All about Peppa

Peppa, peeking out from her new playhouse.

Peppa, peeking out from her new playhouse.

Our girls brought back a number of souvenirs from our four-month stint in London: handmade fairy dresses, silly British accents, handfuls of two-pound coins and Nutella. They also returned with a completely maniacal obsession with an animated swine, Peppa Pig.

While the intensity of their interest in many of these British treasures has waned over time, their love for Peppa has not.

To be blunt: My kids are still just as hog-wild for the old gal and her pig peeps as they were over there.

At first, this passion was a problem; though Peppa is HUGE in England (heck, there’s even a Peppa Pig World) she wasn’t nearly as popular here in the U.S. Now, however, it appears Peppa has arrived: We’ve spotted Peppa cartoons on cable here in Northern California (Nick Jr., to be exact) and have started seeing Peppa books and merchandise everywhere.

Naturally, then, then the girls got their hands on the Peppa Pig Peek ‘n’ Surprise Playhouse, they practically snorted with delight. When they got the Peppa Hug ‘n’ Oink Talking Plush, they couldn’t put it down. And when we managed to score some Peppa books, the kids practically were ready to burn just about everything else on the shelves.

What is the appeal? I will admit: The damn pig is funny.

For starters, she loves rolling around in muddy puddles, which rules. Second, she always gets herself into “I Love Lucy” type scenarios. One particular episode, about a parrot named Polly who learns to snort, almost always gets me chuckling—a reality that, in turn, gets L giggling uncontrollably. Another episode, about a cuckoo clock, triggers laughter that has sparked asthma attacks. (Seriously.)

But Peppa is genuinely good, too. She’s the perfect mix of sassy and proper, snobby but kind. Her baby brother, George, his hilarious in his affinity with dinosaurs (he says, “dine-sores”). And her parents, Mummy Pig and Daddy Pig, are brilliant in the way they caricature most of the British parents we met.

I’ll stop myself before this post becomes an essay on Peppa and the postmodern picaresque. Bottom line: The show is worth watching, and we’re stoked that it followed us home. SNORT.

What sorts of “souvenirs” do you like to bring home from a faraway family trip?

Why Free Museums Benefit Family Travelers

Making art at the Tate Modern.

Making art at the Tate Modern.

Most museums here in London are free, and this rules for at least two big reasons.

First: It makes sightseeing cheaper.

Second, during those inevitable moments when your kids act like kids and you need to pull anchor and abort the mission, you don’t have to worry about wasting money.

I’ve come to appreciate the first reason slowly over the 40 days we’ve been here.

As for the second lesson, let’s just say I had a crash-course in learning that one on Thursday, when I took the girls to the Tate Modern museum of contemporary art to celebrate L’s first “Exploration Day.” (For more on the back story that prompted these special weekly adventures, click here.)

The trip started fine. After an uneventful Tube ride to Southwark and a seemingly interminable walk to the museum, the kids climbed on a stair sculpture out front, then excitedly proceeded to the galleries. We hit the brand new Bloomberg Connects bar first, so the girls could ease into the experience with some interactive e-drawing (the units themselves mimicked drawing on a tablet computer, only the pictures posted to a giant wall).

Because the drawing went so well, I thought I might try to expose them to some of the actual art.

This, however, is where the day went south; as we walked through room after room of paintings and pieces in various media, the kids lost it. Big time. They started rebelling with yoga on the floor. Then they hopped around, belting a song from “Doc McStuffins.” In the middle of a crowded gallery.

Finally, when R quite literally ran over and climbed up on one of the art pieces, it was time to go. So we hit the café. Then we went home.

All told, we spent about 90 minutes at the Tate—40 minutes with the interactive e-drawing, 40 at lunch and about 10 minutes in the galleries. If I had paid full-price for that, I would have felt gipped. But because everything but our fish-and-chips lunch (natch) was free, it was no big deal.

I know the thinking behind free museums is to make them available for everyone, but I think the approach benefits (adventuresome) family travelers most. You know the saying about how to roll “if at first you don’t succeed,” right? Let’s just say I’m thankful that we have another three months to get back out there and try, try, try again.

How do you determine when it’s time to abort a travel mission with your kids?

Staving off Germs on Public Transport with Kids

This is the filth on a good day.

This is the filth on a good day.

They might as well name a garbage/rubbish incinerator after us Villanos before we clear out of London at the end of this year. How else would the locals commemorate (or, um, publicly shame) the inordinate number of wipes we have been using every time we take the Tube?

No exaggeration: On most trips we break into double-digits. The reason: Bannisters.

You see, L has a tendency to tell stories wherever she goes. And when she’s telling stories, she’s not exactly paying attention to where she’s going. Over the course of her life, the child has fallen down more flights of stairs than just about any of us can imagine. So in an effort to keep her from tumbling down staircases in the Tube (many of which have about 200 stairs), we’ve implored her to use the bannister.

The good news is that she has listened (and has not fallen…yet). The bad news is that the bannisters here in London’s subway system are some of the filthiest surfaces 0n earth.

Every single time we take the subway, the kid’s hand turns sooty black in a matter of seconds. This past weekend, while simply heading down from street level to the ticket booths at our local stop, the situation got so bad it looked like she had wiped her hands in tar. Or coal dust. Or sludge.

When this sort of thing happens, my gut reaction is to ignore it until she realizes she is the one who controls how dirty things get. Then my neuroses kick in. What if she puts that filth in her mouth or wipes it on her face? What if it leads to some obscure strain of sores? What if the sores spread all over her body?

I’m not Donald Trump when it comes to germs, but I have been known to spaz a bit on the subject. And what we’re calling “Tube Hands” syndrome has triggered a few sweat-through-your-shirt moments (for me), which is why we’ve been overusing those wipes.

Lest you think I hate the environment, we’ve tried more eco-friendly methods such as hand sanitizer and Witch Hazel. Quite frankly, these don’t remove the black.

We also have tried the old-fashioned strategy of negotiating with L to wash her hands more frequently, but if you’ve ever dealt with a 4-year-old, you understand that we’re lucky if the kid actually washes her hands after she pees.

We even have proposed that L wears gloves when we ride the Tube, though L seems adamantly opposed to that approach. (In many ways, this is a blessing; when coupled with my staunch “no face photos” philosophy, the notion of forcing gloves on the kids really would make me feel like Michael Jackson.)

And so, until something better comes along, wipes are our way to go. I apologize in advance to the British government for contributing to the garbage problem. The VINCINERATOR has a nice ring.

How do you keep your kids’ hands clean on public transportation during family trips?

 

When New Is Scary on a Family Trip

This one likes the Tube; the other, not so much.

This one likes the Tube; the other, not so much.

Especially when kids are young, family travel forces them to see, smell, hear, taste and touch things they never have seen, smelled, tasted or touched before.

Most of the time, these new experiences go swimmingly and everybody oohs and aahs over how cute it all was. Sometimes, however, new stuff can trigger a DEFCON-1, global-thermonuclear-war type of meltdown. The kind that leads to silent crying. The kind that makes passersby think your child needs to be institutionalized. For life.

We’ve encountered both realities during our first 10 days here in London. Thankfully, the wins outnumber the losses. Among the victories: The stoop in front of our walk-up, river busses, old cathedrals. Among the losses: Bangers, crowds near Buckingham Palace.

For R, who freaks when she hears loud noises, the biggest debacle so far has been the Tube.

The mere mention of the subway sends the kid into hysterics. As we approach the station, she frantically clutches for dear life. When the trains enter the station, she covers her ears and screams. On the trains, she acts like a baby marsupial, burrowing her head into the nearest armpit until the horror ends.

Powerwoman and I have responded to these theatrics cautiously. On one hand, we don’t want the kid to freak. On the other hand, we don’t want to coddler her too much, especially since the child is going to have to get over it once my wife starts teaching (that’s why we’re here through Xmas; the fall semester starts Sept. 9) and I’ll be riding the trains with the girls solo.

I hope that the more we expose R to the Tube, the more comfortable with it she becomes. Of course this plan totally could backfire, and she could end up hating it even more because we won’t give up.

The conundrum raises an interesting point about the difference between comforting and dishing out tough love on a trip. How much do you bend before you break? How much are you willing to give your kids what they want before you start making them based upon what they need?

Obviously answers to these questions will be different for everyone.

The act of asking them, however, can be a good exercise—especially if you run through it before you’re in the moment trying to manage a maniacal kid.

My advice: Unless a new experience could physically harm your child, keep at it as long as it seems sensible (and kind) to do so. Put differently: Don’t let a little crying or standing on ceremony deter you from introducing your kids to new stuff away from home. Change can be scary. Disrupted routines can suck. But the more you expose your kids to these realities at an early age, the better equipped they will be to handle them as travelers later in life.

How do you handle it when your kids are spooked by new experiences on family trips?

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