When you're traveling with your child, even a return to your hometown can take on a wonderful newness. Such was the case for my husband, Stewart, and me on our most recent trip to Hawaii. Seven generations of my family have grown up there, and it's easy to take even this paradise for granted. But seen through the eyes of our 5-month-old daughter, Isabella, everything seemed novel and unexplored. "It's so beautiful here. So foreign," said Stewart, a native of Alabama, delighted anew to be visiting my home state. "You almost feel you're not in the United States."
And he's right. Hawaii is different. In fact, it wasn't until I left the islands at 18 that I discovered it was unusual to go to school barefoot, eat sushi for school lunch, and speak a language laced with words like pau (finished) and moi moi (sleep). Most American kids do not compete on the varsity outrigger-canoe-paddling team or have birthday parties at the foot of a rainforest waterfall. These were the exoticisms of my childhood -- and these plus a million others attract families to the Aloha State every year. Each of the eight main islands (actually, you can really visit only six of them) has its own personality and allure, and for every visiting family there is a perfect island match.
Friends thought we were brave to attempt a transcontinental and transpacific journey with an infant. But between the in-flight bulkhead bassinet and our own stroller, checked at the gate, Bella basically slept her way from New Orleans to Honolulu. Once there, we greedily took in three islands: Oahu, for families who crave equal measures of bustle and beach; Maui, for those who need creature comforts but also fancy roughing it in volcano craters; and the Big Island of Hawaii, with its green, black, and white sand beaches, barren lava flats, and feathery ranch land.