Parenting in Paradise: a How-to

I read a lot of parenting books. Lacking a compound of extended family and helpful aunties, bossy how-to books fill in the gaps. They are great-- I especially like Playful Parenting, How to Talk so Kids will Listen, Parenting with Love and Logic, and Simplicity Parenting. But there are some things about Hawaii that make parenting here unique. My friend H. and I call it "Beach Parenting." It comes naturally on this island but would not be difficult to apply anyplace else, if you just "think beach." So, as an experiment in how-to parenting writing, here you go. Your own guide to parenting in paradise.

1. Sand.
Get kids dirty. Sand is a miraculous substance-- take a little, it's light. Load a bucket-ful, it's heavy. It can be wet and cold to pour out into gloppy towers, or it can be crisp and hot enough to blister your feet. Put an irate bored child in the sand, and watch her relax. She will get into the zone, time will hold still as she grinds fistfuls through her fingers, digs deep wet trenches, kicks over her towers and experimentally tastes a mouthful or two. She is the master of her sand universe-- the creator and destroyer. That zone-- that elemental focus-- is more nourishing for her brain than any other play, and as restful as sleep. Even a kid in a sandbox, a garden-patch, or a rockpile can make mountains out of molehills. Sand play can give a kid a sense of power, develop motor skills and help, oddly enough, with food aversions and potty training. Let them get dirty and enjoy it. There's always a hose to spray them off with. Speaking of...

2. Water.
Get kids wet. Wade out into it, it's chilly. Count to three, be brave, and go under-- come up shouting with cold. Two minutes later it's as warm as your skin. Bodies are heavier in the water-- slower moving-- and lighter too. You take moon bounce steps to jump slowly with the waves. Handfuls of underwater sand spill out in a slow flow like ink. Kids and babies watch their bodies change shape and color under water, watch rigid things bend at the surface, catch camouflaged darts of ocean-colored fishes. They put their faces under-- even my one year old puts her mouth under, tastes salt, blows bubbles. Water pulls you down (better learn to float!) but you can turn around with your hand for a paddle and send up a soaking wall in a semi circle around you. That makes you the queen of the splash game. And the bigger kids bravely test their eyes and notice the way the sea clears to them after a week of daily dives. Kids remember clearly their aquatic ape-kid roots. Water play is soothing. And physically exhausting. Just right for before naptime.

3. Avocados and Papayas
Feed kids good things. We always bring snacks to the beach. Our favorite snack-pickup-spot is the little Japanese family grocery store Sueoka's. We were at Sueoka's last year and noticed mangoes from the Philippines on the shelf for 4 dollars a pound. But in the Sueoka's parking lot was a mango tree, dropping golden-red beauts on the cars, turning to mango wine underfoot! We are blind to the food all around us. Why waste time with anemic tomatoes and well-traveled waxy apples when the trees around us produce more goodness than we could ever eat.

Two such fruits even come in their own bowls! Take a papaya or an avocado, cut it in half. Scoop the seeds out of the papaya, and thwack a knife into the avocado pit to twist it out. Sprinkle on some salt or some lemon juice onto the flesh, hand it and a spoon to your kid. Voila! Delicious and nutritious-- papayas full of enzymes to ease digestion, avocado full of fat to feed your brain.

Need food that comes in a wrapper? Apple bananas! Thumb-thick, my kids can eat about 20 in a sitting.

Other food too is bountiful and delicious, simple and healthy: breadfruit and taro-leaves, grass-fed beef and --if you dare-- wild free-range chicken. Guavas are a delicious weed, and Passionfruit choke powerlines. Bittermelon and calamungai -- Filipino staples--grow disguised as roadside weeds. There is a bounty of good whole food out there, wherever you are.

4.Chop Suey
Let kids experience diversity. At St. Micheal's playgroup we had a potluck. Green-papaya stew, authentic Japanese sushi, salsa, fresh bread and cheese, Hawaiian-style chinese chicken long rice, saimin, breadfruit fries, salty nori packets, cookies, and chicken mcnuggits. It's a cliche that Hawaii is ethnically diverse. But a cliche worth restating! Kids growing up here eat all kinds of food as daily fare. They learn pidgin words from the many languages that have found a home with the people here. They call a rainbow of people "auntie" or "uncle." A potluck can be "chop suey"-- an ethnic mishmash-- and so can a family and a kid. Kids who have made peace with the tetchy subject that is American race can base their friendships on more important things. Like, what do you like on your pizza?

5. The Village
Let kids have lots of role models. This is (still) a small island, and if you meet someone once, you will probably meet them again. There's no throwing friendships out and hoping Jacob Marley is gone for good. And as a kid that means wherever you go, whatever you do, somebody who know your maddah stay watching you! Kids learn quickly that friends of mom and dad are "auntie and uncle."  Wherever you are, enlarging your family support system is a good thing. Invite people into your life and your kids' lives, extend yourself into others' lives. Kids raised that way, where there are lots of people looking out for them, can have healthy relationships with a range of people. Also, let kids be role models. Kids here have a place in the village themselves. Big kids look after small kids. Small kids get to think they are watching after babies.

6. High Cost of Living
Let kids scrimp and scrape. Stuff here is expensive. So I have never bought my kids new toys. There is a bounty of yard sales and thrift shops and especially friends with older kids, passing good things along. And houses are small-- much smaller than the average house in, say, Utah. But I don't mind the small spaces and second hand toys. Get the kids outside, into the sand and water, chasing the cats around, picking bouquets.

So there are some scatteshot thoughts about Beach Parenting. What do YOU think?


  1. Wonderful. I agree: keep it simple, explore and have fun. Sounds like living in Hawaii nudges that style of living in the right direction. I was just thinking about how parenting is going to be dramatically different for me once we move to Oklahoma. All of a sudden we will have a house, yard, garage, car... all things we've never had before. We are working hard to prepare ourselves on how to maintain our parenting style of adventure and simplicity in a place that doesn't necessarily require such. Here we create our meals around produce, usually fresh and local (and cheap). There I am imagining Costco and a pantry full of canned goods. Here our day trips tell stories of Herod, Solomon, or Jesus. There, day trips will be to the community pool or YMCA Family Night. Is it possible to be a metropolitan parent in Oklahoma? A beach mom in Utah? Certain things seem salvagable but I think we will have to work hard to paddle against the status quo.

  2. This was a lovely thing to read before bed. Gearing up for kiddies of my own soon and I think we have a lot in common about raising babies. Cannot wait to leap in myself! I agree with you on old toys--

  3. Your voice resinates in my head long after I read your words. It's like reading my favorite book over and over with an evolving plot line and interesting new characters entering and exiting at will. I love your voice and miss our post book club rants!



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