I was one of the last to board the plane last night. Coming back from a business trip we had attended together, Derek was on the plane leaving after mine. I was all alone heading home to our kids after a glorious weekend. Parted from my roller carry-on bag due to space issues, I headed down the aisle toward my seat, past several overhead bins with available space which would have been perfectly acceptable for my bag. I'll admit now that may have soured my mood enough to contribute to what happened next.
I climbed into my window seat past a gentleman who was chatting with the woman in the row ahead. I contemplated offering to trade seats so they could be together but something told me she was glad to be seated away from him. As I sat down, I noticed a family of four I had seen in the waiting area just a few minutes before were now seated a few rows back. The three- and four-year-old's bags were loaded with toys and activities for the three hour ride. I was glad it wasn't me.
They were in the midst of deciding who would sit where when the little girl realized she would have to sit beside her father and across the aisle from her mother. At about this moment, the little brother realized he could sit by his mom but not by his sister too. The children began to alternate wailing and sobbing. The noise was deafening. The plane door had yet to be closed by a flight attendant.
The man beside me groaned out loud. My heart sank to my stomach for the parents behind me. I heard her negotiating ("I can hold your hand across the aisle, see?" "Your sister can come over here with us in 15 minutes." "The rules say you have to sit in your OWN seat now but you can sit on mom's lap in just a few minutes.")
"Screaming kids. Great." My seatmate seemed very thrown by this turn of events. His companion turned around to look (as did several other people) and my seatmate declared, "I may have to violate FAA rules and wear my earphones for the first 10 minutes of the flight." Other people started to complain.
The frazzled mother piped up above the hum of the dissent. "We understand, people. If we could, we would change places with you. They'll stop crying in a few minutes. They just both want to sit beside me. I'm really sorry." I saw at least 3 other motherly-looking women snap their heads back in her direction along with me to give their visual support. My seatmate was not impressed.
"I can't even believe this. I can't do this."
Really? You can't do this? I instantly thought about giving birth three times and was somewhat surprised that two despondent children on a plane ride for three hours would be "undoable." Trust me. The last time I said "I can't do this," I was giving birth to a 9 pound baby. I can understand if we are two hours into a screaming fit involving a child with an ear infection that is losing his mind with pain, but these are two tired children that just want to sit with their mom for takeoff and it's not possible.
"I know," I replied to his latest concerns. "If only she would stop poking them with a fork."
He looked at me in stunned silence. I looked at him with the look of a mother who has had screaming kids on a plane and suffered the disapproving looks for things beyond my control. I glanced down at my hand and proceeded to insert one of the $ .25 earplugs into my ear.
Two minutes later the kids were silent. Ten minutes after takeoff, I got up, went to that mom and told her she was a good mother.
It was the least I could do. We parents have to stick together.
The flight leaves at 6:00 a.m. You read that right: 6:00 in the morning. We are traveling on miles so you get what you pay for, as the old saying goes. I asked my mother if she thought I was projecting my airplane stress on my 1, 3 and 5 year old kids. I didn't actually wait to hear her response, because I was already starting to ramble about the possibilities of drama.
This stress of mine was clearly heading down the wrong path. It's a long way to the West Coast from the East Coast, but we are going to have to get there somehow, some way. I took a step back and came up with a whole new plan for the trip tomorrow. We fly a couple times a year. Some of the following things we've had success with in the past and some a new things we are going to try:
Forget the sugar. Every once in a while we suffer from amnesia and promise the kids a lollipop on the plane if they are good. This can never work out. Trust me. Okay, perhaps it can work out for 5% of the population, but the rest of us will be pulling the kids down from the overhead bins where they are now swinging after getting that lollipop they'd been impatiently awaiting for however many minutes. Bring snacks that chill them out rather than crank them up. Everyone around you will thank you, too.
Try a technology freeze before the trip. My kids haven't watched television in four days. They are pretty sure they are going to die if they don't watch something soon. I have found in the past that the most effective and silent television-watching occurs in the one to two hours after a long term of total technological deprivation. It's not to say that this will necessarily work, but it is worth a try.
Get rid of that energy. We joke that it would take less time at our airport if we actually walked from home since the terminal is so far from check in. This is a WONDERFUL opportunity for walking ("we're walking, we're walking"). Factor in the extra time, but count yourself successful if you reach your gate with children complaining from the long walk. As a parent, your work here is done.
Stick with tried and true. There are certain things that always hold my children's attention. Certain books will stop them in their tracks and keep them riveted for a solid 30 minutes. There is a certain cartoon that I am sure they can watch one billion times and still they will sit at attention. There is an allure to bringing new things as well, but be sure to have a balance of the new with the old in case the new fizzles instead of sizzles.
Remember that you can only control what you can control. I think that 16 to 20 months is the worst possible age range to travel on a plane. Chances are your child has recently learned how to walk and would love to practice RIGHT NOW in that teeny aisle on the plane. Do what you can to move around the plane by taking lots of walks, but sometimes you are just going to have to wrangle a cranky toddler. As a person who has put quite a few miles on her carry-on luggage before having kids, I always carried ear plugs. To be honest, I still carry ear plugs. When someone turns around to glare at the screaming baby who cannot be consoled, I think, "why didn't you buy a pair of dollar earplugs?" I'm pretty sure that on one trip, my sister Jen passed out ear plugs to the passengers around her in anticipation of angry stares regarding crying babies. Sometimes babies (toddlers, preschoolers, even parents) cry. The flight will eventually be over. Roll with the punches.
Do the best you can with what you've got. I've gotten into ridiculously long conversations with parents about traveling before naptime, during naptime, taking red eyes, etc. Only you know your child, and there is still a good chance that your child who acts a certain way every single day is going to act completely different on that plane. If your child sleeps in the car, you might want to bring his car seat. My pediatrician once recommended giving my kids Benadryl for a particularly long flight. I tried it out ahead of time and guess what? My kids are not even remotely moved by Benadryl. It was a sad moment, but good to know ahead of time.
Relax (as best you can) and let it all roll off of you. And share with us your great tips for traveling with toddlers and preschoolers. We can use all the tips we can get.
My photography work landed me on a private island off the coast of Maine a few weeks ago for just a weekend. It was only my second destination shoot and I was in a sort of awe the entire time. This particular land was magical in a way I can't quite put words to. Maybe because it was private and so few people were there or maybe because the beauty was so overwhelming, but I could not get over how free and safe I felt. Free to really wander, free in a way I have never experienced before. There was nothing keeping me from soaking all of it in, way down deep.
"Babe, do you feel like we are in Narnia?" my husband asked while we hiked in a soft rain.
"Yes! Oh, I hope we get to meet Aslan!" I cheesily and wholeheartedly replied.
In that moment, I instantly thought of my children and how much they would have loved it. How just by the nature of being newer on the earth would make them the authority on living free and embracing the experience. I wondered how many more amazing places there are to discover and then my unspoken dream for my family swirled in my head once again. It's the kind that feels so crazy, so impossible, so over the top, the kind you will wish you had done when you are old and gray.
For over a year now, I have been stalking those blogs of families who have left their everyday lives to travel with their children. They RV across the United States or sail and fly around the world, traveling together for the experience of a lifetime. I have poured over their different information and planning, but more in an admiring from a far kind of way. I know the round-the-world thing just isn't my family's speed but the idea of all of us on an open road exploring all the natural wonders in the United States makes my heart flutter.
As soon as we got back from Maine, I saw a very wise friend who encouraged me to do this adventure without knowing anything about my secret dream. The next day I very casually asked my husband to break down the budget and tell me what he thought we could live on at the bare minimum. I may or may not have explored what an RV might cost. The most dangerous part was telling you, giving words to my unspoken family dream. It's scary because if I never say it then I don't have to risk a different kind of disappointment or can tell myself a story to try to work it out in my head.
This isn't the story where I tell you that all is worked out and we are leaving tomorrow, this is the middle place. The place I might struggle to really claim it, or maybe discover that by putting it out I am giving it life to let it unfold. I'm not sure but I have a feeling this work is important to do in order to live our best lives, and to show our kids how to do the same.
Do you have an unspoken family dream? If I get a chance to do mine, tell me the dreamiest parts of the country. Where would you want to take your kids if you could go anywhere? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Every once in a while I take my children somewhere and it's only in the middle of the activity that I think, "thinking this through would have been helpful PRIOR to doing this." The problem is that there really isn't anything that I think we can't do in this family of ours.
Fast forward to last Friday and the brilliant idea to take the kids by myself on the glass bottom boat to see the coral reefs below the water in the Florida Keys. I decided to take the kids when my parents were at work. I was trying to remember if we had ever gone on the glass bottom boat growing up. My mom says that we went once and that all she remembered was that it was claustrophobic. That cracks me up. I don't remember going at all.
We paid for our tickets and waited in line. The people in front of us gave us those glances you give when you realize you are getting on a transcontinental flight and there are kids crying in line to board. I started to think things like, "why does everyone keep making announcements about sea sickness" and "what am I going to do if any or all of my children get sick on this three hour tour?"
I'm not saying I panicked at that point. I'm just saying I could see panic from where I was seated on the boat. I let all three run around from deck to deck and was glad to see that the water was calm and the railings were high.
We got out to the reef and the captain began to instruct everyone how to sit by the rails. It was then that Nathan began to have an epic freak out. Screaming. His language skills are slightly lacking so I wasn't sure what frightened him so much. I think that perhaps he thought he would fall into the water if he sat at the railing of the completely enclosed boat with the glass bottom. At that point Mason decided that he would like to look at the fish from the bottom of the boat so he tried repeatedly to jump out of my arms.
Old ladies began to look at me with empathy. I got up from my spot and whispered to Ethan that I had to take care of his brothers. He said that he was okay sitting there by himself and I began to walk around with one screamer and the other one yelling in baby talk at the fish through the glass. I was pretty sure I was going to lose it.
Ethan looked back at me after a while. "Mom, can you sit with me?" I told him I couldn't and he said, "because Mason is trying to jump down there to the bottom of the boat?" I laughed. Nate wailed from his spot as he laid on the bench and the baby gave me an unsolicited kiss.
Sure it would have been easier if we had an extra set of hands but sometimes you just don't have it. They call them "adventures" for a reason, right?
Don't forget that the Great Day of Gratitude is on Wednesday. You can find more information here and be sure to come back here and share a link to your blog where you shared your Great Day of Gratitude adventures.
We are not shy about lugging our kids on a plane to see the relatives. Thank God for the mileage we have built up over the years because we have a couple of trips still left in us. Packing, however, is still a pain, no matter how many times you do it. Only through trial and error did we figure out the things we really REALLY needed to pack.
The car seat bag can do double duty. One of the first things we bought before our first trip was a $20 bag for Ethan's car seat. We weren't so sure about the purchase at the time but it is by far the BEST $20 we have ever, ever spent. Now I know that the airline will sometimes give you a heavy duty plastic bag to protect your car seat, but how many times have you watched a seat go by on the baggage carousel looking like it had been on a trek through the Andes rather than in the luggage compartment? The bag also serves as a place to pack extras for us. We tuck the trip's allotment of diapers in the seat along with the heavy baby wipes (since we are cheap and buy everything in large quantities) a pair of my husbands bulky, heavy boots that he absolutely HAS TO HAVE on vacation and even our heavy coats if our destination is colder than our place of origin. These items are bulky and while you can save space by just buying diapers at your destination, who wants to pay a lot more for them? The car seat doesn't count as one of your allotted bags usually, so it's kind of a freebee. But the best thing is, on the way home when almost all the diapers are gone, we cram a bag of dirty clothes into the car seat bag along with the seat. Ethan's seat has weathered every single trip without even a smudge of dirt.
Take the time to plan out what clothes to pack for your kids. You are probably thinking, who doesn't do this? Well, on occasion, I have been known to pack everything shy of the kitchen sink because I waited too long and then got rushed at the end. Keep in mind that if you are going to Nana and Grandpa's house, you will most likely be able to do laundry. So for that 3 month old baby that goes through 9 outfits a day, you just might need to pack for 3 or more days. I know their clothes are little and there is a temptation to pack every single clean article of clothing, but remember that you have to lug that bag around. Surprise trip to see the snow 45 minutes away that you didn't anticipate? Those jackets are a great early Christmas present from Grandpa this year.
Pack a separate carry-on "diaper" bag for your kids, and then tuck away a few extras in your carry-on bag. The diaper-per-hour trick is tried and true. I always try to skimp and then am so thankful for my husband who has managed to tuck an extra couple of diapers (and an extra baby outfit) around his laptop to keep it safe. No matter what your child's pattern of diaper usage, throw it all out the window come travel day. When Ethan was an infant, he always used twice as many diapers on travel day than he did any other day. It was crazy. That and every single diaper always leaked. Be sure to save that special outfit you wanted Nana to see for either the last change before landing or the change that happens right before you go to baggage claim to pick up your luggage. It greatly reduces the odds of getting ruined before the grandparents even see it.
Make the room to pack an extra outfit in the carry on for Mom and Dad. When Ethan was an infant, it only took us 4 trips to realize that at least one of us was wearing poop and the other was smelling like throw-up when we finally got off the plane. If you have an infant and the plane ride is longer than an hour, your chances are 10 to 1 that this will happen. For anyone who has taken a "bath" in the lav on a plane, you know that nothing really beats getting out of those nasty clothes and into something fresh. At a minimum, take along an extra shirt for yourself. No matter how many burp clothes you have, your baby can always seem to find the spot on your that is not covered.
Don't pack your bags too full. Nana had a few "surprises" for the boys that were beyond what she had already forewarned us. After one too many trips to the store to buy a duffle bag to cart stuff home from a vacation, we have learned to just leave some extra room in the bags. There is nothing worse than realizing that your bags are too full and you haven't even finished packing back up to come home.
These tips have worked for us (and saved us) many times. Hope they can spark some good ideas for you on how to make your plane ride with kids as stress-free as possible. Please share what your tips are?
We got on a plane with three children under the age of five. Five people, four seats. It was awesome. Okay, not so much. But here are a few tips for getting to the plane without the hassle.
Drop the luggage (and your spouse and children) off at the curb.
Unless you are taking a cab to the airport or getting a ride, you have to figure out a way to get all your luggage and all of your family onto that plane before it takes off. I remember (before Ethan) when Derek and I each had a roller carry-on bag and his and hers laptops. We made it from the front door of the airport to the plane in under 20 minutes without fail. Then we had a baby. Didn't that all change? Now we have 3 huge bags, car seats for the other end (and to be honest, a way to strap down Nate on the plane) and whatever else we manage to find that we just HAVE TO HAVE with us on our trips.
From our first trip after Ethan's birth (when he was 7 weeks old), our policy was that the driver dropped the passenger, all the luggage AND THE BABY off on the front curb. The driver then drove to the parking lot that seemed to be miles away. The dropped-off person can either choose to transport said child in a backpack or a stroller--dealer's choice. When it's me, I prefer the backpack because I like to have my hands free. A stroller means you are going to get stuck pushing with at least one hand. Either way, this is better than the alternative. On one trip, I watched a family of five try to get their luggage onto and off of the parking lot shuttle bus and it was not pretty. That's a lot of carrying that you wouldn't have to do if you had just swung in front of the terminal before going to the parking lot.
Pay the nice porter for curbside check-in or use door-to-door baggage delivery. At $2 a bag for cheap people such as ourselves, that $8 can really put a dent in the old wallet. Of course, instead of trying to lug a baby, 3 bags and car seats into the airport, you never have to pick up your luggage again until you reach the other side of your journey. Well worth the $8 to me. Another option is door-to-door baggage delivery. For some airlines, this service starts at $79. It seems like a lot but since nearly all airlines charge per bag these days, your convenience and reduced hassle might be worth the extra.
Leave a little extra time so you can make your children walk. If you are going on a long plane ride, there is going to be plenty of sitting time. We always try to get to the airport early enough so that after we pass through security, we let Nathan walk the rest of the way to the plane. It may take a while to get to our destination but the little ones are guaranteed to be all tuckered out by the time we get there. It certainly raises our chances that someone will take a nap at some point on the plane or that the kids will be content to just sit.
Get on the plane last. That five hour flight isn't going to seem any shorter if you are the first person to board. Sure you want to guarantee room in the overhead bins for your things and you don't want to rush, but extending your plane travel time just might send your kids over the edge. We send one parent on at the beginning to install car seats or pack everything away. The other parent waits until final boarding call and then corrals the kids down the aisle of the crowded plane to the last seat. That way you also get an opportunity to see the sheer panic on other people's faces that yes, you are bringing a baby on their flight. No backing out now.
These tips have saved me either lots of time or lots of stress. Do you have any more to add?
While Patience has been holding down the fort here at PBS Supersisters, Jen and Kristen have been partying it up at Blogher. Okay, Jen has been working and Kristen has driven over a thousand miles and right now is lost somewhere in Pennsylvania on her way back home. Tomorrow we return you to your regularly scheduled programming....
We have been on the road for a total of 24 1/2 hours, but who's counting? This is the first time we have taken a true road trip with with our kids for distances longer than two hundred miles. It's tricky, this road tripping with kids. Here are some things I'm learning as I go.
1. Don't expect too much from your kids. You know your kids. Can they skip a nap and it is no big deal? Skipping a nap in our house means a guaranteed meltdown from 5:30 on. That's no problem if you don't mind doing dinner with 3 kids under 5 at a sit down restaurant at 7:00 p.m. while one screams maniacally. Can your kids share a hotel bed? We learned the hard way that Nate is a light sleeper who wakes if you flip over. Hello, late night and my apologies to the people in Room 208 and Room 212.
2. Stop often. We all know that your father wouldn't stop even for a bathroom emergency. This is your opportunity to be the cool parent who stopped to see the world's largest horseshoe crab or Truckhenge.
3. Be realistic with your travel goals. Calculate time to your destination and then multiply it by 2 if your kids are little. In the days before kids, I would take my total miles to my destination, divide it by eighty and then add 5 minutes for each fill up of the tank. Believe me when I say that eighty was a conservative estimate. Now? We'd be lucky if we average fifty miles an hour on a highway trip.
4. Pushing them too far will cause more problems than you already have. Do not wait for the baby to get too hungry. Trust me on this one. Now you have a very hungry AND very angry baby that will require more than food to feel better.
5. Use absolutely every stopping opportunity to get some energy out. Pick a gas station that has a patch of grass to run relays. Stop at a restaurant with a kid's play area. Stop at a mall. Just having them walk from one end to the other could tire them out enough to buy you some sanity until the next stop. Stay at a hotel with a pool and have swim races. We spent last night in a hotel with a water park inside. They were exhausted by bedtime. Not that they fell asleep in a timely fashion but I like to think it was better than having nothing.
6. Try to get them to bed at a decent hour if your kids aren't car sleepers. Only .00001% of the population has kids that sleep later when they go to bed later. If those are your kids, we envy you. Our were up at 5:30 this morning. Even with all of us going to bed at 9, I still feel like stabbing my eye out with a fork this morning. I think it has something to do with kids getting up during the night because they were in an unfamiliar place.
We are off to the pool and then back on the road. Pray for me. Seriously. And please do regale us with your road trip tips or horror stories in the comments!