak, or smoked puffin served in many restaurants in Reykjavík.
And absolutely NOT the poisonous local shark called hákarl (this local delicacy apparently smells and tastes like ammonia, and can only be eaten after it’s been buried and left underground for several weeks, then cut into strips and dried for several months – apparently Gordon Ramsay, the “I’ll eat anything” adventure foodie, actually threw up – threw up!! – after eating hákarl, it’s that, uh, shall we say… potent?) which the (okay, maybe only some) Icelandic people enjoy. And truth be told, I can’t really fault her for this last one, but what’s up with not eating the yogurt?! Or at least the chips part of the fish and chips?! They’re FRENCH FRIES for crying out loud!! Who doesn’t love French fries?!
All of which leaves me more than a little nervous about our impending trip to Paris (in only 4 ½ weeks!!). Specifically… I worry that Paisley won’t find any cheese, stinky or otherwise, to her liking at the fromagerie nearest our rental apartment (which I’ve even shown her, in hopes that familiarity breeds not contempt but comfort, by doing a virtual walk-by on Google Maps, which, can I just say?, is honestly the coolest resource available when planning a trip: just type in the address or place you want to “see” – like the Louvre, Paris, France – zoom in on the location, then click on the little yellow person icon and drag it to the spot you want to check out; it’ll pull up Google’s photos of that street, and you can use the arrows to “walk” by the store or café or even through the entire neighborhood!). I worry that not one of the very few (turns out this foodie capital of the world caters mostly to the carnivores and omnivores amongst us) vegetarian-friendly restaurants (yes, I’m vegetarian, so for the most part the foie gras, paté and langoustine ravioli is out, to the 10yo’s great relief) – of which I’ve spent several hours researching various delightful and helpful Paris-specific blogs (I find myself pulling up Lost In Cheeseland more than any other blog, but HiP Paris is another solid site, and I also really like Paris in Four Months) and several Paris guide books (if you only buy one guide book, make sure it’s Rick Steves’ Paris – I actually had an anxiety dream the other night that I’d forgotten to pack this book and was almost willing to miss my flight in order to go back home and get it!) and several more hours bookmarking the most promising finds on my Yelp Paris account (which has a helpful GPS-enabled map that can quickly lead me to any nearby restaurant of my choosing, if I decide to pony up for the international data plan for my iPhone) and on my TripAdvisor Paris City Guide app (which has a map feature that can be used offline and therefore can be accessed without racking up data roaming charges, but which doesn’t have as thorough of a list as Yelp Paris) so that when we’re walking around the quaint streets of Paris after a morning spent in this greatest museum in the world or that fantastically picturesque park and suddenly find ourselves ravenous without a boulangerie or pâtisserie in sight, I can instantly pinpoint the nearest well-reviewed coffee shop or place to eat and, voilà!, we have food in our bellies and enough energy for another round of sightseeing – will possibly tempt Paisley into eating something other than the bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios (or the nearest French equivalent, which I will make my number one priority to obtain as soon as we arrive on foreign soil, at the closest supermarché to our rental, which I’ve also already located via the very fantastic Google Maps) she had for breakfast. I worry that Paisley won’t like the crêperies that abound on the streets of Paris (yes, the French have crêpe stands like we Americans have hot dog stands, and how insanely brilliant is that?!), and will be the only child in the history of civilization to turn down a Nutella and banana crêpe for lunch. I even worry that Paisley won’t eat the long, thin baguettes that (like the Icelandic fish and chips of last summer) she’s proclaimed she can’t wait to eat for every single meal every single day, but will, instead, use them as Jedi swords against her unsuspecting mother (though, rest assured, I will fight back, in spite of my desire to avoid, at all costs, being considered an uncivilized American with bad manners and ugly shoes; however, I will most definitely smear my baguette-sword with rich and creamy French-made butter afterwards and devour it with utter delight).
But here’s the thing… really, what are we expecting? It’s not like Paisley’s an adventurous eater here at home. I’m not sure she eats anything that isn’t white or beige, other than pizza sauce (and only then, if it’s smothered in white cheese) and the occasional slice of bacon (she likes saying she’s a vegetarian except she eats bacon – again, nope, not kidding). Just because we WANT her to try new and different things (like local cuisines) while we’re out exploring the world doesn’t mean she’s going to (and I’m the first to admit, as a vegetarian with a purposefully-restricted diet, it’s not like I set the best of examples). And even if she DOES try something new, she might not like it (like the Icelandic skyr). The point is, she’s still a child, she’s still who she is, she’s still my sleep-fighting, sculpture-climbing, picky-eating daughter, and we need to not expect that she’s going to change overnight just because she woke up in a different country. And that’s really okay. Because the fact is, she’s still IN a different country. She’s still SURROUNDED by people speaking a foreign language. She’s still OUTSIDE of her comfort zone, and learning to navigate in a world that is, each trip she takes, way larger than the 10-block radius that makes up her everyday life.
So… if a couple slices of pizza make her feel more comfortable in this new, great-big world?
Then pizza it will be.
(And you know what? Though it’s not Venice or Chicago or NYC, I’m pretty sure that finding a slice or two of good pizza in Paris will still be easier than putting all three of my ornery, dramatic, loud, and possibly tired, cranky and wet, but also adorably cute, little urchins to bed at night!)
This blog post is the third in a series:
Planning For Paris, Lessons From Paris (Part 1)
Lesson One: Context is
Criticial Everything (Part 2)
And still to come (if I could ever stop researching vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Paris long enough to write):
Lesson Three: Scale Back, Stay Longer
Lesson Four: Make Time for Playtime