Charleston with Kids

chaswkids

One of our FamiLee goals is to take our children to see all the major cities in the South. We are covering some good ground but Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi are still relatively unconquered for us. One of the things that strikes a tourist about the American Southeast is how well-preserved many structures are, largely because the weather is more gentle than, say, Boston where colonial homes have weathered Nor-easter after decades of Nor’easters. The exception to this preservation is the many buildings that suffered fires which were incredibly common–even into this past century.

Our recent visit to Charleston, SC took us on the requisite carriage tour where we learned about the importance of the fire insurance medallion. I’ll spare you the history lesson but Baby Girl was fascinated with how volunteer fire squads would totally leave a building to burn to ashes if it didn’t have this emblem near the front door, indicating that it wasn’t insured. Baby Girl talked about it at length, the whole phenomenon of that, and it gave me hope that maybe our daughter would grow up to understand the travesty of racial profiling, to resist the temptation to judge others’ based on their income or insuredness, to be a real pillar of justice. Meanwhile, Little Man was downright indignant that he had missed seeing The Medallion. He was obsessed for the rest of the carriage ride with seeing a bona fide medallion, like it was a gold coin in Mario he kept bypassing, and his life, virtual or otherwise, would perish without.

Kids, man.

But we love them and we like to travel with them and explore new terrain with them. Here are some pointers I can offer if you venture with kidlets to Charleston, the belle of South Carolina:

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Accommodations:
Our favorite lodging situation is always AirBNB, especially as having separate bedrooms is really nice now that our kids are getting older. We stayed on James Island at a fantastic home that I highly recommend. It had 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, games, DVDs, a beautiful fenced backyard with deck + grille, and the host was very cool. Here’s a code for $20 off your first AirBnB stay anywhere.

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Attractions:
Loverpants calls the beach “Nature’s Babysitter” because our kids could dig in sand and troll for seashells for almost as long as you could binge-watch a whole season of “Fuller House.” Although we were only in the Charleston area for about 48 hours, we made visiting Folly Beach a priority. We walked the boardwalk and hit the beach in the evenings and our last morning there. Even though it was too cold to swim, I recommend bringing the standard beach pail and shovel accoutrements if you’re ever near sand and have kids who need to be thoroughly worn out in order to hit the pillow in peace each night.
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Exploring King St. with one of my besties Ashley
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As mentioned, we took a carriage ride through the Battery district in downtown Charleston. Lovely thing, that. The carriage tourism is highly regulated and I’m told all the companies charge the same and give roughly the same tour depending on what lottery ball the driver draws. This blogger explains the system better than I could. Tours cost $25/adult and $15/child. There are always coupons, if you are inclined.

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King St., College of Charleston, and Rainbow Row were all destinations that we tried to check off our list, with intermittent reminders that whining was prohibited in Charleston and that using public restrooms that were not trees was encouraged. Hashtag five year-olds out in the wild.
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Food
We generally try to bring our breakie with us (instant coffees, bagels, Clif bars) when we travel because waking up hungry and uncaffeinated and tending to the needs of littles who are hangry is not a winning way to start the vacation day. We kept lunch casual in Charleston (may I recommend Freshii on King St.) and had the best sorbet/gelato/coffee at this place down by the water. I’m serious. It was so fresh and so good.
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We had two unexpectedly great dinners on Folly Beach. The first was at the ‘Wich Doctor who carried Maine Root Beer which was my first sign that this place didn’t mess around. Some fusion menu items that you wouldn’t expect from a beach cafe, and the sweet potato pizza was just really good. Our second dinner was at Rita’s, which looks every bit tourist trap but is actually a good family eatery. Kids’ meals were served on frisbees as plates. Hard to beat.
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Pizza-holding photo-bombing at ‘Wich Doctor

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This place was nice, too, and they have a laptop-free policy 😉
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Racism and a lack of imagination

The last summer of college I spent at home, I hostessed at a chain restaurant that is known in Ohio for serving breakfast all day.  Until that summer, I didn’t know that there were people on earth who ate more than one meal a day at the same restaurant. As it turns out, the usuals at this restaurant often took 2-3 meals a day there. They considered the waitstaff family, their usual tables were just extensions of their homes.

During one of my first shifts, the wait staff alerted me to one of the usuals. Val was pegged as “difficult.” I quickly learned what qualified Val as difficult. She came in every evening with her two children. She rarely ordered a meal for herself. She ordered kids’ meals and ate their leftovers. She sent food back that wasn’t to her satisfaction.

I learned that these were high crimes in restaurantville. There is an unwritten code of conduct for being a usual. It requires that one runs up a decent tab and doesn’t complain.

I also learned that the penalties for those who broke the code of conduct are just a little bit more severe if your waitstaff is all white and you’re aren’t white. And Val and her two children? Were black.

I was intimidated by Val. The first time I sat her, I learned my lesson. I started to lead her and her children, with kids’ menu packets in tow, toward the back of the restaurant. “Noooope nope no! Not sitting back there. Not sitting in the back of the bus.”

Got it. So I was not to sit Val in the back. But if you’ve ever made your living by playing Tetris with tables, you know that sometimes you can’t honor every request. You don’t want to slam certain waitstaffers with a fresh crop of tables all at once or there will be hell to pay. I began to perceive Val as a mosquito in the summer. She was always there, but if I protected myself, she wouldn’t bite.

The waitstaff groaned about Val in the breakroom. How the manager coddled her. How she tipped poorly. How she sent food back.

Val came in most nights with her children. I don’t know if she was married or divorced. Here is what I do remember about my personal encounters with her besides the mistake of seating her in the back: She was polite and quiet. She was always dressed in professional attire as though she was coming from work. She always had a paperback book with her and occasionally would sit reading it at her table while her children ate their meals.

One of the middle-aged hostesses once remarked, “Val is very well-educated.”

I remember wondering why Val was the only customer that whole summer I ever heard consistent complaints about, or about the fact that she was “very well-educated.”

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Fifteen years later, I am sitting in my work clothes at a chain restaurant. I am sitting across from my two children, happily occupied by their kiddie menu crossword puzzles. I take the chance for the first time all day to open up a book for pleasure. My husband is not with us as he works most evenings. I am relieved to not have to cook and am reluctant to buy my children their own separate meals when I know I will be finishing their leftovers.

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Fifteen years later and I am Val. Except I am not a usual and no one comments on my education level when I bust out my book at a restaurant. When I misplace my gift card, no one questions my intent or ability to pay. When I have to run and get my wallet in the car (long day), our waitress offers to watch my children. I am Val except I am white and therefore I can only fathom how Val felt.

Fifteen years will not absolve me, though. Why did it take me half of my life to understand a faithful patron who wanted what she paid for and who wanted to model for her children the service they should expect in a restaurant?

In other words, why did I lack imagination 15 years ago? Why did I have to wait fifteen years to experience a taste of what Val faced (and chose to face) each day?

The problem we have in dissolving the -isms that poison our lives is that we are lazy imaginaries. Because we are carnivores, we can’t imagine what might be difficult for vegetarians at barbecues. Because we never struggle to find shoes in our size, surely those who do are crybabies.  Inconvenience sparks us to change. Make my life difficult and I will modify my systems.

The difficulty in having a lack of difficulty is perhaps the definition of white privilege.

I pray for difficulties. I desire a better imagination. But most of all, I strive for a world where I don’t have to fathom any of this, because neither does Val.

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Wishes

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Little Man: The other day when I made a wish on the wishbone, I wished that–
Baby Girl: DON’T SAY WHAT IT IS IT WON’T COME TRUE!
Little Man: It already came true.
Baby Girl: Oh. What was it?
Little Man: I wished that I would snuggle with Mama.
Baby Girl: But you snuggle every day with Mama?!

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Wishes are granted, prayers are answered; we look for stars colliding but often it’s the stardust settling into the cracks of our life that holds things together, that holds us in place to experience the good, the great, the snuggles under Blanket Mountain.
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