Tag Archives: travel

Tough Questions: Handling Cultural Diversity with Young Children

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We were at our local grocery store in north London when my four-year-old daughter, Tori, tugged on my sleeve.

“Mommy. MOMMY.” She whispered fervently, eyes wide and face solemn. “There’s a MONSTER over there.”

She then, as children do, pointed. And when I saw who she was pointing at, I was taken aback. Not because of who I saw, but more because I wasn’t sure how to respond in the moment.

She was pointing to a woman dressed in a full abaya and niqab, a black cloak and veil Muslim women sometimes wear, which draped her from head-to-toe, covering everything except her eyes.

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London’s markets are rich with diversity.

I’m going to be brutally honest here. I wasn’t sure what to say to my daughter. What I did say (whisper) was something like, “Oh, no, that’s not a monster, she’s a woman just like me! I think she’s even a mommy! And do you see how by wearing those clothes we are forced to look at her pretty eyes?” And then we kept shopping.

Yeah… I still have no clue if that was the right thing to say. Here’s what I was feeling: “I know it LOOKS like she could be a monster to you. She is wearing the color of Halloween, she has a mask on, and she’s staring out at you through that mask. And you don’t see people like this very often, do you? It sometimes startles us when we see things we aren’t used to seeing.”

But of course I didn’t say that there. We talked about it more at home, but even then it was on the level a four-year-old could understand, and my main point to her was that those women are mommies and sisters and are just like she and I, and are nothing to be scared of, and should be loved just like everyone else.

Cultural diversity is one of the big reasons we chose to take our adventure to London, and we haven’t been disappointed! Tori literally had NEVER seen a woman in a niqab before. In fact, she had barely seen women wearing a hijab (head covering) until we moved here. I’ll be brutally honest again: our corner of Tucson just wasn’t very ethnically diverse. I’m not saying Muslims and Buddhists and people of MULTIPLE different religions, languages and race don’t live there, I’m just saying it’s not nearly as prevalent as in a city like London. (And, admittedly, we didn’t make a huge effort to leave our little corner often…)

Tori's adorable "Reception" class.

Tori’s adorable “Reception” class. She’s the one with the blonde pig-tails :-)

Tori, with her blonde hair, fair skin and light eyes, is a minority at her school. Many of her playmates are bi- or tri-lingual! They speak Spanish, French, Farsi, Hindi, Italian… One of Anders’ friends has an Italian dad and African-Muslim French-born-in-Paris mum! Tori has a playdate with a friend from India this afternoon, our babysitter is from Romania and we’ll be seeing some German friends later this week.

I love that we are here while my children are young enough to have this become a “norm” for them. One of our goals as parents is to provide our children with the opportunity to LOVE EVERYONE they meet, and to be able to look beyond race or ethnicity or religion or any other lifestyle that might be different from theirs, and show them the love Christ would have shown.

But I’ll admit, answering the cultural questions of a four-year-old is HARD. “Mommy, why does my friend wear a scarf on her head every day?” or “Mommy, is that a man or a woman?” or “Mommy, why is that old man wearing a skirt and a funny hat?” or “Why does my friend live with her mommy and not her daddy?” or “Why are there shops in that church?”

Ummm…. :-) It’s been a challenge for us, but a good one. A NEEDED one. We were getting too lazy and complacent in our little bubble. Answering Tori’s questions has forced AJ and me to really be thoughtful about all those topics, and to be very deliberate in answering them in a way that she’ll understand. Or, in some instances, say, “Um, I’m not sure” and go home and do an internet search to find the answer, haha! (Because, I’ll be honest, I had no idea what the Muslim woman’s face veil was called until I researched it, and even now I HOPE I called it the correct name!!)

How DO we want our children to view the world? It’s a very tricky question but one we’re excited to explore answering.

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12 hours on a plane, 8 hour jet-lag, two small kids…

Many people have been asking me about how the kids handled the long overseas flight, so here you go!

Kids on planesI’ll start with this disclaimer: our flight to London from Tucson, AZ was by no means the first time my children have been on an airplane. They’ve flown to Florida, New Orleans, North Carolina and Boston (many times). Whether this helped them or not, hard to say :-) But it certainly helped us in our planning.

Probably the most unusual element of our flight to London was that we did not know our exact flight date or time until 8 days before. Yes. 8 days. We knew we were going, so I had been able to plan almost everything, but I had no idea WHEN it was going to happen! No clue as to what day of the week, or what time of day, or through which airport, or which airline, or how long a flight.

I think this might be stressful for anyone, but it was especially stressful for me since I was trying to prepare our 2 year old and 4 year old children for this flight, trying to consider meal times, sleep time, potty time, etc.

Needless to say it was a HUGE relief when we finally booked our tickets for a Saturday flight, which left Tucson mid-morning, ~2 hrs to Dallas, then an almost 6 hr layover, then a 9hr flight to London. Total time change: 8hrs ahead.

Here’s another huge disclaimer: my parents-in-law flew with us! Ahhh, such a relief and such a blessing. But to be honest, our kids really were the CHAMPIONS on these flights! I could feel the prayers surrounding us and was constantly amazed at how well my children handled everything.

So below are a few of the things we did to ease our travel. Hope it can help even one other mum or dad in their preparation for even a short flight!

In advance:

  • Talk a lot about going on the airplane. Watch TV shows about airplanes (the airplane episode of Bubble Guppies was one of our favorites). Talk about going to the airport, WAITING at the airport, getting on the plane and SITTING on the plane “for a very long time” and getting off the plane and WAITING in another airport, etc. You get the idea. Keep telling them about it! Even our two year old could understand most of it.
  • Have your child practice using earphones while watching a show or using an iPad. This is really critical, especially if they are young (Anders was 2 years old, and on our flight to Florida a month earlier, didn’t really want to use the headphones, but used them frequently on our flights to London…) We bought them each a set of these headphones and have had no complaints! And consider purchasing a splitter if your device doesn’t have two ports.
  • Buy surprises and treats. I watched the Target $1 section for clearance. Pull aside several books a month in advance so that when you bring them out they are “new,” or buy several used books at a book sale. Buy stickers. Lots of stickers.
  • Perhaps buy a new movie or two (or download a few onto the iPad). Younger kids might need to see a show a couple of times before they are able to sit through the whole thing, so consider watching it once or twice before the flight.
  • Make sure the two or three days prior to departure the kids have as normal a schedule as you can possibly manage. Meaning low-key days, meals at home, baths at night, regular mornings, etc. The worst thing is to have a tired grumpy kid even BEFORE you leave!

During travel:

  • Allow 10-20 extra minutes for going through security. Since I’ve been traveling with children I almost ALWAYS have to have something tested or re-scanned by security. Tell other folks to go on ahead of you. Take your time and smile. Don’t let the rushed grumpiness of other travelers make you feel stressed!
  • Purchase water bottles in the airport once through security. (My kids didn’t need any special food or water, but when I was bottle-feeding, I would ask the cashier in the news store to get me a bottle of room-temperature water, which sometimes was only in the back room. This made mixing the formula much easier than using cold water.)
  • Pre-boarding!

    Pre-boarding!

    Sometimes we take advantage of pre-boarding, sometimes we don’t. If we have a ton of carry-ons or a carseat, then pre-board. If it’s just a bag or two, we prefer waiting to allow our kids more time to run around :-)

  • Once on board and in our seats (after my daughter literally seems to bump into every person in an aisle seat), the first thing I do is give the kids several sanitizing wipes and have them clean their seats! This activity is so great. They literally wipe down everything in sight and love doing it! It’s a great activity to allow you time to get settled.
  • Allow your kids to stand up in the seats (if they’re young) when you first board, and let them give big smiles to the people sitting around you. This (might) promote sympathy instead of anger later when the kids get fussy.
  • Hold off on screen time as long as possible!! Preferably at least until after drinks have been served and consumed. There’s not much worse than having a sticky, orange-juice covered DVD player or iPad… :-)

Sleeping (or should I say, “sleeping”):

  • It’s completely hit-or-miss. There is no way to anticipate if your child will sleep or not. When they are babies, snugglers often sleep better because they love being held. My daughter hated sleeping in our arms and therefore barely slept on a plane until this trip!
  • For shorter flights, if you’re hoping they’ll take a nap, don’t be discouraged if they don’t, and praise Jesus if they do! If they are fighting sleep, put on a show and then try again later.
  • For longer flights when sleep is necessary, both for you, your child, and the people around you, make sure everything you do is intentional:
    • Eat some sort of meal before you want them to sleep, even if it’s just a snack. Don’t rely on the food provided by the airline; it can take a VERY long time for them to get to you, and even if you pre-order a kids’ meal, you might not get it. (This happened to us.)
    • After the food, put their pajamas on! PJs=sleep to them. Brush their teeth. Bring along a couple bed-time books. Try to make some sort of familiar routine. Keep lights low or off. And of course bring each child their own full pillow, blanket and one stuffed animal.
    • If you’re lucky, your daughter will say to you, “Mom, I’m tired, can I sleep now?” and fall asleep. No joke, this is what my 4 year old daughter did!! She then proceeded to sleep for the entire remaining 6 hours of the flight. Probably got better sleep than anyone else on the entire plane!
    • If your child is normal, haha, then he/she might need more coaxing. Anders was pretty restless. I put a show on for him and had him lay his head down. Then I turned the show off, turned all the lights off, and gave him zero stimulation, and eventually he fell asleep. Of course half of the time his sister’s foot was in his face, but oh well!
    • If traveling with someone, take turns sleeping. When it’s your turn, put in earplugs, use an eyemask and forget about your kids :-) For the next couple of hours THEY ARE NOT YOUR PROBLEM!
Waiting... and more waiting...

Waiting…and more waiting…

 After you land:

  • Prepare yourself for the worst-case scenarios: lost luggage, huge line at rental car, zero food stands open, a quarter-mile walk to customs (with no stroller – it happened to us!!), a two-hour line to get through customs, major traffic, etc. Basically lots of waiting around. Consider it a full last leg of your trip, and it can be as critical as any other part. Bring lots of snacks for this specific time! Hungry kids can make waiting MISERABLE. Save a couple of activities or books for while you are waiting after your flight.

Jet Lag:

  • For up to 3 hours of time change, we do our hardest to immediately put the kids on the schedule of wherever we are. It’s kind of rough but seems to be the best bet. It might mean an extra power nap in the late afternoon to keep them awake until bedtime, but it’s worth it. My kids usually adjust to a 3 hr time change quite easily.
  • For longer, (say, 8 hours?) :-) It’s quite another story. The first two nights our kids went to bed at a reasonable hour and slept fairly well through the night. The next four nights were TERRIBLE. Tori woke up at 3 am WIDE AWAKE and ready to play. I sat with her, using my phone as a flashlight, and read books quietly until she went back to sleep, 90 minutes later. Ugh.
  • Have a bottle of wine ready. Or popcorn. Or SOMETHING that you can consume in the bathroom with minimal noise. The next couple of nights the two kids stayed awake until almost midnight, laughing and joking and making fart noises. Nothing I could say or do would make them sleep, so AJ and I poured wine into the hotel coffee mugs and sat in the bathroom and watched a movie on the iPad. Not our best nights.
  • It took a full 7 nights to be completely adjusted. Part of this I believe is because my kids were not used to sleeping in the same room together. If your kids share a room already, they’re better prepared for hotel living :-)

Anyway, sorry this was so wordy! It really is just a brief synopsis of our travel, but I hope it gives some of you an idea of how we handled such a long journey :-) Imagine if we had gone to Australia or Japan!

Thanks for reading! What are some things you do to survive travel with kids?

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Adjusting to Britain

So, I haven’t written in a while. Again. Sorry. I’ve been pretty busy so I’m not going to beat myself up about it.  :)

I am now officially a “migrant spouse” living in the UK! It’s been a whirlwind 4 weeks (whaaat? FOUR WEEKS ALREADY!?!?!) but it’s also been an amazing journey.

We’ve been tested in so many ways. My children have been amazing-super-troopers and have withstood said tests. My marriage has, so far, also withstood said tests. We celebrated our 9th anniversary last week, sitting on our couch paying bills, ordering delivery groceries (my entire grocery list delivered for 4 quid? Yes, please.) and celebrating our newly installed wifi. And we were both so happy.

On the Tube!

On the Tube!

People have been asking me, “What been the biggest adjustment?” Well, in short, the biggest adjustment has been for my children. They’ve slept in 4 different beds in as many weeks (5 if you count the airplane?), experienced an 8 hr jet lag, been traipsed through a foreign city via buses, cabs, the Tube and their little feet were blistered and sore from all the walking. They’ve learned to drink from adult cups because there’s no such thing as “kids’ cups” at restaurants here. They can’t always understand the other kids at the playground. (“Hi, my name is Jennifer!” said one little girl. Tori replied, “Hi Jannika!” lol.) The Bubble Guppies have British accents. And. The. Big. Deal: THERE IS NO BLUE BOX MACARONI AND CHEESE IN THE ENTIRE BLOOMING COUNTRY.

New habit of using fingers instead of pacifier...

New habit of using fingers instead of pacifier…

We’ve seen the effects of the stress on them. Anders still uses a pacifier (we had deliberately put off weaning him from it until after the move) and during the first two weeks of being here, if he didn’t have his pacifier, he’d put his fingers in his mouth at all times. He’d never done this before!! Thankfully this habit has stopped, but it certainly was a sign that he felt stressed, poor guy.

Crying all the way home from the market.

Crying all the way home from the market.

Tori has shown her stress in a more verbal and behavioral way… Lots of tantrums and acting out, and random-to-us bouts of major tears. She’s expressed sadness about being away from her friends and family, and gets easily offended if a child won’t play with her at the playground. We’re in the (stressful) process of finding a school for her, which I think will help quite a bit. It will get her into a routine, will give her an outlet for play and learning, and will, hopefully, reinforce some of the behavior training we’ve been teaching her. (For example, it’s not ok to call anyone, especially a grown-up we’ve just met, “poopy face” and then stick your tongue out and spit. Sigh.)

The most stressful part for me, so far, has been seeing my kids stressed! It’s amazing how many of my thoughts and actions are centered around trying to make them comfortable, even more than before. I’ve questioned my ability as a mom, I’ve questioned why I even bothered to have kids in the first place. My heart has been broken time and time again as my daughter weeps uncontrollably on my shoulder.

But. BUT. I have not once questioned whether we made the right decision in moving here. AJ and I both have a sense of right-ness, for lack of a better word. These adjustments are exactly that: adjustments. With, in theory, an end. It will take a little while but we’ve come so far. We’ve been loving our location, in a north-eastern borough of London, where everything we can possibly need is within a few blocks walking distance. There’s a playground or garden literally around every corner, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of seeing all there is to see here. We’ve been thoroughly enjoying exploring the city and chatting with the local mums and dads on the playgrounds.

Exploring London!

Exploring London!

I think next I’ll compile a list of the things we’ve found surprisingly different here; that’s the other big question people have been asking me: “What are some of the cultural differences?” So stay tuned for stories of creamer in yogurt containers, trash collection, burnt out electronics, peeing on the playground, and ham. :-)

Cheers!