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This is the question I’ve been alternately dreading and dodging since I began planning this trip two years ago.
I mean, the answer is obvious: of course Santa comes to Vietnam. I’m not going to impose a trip like this on my kids—taking them to the other side of the world, away from their friends, family, school and everything familiar for six months—and then tell them that on top of all that, Santa will just be giving us a miss this year.
But the question remains: exactly how will we celebrate Christmas, and how will we keep the Santa myth going despite the obvious obstacles? Complicating the answer is the fact that we’re not sure where we’re going to be, other than “somewhere in Vietnam” (we’re in Cambodia at the moment), nor do we know whom we may be spending the occasion with. Here are some of the main obstacles we’ve considered:
At home we eschew church (yes, even on Christmas Eve), but I imagine this year we may go looking for one, just to inject some much-needed ceremony and tradition into the day. We’ll also need to be flexible in our interpretations of traditions: stir-fried chicken for dinner instead of turkey, banana fritters instead of chocolate log, and we can always leave out some sticky coconut rice balls and sweet coffee for Santa.
The good news is that if online reports are accurate, Christmas is actually one of Vietnam’s four most important festivals. I’ve also read that children in Vietnam believe in Santa Claus, and put their shoes in front of their doors on Christmas Eve, expecting to find them filled with treats in the morning. This leads me to be optimistic about our odds of finding Christmas decorations, treats, trinkets and trifles in shops as Christmas approaches.
Meanwhile, we’re not entirely without resources:
And finally, of course, we’ll take some cues from local traditions. If Christmas is Vietnam’s fourth biggest celebration, there’s bound to be some buzz about it no matter where we are.
Twelve years ago, before kids, my husband and I travelled around Asia and Africa for a year, spending four of those months on the Indian subcontinent. When we had reached the end of our stint in India, we couldn’t wait to leave. It is a huge understatement to say that India is a challenging destination even for seasoned travellers, and our experience there had been a complicated love-hate affair. In a year of traipsing through a dozen difficult countries, a third of them in Africa, no place had been anywhere near as trying, exasperating or wearying as India. This is probably why many people looked at us with one eyebrow raised when we started planning, two years ago, to take the kids there.
The thing is, a strange thing happened after our first visit to India: we started to miss the place. It turned out that most of the stories we found ourselves recalling and recounting about our year away were about the bizarre, amusing, maddening things that had happened to us in India. We had seen only the north of the country during that trip, and as the years went by I knew that some day, we were going to feel compelled to go back and see the south.
And so here we are—and I have to say, so far it’s nothing like what I remember.
We flew from Hanoi, Vietnam to Chennai, India a few days ago, stayed one night at an airport hotel, then caught another flight to Trivandrum the following afternoon. Trivandrum is about a hundred kilometres north of India’s southernmost tip, a half-hour drive from the small beach resort of Kovalam. Exiting the Trivandrum airport, we caught a pre-paid taxi to Kovalam and began our adventure.
We were prepared for all of the things that had made India so difficult the last time: aggressive touts and beggars, overcrowding, unbearable heat, unpleasant smells, choking traffic, crooked rickshaw and taxi drivers, garbage and cow manure and open manholes to dodge as we walked the streets.
So we were pleasantly amazed to find ourselves in a little piece of India that is like nothing we encountered before. “Have you taken us somewhere else without telling me?” my husband keeps asking me with mock suspicion.
Getting here was easy. People are helpful and friendly. The hotel, although cheap, is clean and welcoming. The beach is also clean, with clear water and vigilant lifeguards. There’s fabulous muesli for breakfast. The coffee is the best I’ve had on this entire trip so far. There are bins along the beach for garbage, and people actually seem to use them.
In other words, it seems we’ve inadvertently stumbled upon India For Beginners—the perfect place to get re-acquainted with (and introduce the children to) the subcontinent.
To be honest, it’s likely that when we recalled everything that was difficult about India on our first visit, we were thinking about our introduction to the country. That time, we flew into Delhi, got dropped off at the train station, and were wildly unprepared for the chaotic scene that greeted us. This time, with the benefit of hindsight, we chose deliberately to begin in a small town after four months elsewhere in Asia—with the kids as seasoned as they were ever going to be—and it has made all the difference.
Since our arrival, we’ve established a relaxed routine that involves a leisurely breakfast followed by two hours of school work, then lunch and afternoon at the beach, where we can rent chairs, umbrellas and boogie boards for about $8. Happy hour begins at sunset—it’s quite spectacular, setting over the Arabian sea—when the kids enjoy mango lassis and we share a few cold Kingfisher beers. The kids know just what they like when it comes to Indian food, and it always gives us a moment of combined pride and amusement to hear them ask for palak paneer, veg korma, channa masala and chapattis when the waiter comes by.
As pleasant as Kovalam is, however, there is something artificial about it. It’s a popular destination for package tourists, which may explain why it seems so familiar and easy to manage. We’ll soon have to move on. Today’s task: deciding whether to head to the next town by car or by train, and maybe finding a yoga class.
We’re into the final six weeks of our half-year trip now, but there are still lots of exciting things to see and do as we move north, including an overnight houseboat tour of Kerala’s backwaters, more overnight sleeper trains, a hill station, a wildlife sanctuary, ruins of ancient cities, more beaches and, of course, our final destination: busy, massive Mumbai. So far, we’re loving India.
No more land border crossings. No more visa applications. No more cold showers, grotty bathrooms, scams to dodge, hotels to research or train tickets to book, and not very many more blog entries.
Finally, we’ve worn out two out of three of our iPods and used up nearly all of the memory on our laptop. Our whites are all grays, our ends are all bleached, our backpacks are weathered and the soles of our shoes are worn flat. We’ve taken all our malaria pills (just about), used up all our Band-Aids, flown our last flight and spent all our money.
We’ve arrived home scruffy, seasoned and rejuvenated, sad that the trip is over but happy to lay eyes on the familiar modern world again and stay in one place for a while. The kids, in particular, are thrilled to see their toys and friends again.
The trip will live on as a family legend, not just a vacation but something more on the scale of an epic accomplishment. It was at turns exhilarating, exhausting, fascinating, trying, thrilling, entertaining, frustrating, surprising and, very occasionally, death-defying. It was a wild ride, a fabulous adventure and often a grand test of our patience, fortitude and immune systems.
When it was good, it was the best decision we’d ever made, and when it was not, we thought ourselves mad for taking it on. When the kids were managing beautifully and the travelling was easy, we thought about what excellent parents we were for showing them the world and spending so much time in their company: 24/7 for six and a half months. It was harder to be smug when they fought non-stop, resisted home-schooling, threw up on their shoes and missed their friends. And when occasionally we found ourselves in physically dangerous situations with them, we were appalled at the poor judgment that had caused us to drag them halfway around the world just to increase their odds of dying in a fiery bus crash.
It was a crazy, unforgettable experience that we’re amazed and pleased to have shared and survived, and so lucky to have enjoyed.
In the end, we visited eight countries, including more than 45 cities or towns. Between us we read more than 150 books in the 180 days we were gone. We had six months to learn what we could about each place we visited, but that time also gave us the luxury to learn about anything else that interested us, including each other. It also gave us the benefit of perspective on the lives we had left behind and would be returning to. It was half a year of new experiences, new languages, new foods, new friends and family bonding.
We’re all a bit wistful about the end of the trip, but maybe it’s best to end on a positive note. Ciaran, never the sentimental type, is looking at it this way. “I’m really looking forward to going home,” he said the other day with great enthusiasm. “Want to know why? It’s because of our three-storey house! We won’t all have to share a small hotel room anymore! And I won’t have to use bottled water to brush my teeth! And it’s been way too long since I ate some of Grandpa Kip’s barbecue chicken.”
Well, there you have it.
Last week was fire prevention week, but I bet not many savvy moms knew about that. So I don’t mind telling you about it now—even though it’s over. The fact is that fire safety in the home is relevant any week. I also think it’s a great time of year to take stock on all systems in your home and be sure you are well prepared for the winter months ahead.
Here’s an article on establishing an escape plan and some reminders we received last week from Home Depot on making sure your house is safe are definitely worth noting.
Sign language is a great tool to help reduce temper tantrums in your baby and toddler. Studies have shown that teaching pre-verbal children how to use simple signs to communicate with you will help to reduce their frustration. This is because they are able to tell you what they want, eliminating many guessing games.
When my daughter was 10 months old, I was giving her Cheerios in her highchair and she kept throwing them on the ground and signing ‘more’. I said to her, “You don’t want ‘more’! What do you want?” and she signed ‘more’ ‘cheese’.
I was amazed that my 10 month old signed two words together, but also that she was able to easily
tell me what she wanted. Additionally, there was no cheese in sight and I hadn’t offered her any during this snack time. If she didn’t have that sign to use, then I would have assumed she was finished because she was throwing her food on the floor. She would then have been angry and frustrated, possibly resulting in a temper tantrum.
Sign language as a tool is also very handy when children are learning how to talk. Many times the child is not always clear in his speech and we can’t be100% sure what word they are saying. For example, some kids might say ‘ba’ and it means a number of things like, ball, bath, bottle, book etc. If your child is signing, you can then understand what he wants, eliminating the frustration of having to guess.
Here are five great signs to start with:
Using sign language is as easy as teaching a child how to wave good-bye. The most important thing to remember is to be consistent. If you are choosing to teach the sign ‘milk’, then every time you say the word milk you should make the sign. Just like reading a book or teaching a song, this is just another enhancement you can bring to your child’s life.
When it comes to toys, how do you choose the right ones for your baby? What are the key components you should be considering? Childhood development expert, Dr. Deborah Weber shares some key points.
Q. When toys are labelled with ages, are the labels for safety, or are they based on research on developmental stages?
A. Thank you for asking this very important question! Age recommendations are guidelines for parents and gift-givers to use when purchasing toys for children. The age recommendations on Fisher-Price toys are based on the following factors: safety guidelines, sound knowledge of the developmental stages of children, observations of children interacting with toys, input from parents of young children regarding the age-appropriateness of toys and history of similar toys. So you can see that much consideration, deliberation and testing goes into establishing the age recommendation for toys. In addition to following the age recommendations for toys, parents need to instruct older children to keep their toys out of reach when younger children are around, as there could be small parts which could cause a choking hazard.
Q. My friend’s baby seems to be learning/developing quicker than mine. Should I be worried? Does this mean my baby is less intelligent?
A. Children develop at different rates and go through developmental stages at a different pace. The best way for babies to learn is through their interactions with you. Talk, read, and sing to them throughout the day—use descriptive language because that provides the foundation for learning. In addition, there are many toys on the market which have learning components integrated into them for a child your baby’s age.
Q. How can I encourage my baby to use their imagination?
A. The Laugh ‘n Learn toys provide a great opportunity for babies to use their imagination. They are early role play toys with themes to introduce baby to pretend play in a fun and familiar way way—some examples are a Tool Bench, Farm, Kitchen, Tea Set, Vacuum and Lawn Mower—these toys jump start baby’s way to imaginative play. Engage in play right alongside of your baby—it’s a great way to get them engaged and encourage them to use their imagination—“What can we build today? Would you like a cup of tea? This room is messy—we sure do need to vacuum—let’s do it!”
Q. What type of stimuli should I be exposing my baby to and at what stages? When are colours most important? Sounds? Touch?
A. The youngest babies are sensory learners, so exposing them to a variety of sounds, sights, and textures is appropriate. Playful music as well as soothing music of different styles, bright colourful high-contrasting toys or objects, and texture that is smooth, bumpy, silky, furry, or soft. Describe the sounds, sights, and textures to your baby as they interact and experience them. Introducing the older baby to colours provides them with the understanding of the colour names and that objects are made of different colours. It gives them the language to use to help describe objects.
Q. Can a child have too many toys?
A. A child can have too many toys if there is no place to store them properly. Clutter and disorder can be over-whelming and cause frustration making it difficult to play appropriately. Keeping toys in order on shelves or in containers is important so that when it is time to play, the toys will be ready, and when it is time to clean-up, there will be a place to put the toys away. When a child outgrows a toy, it can be an emotional parting for the child. If your child is old enough to understand, involve him or her in the decision about what to do with the toy. You’ll have an indication of when it is time to part with the toy, to save it for another child, or to give to charity, when you’re child no longer uses it for several months.
You don’t have to be Kate Gosselin, an unemployed reality television star and single mom with a brood of eight kids, to be stressed about the costs of paying for your kids’ post-secondary education. Most parents are concerned (and confused) about how to set aside money in a Registered Education Savings Plan. Enter Golden Girl Finance expert Rhonda Sherwood, a Wealth Advisor at ScotiaMcLeod in Vancouver, to help sort through the RESP rulebook and provide savvy ‘school-savings’ tips to get started!
Rhonda advises that RESPs are pretty standard, since they are such highly regulated plans. Therefore, you won’t gain much from shopping around. Choose an institution where you have a relationship, bring in a budget of what you can spend and ask an advisor to help you to choose investments. Hopefully, your prodigy will go on to make you proud!
Ask any parent and they would all agree that we would rather our kids ran around outside in the fresh air all day long than be infront of a screen. But at the same time, a little downtime never hurt anyone. Whether you’re on a train, plane or automobile, or you just need a little screen-saver time on the iPhone, iPad or iPod, your kids will love these great educational apps that will teach them a thing or two.
Check out these 10 Apps for Smart Kids.
Canada is a great country. We have so much to be thankful for. But all is not perfect in our land. We are known to be a progressive and diverse culture, and in the bright-shining light of progression I speak to all the parents, administrators and educators of our fair nation.
We stand proud on our achievements in literacy and numeracy, for our children are among the most capable in the world when it comes to Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. No surprise really, as the 3 Rs have been long-standing pillars of our education system and our Canadian mindset. From the Pacific to the Atlantic, we measure our achievement of the 3Rs using mandatory provincial examinations. We know where we stand, and we can rightfully stand tall.
Despite these marvelous literacy and numeracy achievements, the health of Canadians, child and adult alike, is being insidiously eroded. Sadly, our Canadian way of life has become sedentary for over 95% of us and more than 65% are overweight and obese, leading to the unprecedented development of ‘inactivity diseases’ such as type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.
The true north isn’t strong, it’s weak
This unhealthy lifestyle—our behaviours—is a reflection of our Canadian values and attitudes. Thank goodness for our health care system which has, up to this point, been able to manage the negative consequences of our collective sloth and gluttony. But our health care system is beginning to fail under the burden of our lifestyles.
We want our health care but we do not want our health!
How do we rectify this? Well, thankfully the health and physical education (HE/PE) objectives that are a part of our provincial education curricula can provide the foundation on which we can create physically literate children that actively participate. Which could save the next generation of Canadian bacon, so to speak.
Parents and educators must start to insist on the delivery of the HE/PE objectives, just as we have insisted for reading, writing and arithmetic. Perhaps this would form the foundation of a new Canadian culture, one that is active and healthy.
The physical education curricula for all provinces can be found here. Parents should become familiar with what our children are supposed to know and behaviours that they should exhibit as a result of being enrolled in our health and physical education system. You will be surprised to learn what the learning expectations are. Parents want their kids to be healthy. We all do. We may not yet have provincial examinations for physical literacy, but if we value what physical literacy gives to our children we need to measure it. Just as we measure the ability of our children to read, write and do math.
Like most provincial HE/PE curricula, Manitoba’s has strands on fitness, movement, safety, healthy lifestyle practices, as well as personal and social management. For your interest, here are some of the learning objectives of the Grade 6 curriculum from three strands: fitness, movement and lifestyle. What you’ll notice is that the objectives are quite bold. If kids were able to do the things that the curriculum sets out, they’d be well prepared for the future.
The problem is that schools aren’t delivering on the curriculum. Our children are not able to do everything that the system itself expects. As parents, we need to work cooperatively with our education system to actually deliver on these objectives.
The recreation and sport sectors need to become integrated into our school systems via the parent advisory council to complement the physical literacy education process. Our teachers know which children are in need of improved healthy lifestyle behaviours, and they can play a very important role in guiding their students toward suitable, physically active leisure pursuits in the community.
We don’t need to worry about who is already active in sport and leisure activities. We need to worry about who isn’t.
So, parents, please politely get in the face of your teachers, engage your principals and superintendents, recruit your parent advisory councils. Leave them in no doubt as to your hopes and needs for your children and our country: ‘Hey, my kids have to be physically literate and active!’
We’d never tolerate our kids practicing reading only twice a week because we know that regular reading is what builds literacy. So why are we okay with our kids only getting physical education and activity in schools with only a couple of sessions a week?
As parents, we can do our bit outside school time. But schools can make a powerful contribution during the day.
Let’s make sure that Canada, the true north, really is both strong and free.
Dean Kriellaars (BPE, MSc, PhD, CEP) is faculty at the University of Manitoba and a scientist at the Manitoba Institute of Child Health. Dr. Kriellaars has received two University of Manitoba Presidential Outreach awards for meritorious community work and recently was awarded the Campbell Award for longstanding community service. Provincially, he was recognized for his outstanding activities in building community wellness in the province of Manitoba through the Healthy Living Award.