About 22 years ago my mother took me on holiday to Oklahoma. We stayed with her old school friend near the army base on which her American husband worked. I played with their daughter in the huge back yard, we took trips to Galveston and Texas (evening getting to stand on the Grassy Knoll), we visited the Space Centre and I was given my first taste of Tex-Mex cuisine. It remains to this day the best holiday of my childhood.
The thing I loved most was how we were living as locals. I did the food shopping with them, ate in local places that weren’t in any tourist guides, met up with their friends for play dates and, the most exciting bit of all for seven-year-old Alice, I was even invited to a local Brownie pack to experience what life was like for girls my age in America. It was an evening that has stuck with me forever.
I think it was on that holiday I realised traveling was about experiencing the lifestyle and culture of the places I visit. It made me see how much I would be missing out on if I just laid by a pool all day and ate in ‘Kev’s English Pub’ where I could get food that tasted exactly the same as it did at home (seriously whats the point??). Seven years old, such a tender age, but clearly an impressionable one.
When I booked our trip to America, the one thing I wanted the girls and I to experience was ‘real life’. Our hosts live in New Jersey, about a 30 minute train ride from Manhattan, in a typical Tri-state suburban commuter town called Summit.
Living Like Locals & Playing In The Snow
On our first full day we visited a local library for toddler song time. Motherhood unties woman all over the world doesn’t it? We may have different views, different accents or different standards of life opportunities – but once you have a child you all have a part of you that is the same. Walking into the room, seeing all those mothers and their children playing and signing together, I felt instantly at home.
The next day we awoke to a blanket of white. Deep, fluffy snow everywhere. Now at home you would think the day was a write off from that moment, with everyone and everything grinding to halt, but not in New Jersey – it was business as normal. I seised this opportunity to take trip into the city to see Central Park with snow on the ground (more about that another time) promising the girls fun playing the snow the next day (all the while crossing our fingers it wouldn’t have melted by then).
A day later the snow was still up to their knees. We ran around throwing snowballs, making snow angels and climbing snowy trees. I felt like I was in a movie. It was perfect. This was want I wanted – we were living real life, doing normal family things, on the other-side of the world.
I come from a family with strong links to the USA, The Essex Husbands Mother grew up there and my Father has lived there since I was six, so, whenever I can, I like to stock up on ‘essentials’ that we just can’t get here in the UK. One trip to Walmart later I had a suitcase full of Root Beer, Cornbread mix, Wintergreen Altoids, Goldfish and Grape Soda….and one huge smile on my face.
I’m so pleased I got to show the girls ‘real’ America. We had an awesome time sightseeing in the big city (which I will tell you all about over the coming week) but it was local life I most wanted them to experience. I’m very proud of all we managed to achieve.