The End of Wandering?

A drawn bird curves its neck back to collect a seed.
Sankofa Bird; bagaball, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

“Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi” It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten. (Akan proverb)

I have always been intrigued and inspired by the Sankofa bird, a representation of the idea that we can look back to the past to help us create the future. However, we must be ready before we can look at the past without being overwhelmed by old emotions.

It has been quite some time since I wrote here. There are two reasons for that: I’m not doing much wandering these days, and the events that led to that have stung too much for me to write about them until now.

The lack of wandering is due to me being back in the US and not being employed full-time. Neither of those were part of my plans, and I have to admit I have been a bit unsettled.

It has now been almost exactly a year since I went from the highest point in my teaching career to the lowest. 

In October 2020,  I declined 2021-2022 renewal of my contract from the international school at which I taught for 3 years. The international schools recruitment cycle is such that these decisions have to be made early. Due to my son’s experience at the school, I was extremely picky as far as the schools to which I applied in that recruitment cycle. This meant that I was facing stiff competition for a small pool of highly competitive schools, and by January I was feeling rather defeated by a string of final interview rounds that didn’t lead to job offers.

Then, things suddenly shifted from being ghosted by schools and dealing with constant anxiety to getting interest from two of the biggest names in the international schools circuit! I’m talking plentiful resources, $10K+ salary increase, stellar benefits, and the type of name recognition that would pretty much open every international teaching door I could imagine in the future. Not only were both schools interested, they were invested enough to compete in order to be the first one to offer me a contract. After 15+ years as a classroom teacher, I felt like I was being recognized as a high-value educator. In the end, one school prevailed, and I excitedly accepted a middle school English position with them.

As is the norm in this line of work, I soon began gathering paperwork from home and local authorities (that’s a whole other post right there), getting multiple pictures in highly specific formats taken, and scheduling doctors’ appointments. I was welcomed into the [insert school mascot] family and asked to send pictures and a little blurb about my son and I so my future colleagues could get to know me. I scheduled my son’s academic placement test and registered for summer professional development.

Then, in early March, as I was waiting in line for my second COVID test of the week, I received an email from the school director’s secretary casually asking if I was available for a chart with my hiring principal and the director in the following 5 to 10 days. Since I had recently confronted my son’s school about their less-than-best practices and their harmful effects on my son, and was aware that his principal had recently met with his future principal, I immediately felt a chill despite the friendly tone of the email. I followed up with my hiring principal, and he gave me the news: without ever contacting me, the elementary principal refused to admit my son, and so the contract was rescinded. 

The fact that I went from being part of the “family” to mattering so little that, had I not emailed my hiring principal, they would have let my son sit for a 2-hour placement test knowing they had already rejected him speaks volume about their lack of integrity. So does the director not only being late to the Zoom call, but also never turning on his camera. Not to mention that the elementary principal who made the decision was not present and instead left my hiring principal to handle the awkward conversation.

In the end, I was left with no job, and it was too late in the recruitment season for me to look for another appropriate international school teaching post, which meant I had to return to the US.

While most things were uncertain, it was clear that I did not want to teach in my local schools again. Most of the factors that had prompted me to leave were still present, and frankly worsened by the pandemic.

Since my five-year plan involved gradually expanding my skill set to eventually transition into a new career, I decided to move these goals up. After looking at my work likes and dislikes as well as skills interests, I decided that a combination of part time freelance editing and full-time learning and development would be ideal.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I was very naive about the amount of time it would take me to make any inroads in either field, and I have had to deal with the emotional toll that comes with not yet succeeding.

Still, I woke up recently and rather than feel sadness and longing at the thought of my international life, I smiled. I still love wandering even if I’m not going anywhere far right now. So I’m looking forward to writing the Abidjan stories I haven’t told yet. And since my son is doing well here (which tells me we should stay put for a while), I’m committing to enjoying and writing about local wanderings, until I can wander far again.

Keep wandering,


A Time for Lasts

As my time in Cote d’Ivoire comes to a close, every moment feels a bit more precious; after almost 3 years here, Abidjan has begun to feel like home. I have now entered the season of lasts, in which every sunset is a reminder of how few Abidjan sunsets I have left. And of course, it seems that I am just now discovering the many Ivorian hidden gems I will not get to visit. I may not be able to control the passage of time, I can at least revisit some of my favorite places one last time.

With that in mind, I planned a last trip to Grand-Bassam with my dear friend (more like chosen family now) and her son (one of Big Foot’s friends). Grand-Bassam, the first colonial capital of Cote d’Ivoire, is a historic town and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The roundabout at the entrance of the town boasts a gorgeous white stone statue of 3 women commemorating the Women’s March on Grand-Bassam. It is one of my favorite landmarks here, even though I can never manage to get a good picture from the car.

Although I have visited Bassam on several occasions, this visit held all the emotional significance of being my last, and it was just as lovely as I hoped.

On this instance, I found an amazing Airbnb located very close to the Artists’ Center , which was a plus for me as I like to shop for local art such as masks, carvings, and paintings. Upon our arrival, we were greeted at the car, and a young man quickly took our luggage to the room. Considering the heat, it was an especially nice surprise to find cold water waiting for us in the mini fridge. Before leaving us to get settled, the young man even asked if we wanted him to take us on a walk around the neighborhood. Since we were already familiar with the area, we declined.

The property is absolutely beautiful, and Jean-Marc, the host, is so pleasant that you shouldn’t be surprised if he offers you a drink while you relax on the terrace. And for me, it felt extra special to find out that he was from the same Swiss town in which I grew up. I also highly recommend that you take advantage of the plentiful and affordable (2000 FCFA/$3.75) breakfast that Henri, the caretaker, serves every morning.

The setting is picturesque, with gorgeous flowers everywhere and a beautiful view. You can even try your luck and see if the fish will bite. There are 3 very gentle dogs on the property as well as plenty of space to run, so our boys had a lovely time being “wild children”.

The location is perfect as you are just a few minutes’ walk away from the aforementioned artist’s center, as well as from a wonderful pizzeria, le Quai, which serves Ivorian dishes as well, including a very tasty poulet Kedjenou.

If you are looking for something a bit fancier, try La Case Bleue just a little bit further down the street and enjoy the artwork on the wall, which they change periodically.

Looking for some time in the sun? One of our favorite places to go is La Nouvelle Paillotte. This resort is right by the ocean. You can either purchase a day pass (about 10000 FCFA per person) or simply buy food and beverages to enjoy. Then, you can enjoy the pools (1 regular and 1 for kids) or lounge all day while watching the waves. A word of caution: the pool water is pretty salty, so if your eyes are sensitive, you’ll want to bring goggles.

The ocean in Bassam is too rough to swim, but beautiful to watch. The hotel’s property is surrounded by a fence keeping the people selling various items away, unless you choose to call them over. There are also swings for children to play, as well as a small soccer space and a foosball (aka table football) table. If you are really lucky, you might even catch a small group of local traditional dancers/acrobats and their drummer.

If you prefer a hotel, I definitely recommend La Madrague. It is a lovely place, and the owner is a very friendly woman. Rooms are pretty and spotless, and I loved the large shower. There are two pools here as well, and the prix fixe breakfast (4500 FCFA/$8.42) served ocean side is a lovely way to start the day. During my visit there for one of our long weekends, I had such a relaxing time that I never left the property. With the exception of one overcooked steak, all of the meals were delicious, there was no need to go anywhere.

Overall, I highly recommend visiting Grand-Bassam. I definitely wish I could go again.

The Good Life

One of the reasons I left the US was quality of life. It may sound strange to some that I would consider my quality of life better in West Africa than it was in the US, but the biggest thing that was missing from my life was real downtime. Working two jobs and teaching in a system that does not value teachers were chipping away at my peace of mind, often leaving me too fried to truly enjoy time with my child or even vacations.

Here I am able to have a work-life balance that is healthy for me, and because some of my living expenses are covered by my employer, I can afford to splurge on a nice vacation without having to eat Ramen for the rest of the month.

Anyway, I just returned from 4 amazing days in Grand Béréby, Cote d’Ivoire, with Big Foot and a few fellow moms from work and their children.

We flew in via the San Pedro airport on Air Cote d’Ivoire. I have to say I really enjoyed the friendly crew and the comfortable amount of legroom in coach. It was a quick 45 minute flight, and the driver from the inn was ready and waiting for us. The one hour drive to the resort was as unpleasantly bumpy as expected, but we had been warned of that ahead of time.

When we arrived at Le Katoum, I immediately forgot about the ride and felt myself relax. The owner gave us a warm greeting, and we were quickly shown to our room. The room was simple and clean, but the best part was the sea view terrace. It was the perfect spot for early morning workouts or simply relaxed reflection.


After putting our things away, we went down for dinner with our friends at the on-site restaurant. I had a to-die-for dish of lobster pasta (about $13). Afterwards, we spend some time on the beach and then turned for the night.

The next day, we started with breakfast (the classique was just the right portion to share with my son), then the adults relaxed on the restaurant’s terrace while the kids played in the pool.


After lunch, we headed out on what of the excursions that are offered here. This was quite a treat, especially considering it cost about $10 per person! We were taken on a small boat to see little monkey’s in their natural habitat, and local boats (many from Ghana) that were docked nearby. Then we walked through a cacao plantation and were able to taste the fruit as well as see the local village where they dry and prepare the cacao beans. In the village, we were treated to coconuts fresh off the tree, and the adults were able to try a local sugarcane rum called “kingus”. We then walked back via a route that kept up right by the ocean.

During our stay, we also opted for the private beach excursion. This includes a very nice lunch of grilled fish, chicken, and lobster with salad and several sides, as well as some wine. Sadly the food was too tasty for me to remember to take a picture 😉 This was a really lovely time for us as the waves were very tame, so all the children could safely play in and around the water, and the fact that there were no other people there added to the serenity of the experience.

Picnic area at the private beach.

On our last night, we requested a bonfire on the beach, and we were accommodated by one of the staff members without hesitation.


During our stay, the owner and his sons frequently checked on us or just took a moment to chat with us and other guests.The kitchen staff was also very accommodating, making off menu custom dishes on request.

On the last day, I enjoyed a heavenly massage in little cabana on the beach, and our group then walked to the local market for some shopping. Le Katoum also offers several other excursions (some seasonal), such as fishing, whale watching, watching turtles come in to lay their eggs, and work with a local conservation NGO.

Two things of note: First, things are much easier if you speak French, although everyone on staff tries hard to please, regardless of their varying degrees of English proficiency. Additionally, the kitchen sometimes runs out of certain items, because they try to source ingredients locally and sustainably. They do also take quite a while to prepare meals, so it’s a good idea to order ahead and tell them when you plan to have your meal.

Overall, this was an truly amazing experience. I had budgeted $1000 for flights, transfers, room for 4 nights, and food and drinks, and my total came in at $980. This was with me having a couple of adult drinks and paying zero attention to the cost of meals. I did bring cash for tips as well, but I feel that the amazing experience I had at Le Katoum was worth well over what I paid. I would definitely return there in a heartbeat and highly recommend it. It’s no surprise to me that they manage to stay well-booked consistently, even without a website (You can view pictures on their Facebook page here, or email them at

Keep Wandering,


A New Chapter

It has been a busy summer, and I was able to enjoy some solo wandering time as well as some kid-friendly adventures; I’ll be back soon to write about those.

Today’s post is about some bigger wandering. Back in August, I packed up and moved to start my first overseas teaching post. Big Foot and I are now living in Abidjan!

My original plan was to write a post as soon as I arrived, but I feel like it has taken me almost until now to feel settled.

The first thing to know about living here, is that French is the official language. This was not a problem for me since I am fluent; in fact, I saw it as an opportunity for Big Foot to improve his French in a more authentic way. Because Ivory Coast is a former French colony which retains economic ties with France, most of the imported products in grocery stores are French. This has actually been very nice for me, as I now have access to products I remember from my childhood, which I missed during my many years in the US. For those who have a purely US background, this can be a downside, as American brands can be both difficult to find and expensive.

Speaking of which, everything is more difficult here. For example, there are no addresses, so letting someone (like your taxi driver) know where you live is an interesting exercise. The traffic is intense as it is in any other major city, but here there is the added fun of driving rules that are at best mere suggestions. To put things in perspective, even though this is a country where malaria is fairly common, the official embassy guides list car accidents as the greatest hazard we are likely to face here.

As is the case in many developing countries, there is a stark disparity between the haves and the have nots. For example, modern villas and pricey private schools can often be found just a few hundred feet away from shacks and piles of rubble; street vendors in makeshift stands line roads that lead to malls where one can easily spend the average Ivorian’s monthly income in one shop.

Big City Shopping

That said, there are many positives here for me on a personal level, and there are hopeful developments in the city as well. As I post during my time here, I will try to focus on positive images; after all there are plenty of places you can go if you want to read about the lurid and destitute face of Africa .

Until next time, I leave you with some images from the beach at Grand Bassam.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Right Near the Beach

This Spring Break, Big Foot received his very first passport stamp! We spent a few days in Jamaica, and not only did he have a blast, but I was even able to relax.

First, let’s talk about money. This vacation was definitely a splurge for me, but with careful planning and timing I was able to pull it off. In the end, I spent about $1500 for the flight and 3 nights stay at the resort. Specifically, $900 for the resort (kids under 6 stay free), and $548 for the flight.

The outbound flight experience was wonderful. The security check at MCO was uncharacteristically fast and painless, and my first experience flying JetBlue was lovely. The inbound flight experience was something else, but more on that in a later post.

There were two big factors that made me choose this particular adventure for this year’s Spring Break. First, my son has been fixated on the idea of the beach since he was two, despite having the kind of mom who lives in Florida, yet never goes to the beach. In fact, he once drew me a beach “just in case I didn’t know how to find the beach”. Second, one of the way the Franklyn D. Resort  differentiates itself from others in the crowded tropical vacation market is though the inclusion of a vacation nanny assigned each family.

That’s right: the all-inclusive price includes all meals, all drinks, many activities, airport transportation, and a vacation nanny. Vacation. Nanny. Which means that even a single mom like me can have some time for self-care during the vacation.

We arrived at the resort on a Monday, and the reception staff was friendly and welcoming. I was informed that our room had been upgraded from a Garden/Pool View Junior Suite to a Beachfront 2 Bedroom Suite. The suite was clean and pretty, with TVs in each bedroom and in the living room, a beach patio with a view of the beach, and a kitchenette (with some cheese and crackers in the mini-fridge).

Although it was already close to 5:00pm when we arrived, the nanny still came to meet us in our suite, give us a tour, and stay with us for a bit so my son could go on the beach before dark. Before she left, she walked us to one of the restaurants so we could have dinner. There are multiple restaurants on the property, including one with grilled foods and kid favorites (right next an ice cream bar with a tree house on top!), an adults-only fine dining restaurant, and a buffet. During our stay, some of my favorites were the (very spicy) jerk chicken/pork and the guava-glazed chicken.

Jerk pork from the grill

The next morning, Anna, our nanny, arrived at 8:30 while we were at breakfast. Big Foot warmed up to her very quickly and went off to play on the beach with her until her lunch break. By the time she returned, after we had our own lunch, I asked my son what he would like to do next, he enthusiastically said, “Go play with Anna!” Then, he grabbed her hand and took off running. Most of our vacation was spent with him playing with the nanny, and I really enjoyed listening to him recount his adventures at mealtimes and as we spent the evenings together. During his time with Anna, Big Foot played on the beach, tie-dyed a shirt, played in the club house, played on the beach some more, played on the playground, swam in the pool, had a beaded bracelet made, went fishing, and watched rabbits.

I had planned on taking advantage of the fitness center and glass bottom boat tour, but I spent most of the free time doing all the things I rarely do: reading a book on the patio (not for work, and without interruptions!), have a massage surrounded by the ocean, and get a pedicure without rushing. I was also able to enjoy a glass of wine here and there since I didn’t need to worry about driving home. I have to say that the pedicure was mediocre, but the massage was absolutely heavenly. The fact the two services cost me less than I would pay just for the massage States-side was a bonus, especially when the spa includes this view:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And did I mention I was able to read a whole book during those few days? While sitting under trees and looking out at the ocean?

Oh, and apparently, I was even flirted with, but I’m in the stage of my life where I don’t notice these things until the young lady working as a nanny points it out to me.

Reading Spot with a View


Some of the activities were not available because our stay ended before the weekend, but one of the highlights was the Wednesday evening beach-side barbecue. It was just cool enough to be comfortable, the anti-bug lamps were effective, and the food was both plentiful and tasty. Truly the perfect setting for the last evening of our stay.

Check out was at noon on Thursday, and someone came to pick up our luggage for us at 11:00 am, which means Big Foot was still able to enjoy some last-minute beach time. The check out process itself was quick and painless, and the airport shuttle arrived right on time. Big Foot was definitely sad to say goodbye to Anna, and I sure wished we could have stayed another day or two.

Overall, I would say the vacation was a success. Everyone at FDR was really friendly and helpful, and they really have it set to make it a perfect vacation for parents, including single parents. It isn’t a luxury resort per se, but for me the luxury was in being able to enjoy a vacation with my child (and get to be in the pictures!) while still having some time for myself. I would absolutely go again.

Plus, this moment alone was worth it:



Keep wandering,



Small Village, Big Writing


As a single parent, much of my life revolves around Big Foot. Add the fact that I am a teacher, and much of my life ends up being about other people. However, I have finally learned that I cannot be good for anyone if I do not practice self-care, and therefore I am being intentional about nurturing myself as a person.

Writing is one of my most consistent passions, but it often takes a backseat to the responsibilities that come with the different hats I wear. I steal moments late after Big Foot goes to sleep, or early before he wakes up if I am not too exhausted, because I feel guilty spending time on myself while he is awake. On more days than I care to admit, I am so emotionally and intellectually drained from teaching that I can’t find the energy to pick up a pencil or open my laptop.

This year, however, I found the perfect compromise: The Kenyon Review’s Writers Workshop for Teachers. To make things better, the workshop was held in Ohio (where I’d never been), which meant a week away to focus on my writing in a new setting. So I silenced my self-critic, and went.

The security check at MCO was only mildly unpleasant: big crowd herded along by obviously disgruntled TSA employees, which is better than my usual experience there. There are no direct flights from Orlando International Airport (MCO) to Columbus Airport, so I had to stop in Philadelphia. My flight from Orlando was on time, and surprisingly reached its destination about 10 minutes early… which would have been great if my flight hadn’t been about 45 minutes late. Thank goodness I really like PHL.

The workshop itself was amazing. First, the (really) small village of Kenyon, Ohio is just the right setting for writing. The buildings are quaint, and the campus is seamlessly blended with the village. Additionally, T-Mobile does not seem to operate there, so I had no cell signal whatsoever. This had two advantages: One, my usual phone-based distractions were completely absent. Two, I was able to experience the kindness of my classmates, as people whom I had not known until our arrival on campus were quick to offer up use of their own phones so I could call my son and wish him good night each evening.



In addition to the inspiring architecture, there is an abundance of trees and grassy areas as well as many spots inviting people to stop, reflect, and (in my case) write. From benches under trees to large branches in a tree, the campus was like a playground for artists.

Beyond the setting, the classes themselves were amazing. The teachers were obviously experts, both in writing and in teaching. The other participants in the group also challenged and inspired me in ways that are not accessible to me in my everyday life. I was exposed to writers I had not yet read and was able to have literary conversations with people who actually enjoy such things. Then, after I had been filled with artistic impetus, I had something that I am always missing: time to write, free of guilt. The meals shared with other writers (from my program and the other concurrent sessions) and the nightly readings by instructors and participants rounded up the experience perfectly. When time came for us to depart, I wished I could have just a few more days.

The flight back was pretty awful. It was about 20 minutes late, which was not that bad, particularly since I was able to wait with one of the friends I met at the workshop. However, we then spent about an hour on the tarmac, meaning that my perfect hour-long layover turned into having to be rescheduled on a later flight.

Still, overall the trip was well worth it. I had time to myself and time to work on my writing in a setting that allowed me to be interact with other adult who share my passion for writing, generate more new material than I have in a long time, receive professional feedback, and discover writing strengths I didn’t know I possessed. I came home physically, artistically, and mentally refreshed, which allows me to be a happier (hence better) mom.

Keep wandering,

       ~  Joëlle


Airport Review: PHL

In my pre-Big Foot days, I didn’t care much about airports. As long as I could find my gate on time and find a corner to sit, I was fine. Now, however, I have to take a preschooler’s patience threshold, bladder capacity, and short legs to take into account, so I find myself paying much closer attention.

On our recent adventure to Sesame Place, we flew from Orlando International Airport (MCO) to Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). Today I’ll review PHL since it had a few touches I definitely appreciated.

First, I should mention that I managed to lose my driver’s license at Sesame Place that morning, which I didn’t notice until I was already at the airport. I was very glad that I had arrived at the airport a little over two hours before out flight time, and I braced myself for what I expected would be a difficult passage through the security checkpoint.

Boy was I wrong! No eye-rolling, huffing or puffing. The TSA officer asked me if I had at least two items with my name on it. Thankfully, I had my insurance card and a bank card that has my picture on it (although I was in my 20s when it was taken). The officer checked them, then told me I would have to wait for a female officer to come conduct an additional security check. During the five minutes it took for her to arrive, the original officer apologized several times for the wait.

I was then made to remove my shoes and go through the full body scanner before undergoing a pat down and having additional officers go through my bags. During the whole procedure, all officers involved were very polite and considerate; one of them even held my son’s hand and chatted with him, and once I was cleared and ready to move on, they even gave him a “junior security officer” sticker.

PHL Jr Officer Badge
Junior Officer Badge

Altogether, I spent about 20 minutes in the security area. Which is about how long it takes to get though regular security procedures at MCO with proper ID on any given day—if you’re lucky.

We arrived at the appropriate terminal with plenty of time to spare, and there we found another lovely surprise: an absolutely adorable airport-themed play area. Big Foot had a blast pretending to pilot a plane, man the control tower, and drive the luggage vehicle, and sliding down the wing of the plane. I had a great time sitting down and relaxing on the bench while I watched him play.

Right across from the play area was a cute little reading area with a book exchange box, some recycled planters with some greenery, two wooden rocking chairs, and a bench.

Reading Area at PHL

Once Big Foot was done playing, we shared some pizza from one of the several restaurant choices, then headed to the gate with a few minutes before the start of boarding. The attendants at the gate were very friendly, taking time to compliment Big Foot on his rolling carry-on.

I really enjoyed this airport as everything seemed well-organized, the staff was friendly, and they had some family-friendly touches as well.

Keep wandering,

~ Joëlle

P.S: I contacted the Lost & Found at Sesame Place, and thankfully my license had been turned in. They mailed it to me at no charge.

Why I Wander

We tend to assume we’re the norm, and that our life experiences are commonplace. I know this, yet like most people I often find myself shocked upon discovering some mundane detail about someone I know. Once such detail that still catches me off-guard is when in discussion, it becomes apparent that the other person has never traveled outside of the country. My shock will grow even bigger still when they add they have never left the state, nor even felt the desire to do so.

I take wanderlust for granted because I am a wanderer at heart. However, since so many are content with remaining in familiar surroundings, I sometimes ask myself how I came to be a wanderer.

Some of it came naturally. As a child, I was very curious and liked to understand how people worked. I was also intellectually restless and easily bored. There was always knowledge to be sought and adventures to be imagined and experienced. I also had a certain facility with language that led me to seek opportunities to learn and study them.

On the other hand, my environment had much to do with my acquisition of the wandering bug. My parents exemplified qualities that made travel more than just what other people do. For example, in the 1970s, when many of their countrymen were opting for immigrating to Canada and the U.S (both already home to a sizable Haitian population and a short flight away), my parents chose Switzerland instead. Work and educational opportunities presented themselves, and my parents took the leap. At that time, they were certainly forgoing the familiar. For perspective, consider this: in 1980, I was the first Black baby to be born at the rural hospital where my mom gave birth. Before the move, the only place my parents had seen snow was on TV. With that outlook, it isn’t surprising that they took me on my first international flight by the time I was 7 months old. The fact that I almost died while abroad only makes for a more interesting travel tale in my opinion.

Aside from the leap of faith they took, my parents also lived in a way that encouraged interest in other cultures. Our living room always seemed filled with friends from all over the world, and my father made it a point to ask all those friends to teach him basic greetings in their native languages. Additionally, although we limited our travels to the places where our extended family lived, my mother always talked about her desire to see the world.

Growing up, I was lucky to experience regular trips to see family in Haiti, the U.S, and Canada, and the proximity allowed for quick trips to France as well as a week-long school field trip to Hungary. By the time I was in my mid-teens, I had seen and experienced enough different environments to crave more adventure; I asked my parents to let me move to America for (what I thought would be) a couple years. Somehow, my strict Haitian parents said yes, and I found myself living in Upstate New York. College took me to New Jersey, and eventually my parents, my brother and I ended up in Florida.

Now that I have been in one place for over a decade, the wanderlust is back. I am ever so grateful for the worldly opportunities my parents gave me, and aside from my own selfish need to wander, I can’t help but feel like my son too should have a playing ground bigger than our backyard.

Big Foot Bubbles
Big Foot in his current stomping grounds.

Wandering Before It’s Too Late

My son, Big Foot, just turned 4, and I realize just how true to life Sesame Place’s slogan—Go Before They Grow—really is. My baby seems to have suddenly disappeared, and in his place, there is a straight backed, strong-willed kid. He starts VPK in the fall, and I can tell how close he is to losing the sense of magic and wonder that comes with early childhood innocence. He loves Grover, Elmo, and Big Bird, so I knew it was now or never. Additionally, the trip was a 2-in-1 gift: a first plane trip for my big boy who loves vehicles, and a magical chance to meet imaginary friends for my little boy who still thinks they might be real.

I budgeted $1000, which is a splurge for me. However, it was a great incentive to save, and I would rather spend it on creating special memories than on buying more “stuff” I don’t necessarily need.

I was lucky enough to score tickets from MCO to PHL for a total of $311, which also earned me some points on my union’s saving website. I booked my vacation package directly through Sesame Place via their website. It included 3 nights at a hotel, Fun Card admission tickets (unlimited admission until 12/31), one Dine with Me! lunch for two, a discount card for the shops, and one-time ride again privilege and advance show seating.

There was a bit of a mishap with the package reservation, however. The Sesame Place website listed the hotel as having a free airport shuttle. This was a deciding factor for me as I avoid driving on the highway and am reticent to drive in very unfamiliar places, since it seems to trigger varying degrees of anxiety for me. Well, when I contacted the hotel to schedule, they had no idea what I was talking about, and the airport shuttle service they recommended was no longer taking reservations. Upon contacting Sesame Place, they did provide me with some freebies and an apology, but not transportation. I received many suggestions, including some ride offers (which I missed due to a dead phone) from an amazing traveling group I belong to, and I eventually ended up finding a shared van which, although it took forever to pick me up, only cost me $40.


Elmo Hands
Cute touches right from the start

Now about the park; it was just perfect for Big Foot and his current personality and development stage. Our first full day was a Thursday, and it was blissfully uncrowded, which means there was very little waiting throughout the day. Being used to SeaWorld and having recently visited Disney, this was a welcome surprise.

Speaking of surprises, my usually skittish child had a great time getting on the many rides that are sized just right for the preschool set, even on a couple that I thought might be too much for him, like Elmo’s Cloud Chaser. As a note, if you are overweight, this particular ride will not be a comfortable one; it was an unwelcome reminder that my butt is on the wider side. The Peek-A-Bug ride is cute and very tame. Big foot loved the slide in Elmo’s World and the Flyin’ Fish Ride. A big plus with this rife is the ability to control how high you want to go.

The park is of very manageable size, but a stroller ($16 online/$18 in park) makes getting around much easier. We could probably have done the whole park in a day if we rushed, but I am glad we had the time for a slower pace.

Our first stop was Elmo the Musical. The show was very cute, and reinforced shape recognition and counting concepts. Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Velvet star in this imagination mystery. My son was captivated and loved the audience participation prompts.

Elmo Musical Sign

Next, it was time for our Dine with Me! lunch reservation. When we arrived, a tote bag of goodies from customer service was waiting at our table. It included a souvenir plate, a souvenir cup, a beach towel, a small Elmo plush, a cookie monster frame, and a Cookie Monster bowl along with a handwritten note of apology. There was a lot of smiling, dancing, decent food, happy party atmosphere and a keepsake cup for Big Foot.  We did get some tears because Abby didn’t stop by our table, but thankfully she was at 1-2-3 Smile with Me. We did breakfast at Dine with Me! as well the next morning before the park opened as part of our apology package. My son’s verdict on the character dining experience? “It’s the best party I’ve ever been!”

I purchased Photo Key for Thursday. It does cost $60 (if purchased online; $70 at the park), but as a single parent, I never get to be in the pictures when we go on adventures, so I decided to splurge a little. It was nice to have, but I was a bit disappointed that there weren’t as many opportunities as I was expecting for using it. For example, even though the map shows the area by Elmo’s Cloud chaser as a picture spot, I did not see any photographers there even once during our trip. I am still glad that I have some high-quality pictures of myself with Big Foot and various characters, and that it comes with a full photo release.

The parade was wonderful! Definitely stake a spot a little early right across from Snuffy’s Eats. That’s pretty much where the characters will stop and dance, and if you are lucky, they just might invite you to join them as they did Big Foot. There is dancing, letters, counting, and pretty much all of the monsters you can handle.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On Friday, we were there bright and early for breakfast at Dine with Me! The spread was nice: French toast, bagels, prepackaged muffins, tater tots (a guilty pleasure I haven’t indulged in several years), fresh waffles (super tasty with hot apple slices), fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage links. The entertainment was like that of the lunch, and breakfast does not include the souvenir cup. The characters did seem to have more time in the morning to take pictures in the performance area rather than just when they came to the tables.

After breakfast, we hit up some of Big Foot’s favorite rides from the previous day before seeing the Magic of Art show. This is at one of the outdoor theaters, so the choices are tough: sit up front and cook, but get high fives and up-close interaction with the characters, or sit up in the shade but be further from the show. The story was very cute and emphasized the importance of creativity and perseverance. Abby, Elmo, Grover, Telly, Cookie Monster and Mr. McNutty are in this show.

SP The Magic of Art

Next, it was back to Elmo’s World for a few more runs down the big slide followed by a lunch of pretzels, yogurt, juice, and tomatoes as I did not have the patience to brave the lunch rush lines.

We saw the Let’s Play Together performance which was also in an outdoor theater, but this one was covered, which means it wasn’t too hot. Like all the shows at Sesame Place, the stage is simple, and the theater isn’t too big so it’s easy to get a good view of the characters. The music was lively and fun, and the whole show underscores cooperation and friendship. Burt, Ernie, Abby, Rosita, Grover, Cookie Monster, and Elmo are all in this show.

Finally, we were off to the water area. There’s a nice “sand” playground and an actual sandpit here. I did not plan on going in the water myself, so Big Foot had to stick to the splash pad and wading pool in the Twiddle area. The Count’s Castle looked fun, but Big Foot was not quite big enough to go there on his own. Still, he had so much fun in the Tiny Tiny Tidal Wave that we missed Grover’s All-You-Can-Eat Spaghetti Dinner, so we had pizza and French fries for dinner.

Tiny Tidal Wave

Our flight was scheduled for Saturday afternoon, so we took the shuttle to the park at opening time so Big Foot could get one last go at the rides. The lines were still short, so we made it on Oscar’s Rotten Rusty Rockets, Elmo’s Cloud Chasers, and Cookie Monster’s High C. He also wanted to try out the Cookie Jars and Blast Off, which he liked so much that we used our Ride Again Privilege from the hotel benefits. I do wish I had realized they had special events on Saturdays, as I would have scheduled a later flight so Big Foot could take a picture with Curious George who was visiting 1-2-3 Smile with Me.

Overall Verdict: A –


  • Many opportunities for character interactions
  • Perfectly sized for the preschool set
  • Developmentally appropriate shows with positive messages
  • Character dining is affordable
  • Lots of adorable spots for pictures
  • Lots of great places for photo ops, including the Sesame Street Neighborhood
  • Really fun parade


  • Can only bring one small snack per person
  • Mostly marked up junk food choices; hardly anything healthy
  • On some days, there aren’t quite enough Photo Key opportunities available

SP Big Foot Wave
Bye Sesame Place!

Finding Passion

I once had a short lived blog. It was about living with passion and revolved around a list of 40 goals I wanted to accomplish before I turned 40. A handful or the goals were crossed off, and I thought I would easily take care of the rest over the remaining years.

However, despite careful planning, I found myself the single parent of a newborn when my husband left a few days before my due date. Suddenly, I went from trying to live life with passion to trying to make it through each day with at least some of my sanity and money left.

I must pause and say that I do enjoy several privileges as far as parenting solo goes. First, I have a full time job with benefits. Additionally, my parents live a mere five minutes away and are retired.

Nonetheless, the first year, keeping any remnant of my sanity was challenging. My mother stayed at my house for the first two weeks, so I could at least get a few hours of sleep each day and feel less nervous about caring for my newborn. She then returned home so that I could begin developing a routine of my own. Sleep-deprivation, spotty eating, and the seemingly constant crying (both my child’s and mine) created a dark background for my bitterness to fester. At times, it even verged on paranoia: perhaps my in-laws had convinced my husband to more cross country to stay with his father so that he would not develop a bond with our child. Maybe he had never planned to stick around in the first place. Perhaps I would fall into so deep a sleep that I would not heat my son cry at night, and he would become emotionally detached from me. Or maybe I would return to work and realize I had completely forgotten how to teach.

Then there were the rational things that were chipping away at my sanity. The postpartum hormonal roller coaster, the physical and logistical demands of breastfeeding while working full-time, the reality of financially providing for my son completely on my own—more factors that left me in survival mode.

However, things have finally settled, and I am again able to look at the possibility of really living with passion. In the end, most of the items on my 40 by 40 list had to do with wandering in one way or another, whether from my comfort zone or from my physical location. So here I am now, still doing what is natural to me: still wandering.