Just a girl rambling around the globe and writing about it.

Musings from around the block and farther.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Agony and the Ecstasy (Traveling with Kids)

This is Raf, in line at a Starbucks that we found right off La Rambla in Barcelona. We didn't want to go to Starbucks -- frankly, we didn't even know it would be an option -- but we were dying for some hard-core caffeination. The kids are now on European time, which means that no one goes to bed until at least midnight and they tend to wake up so late that we routinely miss the breakfast (and coffee)downstairs in the hotel restaurant. But the idea of just kickin' it around Barcelona sans cafe sucked as much as the idea of navigating three kids into a stand-up coffee bar. And so we found ourselves in line at Starbucks with other Americans and Brits, buying both American-style VENTI (yes!) coffees and "real" banana bread for Emme. Since our kids aren't eating a great deal beyond bread and butter, croissants, ice cream and the occasional apple, getting them to eat something while we're out feels like we're being "good" parents.

And so, an hour later, we had "Rambla-ed" into Subway, in search of American-style sandwiches. We didn't find those exactly, but there was enough of resemblance to a sandwich that the kids were sufficiently fed (though Serena kept asking why Spaniards have such brown lettuce... Raf explained that they don't put lettuce on their sandwiches, so they just don't know...). (She also didn't catch on that the "turkey" in her sandwich was ham... they didn't have turkey, which is her usual order, so Raf said that in Spain the turkeys are darker...)

Raf and I agree that we would never have wanted to end up at American chain restaurants on this trip, but I am grateful, GRATEFUL with a capital "G." If my kids can eat anything while we're here, I'm happy. If it buys us a few more minutes of sightseeing, I'm grateful.

The fantasy is that our kids will, on their own, point out interesting gastronomic delights and steer us toward tables so that we can sample them as a family; the reality is that we are raising ultra-American kids in a mall-centric society in the greater Los Angeles area and they (like us) are used to having many of the same restaurants and shops available at all times. And that's okay. I'll admit (happily) that I'm addicted to Starbucks like most Americans; but for this trip, I'm stepping outside of that routine, allowing myself to be surprised and delighted by the different options that Europe offers.

And so we continued to ramble La Rambla and Emmeline found the area that, on my map, was called "La Rambla of the Little Birds." Seeing the vendors with their cages of small pets -- since most Barcelonans are apartment dwellers, they don't have dogs or cats, preferring birds, bunnies, rodents and lizards -- all three girls ran to pet the miniature pigs and baby bunnies.

Another minute later, they pooped out again, but soldiered on toward the port, then begged for a taxi until we'd already walked the entire way back to the hotel. They cuddled up to my laptop and some Disney shows we'd downloaded onto iTunes and smiled as they drifted through siesta time.

Raf and I keep saying to each other, as we pass one amazing sight after another, "This would be a very different trip if it was just you and me." Which is true, but that's not reality for this particular trip, nor is it what we'd truly wanted. We wanted to expose our family to a new way of life, a different culture and language, and this is what we're doing, with liberal doses of American-style down-time (computer, TV, iPods, etc.). The girls are being as good as they can with all that Raf and I want to see, but they are still just kids -- American kids -- and we can't expect them to (happily) walk everywhere when they're so used to a car-centric society.

So today we're going to make their wishes a priority. We're going on a "sky-way" cable car above the city, shopping at H&M, and taking a tourist bus around the city so that they don't have to walk it. Work with what is, I keep reminding myself, trying to channel Eckert Tolle. If "what is" is we're traveling with three young kids, how do we make Barcelona magical for them? Shopping, thrill rides and mobile sight-seeing. If we're lucky, one of those will imprint a memory that will make them want to return later in life... perhaps even with their kids.

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