Traveling Circus

As you read this, I’ll be 50K feet in the air.  On a red eye.  With my children.  Fun times await me… I’m sure of it.

Yep, we’re on vacation.

But, I’m honored that some of my favorite reads have agreed to come house sit my little corner of the internet while we’re off having a mid-air meltdown frolicking in the sun.   Their assignment (which I’m so pleased they all chose to accept), was to write about something travel or vacation related.  And I’m honestly tickled with what they came back with.  I know you will be, too.

Old TweenerFirst up on the agenda is the wonderful Sherri, from Old Tweener.  Sherri is the mother I aspire to be once I’ve got a few more years of parenting under my belt: someone who is insightful, supportive, and who is blessed with the knowledge that, just when you think you’ve got this parenting this down… your kids are always going to throw you for a loop.  And, yet, she takes it all in stride with grace and humor.

Without further ado, I give you…

The Traveling Circus

With the holiday season in full swing, many families are planning those extra-special trips to visit family and loved ones. You know, those people you moved heaven and earth to get away from. These trips may involve all manner of transport, including (but not limited to) planes, trains, and automobiles.

And while it seems like the hardest part of any trip would be planning the dates and purchasing the tickets, I can honestly tell you it’s not.

It’s bringing the children.

Before kids? I could buy a plane ticket or gas up the car, throw a few things in a small bag, get some cash and be off to enjoy the fun that a trip should entail. Since this didn’t include being frisked or body-scanned by airport security, the fun really did start the moment you got to the airport.

But now?  The amount of planning, coercing, and negotiating that goes into a family vacation is enough to make the boardroom in Trump Tower seem tame.

And there’s nobody to say “You’re Fired” to.

So I’ve devised a simple get-ready-for-travel plan for each stage of your children’s lives, a guide to help you survive your family vacation. You’re welcome.

Travel with Infants and Toddlers

Biggest issues: The most difficult things you will deal with when traveling with infants all relate to things leaving the baby’s body. This includes screams, cries, burps, drool, spit-up, projectile vomit, and basic bodily functions usually contained by a diaper. On a flight with a few hundred of your newest friends, any of the above mentioned things can cause them to turn on you. Quickly.

In a car? The sheer fact that you are all in close proximity to each other means that anything leaving the baby’s body directly affects all of you. And not in a good way.

When they hit the toddler stage, all of the above problems still apply, except that they are now bigger, noisier, stinkier, and can actually talk back.

Basic items to pack: diapers, toys that aren’t battery-operated or make noise of any kind, change of clothes for baby, wipes, change of clothes for mom, wipes, Cheerios, chewy snacks for toddlers (so they can’t talk), more diapers, tissues, paper towels, cash (for cocktails), earplugs (for your new friends), more wipes, and a ready supply of “I’m sorry” and “She’s teething” comments.

Good luck.

Travel with Adolescents

Biggest issues: Once you pass that whole itty-bitty kiddies phase, you’ve hit the big time: you’re traveling with big kids. There are still things leaving an adolescent’s body, but most of them involve whining and not bodily fluids.

So while you may not have to worry about extra wipes and diapers, you do have to worry about finding a decent restroom stop.

Which is about every 20 miles by car.

By airplane, it’s every time the “fasten seatbelt” sign goes on.

The next issue is the feng shui in the backseat of the car. Kid Number One can’t be too close to Kid Number Two, whose backpack full of toys and snacks can’t be bigger than Kid Number Three. There must be a distinct and separate pocket of air in which each child will breathe. Eye contact between siblings throws the whole thing off, so it’s not advised.

Children at this age not only talk back, but they have enough common sense to realize that your answers to their persistent questions aren’t always accurate. When you hear, “Are we there yet?” for the seventeenth time and you answer, “Just a few more miles!” your third grader is smart enough to realize you are lying.

Which throws a monkey wrench into the trip. Honesty is not always easy with adolescents.

Basic items to pack: every portable video game item you own, any snacks that you won’t mind being permanently ground into the carpeting in your car, paper towels, ear plugs (for you), pillows for children to use as a shield when they can’t even stand to look at each other, toilet paper (when you’ve gone past the last rest stop), and your anti-anxiety meds.

Good luck.

Travel with Tweens and Teens

Biggest issues: Now that your kids have reached their tweens and teens, they are almost like adults, and traveling with them should be fun! Just like traveling with friends! Only, not so much.

They may eat like adults and be adult-sized, but be forewarned that they are still little children when it comes to traveling with family. Seating in the car is not just an issue of feng shui but the size of growing bodies makes space an issue. So when Kid Number One has legs the length of the Panama Canal and wants to put his feet in Kid Number Two’s space there will be hell to pay.

If you are traveling by car and are the only true adult, another big issue is which kid gets to ride shotgun. Even if you find a fair way to decide this, shotgun will have to be monitored in terms of hours or miles, possibly involving an algebraic equation.

Music is also a huge thing at this age. On a road trip this summer with my two kids, I made the mistake of letting each make an hour-long CD of their favorite tunes to share in the car. About five minutes in, I realized the benefit of their iPods and headphones. Bring them.

But by far, the biggest issue with this group? Free Wi-Fi in the hotels and restaurants. I think Google should have a feature that maps the distance between free Wi-Fi spots. Of course, then you have to keep switching who is riding shotgun between stops.

Basic items to pack: sugary snacks, chargers for any and every electronic device your kids own, caffeinated drinks (for you), air freshener, twice as much money for food as you intended on spending, barf bags, duct tape (for mouths), and a camera.

So get out there people, and enjoy your family time this holiday season.

Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

When I was your age, we got around by horse and buggy

Dear Chip and Bobo,

You kids don’t know how good you’ve got it.  When I was your age, car rides were a whole different ballgame.

For one thing, we didn’t have air conditioning in the car.  Our air conditioner was the window, which you had to manually crank with a little handle.

Which was pretty miserable on cross country road trips, let me tell you.  Getting blasted by hot air zooming past your head, while trying to keep your mouth shut to avoid bugs flying down your gullet… not fun.  And if someone ripped one in the car?  You had to fumble with that little handle and turn it fast as you possibly could to get some fresh air.

Car seats?  They didn’t exist.  When Grandma and Poppa brought me home from Seattle, it was in an open cardboard box, that they set on the floor of the car.  Can you imagine?

Seat belts weren’t even required.  I remember one summer we drove cross country with my aunt and my two cousins.  Two moms, five rambunctious kids and four suitcases crammed into one little VW hatchback.  The two youngest kids (one of which was me) sat in the very back, crammed into a two square foot area.

The next time you whine about getting buckled into your 5 point harness, padded booster seat with a cup and snack holder, just remember that, my sweet ones.

We did not have CD players or iPod plugins in the car.  We had an 8 track (I’ll tell you about that one later), and one cassette.  I believe it was “Born Free,” which we listened to over and over again.

On road trips, we entertained ourselves by counting mileposts, and playing I-Spy and license plate alphabet games.  The latter was really not that much fun when driving through the Badlands, and only seeing another car every 20 minutes.

Can you imagine what it was like for your grandparents getting around, when cars navigation systems were not even invented?  What would your father have done?  He would have had to pull out the paper map or, worse yet, stop and ask for directions.

Times have changed.  Cars have changed.

And yet, they haven’t.  I would have thought that in 30 years, someone would have come up with really brilliant, yet simple ideas to make car rides more bearable.

Like a portable potty that would allow us to travel more than 30 minutes without hearing, “I have to go… again.”

Or a clear plastic divider down the middle of the car, so you could look at each other, but I wouldn’t have to hear, “Mom, Chip’s touching me!”  (This, even though your hand is clearly over the invisible middle line.)

Or, better, yet, a clear plastic divider between the front and back of the car so I wouldn’t have to hear, “Are we there… yet??”

I’m guessing the real reason things like that haven’t been invented yet?  Because somewhere along the line, someone has realized that that’s part of the fun that goes with car rides.  As annoying as it is to hear some of the whining and malarkey that emanates from the back of the car, it still makes me smile a little.

It brings back memories of long road trips taken in a simpler time, with simpler cars.  When part of the adventure was not where were were actually going, but getting there.

One day, I promise you, our family will take a cross-country road trip.  I’m actually looking forward to that.

And, at the same time, I’m not.

Love you to pieces,
Your Momma (who thinks her parents are pretty much heroes for attempting any sort of road trip with children)

This letter is the second in the “When I was your age” series of letters to my children.  Last week’s post was When I was your age, TV wasn’t even invented. Next up… “When I was your age, the word internet wasn’t in the dictionary.”

Ding! You are now free to have a temper tantrum in the cabin.

In my former life, I was a road warrior.  Before I got pregnant with Bobo, I used to fly pretty frequently for my job.  At the busiest time of our travel season, I’d be on the road a minimum of three weeks out of every month.

I loathed traveling for work.  I hated pretty much everything about it:  living out of a suitcase, working from a hotel room, eating room service by myself every night, not to mention the toll that business travel and jetlag take on my body and spirit.  When the time came, I was definitely ready to relegate my wheely suitcase to the top shelf of the closet.

That said, after journeying cross country with a one year-old by myself, I have a whole new outlook on travel.

Chip and I left yesterday to come visit my grandma in the midwest.  She is no longer able to travel to come see us, so I wanted to make a trip out to see her and introduce her to her great grandson.  J volunteered to stay at home with Bobo for the week so Chip and I could have some quality time to visit.

With all of my flying under my belt, I foolishly thought it wouldn’t be a biggie, say, traveling 3000 miles with a toddler in tow.  I’m just going to chalk that one up to yet another really stupid things I’ve done or thought since becoming a parent.

Yesterday, I while I let Chippy run around in the boarding area to get some energy out, I reflected on the countless times I used to fly in an entirely different capacity.  It’s funny how perspectives change when you have kids of your own.

It used to be, if I saw a parent traveling with a little one, the first thought that involuntarily popped into my head was, “I hope THEY’RE not sitting next to me.”  Yesterday, however, my eye immediately fell upon a harried, grumpy looking business traveler who looked particularly annoyed at Chip’s pre-flight antics (probably what I myself would have looked like a few years ago).  I actually thought to myself, “I hope HE’S not sitting next to us.”

I used to love priority boarding.  Occasionally, that also meant getting upgraded to first class and sitting in the big blue seats sipping a complimentary Bloody Mary while we waited for the flight to take off.  Yesterday, however, I waited until the last possible minute to board, fearing what might ensue during the next three hours with a toddler in a confined cabin.

I used to dread sitting next to the grandmotherly types on the plane.  They were the ones that used to whip out pictures of their grandkids and jabber on incessantly about their latest adventures, while all I wanted to do was get some shut-eye after a long day’s work.  Yesterday, however, I was so thankful for the elderly woman sitting behind us who played peek-a-boo through the seat cushions with Chip, and helped retrieve the plastic cups he repeatedly flung onto the floor.

While boarding for our second flight, I caught the eye of another mom traveling with an small munchkin, who looked equally frazzled and ready for the trip to be over.  I felt an instant bond with this total stranger, and we exchanged nods and tired smiles as if to silently say, “Good luck.”  Call it a different kind of “Mile High Club,” one that is reserved especially for parents.

In spite of all my trepidation, Chip and I did make it to our destination in one piece, with “just” a few meltdowns during our journey.  It helped that we had some sympathetic flight attendants and that grandmother sitting behind us, also.  I did learn the hard way that sippy cups become pressurized at 50K feet, a fact I will stow away for future reference (sorry again for the in-flight shower, man in 12B).  But, fortunately, grumpy business traveler was not sitting next to us. 

I no longer have MVP status, priority boarding or first class upgrades from all of the frequent flier miles I racked up.  What I can now claim is a new type of road warrior badge, one that I am more than happy not to have to brandish too often.

If that doesn’t merit double frequent flier miles, I don’t know what would.

Driving under the influence

I confess, I am guilty of driving under the influence. And no, I’m not referring to the controlled substance kind. I mean the kind that probably most parents have experienced at one time or another: Driving Under the Influence of Kids, or DUIK.

You hear all the time about the dangers of using mobile devices while driving. Earlier in the year, Oregon passed a new hands-free mobile device law. And I am totally on board with all this. The yahoos that drive and simultaneously text/talk on the phone/surf the internet rank high on the list of my own personal pet peeves.

That said, the irony of all the research and controversy over car mobile devices does not escape me. Frankly, I’ve found that driving with munchkins in the car CAN be, and oftentimes IS, exponentially more distracting than any cell phone conversation I’ve ever had.

Driving under the influence of kids is usually not without at least a little excitement. Some familiar hazards of the road include:

  • Danger: Falling Objects
    There’s nothing like attempting to retrieve a dropped sippy cup, stuffed animal, or binky while navigating through rush hour traffic. These are actually some of the few times I’m grateful for red lights.
  • “If you feel like you’re going to be sick, use… oops, nevermind.”
    Thankfully, I’ve only had a handful of incidents involving one of my kids blowing chunks in the car. I would like to offer my sincere thanks to the person who invented rubber floor mats… you are a true genius.
  • Next rest area: 50 miles??
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m elated that Bobo is now potty trained. I have learned the hard way, though, that sippy cups and car rides do not go hand in hand. I also find myself making a mental note of the gas stations we pass in case we need to make a quick 180 later on.
  • “Um, what’s in your mouth?
    Usually, the item in question is an old cracker or raisin my kids manage to find in one of the crannies of their carseat. The other day, though, I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw Chip in the backseat, nibbling on a mysterious non-food like item. I maneuvered to the side of the road and pried open his little jaws. Apparently, Chip found a small, plastic bunny that Bobo had left laying around in the car, and proceeded to chew the ear off it. I am glad I noticed it before he ingested it; that would not have been a fun thing to watch for coming out the other end.
  • “This here car ain’t big enough for the two of us.
    Few things can raise my blood pressure like a wailing child in the back seat. I remember driving to the coast in inclement weather when Bobo was a newborn. She screamed nonstop for the entire car ride (about 3 hours straight). By the end of that trip, J and I were both convinced she would be an only child (guess we were wrong about that one).

This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy driving with Chip and Bobo. The above driving hazards aside, my kids are actually pretty good car travelers. We’ve also learned a few tricks of the trade, including burning a CD of eclectic ” mood music” we like to rock out to (J has been giving the kids air guitar lessons), as well as having a stash of movies, toys and snacks close at hand at all times.

And sometimes, if the stars are aligned just right, the view from the rearview mirror can look pretty sweet.

Ironically, this is an actual picture taken from my phone while in the car with the kids one day. Yes, I was driving. No, the car was not in motion at the time.

Yackity yack yack

My son blew chunks for the first time today.  He also called me “Mama” for the first time.  I really hope this is just an odd coincidence, and that the two things will not be forever linked together.

To preface this, the first word that came out of Chip’s (and Bobo’s, for that matter) mouth was “Da.”  It remains his favorite word to this day, and he will happily squeal “da da da” every time he sees J walk in the door.  Lately, his vocabulary seems to be expanding almost daily, and he has added ball, uh-oh, Boo, caca (cracker), na-na (night night), he-go (here you go) and even “sissy” to his repertoire. 

Until today, however,  “mama” had not been one of those words, much to my dismay.

Today, I was sitting at my desk working when I got an unexpected call from Chip’s daycare.  My little one had been enjoying his afternoon snack, which ended up coming back up reincarnate all over the daycare floor.  There had been a bug going around at daycare, so I drove down to pick up the kids early.

When I arrived, Chip was in quarantine in his crib, but was perched over the side, happily entertaining the other toddlers in the room with his babbling.  He seemed perfectly fine at the time.  I picked up Bobo in the other room, and we were on our way.

On the way home, Bobo jabbered on happily about her day at school, while Chip appeared to be dozing off in his carseat.  I glanced in the rearview mirror to see if he had fallen asleep, just in time to see Chip open his little eyes and spew an inordinate amount of vomit all over himself, his carseat, and the back of my chair.  And it kept coming… and coming.  It was like the Energizer Bunny, vomit style.

We finally pulled into the garage at home, and I got Flannie set up with some cartoons to keep her occupied while I took care of the barf boy.  I don’t care what anyone says; TV can be an excellent babysitter.

Chip, chunks of mystery food and drool dripping from his chin, was waiting patiently for me in the car.  The poor little guy looked wiped out and completely exhausted.

As I picked him up and hugged him tight, he wrapped his soggy little arms around my neck and unmistakeably, undeniably said “Mama, mama” several times before putting his head on my shoulder.  My heart completely melted. 

It’s funny how some of parenthood’s best experiences can come at the most unlikely times.  I held my little guy and savored the moment.  It just doesn’t get any better than this. 

Well, okay, if you take away about the bits of food stuck to my shirt, the sleepless night ahead of me, and the pool of ick I’d later have to clean up in the car, then that would be somewhat better.

But still, it was a pretty sweet moment.