Turning my boys into global citizens on our first trip abroad.
-Deborah Perry Piscione, BettyConfidential.com
In December of 2007, four months before the birth of our daughter, Dayne Alexandria, my husband and I took our twin boys, Dominick and Drake (above, left and right), to Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. What struck me most was not the evident beauty of the castle itself, nor was it the amazing milieu of the California coastline. It was learning that William Randolph Hearst believed that two factors in his life made him the person he became: The California landscape and the trip he took to Europe with his mother when he was a teenager. At that moment, I made a promise to my boys and my unborn daughter that they would be global citizens of the world, and that I would never let anything -- not even school -- come in between them and international travel.
This year, my husband and I decided it was time. Our twin boys turned 7 years old, and it was time to go -- to London and Paris, that is. It was perfect since our boys studied Europe and Andalusia Islands this year, and we are all looking forward to the Summer Olympics in London!
Preparing for the trip caused some fun in the household. Dominick has an insatiable curiosity for life. While he is mostly interested in science, he began making his own books for London and Paris and trying to teach himself French, as he was terrified he wouldn't be able to communicate with anyone. He also had anxiety for months leading up to our trip over not having a British accent and whether he would be required to speak with a British accent for the people to understand him. He was so concerned about it, mentioning it to me continuously before bedtime, that when I ran into some British women while we were at the San Francisco Zoo, I asked for Dominick to speak to them so he could comprehend that the women would be able to understand him and that he would be able to communicate with the "London" people!
While we had hoped to attend the summer Olympics, we decided that I'd take them a few months earlier since I'd be traveling solo with the twins (my husband and daughter would stay back home). I had mixed emotions about traveling with young children by myself, being outnumbered by twin boys, and the pain and anxiety of being apart from my 4-year-old daughter. Still, her time will come, and it was time to introduce my boys to the world. This is, after all, part of the education my husband and I committed to.
The day came when we left from the San Francisco airport and boarded the 10:30 am flight to London, which in itself was a treat because I'm NOT a fan of red-eyes (I can't sleep on planes!). Most of the flight was daylight this time of the year, and as we travelled over the Arctic Circle, we stared outside our window to see if we could spot any polar bears. We didn't see any, but it was "cool" for the boys to look, since they had just been tasked with bringing something Arctic-related to "Sharing" the week before at school. To connect the dots for them was special.
We arrived in London, took the Heathrow Express (15 minutes to London, and the best way to travel into town), and arrived into the city. Since we were only staying a full four days in London, I wanted to be to where most of our activities were, and opted to stay in Westminster at a fantastic hotel, the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel. Not only did we have a very reasonably priced 1-bedroom, but we overlooked the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, and the London Eye. For 7-year-old boys, I am not sure you could get any better view, and having my own room granted me the space we all three benefitted from after long days of site-seeing.
I spent a semester in London in undergrad, so not only did I have to think long and hard about the best itinerary for 7-year-old boys, but I also wanted to share the area I lived, South Kensington, and take them to many of my old hang-outs. London, of course, is crowded this time of year, so I also needed to think about how to travel with young boys, trying not to lose them. We brought walkie-talkies with us, and I armed them each with my business card, and directed them on what to do if we got separated: "If we get lost from one another, don't panic, everything will be fine. Go into the closest store and direct someone in there to call my cell -- they call it 'mobile' in London." That was the best plan I had.
The first day, I had them walk right in front of me, and I spent the time like at a tennis match, watching them back and forth like mother hen. It just wasn't feasible to walk around London with all of us holding hands. By the second day, however, we were all pros and the boys were doing what my twin boys do - dancing and singing through the streets, never ever walking in a straight line. The only thing that kept me sane was that they were so comfortable in this foreign land, so I sure as heck wasn't going to be panicked. The song, "London Calling," kept replaying in my head, so I guess in some way we were all in sync.
Being in sync also meant that each of us took on a role. Dominick, my very serious son who is a man in a little boy's body, was the timekeeper, making sure that we got everywhere exactly 12-22 minutes ahead of schedule. If you think I am kidding, just spend a day with Dominick, and know that you will never be late, nor on time for that matter - always early. Dominick also said to anyone who would listen to him, "I am from California, and I am going to eat at the Eiffel Tower."
Drake was the compass, getting us from point A to point B. We named him after Sir Francis Drake, the famous Antarctic explorer and the Drake Passage, so - perhaps - he has navigation in his blood.
I was the wallet - need I say more?
My husband and I have become accustomed to the "celebrity" of having twin boys. People were always stopping us to admire them when they were young. We thought surely it had to end when they were older, but it hasn't due to their unique personalities. I have to say that our boys are gentlemen, but it is Drake's outgoing "no problem" attitude and Dominick's manhood trapped in a little boy's body that makes the experience of traveling with them so unique. They also never complained, not once, even though I had them walking between five and eight miles a day. (Our last day in Paris, we walked over 10 miles and even I was cranky and wanted to jump in a taxi, but didn't because I feel that you miss the whole experience if you just transport everywhere.)
A friend of mine insisted that I take them on the Tube, London's underground metro, and let them navigate me to a place they wanted to go. I was terrified to take them on the Tube as I just thought that was the best chance of losing them, especially during the work rush. However, after the second day, we were all over the Tube -- it's the best way to travel around London when going long distances. Plus, the fun of going on an underground train was "cool" within itself.
Stay tuned for part two and the perfect London itinerary for small children!
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