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French for Beginners: Catherine Crawford's 'French Twist'

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Are French kids really better behaved than their American counterparts? Are Gallic parents just more relaxed American ones? These are some of the questions Catherine Crawford examines in French Twist: An American Mom's Experiment in Parisian Parenting.

Crawford, who lives in Brooklyn with her husband, sought tips and advice from French experts and friends in an effort to turn her young daughters into thoroughly modern mademoiselles. Did it work? And can it work for you? You'll have to read the book, out March 12 from Ballantine, to find out.

T+L sent Crawford (who, it should be noted, is a friend), a few questions. Here's what she had to say.

Q. What drew you to the French style of parenting in the first place?

Curiously, it came to me. Namely, an old, dear friend of my husband's came for dinner with his Parisian wife and their two astonishingly well-behaved children. Everything was so easy and pleasant that night. My first reaction was jealousy--why couldn’t I have that kind of chaos-free rapport with my kids? That envy morphed into resolve, and la grande experiment was born.

Do Americans over-idealize the French? Or do they really have childrearing figured out?

Our relationship with France is so fraught. We love it… and we hate it. What I find fascinating is that we are culturally so competitive yet our societies are so very different. I discovered that the French do have many aspects of childrearing figured out – or rather they haven't over-thought and distorted them in the way many of us parents have done here. However, American parenting has some real upsides, and I’m happy that my kids are still filled with grit, fire and guts. They just needed to learn a little respect and restraint as well.

What things are American parents already doing that's pretty French?

Breathing. No, hmmm, let me think. It really is quite different. American parents are much more likely to put their kids on a level equal with themselves which, I believe, has led to a lot of ineffectual negotiating and bargaining. In France, children are children and their parents are The Chiefs. This distinction did wonders for my family. Still, I often consciously tempered the French lessons because I wanted to maintain that enterprising streak in my kids that is so cool – and common in Americans. Even many of the French parents I interviewed marveled approvingly at this American individualism instilled at such a young age.

What can American parents learn from French parents, especially when traveling with kids?

The best lesson I learned was that, given the chance and some direction, my kids could really hang. After about six months of "French-ifying," we took a beach vacation that was revolutionary. The difference between this trip and our previous vacations is that we didn't plan it around the kids and "kid-friendly" activities. For the first time, they had to adapt into our world (and not the other way around). Instead of spending gobs of money at amusement parks and mini-golf, we hiked, cooked, and communed with both nature and each other.

What's your one can't miss French trick that parents can try right now?

My personal favorite, offered to me by a French friend with whom I was drinking wine and chatting when my youngest daughter launched a tantrum in the other room: "If there is no blood, don't get up."

See: Taking the Kids to Paris and Best Family Getaways.

Photo courtesty of Catherine Crawford.

Family Friday: Sarasota Beckons

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Two decades ago a little girl stood on a hot tennis court grumpily swatting at yellow balls, her parents' dreams of a professional tennis career dashed. She counted the minutes until she could get back to the beach with her sisters...

With that sunny stretch of sand still in my mind, I decided to give Sarasota, on the Florida Gulf Coast, another shot with my own family. It was the middle of February and we were desperate for a long weekend of much-needed sun. What we got was a record-breaking freeze. Thankfully, Sarasota has a lot more than beautiful beaches (and there are plenty). Here's what we discovered:

° An amazing aquarium. The Mote Marine Laboratory offers sea turtles, dolphins, and an adorable manatee named Hugh, that my son Miles thought looked like my dad.

° Florida's largest bird sanctuary. The Save Our Birds Wild Bird Learning Center is home to hundreds of injured owls, pelicans, and other seabirds, teaching the kids that animals get boo-boos, too.

° Some damn good restaurants. Yes, we spent a lot of time eating, and I wasn't going to let a little cold ruin my dream of lounging on a terrace with a cocktail. There's Mar Vista, hidden at the end of Long Boat Key (order the fried calamari); the Italian Salute for dinner; the Peruvian Selva Grill, with tangy Pisco Sours; the diner-like Blue Dolphin Cafe for blueberry pancakes; and my sons' favorite, the waterfront, no-frills Old Salty Dog, where all the seafood is fried--and then fried again.

° Beautiful Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. We spent an entire afternoon wandering around these 14 acres, which are filled with bamboo and banyan groves, orchids and bromeliads, and a mangrove forest. The best part: the indoor Kids' Corner, an interactive space with plant-themed books, puzzles, activities and crafts.

There's more: The renowned Ringling Art Museum, a downtown with great galleries, and of course, lots of good ice cream parlors (a must-stop for every afternoon).

As for where to stay, the Long Boat Key Club is right on the beach and ideal for families: 2 and 3 bedroom suites with everything you need—dining table, kitchen, a super-friendly staff, and a flat screen TV for movie nights if you decide to stay in.

Chicago with Kids: Spring Break in the Windy City

visiting chicago with family

Perhaps not the most obvious choice for a spring break, Chicago can keep a family happy—if not warm and dry—when school lets out. The city welcomed us with open arms during a blustery spring break week when our 'Plan A' vacation fell through. Here are some basic tips for a terrific time with the kids in the Windy City:

If you’re planning on hitting more than a few museums and skyscrapers, buying the Chicago CityPass ($94 for adults, $79 for kids, 11 and under) not only makes economic sense but it allows you to skip the lines at most of the participating venues. The passes saved us from standing in line in the sleet outside the Shedd Aquarium one day and we felt pretty smug sweeping past the hour and a half wait at the Skydeck. Waltz up to the desk and buy the passes at the first venue you visit, and they're valid for the next nine days.

Museum of Science and Industry This magnificent edifice in Hyde Park, between Lake Michigan and the University of Chicago campus, is one of the last remaining buildings of the 1893 Columbian Exposition (you know, from The Devil in the White City!). The museum offers engaging high- and low-tech exhibits—from the physics of basketball (kids pre-set the velocity and angle of a cannon that launches a ball across the grand hall and into a basket on the far balcony) to how cow manure can be turned into fuel (From Poop to Power!). A longtime favorite of Chicago kids, the museum was fully interactive before the word involved touchscreens. You can easily find enough varied and interesting activities to fill an entire day. Don't miss the retro make-your-own-molded-plastic-souvenir machines at the submarine, farm, and space exhibits.

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Family Friday: Pack It Up

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I can never pack enough stuff to keep my kids entertained on the road. My bag is usually overflowing with crayons, paper, books... The list goes on, and yet, I almost always forget something. So in a world where fruits and veggies come in squeezable tubes, it's no surprise that a company had come up with pre-packaging packing.

Kidville has recently partnered with luxury travel service Portico to create ready-to-go packs for kids. Crocodile Creek puzzle games? Check. A super cute mini-pillow? Check. Melissa and Doug activity books? Check. Plus, a lot more. What I love most, though, is the actual bag, designed by Skiphop with colorful monkeys and dogs--and just the right size for my 3-year-olds. Care to checkout Portico Travel Pals for yourself? They are free for Portico members during March and on sale at Kidville.com. And no... they haven't bribed me with free products. I just like the idea of someone else packing for me.

Clara Sedlak is a mom of two and a senior editor at Travel + Leisure.

Image courtesy of Portico

Trip Doctor: Why Can’t My Family and I Find Airplane Seats Together?

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Major domestic carriers have put premiums on an increasing number of main-cabin aisle and window seats, making them available only to high-ranking frequent fliers or people willing to add $20 to $60 per trip leg. Though these seats sometimes open up to regular travelers as the flight date approaches, this policy in effect forces families to pay up or risk sitting apart. New York Senator Charles Schumer and others have decried the practice, but their efforts will have little impact in the short term. If you can’t (or won’t) pay the premium, your best bet is to log on to your airline’s website 24 hours before your flight—when carriers begin releasing premium seats to the public.

Amy FarleyHave a travel dilemma? Need some tips and remedies? Send your questions to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@aexp.com. Follow @tltripdoctor on Twitter.

 

Photo by iStockphoto

Family Friday: Italian Fun for Renaissance Kids

Villa San Michele kids cooking class

The hills of Fiesole, Italy are about to be filled with the sounds of toddlers. The Villa San Michele—one of my absolute favorite hotels in the world—is launching a new kids program.

Villa San Michele

If you've ever been to the property, you wouldn't necessarily describe it as "child friendly." The 15th-Century hilltop Renaissance building was in part designed by Michelangelo and has the most breathtaking views of Florence. And while my 3-year-olds could care less about all that, now there's a reason to take them. Starting this May, the hotel is launching the "Smile Club" boutique, a complimentary program for kids ages 4-12 housed in a chapel on the property. There's jewelery- and craft-making, cookie baking, Italian lessons, treasure hunts, hikes, and even a dedicated kids concierge to direct you to the best kid-friendly spots in the city. Botticelli for you. Pizza for them. Need I say more? 

Clara Sedlak is a mom of two and a senior editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photos courtesy of Orient-Express Hotels Ltd. | Genivs Loci

Family Friday: Affordable Ski Deals

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Is there anything better than spending $500 dollars a day to be clocked in the face by a miniature ski boot? Ah, yes, I'm talking about the joys of a family ski trip. (My back is still killing me from last month's adventure with my sons.) But truth be told, the physical suffering is well worth the ear-to-ear grins. What really gets me is how much I have to shell out for the pleasure. So last weekend, I decided to do some digging for deals. I'm not talking about the "Ski 7 days and get a free hot chocolate" variety. I was in search of some real money savers—and I found them. My three favorites, below:

• It turns out that if you stay at one of Keystone Colorado's mountain resorts, your kid can ski/board for free for the entire season, with no blackout dates. There's no fine print here. Trust me. I triple checked. Even better, you don't have to stay in some hole-in-the-wall condo 20 miles from the slopes. The accommodations are pretty luxe.

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Family Friday: Cozying up to the Catskills

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The symptoms were reaching dangerous levels. After being cooped up with our twin three-year-old boys in a 900-square-foot NYC apartment in the dead of winter, my husband and I had a serious case of co-op-cabin fever. The cure: Get out of dodge—and burn off some energy—as quickly as possible. My only prerequisite: BRING A FULLY CHARGED iPAD WITH US IN CASE OF A MELTDOWN.

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Trip Doctor: Disney Introduces MyMagic+ RFID Bracelets

Disney's Magic Kingdom

As a native Floridian who spent half her childhood at Walt Disney World, I reacted to the recent announcement of MyMagic+, an RFID-enabled system that lets visitors interact with (and pay for) nearly anything in the Disney village, with a sense of cautious excitement—thrilled by all the possibilities this offers travelers, though wary of the privacy concerns that come with it.

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Kids Fly, Stay, Eat Free at Atlantis

atlantis resort bahamas

Am I the only one who hears Donovan and remembers that scene in Goodfellas everytime I see Atlantis mentioned?

Okay, ridiculous confession aside, there’s good news for families looking for getaway ideas. (And really good news: this one doesn't involve Joe Pesci.) JetBlue is briefly offering a big deal: book at minimum 3-night vacation to Atlantis in the Bahamas, and your kids fly free, stay free, and eat free. Book before midnight Sunday (January 20) for travel before March 7.

There are some restrictions, natch: one kid per paying adult; blackout dates from February 13-26; maximum 2 adults and 2 kids per room; etc. But you KNOW how much it costs to fly the whole family anywhere—the airfare alone represents a big savings.

Hail, Atlantis! And JetBlue.

For more information or to book, please visit JetBlue Getaways.

Ann Shields is a senior digital editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo of Atlantis: Floto+Warner

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