Martin Luther King Day is the perfect time for my kids to get some much-needed perspective in their lives, about struggle, and a very recent time when the rights and luxuries that they take for granted would not have existed.
A time not too long ago, when interracial couples like their dad and me would not have been allowed to marry, or their mom might not have been allowed to stay in some of the nice hotels we now stay in on a regular basis.
Helping Children Understand
My children enjoy all the benefits of a secure and indulged suburban childhood, with a decidedly Southern Californian twist. They attend your prototypical P.C. school, a Waldorf school where they take classes like handwork and eurythmy (a uniquely Waldorfian form of movement that looks like ballet mixed with sign language!) with children like themselves, who range in all colors of the rainbow. I am African-American, my husband is Caucasian. As a parent body, though, pretty much everyone is like us: politically progressive, tolerant, and generally groovy. We’ve got interracial parents, gay parents, straight parents, Pagans, New Agers, and even a few movie stars.
So, when we go the opportunity to visit Atlanta, I thought it would be a good thing for us to tour the Martin Luther King Jr. Center. My two boys, one 14, the other 10, are pretty typical in that their primary goals in life right now appear to indulge in as much Playstation as they can, avoid work, lie on the sofa and eat… a LOT!
So we packed up our ever-hungry boys and their iPods and headed to Atlanta.
In Atlanta we stayed at the downtown Westin. Its hyper-modern sleek gray interior instantly passed the boys’ cool test. The Westin is the tallest hotel in the Western hemisphere, and our room was on the 57th floor. The room’s far wall was all glass, with a view spanning the Atlanta skyline.
The Westin is known for the Sun Dial Restaurant, a rotating restaurant located on the top 72nd floor. Meals are a bit pricey, however for a small fee (free for hotel guests), you can go to the enclosed Observatory Deck on the same floor. We went on an overcast night, and we were higher than some clouds. Those with a fear of heights should best stay away, though my boys declared the swiftly moving glass elevator awesome. The entire trip up 72 floors takes only 85 seconds.
“Hey, it’s just like Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, my youngest chirped excitedly. “I hope not,” I thought, queasily remembering the “up and out” scene where the elevator breaks free through the roof and spins out into space. [note: did I mention that I am scared of heights?]
The view at the deck was a hit, and at different vantage points there are telescopes positioned to get an up-close-and-personal look at the sprawling Atlanta freeway system, or that’s what it looked like to me.
The kids hounded us for a meal at the Sun Dial, but we didn’t feel like blowing the entire week’s food budget – especially when my youngest eats nothing but cheeseburgers anyway.
We ignored their whines and scouted out a place for food where could have our own wine. The Westin is in the downtown section, and can feel a bit desolate at night. Right across the street was your uber-friendly Hooters. The younger one piped up “What’s Hooters?” The older one told him to be quiet and dutifully averted his eyes. I knew I was avoiding a teachable moment, but I wasn’t in the mood to explain that Hooters had nothing to do with the owls on the logo. Their father was curiously silent. I passed on the opportunity to have a heaping dose of Spandex with my meal, and we went across the street to the internationally ever-present Hard Rock Café.
The music videos, while loud, kept the boys entertained long enough for my husband and me to enjoy a glass of the house cabernet without negotiating any arguments from the peanut gallery. All in all, a very successful meal. A moment of peace for the parents, who cares about the food!
We spent the next few days touring the sites of Atlanta. We stopped by the Atlanta Zoo to catch sight of Mei Lan, the adorable baby panda, with her parents Yang Yang and Lun Lun. We also saw the Georgia Aquarium, which is the largest aquarium in the world. (Many of the fish were shipped from around the world in UPS crates.) The High Museum of Art had a touring show of decorative arts from Versailles. I was quite surprised and impressed that the kid’s-oriented audio tour held their interest. The producers of the tour knew when they were doing when they created a little cliffhanger that kept the boys intrigued. Somewhere toward the beginning, there was a statue of executed queen Marie Antoinette, with the narrator slyly saying, “I’ll tell you later what happened to her” and then withheld the exciting information that she was beheaded for the end of the audio tour.
A true highlight, though, was the CNN headquarters, where we got to see first-hand how TV news is created. (This includes a backstage glimpse at the working newsrooms seen on CNN’s cameras.) If you’re around the area for dinner, walk down the street to Ted Turner’s Montana Grill for some freshly grilled bison raised on his Montana ranch. The boys turned up their nose at the idea of eating bison, and had beef burgers. But my husband and I were more adventurous and tried the bison short ribs, which were satisfying. I truly couldn’t tell the difference from beef, other than perhaps the meat was leaner.
After a few days of sightseeing on our rapid-pace schedule, I was a bit frazzled, and needed some time to unwind. I suggested we go to the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and immediately the boys started their onslaught of complaints: “Botanical gardens are for old ladies!…Who wants to go see a bunch of plants!” But both my husband and I are much wiser in our parenting techniques now that the kids are older, and in times like this we just ignore them and do what’s best for us. The garden was soothing and tranquil, as all botanical gardens are. The boys got over their initial crabbiness and enjoyed traipsing through the large multiroom greenhouse filled with tropical plants and some assorted birds.
A tip for those planning on visiting Atlanta. We paid for all of our admission tickets using our CityPass, which sells for $69, about half what the regular admission prices would be for six major Atlanta attractions.