Monday, December 24, 2007

Rome for the holidays

Rome, all of the guidebooks advised us, is not a city for children. There are few green spaces, even less kid-focused attractions and damned little in the way of relevant sights for the under-10 set. "They'll be welcomed, of course, but incredibly bored," one travel guide after another reiterated. The universal message was abundantly clear: take your offspring elsewhere.

A year ago, we probably would not have hesitated to take this advice to heart. New to the traveling with kids game, concerned about everything from finding family-friendly sleeping arrangements to creating playground-laden itineraries, we were gun shy about going anywhere -- even to places which professed to cater to children. Faced with a city so clearly uninterested in our little darlings, we would have run screaming faster than we could say arrivederci. (In our defense, it is very hard to say arrivederci with just the right accent...)

Thank goodness we've relaxed a bit in the past 15 months, or we would have missed an amazing trip to Rome. Yes, yes, there was vomiting. But the illness (and ubiquitous fever, of course) did not strike until the last night, it only struck one child and said child did not actually start throwing up until we were on the plane coming home. Granted, our re-entry to the UK and our first day back were a bit messier than anticipated, and I would obviously have preferred to be able to tackle the post-vacation laundry issue without first running emergency loads of Evan's sheets and pjs. But before all of this, we had nearly 4 healthy days in Rome. And contrary to popular guidebook opinion, the whole family had a terrific time.

OK, the guidebooks were sort of right. Not much in the way of green space in Rome, really, and even less in the way of real playgrounds. But a ride on a bicycle large enough for the whole family turned out to be a far more exciting park ride than any swing my children have ever tried.

And the books weren't wrong when they said that some of the appeal that adults find in the sight of Rome's beautiful piazzas full of fountains and ancient buildings might be lost on young children, I admit. But my children thought that the giant toy and sweet fair set up in Piazza Navona in honor of La Befana made a very appealing sight indeed.

There's no doubt that Paul and I were more awed by the ruins of ancient Rome than our offspring, just as the travel advice websites had predicted. But once some then/now overlay pictures in a book purchased outside the Colosseum helped our kids to understand what they were looking at, even a pile of old rocks and a few columns started to look pretty interesting to them, too.

Yes, a little bit of ingenuity and luck might just have tipped the scales in our favor where children and Rome were concerned. But it was the food factor which knocked the whole thing out of the park for us. Traveling with young picky eaters can be an incredibly frustrating and humbling experience. We've been forced to walk out of restaraunts in more cities than I'd like to admit because we simply could not make their menus work for our family. There have been screaming and hissing disagreements with our children in countles other eating establishments where we have foolishly attempted to strike a workable compromise in order to sample some local cuisine. We have stared longingly from afar at more fine dining venues than I care to recount after regretfully selecting more kid-friendly options. But not one of those things happened in Rome. We ate frequently, we ate well, and we were all happy (though perhaps a bit overstuffed) with what we consumed. Four days of near constant infusions of pizza, pasta and gelato may or may not have had a little something to do with the vomiting which brought our little Roman holiday to a close. But in the meantime, it helped ensure that we had been wise to ignore the nay-saying "experts." For this family with young children at least, there's been no place like Rome.

For those who like the pictures more than words, our Rome photos are up on Flickr. What a beautiful city (beauty, of course, being in the eye of the beholder)...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Famous last words

"Yeah, my kids are prone to ridiculously high fevers almost every time they get the slightest bit sick. But they pretty much never vomit."

Is it necessary to elaborate any further on our trip to Rome?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dreidel diversity

I must admit, I tend to be a bit skeptical of schools' diversity rhetoric. Don't get me wrong; it is the rhetoric I have issue with, not the diversity itself. I think diversity in our schools is hugely important and it's a big part of what made northwest London such an attractive place for us to live and educate our children. But I don't believe that carefully stacking a classroom with two of each colour, as the independent schools seem wont to do here, adequately addresses the issue in and of itself. Such careful class assignments provide schools with indisputable evidence (right there in black and white) that they embrace diversity, but I sometimes wonder whether that somehow lets those schools off the hook where actually providing a culturally broad curriculum is concerned.

This week, however, I saw an example of diversity at its best in Julia's classroom. On the final day of Chanukah, several mothers came into school to teach the class about the history and traditions of the holiday. Well over a third of Julia's classmates are Jewish, so the Maccabees' story and the lighting of the menorah was old hat to many of the children. But not a one save her friend Yuki knew how to make an origami dreidel until his Japanese mother arrived alongside the Jewish mums with white, blue, gold and purple paper squares in hand. Julia came home from school that day bubbling over with excitement about her new Chanukah crafting skill. And I began to think that maybe the simple act of bringing people of different backgrounds and cultures together in a classroom does a lot more good than I'd ever realized.

Friday, December 07, 2007

It is around this time every year that I begin to wonder whether perhaps my time and talents might be better utilized by a return to the workforce

Double layered on heavy cardstock, people. This year's invites are double layered things of beauty. (Of course, that's only because I misjudged my printer's ability to handle such heavy cardstock, but I want the credit for making the effort anyway.) I could have been planning major press tours or writing brilliantly pithy copy right this very moment, but no -- I left that all behind for the joy and rewarding work of raising my children. I can't ever get these years when my children are young back, and I don't want to miss them... remember that line? Yeah. Well now I also can't get back the gazillion hours of my life spent painstakingly hand-assembling invitations to a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory themed party guaranteed to impress which will hopefully hold the interest of the 6 year old crowd.

Do you suppose it would be overkill to whip up some nice media materials the way I used to when organizing events? Perhaps some salient talking points might help to help reinforce the key messages of this occasion. Julia is 6. Guests may celebrate by consuming copious amounts of candy. I need a resume and an interview suit. There. I think that sums it all up nicely.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Fun With Interfaith Parenting, the December edition

"Hey, Evan, guess what? Chanukah starts tomorrow night!"

"Oh, wow! Chanukah! I'm so excited! Santa's coming tomorrow!!!"