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In the U.S., there are certain customs about the young that may differ from yours, as well as practical matters.
Time for Bed! In Spain, for example, it is not unusual for very young children to be out with their families at 10 or 11 at night. Not so in the U.S: 240 years ago Ben Franklin wrote the saying "early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy ,wealthy, and wise," and Americans young and old still live by it: the weekends are, therefore, celebrated a little bit more fervently as it really does mean the average American family finally gets time to relax!
Overall, children 6-11 years old are expected to be in bed by 8:30 p.m, and babies are usually put down for the night just after supper. Teenagers are expected to finish their homework and chores and turn in by 10:45 p.m. on weekdays. The reason? -American children have had to rise earlier than their counterparts in other parts of the world. At first, it was because they often had to help Ma and Pa in the fields on the family farm, but nowadays it is because kids have to be up early to be on time for school. (in some communities teenagers must rise at six to catch that infamous yellow schoolbus by 7:30; younger children go about an hour later.)
If you are out with your family and especially with little ones very late at night, you may get some confused looks. The Americans casting furtive glances at you are wondering, "Why are they out so late? Doesn't the kid have to be in school tomorrow? Is somebody ill and should I offer my condolences?!" Typically, Americans only relax the rules for special occasions like holidays or family events (Christmas, Independence Day, weddings, summer break) or family tragedies (funerals, visiting ill relatives, memorial services.) Seeing you out is a novelty.
Tots and haute cuisine do not mingle. In the U.S. it is customary not to bring infants or very young children to expensive restaurants, especially for dinner. There will be no highchairs or toddler’s seats available, and it is understood that children’s crying or “shenanigans” may disturb other customers. The only time this might be relaxed is if it is Christmas, a big family wedding, or a christening and the couple being honored is hosting the affair at a restaurant, but generally expect little ones not to be catered to at very high priced, very business oriented restaurants like Le Bernardin (New York) or the Ivy (L.A.)
It doesn't look child friendly: In larger cities like New York , Washington DC or Los Angeles, there are sit-down restaurants that, from the outside, look intimidating to foreign families looking for a bite to eat: you may only see university students in the window, and the fact that they are drinking Cosmos may make you just a wee bit wary. If this is the case, have no fear! What you see is not necessarily an indication of whether you shall be served or not. (Mostly those university women are just having a night out and will look over at your kids and think, "awww, how cute...the one in the blue reminds me of my sister's son...")
In America, the most indicative things that will tell you whether this place is child friendly or not if you have young kids with you shall be 1) the menu and 2) the host(ess.) If you see a restaurant that looks inviting, the best strategy is to have Mama wait outside for a few minutes while Dad goes in and speaks to the host(ess) (the equivalent to this in Europe is roughly that of a maître d.) The hostess shall tell Dad whether the establishment welcomes kids or has (this is key) a menu appropriate for little ones. If they do, they may allow Dad to take a peek at the bill of fare so that he can decide if there are things his children will eat. If this is the case, Dad should ask for his name to be put on the waiting list (if the place is crowded) and retrieve Mama from outside so that all can wait to be seated.
Larger Families: Generally speaking, the American birthrate is higher than that found in Europe or most of East Asia (China and Japan.) Therefore, you will walk down the street in any given city and find little hands being lead by bigger ones. You will see parks packed with kids shouting and swinging from the monkey bars, and Dad teaching his sons the finer points of stickball. At the beach you'll see chubby little babies at the beach in their sun bonnets discovering the joy of playing in the shallows with Mama, and knobbly kneed little girls giggling as they go higher on the swings . The children will probably be louder and more boisterous than you'd expect, but the custom is to let them respectfully speak their mind from an early age: they are taught to be quiet in places of worship, in theatres, in most art museums, and when Mom or Dad has met up with another adult (in the last situation, they are taught to wait until spoken to.) Anything in between, however, is fair game. (If a little one approaches you and says "Wow! You're much bigger than my Daddy said you'd be!" take it as a compliment: the little guy is just curious.)
The birthrate in America is roughly three kids per family, though on occasion this can be a bit bigger. (Please, do not stare if you see this.) The upside to this is that there are countless facilities catering to families of all sizes, everything from condo rentals for larger families in the Disney World area (can accomodate a family with six or more kids) to family packages at some larger attractions. Take advantage of it if you are so inclined: in the end it could actually save you money.
Breastfeeding in Public? A hot issue. Whether due to squeamishness, our Puritan heritage, or concern for women and children’s safety (what if someone tries to steal your purse while you’re feeding baby?), most Americans do not favor breastfeeding in public but some do favor breastfeeding in public. In New York City there is a law allowing breastfeeding anywhere, but it is controversial. However, in many public malls there are separate breastfeeding rooms with comfortable chairs, and in most restrooms there is at least a bench that you can sit on. If you decide to breastfeed in public, do it as discreetly as possible to minimize uncomfortableness for other people around you and to avoid clashes that may occur.
Oh My God...He was SMILING at my child!! Relax, relax: if that zookeeper winks at your son and tries to hand him a handful of pellets to feed the goat at the petting zoo, you have simply found a friendly face, not a pedophile. Friendly behavior is just that, and it is fairly innocent: it just means another adult has been taken in by your kid's cuteness! Physical contact is usually discouraged, but talking to a child and offering him a sweet, for example, is fine so long as the stranger has Mum and Dad's permission.
What Do I Do If Nature Calls? Good question. Customarily in America, public bathrooms are not set up on the street corner and you shall almost never find such an edifice where you pop in a coin and "pay to poo." French pissoirs and open air public urinals are unheard of and are generally considered a sanitary risk, and worse, because the summers in America are warmer and more humid than many parts of Europe, such a measure would actually be very impractical, even dangerous: the stench would be overpoweringly bad and the water used to flush could become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and nasty diseases, especially in the South or in Florida. (West Nile Virus is a problem that nobody wants to see get worse.)
The custom is actually that if one must go to the toilet, one finds a restaurant, rest area, public building, movie theatre, or park as these are set up for potty time, both for kids and their parents: most shopkeepers and restaurant managers won't turn away a parent or child who looks like he's about to burst, and many a teenager has gone into the nearest diner with his little brother and both have come out happy and relieved, so long as they ask the manager or host first. Changing stations are usually found in rest area bathrooms, at airports, some train and bus stations, most department stores and children’s toy stores. Malls, stores and other kid-friendly establishments (zoos, etc.) are also starting to include "family restrooms", where there are dual sinks and toilets - one set being shorter for toddlers, as well as changing stations all in one larger room with a separately locking door.
If you are truly desparate and those last few yards stretch out like hundreds of miles, a park bench is a blessing: no cop, no local, no sane human being is going to stop you from changing a crying baby and most park benches in big cities are not far from a trash can: simply change your baby, clean him carefully, and throw out the waste, making sure you have sanitary wipes for him.
I am the father of this baby, we are in a restaurant, and my daughter needs to be changed RIGHT NOW...but the changing table is in the LADIES room!
Okay mister, just remember to breathe, and remember, that uncomfortable wet feeling she's got isn't going to go anywhere soon, and please do not concentrate on the fact that her mother isn't going to be back for another hour or two: it won't solve the problem. In America, it is more and more common for the changing table to be found in the men's room, but sometimes and especially in older establishments, it just ain't true: you have come upon a bit of bad luck here. You have an emergency situation that many American ladies have deep empathy for and so long as there isn't a huge line or huge crowd a simple explanation to all of your presence shall do just fine-they may even guard the door! The bathrooms for women in America consist of sinks to wash hands plus large metal cubicles with latched doors so if you go in you will not see any skin unless you inspect the cracks but DO NOT do this. DO NOT enter a women's restroom without first announcing you are there, and quickly explaining your problem. If you go barging in to a women's restroom it is very possible someone will call the police on you - everybody carries cell phones nowadays! (If there are any mothers in the ladies room, don't be surprised if they ask if you need an extra nappy; they've probably seen their husbands and son-in-laws go through the same thing.) Please, again, make sure you don't take all the ladies there by surprise: better to explain that baby's got to go than the ladies seeing a strange man bolting through the door (and not seeing the baby until the last minute.)
My son has peed himself at the basketball game and I am a woman-do I have to bring him to the men's room? No, actually, you do not. If he is very young (six or younger) just bring him to the ladies room. He will be one of many other little boys his age with their mothers. Many little boys make the mistake of having just a little too much Coca-Cola while watching the game and getting cleaned up in a lady's cubicle is a right of passage for some. Do not bring boys much older than 5 or 6 into the women's restrooms. It is not appropriate in the USA. Send them into the men's restroom by themselves; stand and wait for them just outside the door.
I am a man. I brought my five year old daughter to the theatre/cinema and now she's got to go. What do I do?
First, make every attempt to locate a female employee to help you. Unfortunately, if you cannot find a female usher, you may have to bite the bullet and take her with you to the men's room. Even if you could take her to the ladies' room, the odds are that this will be very crowded, especially if its a popular show. If you've got a tie, it might be wise to blindfold her: the men's room nearly always has urinals and this might not be the time to discuss the facts of life to her (no father wants to hear his baby girl say "Daddy, that man over there is bigger than the boy zebra at the zoo...") Additionally, many men are very uncomfortable if a young girl walks into the men's room when they are "doing their business", and it is NOT considered appropriate for young girls in the USA. If you are without tie, scoop her up and carry her in, telling her to shut her eyes and lean against your shoulder (you will thus know if she peeks.) Look for the handicapped stall at the end and once the door is locked, let 'er rip. When she's finished, take some soap in one hand on the way out and head for a water fountain so she can wash. Once all is said and done, she has survived with her innocence largely intact and you can relax.
Should I bring my baby carrier with me? Generally speaking, yes: You are very likely going to be walking around quite a bit and Junior may want to take a nap or, if he is older, decide walking is not his cup of tea. A baby carrier (like Baby Bjorn) is ideal: it usually has little zipper pockets to hold things in like maps and money (great for concealing this,) it can hold a tired infant or a tired tot and can enable Mom and Dad to walk at their own pace, a good thing when crossing a busy street in Los Angeles or New York. It also, unlike a pushchair, enable you to keep your hands free so carrying your son and getting lunch from a burger stand will be no hassle.
For nursing mothers worried about local laws and breastfeeding, consider getting a baby sling. these usually carry a baby in a reclining position and allow you to conceal what you are doing (the sling covers most of the breast from view but not from baby.) It is particularly efficient in colder weather and when baby simply does not feel like waiting: both baby and Mom remain warm and comfortable.
We are staying in a hotel/motel. Shall we need another room? Generally speaking, if you are travelling with two or more teenaged sons in your party, then yes, by all means, consider a second room for the simple sake of space: two jet lagged boys are unlikely to give up their spot on the bed once they flop there and if Dad and the two boys decide to join in a chorus of snoring at night keeping you and your daughter awake, there is no point in being miserable.
If, however, your children are young consider getting a room with two queen sized beds: it should be plenty of room for a family of four or five. For parents traveling with the smallest visitors, most hotels at least carry the option of renting a baby crib: for a fee, this is a contraption that baby can sleep in and is good from about newborn age to the age of three. For older children (or if sister dislikes the idea of sleeping in the same bed with brother) most hotels also have a cot (camp bed) that they will roll in for use, complete with pillow and blankets to sleep on. Most hotels will charge a per night fee for the cot, but it usually isn't terribly expensive and is usually clean and comfortable enough to sleep on (it has a mattress attached.) Once you are finished with either, simply go down to the front desk and indicate so and it will be taken away to be cleaned and reused.
My son is in a wheelchair/my husband is on crutches. How are we going to get around? Good question. By law, all public buildings must have wheelchair access, and most tourist attractions on principle make accomodations for the handicapped and disabled: the latter includes theme parks, museums, hotels, and malls, the former includes any federal or municipal property, like post offices, airports, train stations, rest areas, even the White House itself (been wheelchair accessible since FDR, a paraplegic, needed to get into his own office after all.) Buses in most major cities are mechanized so that the handicapped can get on and off easily: in New York, for example, the bus itself has hydraulics that tilt it slightly for the elderly and disabled to get on and for the infirm the stairs adjust into a platform so that it will effectively lift the person up into or down off of the bus. Taxis typically cannot refuse service to the handicapped and if one is in a wheelchair it may simply be tucked into the trunk as luggage until the destination is reached (crutches also can be tucked there as well.)
For trains, Amtrak usually allows advance boarding of those in wheelchairs and on crutches: it is simply a matter of speaking to the ticket agent or locating a "red cap" (a type of porter.) In subway systems it is a bit trickier: the major and larger stations have access for wheelchairs and crutches but smaller and older ones may not. This is changing, but it is wise to be on the alert.
In theme parks like the ones in Orlando, it is wise to mention when booking if somebody needs a wheelchair or crutches to get around: multiple accomodations can be made. A hotel can arrange for a room change to a more accessible floor or for more spacious accomodations. Calling ahead can also tip off bellhops that somebody needs to be wheeled in to their room if necessary or needs extra assistance with their baggage. In Disney World, handicapped persons often get priority in loading and unloading of vehicles: this means a front row seat on the monorail, and also a much shorter wait for the person who wants to board a ride (people with broken legs do not have to wait in line as mentioning it to the operator or to staff will result in them being brought to the front.)
For the elderly and arthritic, many of the same rules apply as above: on public transportation, it is customary for people to give up a seat for the elderly , handicapped, or heavily pregnant (some buses will even have seats labled for this purpose.) If Granny is traveling with her family, she may receive assistance from locals trying to help her and her cane get from A to B. Do not be frightened, Granny, the Americans are trying to help you, so that boost into a carriage in Savannah is just a common courtesy, not trying to grab you!
Feeling very HOT,HOT,HOT The Southeastern states, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Florida: the weather in these places can get swelteringly hot and humid, particularly June through October when the heatwaves usually come. The good news is that the beaches will be open for your young ones to paddle in the surf (boogie boarding , or riding waves on a small foam board, is a very popular pasttime among American children and Southern California has been a mecca for teenage surfers for decades) and, at least in the Deep South, barbecue festivals will perfume the air with the scent of smoked hickory along with the usual smell of old time rose covered trellises. The bad news, however, is that the heat can be overpowering to adults who do not take heed of the warnings of locals and can actually have terrible consequences for children: heat stroke and sun poisoning can have very serious ramifications, sometimes requiring hospitalization, and small kids are particularly susceptible. Though American hospitals are certainly equipped to treat the problem, it is a sad state of affairs when a little kid's holiday is ruined because neither he nor his parents knew any better.
The best way to make sure the little ones combat the heat safely whether at the theme park or on the Outer Banks of the Carolinas is to make sure there is plenty of liquid to be had: little bodies sweat off quite a bit when they are having fun bouncing about so scheduling a few breaks to settle down and having something cool to drink (water is best, juice is good, even soda is better than nothing) is a good defense against dehydration; a little water over the forehead and hair also never hurt anybody and most always brings instant relief (if you sprinkle a little on yourself from the city water fountain and it is over 90 F, nobody will blame you either.) Wearing cotton based clothes is better than wearing synthetic fabrics or some others (wool, flax) because it "breathes" well and absorbs sweat: good to know for parents and kids alike. Open sandals are allowed in most casual restaurants in summer so long as they are strappy (think Teva) and do much better against humidity than oven-like Italian leather shoes, which will leave you sore, stinky, and will encourage you to sweat more.
American women and girls often wear a ponytail looped through the back of a baseball cap, particularly away from major cities, and in hot weather this actually is very practical: the brim of the hat shades the eyes from the sun, the hair is swept up neatly off the shoulders, cooling the neck, and little strands on the sides of the head can't unravel from the ponytail as they can just be tucked into the hat on-the-go. It is something worth considering; even if you do not want to be photographed in such a state your body will thank you for it. For little girls with very long hair, try plaiting it into a French or rope braid ala Lara Croft: it should last all day if done well and works best for vision either when plummeting on a rollercoaster or shooting down the waterslide.
For parents who might want to have a sip of alcohol on their trip, it is wise to remember that such is a bad idea in hot weather as it gives a false sense of rehydration: a mint julep tastes good, but a nice wet lemonade (a non-fizzy drink made of water, lemons, and sugar) will feel better in the long run. Furthermore, it is much easier to keep track of your kids when you are rehydrated on electrolyte rich lemonade rather than dizzy from the glass of red wine you had at lunch, thinking it would quench your thirst, because in the end you may wind up feeling sick.
Smaller children may not know when it is time to slow down nor will they know that the dizzy, sleepy, and dehydrated feeling they have is a bad sign, so it is best if Mom and Dad take over and watch for the disorientation and flushed cheeks: when the signs are present, it is time to seek shade and water, if not rest in air conditioning for an hour or two. If the child begins to vomit, it is time to get medical attention and to see if you can seek out water for the child to bathe in or to sponge on to them-they need to be cooled down IMMEDIATELY. See to it that they slowly drink water (tell them to do it, don't ask) and they get out of direct sunlight. Babies, which are also susceptible to the same problem, need to be fed water and juice along with their usual bottle and should be monitored for rashes as the heat will aggravate sweating around the groin (where their non-breathing plastic nappy is.) Bringing extra powder for baby should help with the chafing and keep him dry for longer as well as retard bacteria growth (which can lead to a worse rash.)