Friday, July 30, 2010

Traveling In Color: Finding Diversity and Opening Minds on a Paris Vacation with Kids




I remember going on only one vacation when I was a kid—to my aunt’s house in South Carolina. Shortly before we left, I caught the chicken pox from my brother and broke out on the airplane, and then spent two weeks laying around on the couch at my auntie’s tiny house, cramped to the max with auntie’s eight daughters who made it so very clear they didn’t want my cooties.

I was five.

That would be my last vacation until college, when I could pool my money with friends to take weekend driving trips to a few nearby states. And since I was flat broke until well after I got my first real writing gig, I didn’t leave the country until I was well into my 20s (Cancun and Kozumel were my first forays across America’s borders), and I had no need for a passport until my honeymoon.

Of course, I hold no ill will toward my parents for this; they simply couldn’t afford vacations for four to anywhere, much less a foreign country. But I promised myself that things would be different for my babies—that they’d grow up having known the excitement of exploring a new land and learning about a new culture and eating exotic foods and taking in the beauty of a people unlike themselves. This week, Nick and I made good on that promise when we took our babies to Paris.

Taking in The City of Light during an evening cruise down the River Seine
Lila, Mazi and Mari "frolicking" through the grounds of Marie Antoinette's chateau

Denene enjoying a stroll through the "Little Africa" section of Paris
Basking in the Mona Lisa afterglow at The Louvre


Now, I’d been to France twice and so I must admit I wasn’t as excited about traipsing down the Champs-Elysees with three kids for a week. I wanted to be laid out on the beach somewhere in Puerto Rico, getting chocolatey and knocking back fruity drinks. But from the moment the airplane touched down at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Mazi, Mari and Lila’s excitement was palpable—infectious. And they were on 100 the entire trip, racing up the Eiffel Tower, floating down the River Seine, traipsing through the gardens of Versailles, keeping top-eye out for the finale of the Tour de France, stomping up more than 200 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, marveling at the wonder of Notre Dame, reveling in the history we learned during a black history tour of the City of Light, and eating their way through warm croissants and sugary coconut-less macaroons and meats topped with all kinds of fantastic sauces.

It. Was. Magical.

What to do if you're overlooking the River Seine in a fancy dress? If you're Lila, you twirl!

I can’t express how incredible it was to see this city through my children’s eyes, not only to feel their excitement but especially to know that on this trip, we opened a door for them—showed the babies that the world is so much bigger than our tiny sliver of Georgia and that finding refuge in another country, another language, another culture, another people is possible. And incredible. And beautiful.

It’s a lesson we’re constantly trying to teach them—by encouraging them to do everything from surround themselves with a diverse group of friends to immersing themselves in eclectic music, food, art and languages. The best part of this is that Mazi, Mari and Lila truly enjoy the journey.

Hanging out at the ultra-hip museum, Centre Pompidou
Mari posed up in the middle of the Champs-Elysees, in front of the Arc de Triomphe

Indeed, on the way back from the airport, Mari vowed to do research on Josephine Baker, the legendary singer/dancer/pilot/French spy who wowed Parisians with her beauty, talent and flair and Lila couldn’t wait to tell her best friend Maggie about her trip to a real-life castle. But what made my heart flutter was Mazi graciously thanking us for taking him to Europe just weeks before he heads off to college. “I can’t believe I went to Paris,” he said. “That was awesome.”

Mission accomplished.

Editor's Note: This piece was written exclusively for Parenting.com's The Parenting Post. For more great stories on raising and caring for kids, visit the MyBrownBaby page on Parenting.com. Stay tuned, too, for more pictures and highlights of our MyBrownBaby trip to Paris. 


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20 comments:

  1. Inspiring. You gave me a vision for my family. I guess my hubby and I should go first... Thank you for sharing

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  2. You have a beautiful family! And what a magical, memorable experience for you all.

    And I thought going to Disney Wrold was something! LOL!

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  3. Wonderful post! When I was young, I was fortunate to have parents who knew the value of travel and other cultures and would save and save to be able to take us places. They were teachers and knew that in order to truly know things, you must experience them rather than read about them. Nothing gives you more of an edge in Grade 8 history when you are studying medieval times than being able to say you have walked through castles in Europe. I walked in the muddy trenches from World War II in Belgium, which gave me more respect for my Grandparents, who were based there during the war. Studying Chaucer in Grade 12 English meant more to me because I had been to Canterbury Cathedral the year before. And I too, got to see the Mona Lisa and many works of art, which would lead me on to study art history in University. Now that I am a teacher, I do the same thing. We save and save and have been able to take our boys, age 7 and 5 on a few holidays. In fact, as I type we are in the UK and have just returned from a castle in Wales. Of course, we try to fly on air miles and stay with family to cut costs, but the expressions on my boys faces as they learn about moats and drawbridges and take in the view from a castle tower is priceless.

    I hope more of your readers will see the value in traveling with kids and will try to make at least one trip together!!!

    Claire from Vancouver, BC

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  4. This was beautiful!!! Congrats on achieving that goal and raising great children that could appreciate the gift!

    My favorite picture was the one on the elevator. You may have another career brewing:)

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  5. What a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing. You have given your kids an amazing gift. I hope at some point I will be able to do the same for my son!

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  6. That really was one magical experience. The happiness of your family radiates off the screen. Those smiles, Miss Lila's twirls =). Can't wait to see more.

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  7. awesome story, amazing pictures! You are planting an important seed that will help your kids blossom into global citizens.

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  8. OMG! those pics were BEAUTIFUL!

    i've been thinking A LOT about going to Paris. I am definitely going next year, that's my goal. I've been sort of apprehensive about taking the munchkin with me (he's only 4, going on 5)...but I definitely plan on taking him around the world when he's a bit older and can appreciate (and remember) it.

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  9. That was so inspiring. My husband doesn't like to travel, but I have made it clear that our kids WILL be doing some international exploration in their lives. I was almost 30 when I first left the county and have since traveled quite a bit. I'm looking forward to sharing that with my little ones, as well as doing some exploring of some of the wonderful things our own country holds.

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  10. That is soooo dope! Yall need to adopt me for real! I promise i wont eat much! :)

    We are trying to save up now for a trip with the kids. :)

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  11. I recommend this for all families who can afford it. We took a trip out of the country with our boys. Their excitement was well worth it.

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  12. Look like a beautiful trip, the experience is well worth the investment! And your pics are beautiful!

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  13. That's awesome Denene! I plan to expose my daughter to the many cultural things the world has to offer as soon as she turns 2 years old.

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  14. There is a black history tour of Paris? I'm in now.

    I have been to PR - that's a great trip too with kids.

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  15. How inspiring! I was a military brat dragged from city to city, town to town, country to country while my bf was stuck in Baltimore until he got old enough to venture out for himself! I'm going to follow your lead and make travelling fun and exciting in my sons younger years! Thanks for sharing :)

    Kelli
    www.theblackcouple.com

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  16. Great article. You have expressed my desires for my son which is something that I haven't been able to put into words. My three year old son is going to travel outside of the U.S. for the first time next week when we go to Germany to visit my brother and his family. I miss my brother but I am grateful that his relocation to Germany gives me a reason/excuse to go to Europe. I know my son won't remember or appreciate this trip but I believe it will give him a glimpse of what is out there. I'm also looking forward to him meeting his cousins for the first time.

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  17. You LIVE! I love it! And you look good doing it too. You're, like, glowing! Those little dresses are so adorable too. :)

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  18. Wonderful post very inspiring,we're planing our next trip!!

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  19. Just found your blog. Loving it. So refreshing to see another positive AA mommy exposing their child to world culture.

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