Three Kids and A Hernia…or How We Finally Got Family Travel Right

The day you’re about to leave for a nine day vacation is not the day that you wake up, turn to your husband, and say, “Honey, I’ve got some uncomfortable, unusual, sort of alarming pain. I think I’d like to go visit the doctor before we leave in an hour. That’d be just fine, right?” So I didn’t. Maybe I should have. But, what if it were something silly, I thought. Like gas. Or a pulled muscle. Or last night’s wine.

Then we started driving. And I felt a little nauseous, and according to Google, that meant I had appendicitis, so I had to come clean. I was in pain and no position made it better. And another quick check on webMD assured me of the worst: I had appendicitis. For sure. I casually mentioned that if I was in so much pain I couldn’t speak or I actually began to get sick, to just swing by the hospital. Any of them we passed on the five hour drive from NYC to DC would do. NBD.

That night, minutes before sleep, I realized that I left my contact solution at home and would have to pick some up before we flew out the next morning. I have dry eyes though. Really, stunningly, dry eyes. So I did what any intelligent being with dry eyes would do: I soaked them in my nose spray. (PSA: Do not soak your contacts in your saline nose spray. It does not do the same thing. Like, at all.)

The next day was no better except my nausea was gone. I was still alive, so I figured my appendix had to still be in tact. So, really, who knows what was keeping me from bending down, sitting, getting up, and generally walking. I had a plane to catch and no time to think about it. And I had done my research: Orlando had good hospitals, so I wasn’t all that worried. Really. I bit my bottom lip, slipped my glasses on, and moved ahead as planned, which meant holding my tiniest little on my lap throughout our three hour flight to Disney World. And he showed me no mercy; he was a small Hercules battling for Olympus on my lap. He wiggled. He kicked. He ripped my glasses off my face. All of his abuses seemed to be directed to that one tender spot. Eventually, I had to send him across the aisle to sit with his daddy (and yes I may use this tactic in the future again…I’m not so scared to cry wolf when it comes to getting some down time on a plane).

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A wiggly little not sitting on my lap.

Upon landing, I grabbed a cute doll size container of contact solution for about $852 at the airport convince store. At the hotel, I put my contacts in after rinsing them, with just a slight burning sensation (which I was pretty sure was caused just by my own exhaustion). And then we headed out for a relaxing afternoon at the park. After years of making this trip, we know how to conquer the park without feeling too crazy (read “How to Turn a Trip to Walt Disney World into a Vacation” for more on that topic).

Meandering at the park served to be painful and fairly blinding. With each hour I hobbled more and more and my eyes teared more and more. The skin around them ripped up with rubbing and more eye drops. A kind woman even stopped me and gave me a small arsenal of disposable saline packets because she just couldn’t stand to see me in so much visible pain (i.e. wretched squinted eyes and goopy eyelashes). Eventually I could only keep one eye open at a time, and even then it was a blurry, foggy disaster. Basically, I was a zombie. After having lost one of my middle little’s favorite lovies, we all admitted defeat and headed back to our hotel as the sun set in front of us.

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Glasses…doesn’t everyone like to wear glasses on hot sunny days rather than sunglasses? Stay away from nose spray (at least in your eyes). Seriously.

Unable to keep my eyes open, I feel asleep as soon as my little people were in bed. I was unsure of how to get through the next day, my pain making me slower than my 14 month old and my eyes making me grumpier than all three of my littles when they haven’t been feed an appropriate snack in a timely manner. The day had been rough; I was sure the next would be rougher. But I still wasn’t going to bow out of the fight. Not yet at least.

That night my middle little crawled out of bed because his head itched (yep…his head itched…). As I picked him up to walk him back into his room to bed I felt a sharp pain. And then I knew. Like a flash. I had a hernia. After googling to assure myself, I told my husband and then spent the next day limping around the happiest place on Earth, feeling a bit of relief at having a clear diagnosis. We all worked our Disney magic; we rode the rides, snacked the snacks, and saw the sights. By four that day, we felt done (which is admittedly a privilege that comes from getting to Disney often), and my biggest little asked if we could leave the park. She never asks to leave the park. But she did. And my body was all too willing to comply. And that’s how we started to figure out how to get it right.

With pain shooting through my body, my eyes still recuperating from their little stint in nose spray, and a disinterested five year old, we decided to change our plans for the next day and do a late breakfast at a Hollywood Studios, which we could walk to, and then spend the afternoon taking the biggest little to the pool while the other littles napped. And that’s what we did. A slow morning without rushing to find shoes, scrambling to pack snacks, and repeatedly fighting to keep toddlers in clothes (seriously, it can’t just be mine…) served to create a stress-free stroll to brunch. A stroll my battered body could easily make.

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Napping little person. Tip: We use chairs to create bed rails for our little people.

After a few short hours exploring the park, we made our way back to the hotel. I waved good bye to my pool-seeking daughter and husband and put the other little people to sleep. Then, this momma opened the balcony doors and sipped a midday grown up drink. It was bliss. The sun was out and the grounds were quiet. And I finally felt like it was vacation.

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Relaxing on the balcony while little people sleep.

The biggest little came back to the room singing and full of sunshine. She made a new best friend, Lily, and she was going to meet up with her at the pool again tomorrow. (“Um…by the way, can we go to the pool tomorrow?”) She didn’t mind missing the rides or the characters; she had a pool and a new best friend. And she didn’t seem to notice that the water was 60 degrees and the air a mere 70. Her pleasure at being able to be free of having to be somewhere or do something superseded any discomfort she may have felt. She was allowed to be a rowdy, energy-filled kid and she was happy in this moment. She was free. And in her wake, she left a taste of that freedom for me.

And we continued this trend for two out of the next three days we were at Disney. We cancelled all our morning plans, shifted our dinner plans, simplified our days, swam in pools, took naps, canceled “to dos”, and asked the little people what would make them happiest. Our days became less about squeezing every last Disney drop out of the day and more about taking advantage of every last family moment of the day. There were dance parties, ice cream treats, and aimless wanderings, surrounded by little people conversations, grown up chats, and new best friends. There were giggles and little people secrets, snuggles and new games.

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My biggest little splashing her way around the pool with her new best friends.

It took a (self-diagnosed) hernia and a near blinding by nose spray to slow us down, but it set us straight. In our need to beat the system and conquer Disney, we had forgotten the human element. We were all apps and and reservations made months before. We forgot to remember down days, slow days, stop-and-smell the flower days that can’t be accounted for. We forgot about insular, family days and exploratory, new friend days. We just forgot. And all it took was a little hernia to remind us. No matter what wonderful plans we have laid out in front of us, we need to be in the moment and be open to what that moment is asking of us, even if it means changing those well-laid plans.

(Even though, it turns out, I didn’t have a hernia at all, it was still a good lesson to learn.)

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Surviving Disney World with a Newborn: You Really Can Do It

Having a newborn is no joke. I mean it’s all powdery smells and silky baby fuzz heads, but let’s be honest. It’s a job. Like a real, I am working way more than 40 hours a week, job. There is no pattern. There’s sleep and then suddenly just no sleep…at all. There’s diapers and feedings. Don’t even get me started on the constant eating that newborns do. Days become timed to when we feed the baby and when the baby sleeps. Day. Night. It’s all the same. It can be draining. It can suck the spontaneity out of even the most unplanned, freeformed of days. So, what happens when that newborn makes its sweet little appearance months or weeks prior to a planned trip (or really even an unplanned trip) to Disney World? Well, I’ve done it. At least three times. So, hopefully, my mistakes and lessons can be of benefit.

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Yummy newborn snuggles

My husband and I started going to Disney World regularly before children entered our lives. So, with three little people five and under, we’ve managed to make the trip with newborns of varied ages and with their siblings of varied ages in tow as well. Some of these trips have been successful. And, truth be told, some have not (there really is nothing like trying to bathe your tiny little in a small sink in a public bathroom, knowing full well that everyone eyes you with a mix of pity and disgust). But with each of our mistakes, we’ve learned a bit about how to survive the visually and physically overwhelming and exhausting landscape of Disney without completely losing our minds (at least I’m pretty sure I never did, but I don’t suggest you ask my husband whether or not I did…I feel his response may be slightly different and that’s probably not encouraging). Here’s a bit of what there is to know.

  1. Take Advantage of What is Offered: Disney doesn’t try to hide that they’re geared towards families, especially those with small children, so of course they have facilities that are designed to make life better. Each park has a Baby Center. They have quiet, darkened nursing rooms (Epcot and Magic Kingdom are shared spaces while Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios have private areas for each mother), large changing tables, microwaves, rooms to play and relax (for those wiggly little toddlers), and an assortment of baby items to buy (diapers, medicine, clothing, food, formula, pacifiers, sunscreen, among others). They have it covered. And the bonus? It’s air conditioned, so obviously this momma here needed to go to the Baby Center every two hours or so during that late May vacation in Florida. Thankfully it was free; otherwise, I’d still be working off that debt.

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    On the way to the Baby Center at Epcot, located behind Mexico next to First Aid.
  2. Use the Rides to Your Advantage: I’m going to be frank. Some rides are a once in a lifetime experience. Once is enough. For me, that ride is “It’s A Small World.” Unfortunately, my daughter didn’t get that memo. So we rode it. Again. And again. And, well, you know how it goes. The thing about It’s A Small World is that it’s a long ride. And it always stops, and the boat sits in that white room brimming with singing children for chorus upon chorus upon chorus upon chorus. Knowing I had countless minutes (at least 30) sitting on this comfy (relatively) boat, I decided to do what any mother does: I nursed my newborn. No one was looking at me. They were interested in the animatronic little dancing kids. So, while I wasn’t thrilled to be on the ride, I was able to make the best of it. I got to feed my tiny without having to make the rest of my entourage stop their Disney exploration. And this little trick shouldn’t be restricted to It’s A Small World. I go big. I mean, if it’s my fifth time seeing Frozen’s Sing Along Show, do I really need to pay attention? No way. I can feed my baby (and if I’m lucky catch up on a little sleep myself). Those shows are a great place to sit and tend to a newborn. They’re Disney’s gift to mothers of newborns, really.

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    Magic Kingdom’s People Mover is a great ride to take a break with your newborn. Here he rides in a carrier under a muslin blanket, napping the ride away.
  3. Bring Your Car Seat: It’s not often that I’m an advocate of the car seat and the car seat stroller. I find it restrictive, and for some reason I believe my newborn is hot and itchy all moments that he/she is in it. But at Disney? Bring it and use the snap and go stroller with it. Disney doesn’t really appreciate strollers in a restaurant, and many restaurants simply can’t accommodate them. Since tiny newborns can’t sit up in high chairs, they need somewhere to go. That somewhere is the car seat. With baby two we decided to fly down without the car seat. Not our best decision. I ended up trying to lay the poor tiny guy on chairs pushed together everywhere we went, if he wasn’t sitting in my lap (he’s always been a bit of trouble maker, so he was not one of those little people that could sit happily on my lap while I ate). Tiny baby three? We weren’t taking chances. Car seat all the way. And I couldn’t have been happier. The tiniest of my people was comfy and relaxed at meals. And (and this is incredibly important), I did not have to wake the tiny guy up from a nap to take him into or out of a restaurant or a car. Those naps were full and deep. Just the way a tired momma likes them.

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    Doesn’t that car seat look like it can get hot and itchy? But it’s a lifesaver.
  4. Walk as Much as Possible: When we don’t have our car with us, we try to stay at hotels that provide us with as much of an opportunity to walk as possible. While the Disney buses are fine and easy enough, they do require all strollers to be broken down. It’s just one extra step of madness. (Add to that a toddler or two, their accouterments, another double stroller, and the toddler’s general rule-following demeanor and the madness only increases ten fold…at least).

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    Walk whenever possible. This means a lot of trips on the monorails with a newborn.
  5. Bring a Carrier: The carrier’s value is limitless. Even with a cars eat a carrier is mandatory. I mean, I certainly can’t drag said car seat into a twenty minute “Peter Pan’s Flight” line with me. But, I can easily drop that tiny nugget into a carrier and go about my way (hopefully with a lovely cocktail in my hand (just kidding…seriously, Magic Kingdom really needs to get on that though)). The carrier is essential when going on rides that are newborn appropriate. That tiny person doesn’t want to be in and out and in and out of that cars eat (hot and itchy remember?), so I keep them close and let them hang out. Oh, and I haven’t forgotten that it is also every mother’s secret weapon for when she wants her child to sleep. Another reason to have it all times.

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    Meeting Elsa with a newborn in tow (sleeping in the carrier and covered with a muslin blanket).
  6. Prepare for the Elements: The rules are as follows: if there is no rain covering, it will rain. If there is no fan, it will be hotter than the seventh ring of hell. Bring both. Rain covers for strollers are highly important. Florida is required by law to have one random burst of rain every day. Be prepared. The stroller cover will keep the little person happy and dry. And if that tiny isn’t in the stroller, it will keep the stroller dry. No newborn (or anyone really) wants to then be sat in a sopping wet, foam filled, seat. And even though they are less than fashionable, ponchos are necessary. It is impossible to steer a stroller through crowds while holding an umbrella (scientifically proven fact). On the flip side, prior to that rain and immediately after, Florida is required to have insanely hot, sticky weather. Car seats have all that soft cushy padding surrounding a tiny person. It’s polyester. It’s everywhere. And they can’t move themselves because…well…no muscles. Bring a fan. And extra batteries. And a tiny screwdriver. My new born has never said it, but I’m pretty sure those sweet little eyes are filled with tears of thanks. And speaking of heat, we always bring a muslin blanket for the little people (all of them, toddler and big kid included). They’re thin and keep the sun off of their skin. Sunburnt little people are grumpy little people, and I don’t think that’s allowed in Disney World (except around 2-3 pm when pretty much all children under 7 begin to melt). Tip: We bring binder clips to clip the blanket stratigically to the stroller.

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    We were at Disney during Hurricane Matthew. Rain gear is a must.
  7. Relax: One of the most important things I’ve found as a mother of a newborn at Disney is that I am not alone. I’ve never walked through the crowds feeling like I was the only one dealing with the difficult, albeit lovely, job of hanging out with a newborn in Disney World. Women and men are all over the parks with them. And there are glances that say, “I get it.” When I sit outside a ride with my tiny person as my husband takes the other two on it, I am surrounded by others doing the same. Waiting. With tiny people companions. It is reassuring to know that I am not crazy in this endeavor. There is a tribe, and I am a part of it. If I can do it, someone else can do it. And when I hit a low, I see another parent with a newborn and am reminded, that yes, we can do this.

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    The tiniest little and me waiting for the others to finish a ride. Not so newborn anymore…we did it!

Disney with a newborn isn’t always a walk in the park (…see what I did there?). But, with a little planning and a little flexibility, it can be pretty darn close.

I’d love to hear how you make Disney doable for you and your newborn. Leave a comment below.

And if you’d like some more ideas on how to survive Disney World with or without a newborn, check out “How to Turn a Trip to Walt Disney World into a Vacation“.

Why It’s Important to Travel Without Little People in Order to Travel with Them

I rarely manage to travel to the grocery store without bringing my little people with me, let alone anywhere of any significance. (I will admit though, those moments when I’m by myself that feeling of accomplishment is almost like the feeling of accomplishment I have when I get through an entire cup of coffee before having to reheat it in the microwave.) Those brief moments where I slide out the front door and into my minivan to take 60 minutes to myself (grocery shopping, as I said before, it’s just to go grocery shopping) usually come at the end of a full two days of planning. So, the thought of having to plan an entire vacation, perhaps a night or four, away from my children is mind boggling. And certainly if that requires a plane ride that culminates in spending a few days relaxing with my husband and perhaps a friend or two, the effort it seems is required to see these thoughts come to fruition is feels like trying to understand NYC’s preschool registration requirements. (You know the ones I mean, where you have to have your child put on the waiting list while still in utero? Yeah, those.)

But. Here’s the thing. It isn’t hard. Like, at all. We do it. And we love it. And our children are better at wandering this world because of it. Why?

Recharge

I think it’s probably pointing out the obvious when I say that moments spent being a bit checked out as a parent have the ability to fill a cup that’s less than overflowing. Being a parent is hard. Running a household is hard. Put the two together and Bam! Welcome to a world of (rewarding) exhaustion. And I don’t mean it’s draining because we travel; in fact, those are the moments that are perhaps the least draining (there’s no house to constantly upkeep or dry cleaning to pick up or drop off or mountains of laundry to sift through). But the recharge that comes from traveling alone is different than the late night hours after the little people fall into their blissful slumbers. The last road trip we took had us driving seven hours a day for three days at both the beginning and ending of the trip that moved us out of the cold winter and into the warmth of Florida for five days in between. Somewhere along the way to that sun (probably day two of the drive) I caught my oldest little’s cold. Because of my own health issues, I don’t recover as quickly, and five days later I had pneumonia. Even with meds, it got worse on the drive back into winter and home, and I had to be seen again and have my medicines changed up. We had help come in to take care of the middle little and the tiny, but that doesn’t mean I was off the hook. IMG_9596.JPGThere are still obligations, and those little obligations sometimes mean recovery is slow. But the light at the end of the tunnel? Wine. Within two weeks we were on a four day trip to Napa Valley without any little people. I attribute all of my recovery to sitting in the California sun, sipping wine, and watching vines grow. My movement was minimal, my focus limited to myself or others whose lives didn’t depend upon my watchful eye. My cup filled (albeit with Cab Sav, but we don’t judge here). I came home ready to take the next trip (a combo road trip/plane trip) that I had previously started to make plans to push back (I mean I had basically canceled the trip on the flight out to California). Getting out of the house and out of familiar space without my little people allowed me to gain a sense of my physical health back and my ability to keep moving forward to share my world with my littles. (And truth be told, when I feel better, I am a better mother and a better traveler, a win for my little people all around.)

Refocus

There are periods in our traveling life where my husband and I have fallen into the trap of doing the same thing and going the same place again and again and again. (Yep, we visit Disney World three times a year. Guilty. And yep. We’re going to the same beach we went to last summer. Guilty again. And we’ll be staying at the same hotel we’ve always stayed at on our minitrip to Vermont. Guilty guilty guilty.) There is a particular ease in visiting places we’ve already beenIMG_9597.JPG or doing the same basic types of trips we’ve always done. The planning is minimal and life is predictable. Doesn’t that sound appealing? Well, the truth is, sometimes it’s just what we need and just what our littles need. But other times, it is certainly not what we crave. When we travel without our little people my husband and I always get a glimpse of a world bigger than that which we planned or we predicted. We can more easily go to places we’ve never gone. We can talk longer with locals. There is a hint of understanding of how small we are or how privileged we are or how little we understand of this infinitely large, yet wondrously small, world. And this renewed vigor for discovering this paradoxical place calls us to break out of those habits of choosing the easy way when we travel with our little people. It drives us to show the littles the world and their ever-changing place within it. It reminds us we are not just in this to create vacationers; we’re doing it to create explorers.

Remind

Because I am a stay at home mom, my life, whether traveling or spending time at our home, is surrounded by little people and little people accessories. Some times, often times, we fall into habits. In a rush we opt for a restaurant that doesn’t push our little people’s boundaries because we just want them to eat. So we don’t have to work through exhausted breakdowns, we get the littles into their beds on time rather than going to that one last beautiful fountain. Getting the little people in and out of the car is a whole process, so we zoom past the scenic route and opt for the highway. We get mechanical, robotic. And robots don’t explore. Or think. Or wander. Getting away without my little people pulls me from routine. There’s no dinnertime. No naptime. No bedtime. And I like it. And I remember how great it is to stay up later than I want or push myself up that last hill for one final hint of the IMG_6544.JPGsun setting over the ocean. Little people need routine, but they also need to know that feeling of catching lightening bugs late into the evening or skipping a nap to view the world from the top of a mountain. Each time I travel by myself, I am reminded of this. And each time I bring this forgotten knowledge back to them, and we slowly change together. And on our next trip, we will walk down that smaller path to the river or pull the car over to walk out to the middle of that old wooden train bridge (on the walkway only of course…I’m not crazy crazy, just three little people crazy).

Reconnect

“Mommy loves to read. She reads all the time!…Or she did. A while ago. But I promise you, my sweet little pea, I really do love books.” I find myself saying things like this to my little people quite a bit. I am convincing them, and half convincing myself, that Mommy really does like to do things. She has interests, convictions, a life.

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View from the porch of a Napa Valley grape grower. (Not pictured: wine in hand.)

I’d like to imagine that when my little people are big people and traveling on their own they’d see some amazing meadow of wildflowers, an invigorating street mural, and think of me. At this point, I am a little worried that the only thing that will make me pop into their minds is an innovative vacuum. (Let me be frank here. This does not disappointment as much as I’m letting on. I have gotten a new vacuum for the holidays for the past three years. And this year? Oh, this year, I got three. You see, I’m on the hunt for the holy grail of vacuums. You know the one where you can vacuum once and your house stays clean for, at least, two days. This though, is another blog post for another blog…) The point I’m meaning to get to here is that I want my children to know the me that exists beyond my role as their mommy. I am first a mommy, but I am also so much more than that. And I want to present an authentic version of myself to them. But this wears away after time as I start to search out those travel experiences that are solely geared toward the interests of my littles…the easy experiences. The thing is, I want to enter their world, but I also want to invite them into mine. I like warming myself on a sun-filled porch sipping a glass of wine at an inappropriately early time while I watch the worIMG_6148.JPGld move about me. While I’m not giving my littles wine, I’d like them to know the value of sitting on a porch, the morning sun warming their legs as the world makes little changes all around them. Traveling without my little people makes me reconnect with those pieces of myself that I have put on the backburner in order to raise these three amazing little loves. As a result of this rediscovery of self, when we travel together, I help make their worlds a bit bigger by sharing passions they don’t often get to see. And it’s those shared experiences, those moments of seeing each other authentically, that make family travel not just about the travel, but about our family.

Reevaluate

Mommy brain is real. Very. Real. Or it’s a convenient excuse I use to avoid having to pay attention. I will never admit which one it is though. Needless to say, I forget things. (Or do I?) When I’m off exploring this world with no one but myself, I remember things. Most importantly, I remember what it’s like to push boundaries that I’d never dare to push when I have three little people to care for. I can go to restaurants that force me to eat food that I would never have thought I’d eat even two hours prior. I can step into situations I wouldn’t feel comfortable throwing myIMG_9600.JPG little people in. But, I have the ability now to assess these situations, these moments, with the eye of a mother but not the worry of a mother. I can determine if the place, the experience, is manageable for my littles, and I can plan accordingly for their future travel. When I was getting my MS in Education, one of the most helpful pieces of advice I was given was to always look ahead, anticipate any problems before they could occur, and replan accordingly. Traveling by myself affords me this luxury. I know how difficult it will be for my nonseafood eating little person to eat in a country where seafood is a staple. And I can plan for this. I can anticipate this bump. This is the privilege of traveling without my little people. I know what bridges are not ok to cross for my climbing-centric tiny person. I know what historic sites will be too much for my empathetic little. I’ve had time to look, to think, to judge. I anticipate. I adjust. I plan. I can gather information in a way that is greater than mere research. It’s a lived knowledge.  Without my littles I can evaluate and reevaluate to make our family travel road a bit less bumpy.

Let’s be honest. Traveling with kids is hard. It’s like throwing thirteen balls into the air and trying to juggle them when yIMG_9601.JPGou have just two hands and no thumbs. It’s this weird balance of two extremes: overplanning and being spontaneous. Somehow, though, we manage to make those two worlds coexist. Traveling without my little people is an important part of establishing that balance. I can watch so we can anticipate. I can remember so we can relax. It gives me a better me: a better mother, a better traveler, a better friend, a better wanderer, a better teacher, a better student, a better listener, and most importantly, a better guide to my littles as they travel their way through this endless world.

Tips for Flying with an Older (Wigglier) Infant (6-12 months)

 

It really doesn’t matter why I’m flying. If I’m doing it with my infant, it can seem like a dreaded task looming over the unimaginably fabulous vacation I’m surely about to take (isn’t the saying, “Expect the best and get the best”? No? Well then (shrugs shoulders)…). Anyway, infants. I’m not talking about those blissfully sleeping babes of mere weeks old. Not those tinies that spend their moments penduluming between sleeping and eating (ok, and crying, but crying because they either want to eat or sleep (or have that beast acid reflux, which is all too alive and well in this family)). unnamed.jpgI’m talking about those super wiggly, oh-look-I-found-my hands/my feet/my voice/my ability to crawl/my ability to clap/my ability to walk/your mouth/your necklace/your eyes/your phone/your response to my dropping every little thing I get in my hands kind of infant. This is the exhausting infant. And flying with them can be exhausting. They can’t carry their own things (which they need increasingly more of), and it’s questionable whether they even get their own seats. But with three little people under five, we seem to always have one of those types of tinies traveling with us, so we’ve got a few rules we go by.

Choosing a Flight, Timing and Connections:

My husband and I are not parents of little people who sleep on planes or in cars; in fact, they are quite the opposite. Our curse and our blessing is that our children thrive on routine. They like to sleep when it’s bedtime, and they like that sleep to be (Surprise!) in their beds. And this occurs by three months old. So, that means our infant is just as routinized as our big little people. IMG_8238.JPGWe take this into account when booking our flights. I guess it’d be easiest to fly mid day so my tiny person could sleep in as usual and also be in bed on time, thus preventing an epic meltdown the next day. But really. Am I willing to waste an entire day on just sitting on a plane? Nope. Nope. Nope. No. So, it becomes a toss up. Early flights mean a day of adjusting and readjusting (we don’t ever manage to get breakfast on time, naps are weird, if at all, lunch on planes can be hard for tiny people), and late flights mean we’re cutting into bedtime (a sacred time for all parents). With our first little one, we could push her to fly at night and have a fine next day. With our last little one, we can do the same. But the middle one? Oh sweet, sweet heavens, he was a wreck once it hit bedtime. I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone. The point is, we had to feel it out for each. Just like grown ups, some tiny people are best in the morning, some are best at night. It’s important to spend a little time figuring this out at home prior to trying to figure it out on a plane. Additionally, we usually book flights that are direct whenever possible. At one point, we thought perhaps layovers would be great because our little person could get out some wiggles, but honestly, it never worked. In fact, I’m pretty sure Murphy’s Law states that the only time a tiny person will nap is when the plane descends. If I’m going to wake a sleeping tiny, I’d prefer to do it at my destination rather than just at a random layover in Cincinnati. Also, I don’t want to drag tiny person belongings all over an airport in an attempt to restow them in another plane after I just charged down the aisle throwing elbows so I could get some coveted overhead space. Once I’m in and settled, this tired Momma just wants to stay put. Done.

Getting a Seat (or not):

It is not often we get a seat for our infant. We try to travel with as little as possible, so we certainly don’t want to drag a carseat (or three carseats really) with us, especially if we’re not going to be renting a car on our trip or, super especially, if we’re dealing with a tight connection (there’s nothing fast about dragging carseats around). IMG_8823.JPG(Note: If you need your carseats at your destination, but still don’t want to bring them on the plane, most airlines allow you to check them for free.) There are exceptions, of course, that drive us to bring our car seats with us. When our flight is late late late and is long long long, we may opt for the seat so our little can get some sleep. (This only works if your tiny person is good at sleeping in carseats though. I’d like to say mine are, but I would be lying.) Usually though, if it’s a long flight, my husband works his points magic and snags us seats in first class. If this happens, we usually put the seats in lie flat and trap the tiny between the wall and one of our grown up bodies so the tiny person has a flat play space and a flat sleep space for night. If we’re just taking a short flight and don’t need or care about being in first class, I bring a nursing pillow (which I recommend even when not nursing). This provides a comfy way for the tiny nugget to lie across my lap, snuggled up, without creating a sweatbox by drooling across my chest. It’s also a nice little seat for them to sit on and face me, so we can play all those lovely games, like “Pull at Mommy’s Nose” or the ever popular “Try To Stick All of My Half Chewed Snacks in Mommy’s Mouth.” Good times. (Note: If you have a lap child, don’t change the seat you’re in without consulting with the flight crew as little people in laps are put in specific rows that have extra oxygen masks.)

Scoring a Bassinet:

 If the flight is long, we contact the airline to see if they have any bassinets (or cots) available and request the bassinet. IMG_8789.JPGThey need to be requested as early as possible as most planes carry fewer cots than they do babies. Even if they tell you they have one reserved for you, be persistent. Check. Double check. When you’re sitting parked in the car in your driveway because your tiny fell asleep on the way home from the grocery store .5 mi away, check again (and then spend the rest of the time wondering why said tiny person fell asleep in his carseat when you didn’t want him to, but won’t do it any other time you need him too). We double check that our seat assignments actually match with seats that can accommodate a bassinet (dependent upon type of airplane, so some research may need to be conducted here). In economy cabins, the bassinets connect to the bulkhead walls. They can also be found actually imbedded into a shelf in the wall in some aircrafts. Additionally, in the first class international cabins, they can connect right over the footrest of the seat. These are nice to have, but infants can max out on size pretty early on (approximately 20 lbs). IMG_8814.JPGOr they can just dislike them enough to cry every time they’re placed in them on an overnight flight to Italy, leaving you feeling trapped because they’re attached mere inches above where your feet are lying. And this can make the flight attendants quite a bit upset as they spent approximately 45 minutes putting the thing up because none of them actually knew how to put it up and they had to consult manuals and now this sweet little child does not want to be in the cot they spent an insane amount of time securing, so they effectively did it for nothing, ugh…I’m not saying that happened to me. I’m just saying in theory, it could happen, you know.

What To Bring Along for The Ride:

I’ll start with the easy, somewhat obvious stuff.

Snacks: Infants just entering the eating stage seem to be the hardest to accommodate. IMG_8232.JPGThere are not many places in the airport selling ground, mushed vegetables and fruits in interesting and exciting combinations. And there are not any options on the plane itself. This means all food, milk (whether breastmilk or formula), snacks, etc., need to be brought with the tiny nugget. Generally, I pack as though my tiny person and I had an emergency landing and must stay overnight somewhere and continue our journey the next day. In other words, I pack two days worth of goodies for an infant 6-12 months old (admittedly, the closer to 12 months they are, the easier it becomes to find foods in the airport they can eat).

Toys: There are some favorites. I try to pack something that resembles a phone in case I feel like looking at my phone without little fingers trying to grab at it (I’ve found nothing so far). I bring a lovey because no matter what I still like to keep the hope alive that this tiny child may sleep. I bring a toy to chew on (teething goes on foooorrrrreeeevvvveeeerrrr). I bring a box of tissues.IMG_8690.JPG Tiny people love to pull tissues out of boxes. It’s quiet, and all I have to do is scoop them up, stick them back in the box, and voilà we get another go at it (the bigger littles still love to do it too). What I don’t bring are noisy toys, big toys, fancy toys. This age is still about exploring, so usually, I just use what I find. There’s nothing better than banging some plastic airplane cups around, tearing out some Skymall magazine pages and ripping them apart, or chewing on a coffee stirrer.

Comforts: Wipes. I bring wipes to wipe everything. I know those tiny fingers will be everywhere, and I don’t want to deal with a sad, sick tiny person on vacation (let alone any other day). Medicine. I always pack Children’s Benadryl (I get proper dosing amounts from my son’s doctor prior to leaving) because who knows where an allergy can exist. I pack infant Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen for the spontaneous fever or achy gum. A change of clothes for the tiny is necessary because the other Murphy’s Law while traveling with a tiny person is that they will spill something on themselves or have a diaper accident when traveling (common knowledge, really). I pack an extra set of clothing for myself too because…well…if I don’t I’m pretty much setting myself up for failure. I also always make sure I bring either a muslin blanket or a thin scarf that I can use to wrap my tiny person in if it gets cold or as a nursing cover. IMG_8788.JPGI also use it to wrap around my tiny person if they fall asleep on the nursing pillow (I will never give up hope) or if they fall asleep in their stroller at the airport. I tuck it around them and around myself as an added support in case of sudden turbulence. Pacifiers, bottles of water, smoothie pouches, or really anything my little person can suck on and chew while we’re taking off and landing are with me too. I usually use this time to try to nurse my little into sleep (seriously not giving up on this dream).

Transport: We bring a carrier with us when we have our tiny person along. Often, when trying to get our tiny to nap, we will need to walk or bounce, which can get pretty tiring without a carrier. I just slip the tiny into the little carrier, bounce a few minutes, and then slide myself back into my seat, safely clipping my seatbelt under those chubby legs. The issue here is that some flight attendants have made me wake the sleeping tiny to remove them from the carrier during landing, while some have simply made certain that the tiny person was not clipped into the seatbelt. It’s a hit or miss really. The carrier also comes in handy when we’ve decided against gate checking a stroller, something that is increasingly uncommon now that we have two under three. Although when we have tight connections, we avoid gate checking our strollers. The problem we have run into is that sometimes our stroller is waiting for us as soon as we get off the plane, but sometimes we can wait well over a half an hour for it to be delivered to us, which is a stress we certainly don’t need if we’re trying to desperately make another flight. (Note: Most airlines allow strollers to be checked through to the final destination free of charge.)

Dealing with Diapers:

When dealing with diaper age little people, I always try to save enough time to change my littles into clean diapers right before getting on the plane. While quite a number of planes have changing tables, not all do. And the worst is when I know I need to change a diaper and my options are limited to changing them on the seat and angering an already angry crowd or letting my little sit in their swampy, smelly, soggy diaper. It’s a choice no self-respecting adult wants to make. It’s the choice that I pawn off onto my husband. And let’s discuss those airplane changing tables, shall we? They’re smaller than a tray table and just as rickety. When changing my tiny I have to fight their exploring little fingers to keep them out of the sink and from pushing down the pump to the hand lotion. It’s a mess. And if I don’t want to change my tiny person in a dirty little shoebox of a bathroom, it’s important I change them early on since the changing table folds down to rest right above the toilet (I have nightmares about dropping important things into those toilets while I’m changing diapers). Needless to say, diapers can be a disaster, so I get them done prior to boarding as often as possible.

What to Expect from The Experience:

No matter how many times we’ve traveled, and how on point I think my travel is, that doesn’t mean other people know this. We still get looks of dread, the stink eye, from those who see us roll up to the gate, five thick. People avoid getting behind us in the security line (even though we can get through there as fast as any business traveler). It’s just part of the journey. We let it roll off of our backs and graciously accept the compliments about our “great little travelers” when it’s all over. We try to calm our tiny when he starts to cry, and usually, that act of merely attempting to do something to calm our tiny person is enough for those around us to, at least, hide their own frustrations. I’d like to think people give my tiny person some acceptance too when I can’t get him to quiet down since his communication skills are somewhat, shall we say, limited. Ultimately, some people will forgive me, some people won’t, some will forgive my children, some won’t feel thIMG_8806.JPGere’s a need to, and others will seethe in their own anger. But between my husband, my children, and myself, we remember to forgive each other. I know that I just need to focus on my tiny people, my little people, because this is about them. And about us. And what we’re doing together.

Traveling anywhere with little people of any age means creating memories–strong, searing, sweet (mostly) moments for adults, but nuggets of memories for those little people. Even for tiny people. We plant the seeds of those nuggets of memories when we travel. And hopefully, someday, those seeds will be enough to feed some beautiful, kind, open-minded souls who are strong enough in spirit and in self to imagine themselves anywhere in this world, doing anything in this world.

Answers to Some Questions You Didn’t Know You Had When Planning a Getaway to Nickelodeon’s All Inclusive Resort in Punta Cana-Updated

NOTE: This post has been updated to reflect additional information provided by the resort’s concierge. Some of the information is in conflict with the information previously provided through the resort’s Facebook contact. (Nov. 16, 2016)

One thing I know about traveling with my littles is that it’s nice to go places where they are entertained by the world around them and I can spend a little less time being just sooooo entertaining. With that in mind, my husband and I set out to book a summer trip that offered our little people a bit more entertainment than they normally get when we travel beyond Walt Disney World or a beach house. My littles are small, we’re talking five, two, and under one. They still haven’t quite mastered the excitement of immersing IMG_6135.JPGthemselves in other cultures and understanding the implications and depths of historical locales and movements. So, our options were somewhat limited.

Then one day it just started popping up everywhere. I mean every single place I looked. It stalked me. Nickelodeon’s new all inclusive property in Punta Cana. So I researched and read. And read some more. And researched some more. And then I sat down to see if this place was really worth it. Most of the customer reviews from last summer were less than kind, but then again, it was a property that just opened last summer and everything was not up and running at the time. So, armed with some questions taken from those reviews, I, in my best explorer mindset, set out in search of answers. The problem was, the website was a bit less than informative. There were descriptions of a sentence, but no details. How important are details? Let me say again, I have three little people. Seriously. Details are ridiculously important.

I reached out to the hotel via their contact info and received no response. I then moved on to Facebook, and within hours I had a response. I spent the next week asking more and more questions and finding more and more questions. And I was getting answers. And when I ran out of answers, I went to the head concierge. Unfortunately I didn’t get any answers there, but I’m still hopeful. And now? I have most questions answered. And so do you.

Are the facilities all up and running? I was told they are 100% up and running. What I figured out though, through asking questions about other amenities, is that while the facilities may be 100% up and running, not all programs are. This could change over time. If there’s a particular program you’re interested in, it would be best to ask. (For example, the Spanish Lessons are not yet a part of the program there, though it is listed on their website as one of the services they offer.)

IMG_6503.JPGIs there a charge for any of the “Gotcha Covered” amenities and are they guaranteed if requested? (cribs, strollers, Gerber baby food, bottle sterilizers and warmers, step stools, bathrobes, bath tubs, changing tables, baby monitors, beach toys) The amenities are always available and should be guaranteed whether or not you request them ahead of time. Also, the Gerber food, while not organic, is suitable for children as young as six months old.

What is Nickelodeon Place? Listed on the Activities page is “Nickelodeon Place,” but what exactly is it beyond a character meeting spot (which is listed as a separate activity anyway)? Well, essentially it’s everything and nothing rolled into one. It is the general name given to the large area that contains all of the separately listed activities (Aqua Nick, Aqua Bite, Just Kiddin’ Kids Club, Character Central, Plaza Orange amphitheater, Nick kNacks, and the Sports Hub). So, though it is listed as a separate activity, it, in fact, isn’t.

IMG_3829.jpgWhat is the character meeting/Character Central situation look like? Is it organized or arbitrary? How will I know when to show up? Many of the online reviews contained complaints of not seeing any characters while on property. I was told that there is a set schedule that varies each week depending on variables such as weather and occupancy. So, it is set. But not that set. This schedule can be picked up upon arrival.

What about character dining? What are the options? How easy or hard is it to book? Currently, the only dining options with characters are breakfasts and those breakfasts only occur on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday from 8-10am is the TMNT Power Breakfast and on Sundays from 8-10am is the PJ Jam Breakfast. While these are the only days with character breakfasts, I was told that this can change depending upon demand. Since the supply is limited, these meals can be hard to get, but fortunately, character breakfast reservations can be made prior to arrival through contacting the concierge.

Can I make dining reservations in advance? While you can make character breakfast reservations in advance, you cannot make regular dining reservations in advance. These reservations should be made on property with your personal concierge or the lobby concierge. UPDATE: After getting directly in touch with the resort’s concierge (rather than through Facebook) I have been told you can make dining reservations prior to your arrival.

Is babysitting available? How much is it? And for what times? Evening babysitting is available. The cost for this is $20/hour for up to two children. Each child under four requires one babysitter for themselves. During the day, children over four can be dropped off at Just Kiddin’ and the same pricing applies for any other children who are being watched by a babysitter. UPDATE: The price per hour is until 11:00 p.m. If the service is needed additional hours, the guest is responsible for the Taxi fee to get the nanny to his/her final destination. The Taxi cost is additional to the fee per hour.

What is the process for vetting the babysitters? This is still a question I’m waiting to have answered. I will update this when, and if, I get a response. UPDATE: The babysitters are certified, and they do run background checks (as they do on all staff). Most sitters speak English or another language (as well as Spanish).

What is Just Kiddin’? Will my four year old be doing the same activities as the older children there (up to 12 years old)? Just Kiddin’ is a daytime drop off location. IMG_7709.JPGIt has both free play and scheduled activities. These scheduled activities are subject to change and will be given at check in. All kids will be together. So, yes, your four year old will be in the mix with the eight year olds and the twelve year olds. There is no separation by age.

Are there connecting rooms and can they be guaranteed? As a family of five, our room options are somewhat limited, especially if you’re like us and want a separate room for the grown ups to sleep in. If that’s what we want, we have to book a Pool Super Villa. And that is soooo much more space than we need (and sooooo much more money than we want to spend). Fortunately, you can book two connecting rooms (in certain buildings). Pads connect with other Pads and Pads connect with Swank Suites. As far as guaranteeing those? I was told they should be able to guarantee them.

When can spa reservations be made? Truth be told, this is one of the few questions that I have struggled to get answered. I have not heard from anyone, and the follow up on promises to get me that information has been nonexistent. This just leads me to the conclusion that it either contains some top secret information, the pricing is still being set, or the services are not entirely set (or there is just a real difficulty in acquiring this information). UPDATE: The spa services can be made in prior to arrival. I am still waiting for a current and correct menu for spa services.

Does the hotel provide transfers from the airport? Once you book your stay, you will be given the option of choosing to also book a transfer from the airport to the hotel.Transfers are done through Nexus Travel, the resort’s official transportation company. You can also book directly with them at www.nexustravel.com.

This trip is designed for relaxation and restoration, and some of the details are what I needed to get that process started. I’m looking forward to those smooth, sunny days, resting my weary bones on a soft-padded lounge chair outside my hotel room, listening to birds singing and watching the sun reflect off the cool blue of the pool out the door of my swim up suite. Or, more likely, trying to frantically use said lounge chair to create a barrier in my attempt to corral my little people so they don’t get too curious about that pool. And when I feel a bit overwhelmed at those climbing, crawling, eager little legs, I will remind myself to be thankful for that curiosity and the little explorers that that curiosity is creating.

Keep checking back for updates and a post-stay hotel review.

Tips for Sharing a Hotel Room with Your Infant or Toddler

That feeling of settling my littles in for the night and then relaxing on my own terms is so much more pronounced when I am on vacation. At home, those few childless hours (I’m exaggerating a bit here, it’s really just minutes, mere minutes) before I am too exhausted to move are usually spent frantically catching up on all the things I meant to do that day (or the previous day). I’d like to say that I use that time for getting ahead too, but, seriously, kids. Anyway, on vacation those nights are different. There’s no house to tidy up, no dishes waiting in the sink, no quick late-night errands to run. There’s just me and my freedom. On vacation, those few childless moments after the littles are safely tucked into their beds are spent…in the dark, with the curtains drawn, throwing shade at my husband because the sound of his socks on the hotel floor is a threat to the continued sleeping of those little people. This is the downside of vacationing with an infant or toddler, especially those who are an absolute wreck of a little person if they don’t get some serious sleep (at least now and again). Realizing this issue early on, my husband and I have come to rely on some handy techniques for getting us through the entrapment of early-to-bed littles.

 

Suites/Connecting Rooms:

Probably the most obvious, and expensive, way to combat this issue is to book a suite. In some hotels, this means footing quite an expense (either in points or in money), but it’s important to weigh if the value of that extra space and alone time at night is worth that expense. My husband and I still have the intentions of staying up later than our children and relaxing a bit in just each other’s company when we’re on vacation, so we do place some value on having a different room to be awake in while our littles slumber (we’re not talking outrageously priced suites though–we have kids to put through college). Additionally, we use the extra living space as an “on deck” area for the little people who have not yet gone to sleep: first the tiny one is put to sleep, then the middle one, and finally the oldest wiggles her way into dreamland. If I had to put them all to sleep at once? I can’t even. A disaster really.

If the suite has a kitchen, it means some meals can be eaten in the room to offset a small fraction of the cost (anything counts). FullSizeRender-5.jpgAnd sometimes kids just need a little cereal rather than a giant breakfast, so it makes it much easier. Also, if we’re on a vacation that will basically be spent outside, it’s a relief to have the added space if it rains and we have to spend some extra time indoors.

Finally, if the resort itself is not so important and it’s just a place to rest some heads at night, then we consider alternate places to stay. When we roadtrip, we often stay at assorted chain suites. I used to be of the mindset that these were designed more for the business traveler who wanted a more “homelike” place outside of a tourist area without the necessity and cost of a million amenities. But that just isn’t the case. These hotels can offer the space necessary for a traveling family without the cost.

Connecting rooms will also do the trick in providing an additional room, but they have some drawbacks. For example, I am a tired person. After I put my littles to bed, I am even more tired. (It’s like I’ve just completed a marathon that I’m destined to run. Every. Single. Day.) In a connecting room, the most inviting place for me to rest my old weary bones is a bed. Now remember how I said I actually intend on spending time with my significant other? That won’t happen because as soon as this lady sits on a bed, it’s over. Over I say. I convince myself I will only sleep a second, but deep down I know the truth. Also, connecting rooms are in that realm of “you can request but we can’t guarantee” (like cribs). That’s just not a chance I’m willing to take. I’d be stuck in the room with the sleeping kids and my husband would be living it up by himself in the other room? I don’t think so. Number one rule of marriage is if I suffer, we suffer together. I’m not going to change that now.

Study the Layout of the Hotel:

One way we get out of being trapped in the room with our sleeping littes is to do the same thing we do at home: shut the door and go somewhere else (within reach of our monitor). IMG_6503.JPGFor example, my husband and I always request the same hotel room at a resort we go to in VT because we know that we can lock our door and walk down to the outdoor deck and bar while watching our sleeping children on our monitor. While sitting outside this year, we discussed trying a different room during our next visit, so the next day we took the camera to that area of the resort and checked the monitor. Guess what? It worked! So we’re off to a new room during the next visit (it’s the little things that get us through these days).

We look not just for places to relax in the evenings but dinner as well. At a resort we stayed at in Curacao we ate at the same restaurant most nights because I could get up, put my son to sleep, and come back to our table on the beach. He was sleeping literally yards from me with just a patio door between us (which we left unlocked while we locked the front door to the room). The room was not central to the hotel, but it was perfectly situated next to the kiddie pool, the beach, a small hotel bar, and a restaurant. AND it was in a quiet end of the hotel. It was perfect for both naps and night. But we only landed the room because we studied the layout of the hotel and requested the specific building prior to our arrival.

 Request a Balcony:

If we can’t leave the room out of the front door, we try to go out the back. Our general rule is that if we’re in a resort, we try to book the bottom floor with a balcony that we can walk off of. This way, after we put all the littles to bed, we can slip out onto the balcony and relax. One of us can wander over to the hotel bar or the ice cream shop (or in my case, both) and pick up some treats. Then we just sit outside the room and relax. Some times we talk, some times we just sit with our own books and some reading lamps. If the hotel doesn’t have ground floor, walkout balconies, we still use the balcony to our advantage. One of us slips ever so quietly out the front door and gets the goods, and then we spend our evening on our balcony watching the world.

 Work with What You Have:

One rule we have, regardless of whether we have a suite or a balcony, is that we try to create a physical barrier between our littles and ourselves. Even when we have the added space of the suite, my husband and I still go to sleep in the same room as our little people. The last thing I want is to have my child spot me from behind the bars of the hotel crib.IMG_1686.jpg There’s no putting themselves back to sleep once they’ve spotted my face trying to hide in the covers. And this desire to be awake spreads faster than a cold in a Kindergarten classroom once a little one spots me. Next thing I know, it’s four in the morning and I’ve got three little people jumping around on my stomach and a husband still fast asleep next to me.

So, we use the furniture in the rooms to create small rooms. If there are two bathrooms, we will put a crib in one of them. If not, we will check out the size of the closets. We will tuck a crib halfway in a closet with open doors surrounding it. We will stick it behind a desk, next to a chair, covered by a stroller, in a nook. You name it. If there is space that is even a teeny tiny bit separated from the rest of the room, that’s where one of the cribs is going to go. This way, in those just predawn hours of slipping in and out of sleep, my two year old is not going to spot me, fully rouse himself out of slumber, and cheerfully yell out “It’s good morning now?”

 Bring the Right Equipment:

Even with all of this, room sharing happens. If we know there’s a chance, we come prepared. First, we make the bathroom comfy. If that’s where we’re going to be, we might as well get all our plugs etc. in there. If not, we stake out our little hiding corner and prep it. Here’s some water, here’s an iPad plug, here’s some headphones, here’s a book, here’s a reading light. Before the kids fall asleep we make sure that all of our necessities are out of our bags and where we can find them. Pjs? Check. Toothbrush? Check. Glasses? Check. Medicine? IMG_6489.JPGCheck. Once my tiny’s head hits his bed, the game is over. I don’t want to hear a cough, let alone a zipper opening and closing and opening and closing. My “trapped in room” stash includes a Paperwhite Kindle (it doesn’t give off too much light), my iPhone (so I know what time I managed to stay awake until), and a white noise app (on my iPad). White noise is key. I keep it pretty obnoxiously loud until I slide into that bed, hear my husband’s timed breathing, and sense a general lull in the atmosphere. Then, I slowly turn it down (but just a notch because I’m not trying to have a little person wake up because an even littler person coughed).

 Accept It:

It’s vacation. It’s the one time when it really is ok to just say, “I’m going to bed early” and not regret it in the morning. This is especially the case when dealing with a bit of jetlag. When we went to Japan, my husband and I got into our beds as soon as the kids were in theirs. I read on my kindle, he on his phone, and that was it. We spent the entire trip never fully adjusted to the time zone, but that was okay with us. We slept. We caught up on four years of books we had meant to read and four years of sleep we had wished we had. And we didn’t regret it.

 

Traveling with little people can be a challenge. The logistics can often be painful. These little creatures are creatures of habit, even when traveling, and their routines can seem a burden to our plans. But sometimes these routines are just what we need on a vacation: a reason to slow down and nurture our own selves without guilt and without regret.

 

Rocking Your Way through Airport Security with Your Littles

Without having my little people with me, I still whole heartedly believe going through security is the absolute worst part of flying. There are the long lines; the make it or break it rules; the unpacking of laptops, liquids, and dignity; the shoe removal; the anxiety of a hundred eyes evaluating; the atmosphere of annoyance. It’s toxic and spreads like an epidemic. Travelers are annoyed at the TSA, the TSA at travelers. Families are annoyed at business travelers who stand a little too close and tap a foot a little too loud while glaring at their watches. Business travelers are annoyed at families who are sifting through bags and searching for liquids a little too long while desperately holding onto the sleeve of a little person who’s a little too noisy. This single act of going through security has been the face that launched a thousand, well, frustrations.

In this environment, amongst all this chaos, the last thing that I want when traveling with my littles is to be on the receiving end of these frustrations or find these feelings lurking within myself (I’m sure my family doesn’t want these feelings festering inside of me either…it’s just can’t end well). So, what do we do to keep security as smooth as possible when dealing with three little people under five?

  1. Keep Calm: Let me give a brief glimpse of my normal weekday morning. Even if my daughter has 20 minutes before her bus comes for Kindergarten, if I mention that we need to hurry and get ready, she will panic. She is a ball of five-year-old nerves. And once she’s in that place, she never recovers until she is safely on that bus. That being said, if I were to act frantic while in line for security or actually going through security, she too would become frantic. Then the two year old would become frantic. And the 11 month old would probably think, why not, and join right in. Let me be clear. The last thing I want to deal with at any moment in life is three emotionally amped up little people. Ever. Even in my own home. So, in my little slice of security heaven, I try to remain calm. Not only do I operate more efficiently, so do my littles. Together we are focused and get the required steps of security done without having to jump the line to chase a rogue two year old. Regardless of how together or not we seem, it also always helps me to remember that travel is a teacher for my children, and no matter how frustrated those around me seem at my littles’ exuberant expressions of delight at travel, there is nothing to feel bad about. I don’t feel like I need to start the trip by apologizing to those people who believe children have no place on a plane, especially their plane.
  1. Pack Strategically: We get mere minutes to unpack all that TSA requires we unpack. Carry on bags.JPGHaving kids makes no difference. Once the unpacking process is started, I like to be done with it. It is the equivalent of bedtime. Once it’s started, there’s no stopping it until it is gloriously over. Who wants to be searching through bags for liquids while trying to remember where the iPads were shoved? Even when flying with my husband, I am the sole person in charge of packing for my three kids (I have trust issues, apparently…maybe others would say control issues, but…I think trust just sounds nicer, don’t you?). This means that I bring with me all that the little people need for the plane (minus their backpacks of lovies). I use a lightweight Tumi two-wheel roller bag that’s approximately 1.5 ft x 3 ft (pictured). When I zip the bag, I have the zippers meet at the top of the bag, so I only need to slightly open the top to reach in and grab the snack bag (which always has apple sauce and baby food and sometimes a bottle of milk…you know, the stuff the TSA loves to deal with) and the bag of medicines/liquids. In the small front pouch of this bag, I slide two iPads so I caOpen carry on.JPGn easily get them out when in line. Before I even put the bag on that belt, it is emptied of all those things that I have to put on display. And on my person I have my own bag, which only has my computer to pull out. Easy peasy. No opening bags and shifting extra toys or clothes around. No one can judge me by the mindless things I bring with me to read. (Kidding. I’m a mom. I don’t get to read anything with more than four sentences per page.)
  1. Bring a Stroller: To bring a stroller or not bring a stroller–that really is the question, isn’t it? Back in the day (those beautifully quiet days) of just one little person, I rarely used a stroller unless there was a lengthy layover. Usually, I just carried my tiniest of person in a carrier. TSA allows you to wear your children through the detector with just the added inconvenience of a hand swab (which given the fact that my bags are inevitably pulled so TSA can see that the baby food is, in fact, baby food, this doesn’t add any extra time and it doesn’t disturb the tiny person). Times have changed. I don’t just have one little person anymore. I value my stroller now. I use it as a means of keeping my children in line. Literally. As I mentioned, I have no desire to chase my children through legs and around other people’s luggage, nor do I want to have to drag them forward or hear them mentioning their exhaustion. So, we use a stroller. It also provides them somewhere to remain while I empty the roller bag of the necessary contents. Boys on Stroller.jpgEven if it only takes a second, that’s enough time for those tiny legs to scramble away. Not all strollers are ideal for this though. We make sure that if we are bringing a stroller to gate check (either single or double) it can easily and quickly be folded and unfolded since it too will need to go on the belt. The alternative to this is we bring one that is waaaaaaaay too big to go on the belt and needs to be hand checked by TSA (I’m talking about the kind of stroller strangers can’t help but comment on the size of as you happily push on by). This is, of course, more time consuming, but it also means we don’t have to fold and unfold. We take into consideration our connections too. There seems to be some unwritten rule that if you have a tight connection, gate checked items will take extra long to get unloaded, so we generally try to avoid bringing them if we know we will need those extra minutes to get us to our next plane (skycap anyone?). 
  1. Know Your Rights: When my now five-year-old daughter was 14 months we were returning from a trip to Italy via Heathrow. As we went through security there, a female agent told me to hand me her daughter so she could give her a pat down to ensure that there was nothing hidden on her. Luckily, since I had been flying so frequently with my daughter from the age of five weeks, I knew that there was no reason that I needed to hand my daughter over to a complete stranger. While I was met with resistance initially, after involving other agents, the original agent finally understood that my tiny was sticking with me. In. My. Arms. I can’t stress enough how important it is to understand your rights as someone flying with an infant or toddler. This doesn’t mean being hostile, but it does mean being an advocate for your child. For instance, I will not let any TSA agent open up my infant’s bottles of milk, frozen or otherwise. This doesn’t mean that I won’t let them test the air coming from IMG_1715.jpgthem. It means I request to be the sole person who opens and closes it and that it is tested in my sight. I have also been given grief about the amount of baby food I have brought onto the plane (I tend to pack enough to cover an overnight in case we miss a connection). Again, simply explaining my rights and asking the TSA agents to check with their higher ups has proved effective. It’s much easier for me to remain calm because I know my rights. Knowing what I can and can’t do helps ease some of that travel anxiety. And in my house, when my anxiety is high, it permeates into my children and then…seriously. I can’t even.
  1. Think about Your Clothes: It seems silly to say. But it can matter when there are so many other things going on. TSA will ask that all outer layers come off. So, don’t wear an old ratty, ill-fitting nursing top under a big bulky sweatshirt (totally not speaking from experience…nope). The same for little people. I just put my kids in comfy clothes and pack away their jackets well before we get to security, so there’s no added effort of taking them on and off. And if I’m baby wearing, I don’t wear a sweater over my carrier. I can only imagine what kind of shenanigans my littles could manage to get themselves into in the few seconds it would take to remove a sweater from over the carrier (of course the sweater would get caught on some type of velcro or hook and my arms would be as useful as a T Rex’s given the shoulder straps and the big ol’ baby strapped in front…so maybe it’s not my fault they could unpack an entire suitcase and throw its contents on the floor while I remove said sweater…). And shoes. I love shoes. All shoes. But I digress. Slip on shoes are important. Whether there’s a baby strapped to me or not, it just makes life easier when I’m trying to usher everyone through the metal detector. At the end of the beltway, I don’t have to worry about things piling up because I have to tie or zip my shoes. I can just grab my items (the ones the TSA hasn’t taken to check anyway) and get them packed. The littles get to keep their shoes on (and yet mine seem to always take theirs off anyway…everywhere), so they can go for comfort and style.

It’s just the way it is. Airport security is a drag. There’s no way around it. It is surrounded in anxiety and annoyance, a hotbed of frustration. But with a bit of planning and a decent amount of confidence, it doesn’t mean your trip has to begin with those frustrations too.