family

Intrepid Travels with Kids

Europe had the unique experience of encountering the Bottiaux family this summer. Our goal was to expand our kids’ horizons and impressionable young minds on the trip. France and Italy were on the agenda. Some people called us crazy for traveling to Europe for 2.5 weeks with four young kids ages 6, 8, 10 and 12.

…your six year old is too young …what about that long flight …there’s too much walking …what if they don’t remember the trip when they’re older …just wait until the kids are older. 

We did not listen.

There were plenty of sibling throw downs. It all piqued one night in Paris, as we blasted Les Miserables, Do You Hear the People Sing, from our way-too-small rental car. We couldn’t figure out how to use our ticket to exit the parking garage. None of the French signs made a heap of sense to us. Just as the impatient car behind us began to sound its obnoxious horn, one of the kids, who shall remain nameless, smashed her brother’s arm in the backseat. Blood curdling screams, from multiple family members, echoed through the parking garage; people tried not to stare. Bad words flew from our pulsating Peugeot like popcorn.

It was hot. Record breaking heat wave hot. Every day we walked until our legs ached and threatened to shrivel up and fall off. As Nathan stated, “My legs are at 1%”. It was hard work. Not at all relaxing. But, worth it.

Instead of five star hotels, our accommodations consisted of basic rooms without frills. Airbnb helped us locate clean, inexpensive basic accommodations with plenty of space for our family of six. It was a great way to truly acclimate. We hung our laundry out to dry alongside the locals in Sardinia, showered outdoors in our treehouse near Paris and befriended our friendly temporary landlord, just outside of Rome.

We live on an cul-de-sac with kids galore, in a dreamy master planned utopia. There are block parties, swimming pools a-plenty, concerts in the friendly neighborhood park, family activities at the club house and award winning schools. We are living the American Dream. Our kids are safe and sound in our not-so-cultural community. There is life outside our bubble. Life that we want them to experience.

Before kids and a mortgage, Paul and I traveled the world for four months. After scrupulously saving money and planning the itinerary, we embarked on our journey. We were young newlywed backpackers on a shoe string budget. Using around the world airline tickets, we were able to visit 17 countries.

In Africa I helped women paint. There were no brushes, we used our hands to slap wet mud onto huts. Paul paid 50 cents for a questionable haircut in Durbin. We ate a typical African dinner at our tour guide’s home in a poor township, listened to lions roar and elephant thunder on a safari and felt terrorizing fear as we faced a rhino head on while walking through the African bush. We visited a rural school and barefoot children in filthy clothes sang and danced for us.

In New Zealand we floated through dark caves and gazed up at millions of twinkling glow worms. We herded cows on the Australian farm of a couple we’d befriended in New Zealand. We stood in the Virgin Mary’s actual home, in Ephesus, Turkey, explored caves in Cappadocia, experienced painful massages in Turkish baths, rode bikes along the Mosel River in Germany, cried at Dachau concentration camp and spent our first wedding anniversary sipping champagne and eating French cheeses under the twinkling Eiffel Tower.

That trip changed us.

It’s difficult to be ethnocentric when you have traveled the world. Experiencing unfamiliar cultures opens your mind. The world was our classroom, instead of books or movies alone. Our kids lived and breathed the massive Wedding at Cana painting, instead of merely gazing at it on paper. Paul and I walked alongside more than 9,000 graves in Normandy; evoking emotions a book could never deliver. We want this for our kids.

Our kids need to know that life exists outside our shiny suburban bubble.

One of my favorite lines in the movie Good Will Hunting is, “Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that.”

Although the “Sixteen” Chapel, as the kids had thought it was called, smelled like hot, sweaty humans on the day we visited, we basked in the glory of it all. Despite groaning kids asking why they had to go to “boring Nevadacin” City, we ignored our young haters and joined thousands of others for the Pope’s blessing. None of us understood a word of the blessing, but (most of us) received it with great reverence.

Our kids have seen the view from the Eiffel Tower. They have touched the crumbling walls of the Roman Colosseum, said hello to the Mona Lisa in person, walked through the gleaming royal Palace of Versailles. Zachary tasted escargot in France (and to his astonishment, loved it), attended Sunday mass at St. Peter’s Basilica (we could only handle about 15 minutes of it, but still), swam in the warm, turquoise Mediterranean Sea in Sardinia, learned to make pizza and pasta on an agritourismo in Tuscany, lighted candles inside Notre-Dame Cathedral, walked miles and miles in stifling heat each day, rode numerous trains, boats, took several different flights and experienced the chaos of driving a rental car in Paris and Rome.

These memories will stay with us forever. As the kids grow older, they’ll realize how fortunate they were to have seen these wonders of the world. This is only the beginning of our family’s world traveling.

Trains are not a regular form of transportation in Southern California. We drive. Rarely have our kids ridden any form of public transportation. Navigating through the bustling train stations with confusing ticket machines and foreign signs was eye opening. In Italy it’s commonplace to offer your seat to the elderly. When my daughters did not know to do this, a man scolded them in Italian. They learned. All ages, races and socio-economic status’ take the trains. The true flavor of the city is present aboard the trains.

Our kids now know what it feels like to be the one who doesn’t speak the predominant language. It was tough at times and even a little embarrassing for them as they struggled to communicate with locals. Our kids were the outsiders for the first time. It was good for them.

The numerous Syrian refugee women lying prostrate in the middle of sidewalks, outside churches and sitting on cardboard with their families, didn’t go unnoticed. We talked with the kids about the millions of Syrians who had escaped violence in their war-torn country by migrating to Europe. Many of them seeking asylum. Europe has open borders, so the migrants were all over the big cities. It was a bit overwhelming for us suburb dwellers to encounter large numbers of beggars. But, it is part of the cultural landscape.

Now that we are home, we are singing the jet lag blues and longing for the wanderlust days of our trip. Our kids are brimming with ideas about where to travel next. I love that. My hope is that a seed has been planted within each of them. A seed that will blossom into their love of discovering our vast world.

Miserable Mornings

The last door has slammed. Bickering children, hormonal girls and tears of frustration have piled in Daddy’s truck and are off to school. Our house now lays strangely silent.

Weekday mornings at our house are hectic. There are four young people with four distinctly different personalities all clamoring to get out the door in unison.imageimage

There is Slow Man. He operates at one speed: snail pace. Slow Man does not worry about making himself or others tardy for school. He’s definitely not a morning person and isn’t interested in eating breakfast before 10:00 am. Slow Man causes everyone around him to feel frustrated and angry.image

Then there’s the one who arises before the entire family, eats, gets dressed and is ready for school before the rest of us set foot downstairs. Fantastic. However, Early Riser will then linger about, watching everyone else stumble through their morning obstacle course — taunting and making unnecessary comments to her siblings. Usually the taunting ends with a giant outpouring of hormonal tears and shrieking. Doors slam. The house trembles.

I’m certain our neighbors think we all crazy. Later, when I see the smiling next door neighbor at the mailbox, I’ll wonder what was overheard and quickly avert my eyes with shame.

Don’t forget about Instigator. Instigator is well known across the land for striking up arguments. She stirs the pot knowing full well that she is brewing problems. Instigator has a knack for getting people fired up. Once they’re fired up, and they flip out, she enjoys playing the role of victim. She even finds humor in getting a sibling or three angry enough that they lose their temper and their minds.image

Last but not least, is Baby Bear. Baby Bear doesn’t usually cause problems. He’s the youngest and just content being along for the ride. He’s our one and only mellow child. His biggest fault is not being able to do many things on his own yet. During the morning flurry Baby Bear often gets lost in the shuffle. Sometimes he’ll take matters into his own hands for attention and to increase his standing in the unsanctioned Bottiaux kid ranking. He’s been known to strip naked and chase shrieking sisters and their friends around the house in order to put himself on the family map.image

In an effort to streamline our morning frenzy, we’ve tried a few things lately. Getting Slow Man’s outfit ready the night before seems to help him through his sluggish morning haze. Setting the timer helps put a jump in his step. He’s always up for a race; even if it’s against the clock.

Clear guidelines are necessary for the others before the drama begins. They need to know that starting fights will insure that their free time is filled with extra chores and revoked privileges.

Showing a little interest might be what’s needed. Maybe they’re acting out because they are worried about something happening at school. At my older daughter’s age, there are a lot of issues with friends. One day she’s in friend land and everyone is getting along beautifully. The next day, they’re enemies and she’s avoiding them at all costs. Taking a minute to draw out of each child what could be causing anxiety might lead to a more subdued morning.

Lunches. Oh how I dislike packing them. Nighttime assembly would be ideal. I know this. But, I’m exhausted and sick of cleaning up other people’s messes by the day’s end. So, project lunch box is handled in the morning.

Up until a few months ago we were cereal people. Easy. Suddenly I became a short order cook with bossy customers. One kid can’t live without his framed egg. Another needs an acai bowl with all the fixings. Porridge and protein shakes are on the morning menu too. The oldest can help with eggs and porridge. But, the high powered blender business is an adult matter.

One day, when they’re all grown, mornings won’t be so rushed, stressful or chaotic. In the meantime, I will try to find joy in providing them with healthy meals and a loving home.image

In Flight Entertainment

Air travel with four young, spirited individuals is its own special form of torture.

Just before take off, Zachary, who hasn’t been feeling quite himself for a week, started begging to “just get off and go home”. The fat, silent, crocodile tears slithering down his cherry red cheeks and his pleading eyes, told me he wasn’t kidding. 

 Crap. 

This dreamy Hawaiian vacation has been locked into place for 12 solid months. The very idea of relaxing on the pristine Hawaiian beaches, cool, crisp Lava Flow in hand, has been the sole reason I’ve survived most days leading up to today. 

Five minutes into the five hour flight, Mr. Grey Hair With Glasses, in front of Lauren wormed around, while peeking between the seats, and with a tight, I’m-so-peeved-to-be-seated-in-front-of-the-ten-and-under-crowd, leathery smile, lectured her about how to gently close her tray table.  
 Really?

I’m seated next to Cinderella’s step sisters. Help me. I cannot fathom why they perpetually argue with each other. But, argue they do. Nonstop. I’m ready to ask to be seated elsewhere. Would that be weird? 
 Meanwhile, the brothers behind us are actually behaving. The children’s chewable Advil for which we paid top dollar in the airport bookstore seems to have kicked in. Zachary is holding on. 
 During drink service, the flight attendant takes pity upon us. 

“How many do you have?”

Four. 

“Ohhhhhh my gawwwd!”

I force a small laugh. This is a scenario that has repeated itself dozens of times over the years.

“How old are they?” 

I politely list their ages, and don’t even have to pause awkwardly to recall this time. Jovial flight attendant shakes her head and erupts in laughter. She grins a big you’re so nuts, grin.

“What’ll you have to drink?” 

Wine.

She reappears with the biggest little bottle of airplane vino ever. I think it’s nearly full sized. And she’s not even charging us for it. I look behind me, she’s deposited four free beers onto my husband’s plastic tray table. Four?Four! 

 Woah

We must really appear to need outside assistance. 

Time passes by shoveling copious amounts of chemically enhanced edibles into our mouths. By the time the fasten seatbelt sign has disappeared, we’ve plowed through gummy bears, Cheez Its, Swedish Fish, Juicy Fruit Starburst flavored gum, strawberry icebreakers, s’mores fishies and Reese’s Pieces. 

I hand out the surprises. A My Little Pony coloring book, An American Girl chapter book, level 2 Planes Fire and Rescue reader and Matchbox cars. They devour those too. 

Soon we are all jumbled up. Everyone’s playing musical seats. Some are here. Some are there. Lauren, in her sparkly pumps, has been playing flight attendant for the past hour. The sharing of ear buds proves to be a poor way to save a buck.   

  

I tell the kids we aren’t that far away from heaven, way up here. The boys stare at me.

“We’re like an hour away?”, asks Zachary.

I think so.

He adds, “So, God can actually smell us?”

Probably.

Finally, we start the descent. The 757 floats down. Little blinking eyes peek out the tiny airplane windows. Through the clouds. Down, down, down. With a giant thud onto Earth, we’ve landed. Hello, Hawaii. 
 I carefully avert my eyes from those around us. Yes, I’m their mother. Please, stop judging me. I tried. Really, I did. 

I over hear the man behind my husband say, “Well, it was a pleasure sitting behind these kids”. 

Say whaaa?

He doesn’t know. 

The kind gentleman doesn’t realize that I’ve reprimanded my daughters 496 times in 300 minutes. We bag it all up. Hurry. Let’s get out of here before we ruin the well behaved children perception that this misguided sole has.

Aloha. 

 

Top 10 Reasons a Family Road Trip Might be a Bad Idea

10. Who tooted? Every few minutes somebody fires off their bodily gasses. In our family, we go into full filter mode. All windows down, air vent on over drive. Everyone’s hair is whipping around as the outside air blows out the stagnant toot-afied air inside the car.

 9. He’s touching me. Let’s all keep our body parts to ourselves, shall we? It’s not hard. Just do not touch anyone. Ever.

 8. She’s looking at me. Eyes should be peering out the window, gazing at the endless miles of dreary farmland. Or watch the movie. But, do not look at your siblings. Even though I can’t ever quite catch you, I know what you’re doing. Stop it.

 7. Not this DVD! Oh, the debate. Everyone has an opinion. As luck would have it, when everyone finally reaches a consensus, we typically find that the darn DVD is fatally scratched. Then, it’s back to square one.

 6. Are we there yet? Ten minutes in, and this is their favorite question. Nope. Nine hours left, folks. I’m as disappointed about it as you are. Trust me.

5. I’m hungry. Seriously? You just ate. You can’t possibly be hungry.

Gas station meat is a family favorite.

 

4. I have to go potty…now! You didn’t go at the last rest stop? Roadside bushes work well for boys. Girls need something classier; like a gas station bathroom that smells like it was last cleaned somewhere around the turn of the century.

 3. My tummy hurts. Quick! Pull over. Oh no. Too late. 

 2. I forgot to pack underpants.  Do you mean that the pile of briefs, that I told you to pack at least 50 times, is still sitting on your bed at home? Honey, can you say, going commando?

1. We forgot who at the rest stop?!  Everyone’s re-loading. The same kid never listens. Ever. He’s catching roly polies while his siblings are obeying. We’re slowly driving away when low and behold, we forgot boy child! Park. Find kid. Deliver same old speech about listening. Hit the road. We’re almost there! Too bad there’s a return trip…day after tomorrow.