I just threw a $25 DK Family Guide to London in the trash, and good riddance! The clang as the book hit the bottom of the metal trashcan was so satisfying. I used this family guide to plan a trip to London with my two 10- year- old nieces, and it was filled with useless suggestions for families from Planet Perfect. Suggestions like “allow at least three hours at the British Museum,” or spend “up to a day” at the Museum of Natural History made me feel my family was inadequate, but it also inispired me to start writing a new guidebook for families living on Planet Earth: Do we have to go to another stupid Museum? The Family Guide for taking Normal Children to London.
By normal children I mean the kind that were more excited about seeing me walk into a wall at the Green Park Tube Station and almost pass out, than they were about seeing the Rosetta Stone (or anything else for that matter.) By normal children I mean the kind that are obsessed by chocolate, ice cream and candy, the kind that don’t really like museums, that don’t care to remember the name of the river that runs through London (they finally did remember that it started with a “T”). The kind that don’t really like to walk for more than ten minutes.
But I am getting ahead of myself. I was visiting London with my nieces as a substitute for my mother. Affectionately known as Bubbie, my mother had successfully taken four grandchild trips to London. About 14 years
ago, she made the trip with my two eldest children. Four years later, she took my daughter Melissa. Subsequently, she made two more trips, with four other granddaughters, in pairs, when they were about 10- years- old. Not one of those trips broke her patience or stamina, and she was eagerly looking forward to taking the last of two granddaughters this year. Unfortunately, Bubbie’s health did not cooperate, and I agreed to stand in. After all, Bubbie was footing the bill, I am the very cool, awesome and fun aunt, I still have plenty of energy, and I love my beautiful nieces and London.
Despite the fact that one brother (I’m not going to mention names, Paul) might have thought I was not quite responsible enough to care for his child (after all, I do like my wine, I swear a bit too much, and look how
my kids turned out) I knew I would get the children back alive, but I wanted more. I wanted to show them as much as my mother would have. I wanted to make them love London as much as she does. I wanted to teach them as much as my mother would have taught them, be as patient as she would have been, give them as much tender loving care as she would have. Well, I’m no Bubbie, but I got them back alive, and now I think I have the beginnings of a best-selling guidebook.
Do We Have to Go to Another Stupid Museum? No, we don’t. We can go for ice cream instead. My guidebook will include practical suggestions for the normal family visiting London. Here are some highlights.
1. You are screwed if you bring the wrong electrical converter. You might even blow up your iPhone charger. Being without a phone is scary enough, but it is nothing compared to a preteen girl who believes she will be
separated from her hair straightener for a week.
2. Be prepared with clever comebacks to questions such as “More coffee? Haven’t you had four cups of coffee already” or “More wine? Didn’t you have wine last night?”
3. Memorize the location of all Apple stores in the London area. Apple stores provide comfortable seating and tested entertainment for children of all ages, and offer you the ability to seek sage advice from British geniuses in order to fix your failed email — your only link to work and sanity.
4. Know where to receive psychiatric counseling when you have visited three Apple Stores and you still cannot send emails, and are feeling particularly vulnerable because you are able to receive them.
5. Allow a full two hours for visiting all museums- in the aggregate. Focus on one “must see” item, like this: British Museum- Rosetta Stone. Done. Make your way to a candy store.
6. Watch the Changing of the Guards — on the internet. Remember kids don’t like to wait, not see, or be smooshed, and this activity is a trifecta of torture. Those adults hanging on the palace gates got there
an hour early for their prime spots and there is no way in hell they are going to let your kid in.
7. Believe it or not, walking in the rain may not be on your child’s bucket list, even if it is in Hyde Park.
8. Forego a healthy dinner for ice cream sundaes that are served in an edible ginger bread house at Fortnum and Mason. They’ll talk about that one for years.
9. Plan on spending a good three hours at Hamleys, a toy store seven stories tall with one floor devoted to candy. Remember that choosing a treat for many children is a truly momentous decision . Beware: you may have to talk a child down from buying a $60 chocolate Monopoly game as a “gift” for her mother.
10. The London Eye: nice view, but oh so slow.
11. Harrods: best described as a shopping museum.
12. Explain that chewing gum is illegal for children in London and those who break the law are likely to end up in the London Dungeon.
If only my column were longer, I would have advice for everything from theatre, to getting children to try vinegar on their fries, to visiting the Harry Potter Warner Bros studio. If you are going to London with
children or grandchildren you will just have to wait and buy for the book. After all, I’m hoping the royalties will send my nieces to college where they can study history… or maybe not.