The Equinox, a Luxury Collection Golf Resort and Spa, Manchester Village, VT: Child Accommodating (but well on its way to being Child Friendly)

 

The Equinox is one of my favorite places to be. We found it because my husband knows how to work magic with points and Starwood is one of his preferred groups. When it was just the two of us, I wanted somewhere to go to get out of Brooklyn and hike. Somewhere with clean air and a slower place, and the Equinox is what we found. That was way before kids, and back then when it was just the two of us, it was amazing. Now it isn’t just the two of us, so how has my relationship with this property changed?

To begin with, the hotel has changed. Or I have changed. Or maybe I’d like to think this hotel and I have changed together. In essence it is still the same place, but the clientele seems quite different. Smores Sign Equinox.JPGWe used to just be a couple, and we’d see other couples all around. Now I see kids, families, spread out through the hotel. Is it them? Or is it me?

It’s them (mostly). In speaking with a member of the hotel staff, I was told that since a new manger came onto the scene, the hotel has been working towards having a more family friendly presence. What this means is that they are trying out a variety of new programs aimed at kids and that it’s important to ask what’s available to your children while you’re there. Some of these programs may be just during certain weekends, some seasonal, and others phased out or replaced. One of the most important additions is the Equinox Teepee Equinox.JPGExplorer’s Club, designed for children ages 4-12 in all day or half day programs (this isn’t offered every day and the hotel recommends making reservations). The Club keeps little people occupied with a number of activities such as taking the kids to the Land Rover test track and let them drive the Mini Land Rovers on a special course. While we were there, the Club took the explorers apple picking. It seems the activities depend upon season and interest.

As for our most recent experience, I’ll outline the pros and cons below.

Pros Cons
Smores on Thurs-Sat (new) Some rooms are small (it’s an old building, so rooms are a variety of shapes)
Explorer’s Club (new) Loud hallways
A teepee in the room (just ask, new) Not all rooms have bathtubs
Carriage rides (new, only on weekends where there are no weddings) No inexpensive, fast dining options for hangry children
A swing set No indoor play area for children in the event of rain
An indoor pool The falcon bar has music on the weekends and depending upon your room, you will be able to hear it
An open field for playing right next to central deck of hotel where parents can sit with a glass of wine and watch No balconies (always a nice place to escape with a grown up once your trapped in the room because of sleeping children)
A number of hiking paths of different skill sets are right out the back door  

Of note, the hotel allows dogs of all sizes on property, so they are all over the property (except the nice grassy spot off the deck). So, if your children are scared of dogs, there is a chance they will run into one. If they aren’t, like my kids, they will be in little-kid, doggy-loving heaven.

Stratton 3 kids.jpgAdditionally, because this hotel is located at the base of a mountain and so entwined with its surroundings, I have to specify that this review is based solely on the hotel as a late summer destination. In winter, the hotel takes on an entirely different feeling as families descend upon it as a basecamp for the surrounding ski slopes.

Note: Hotels are based on a four level scale: Child Centered, Child Friendly, Child Accommodating, Unsuitable. A Child Centered hotel is a hotel in which the child’s comfort, happiness, etc. is paramount. A Child Friendly hotel has those implements in place to create a fun atmosphere for the child, though it is not the apparent mission of the hotel to continuously do so. A Child Accommodating hotel is that hotel where it will assist the parents in making the child comfortable at the parent’s request only. An Unsuitable hotel is a hotel that has no accommodations suitable for a child or the cons of the hotel make the hotel dangerous for the well-being of the child.

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How to Turn a Trip to Walt Disney World into a Vacation

There is nothing worse than getting back from traveling and feeling like you need a vacation. In our house our arrival home goes a bit like this: People come in. Bags come in. Bags go to master bedroom and over the course of five days are unpacked and the contents are put into piles dependent upon final destination. Piles grow smaller as adults and little people rummage through them looking for specific items such as jackets and hair brushes. Diminished piles slowly make their way to where they belong and the contents are shoved into place. Sort of. Empty suitcases remain in rooms for weeks. If fortunate, they make it to stairs of attic. Then there are the endless piles of laundry (I am a sucker for a hotel that has a washing machine so I can do it before I get home). This is the same routine. Every. Single. Time. And it is my Achilles heel of travel. And this is only worse when the travel was exhausting, emotionally and physically. And a trip to Disney World can be both those things.

The good news, though, is that it doesn’t have to be those things. In fact, if it was those things for my family, I assure you my husband and I would not be going three times a year. And there’s no way we’d be bringing our little people with us. Whenever we go, whether for two days, five days, seven days, or any other number, we always leave with the same thought: I wish we had one more day here. It’s not because we need more time to see one more thing. It’s because we want it. We want to escape the real world one more day and relax amidst the cacophony of Disney (and probably avoid doing the laundry). So how can a place so loud, so colorful, so fast be relaxing? Here are a few tips on what we do to make all that noise a wonderful, calming, harmonious place to be.

Take a break: Walt Disney World is overwhelming. For me. I’m a grown up. That being said, I can only imagine what it’s like for my littles. It’s like their dreams staring them in the face. It’s the unicorn at the end of the double rainbow. It is emotional for them no matter how many times they go, so they need some breaks from that magical place. One way we do this is by making a point of sitting down to eat with our kids at Disney World. As soon as making dining reservations becomes an option to us, we do it. It is so important that my husband used to wake up in the middle of the night and in the darkness get on his computer and find us places to eat (and there are very few things he would get himself up in the middle of the night for). Fortunately, the reservation structure has changed, so this isn’t necessary anymore. At the parks, we all get to put the swirling world aside for a minute and just sit in a cool place, a comfy seat. IMG_2888.JPGWe usually try to sneak in the added bonus of dining with characters–it’s one less line to wait on and the kids don’t feel the need to rush through eating to get back into the fray. It gives us a chance to talk and recharge. And seriously, no one wants to deal with a hangry toddler (or said toddler’s hangry mother). We also generally try to plan an early exit every third or fourth day. We go to the park in the morning (preferably one with morning magic hours), and then we come home so that the littles who still nap can get real naps (because let’s face it, they’re barely napping in the stroller) and the five year old can get some pool time. Another way we unplug from Disney is by taking advantage of their play areas. The parks have places for little people to blow off steam. So when we see the toddler or infant strapped in the stroller, desperate to get out and walk or crawl after a stretch of “grown up” activities, we go to those places like the Baby Centers where the kids can watch tv and wiggle around, The Boneyard play area in Animal Kingdom, or the indoor play area at the end of Journey into the Imagination with Figment ride in Epcot. There is so much to do, but we’ve found that pushing our kids and not taking breaks leads us to more disastrous outcomes than spending an extra half hour running through a sprinkler leads us to.

Prepare: Along the same lines, we make sure we’re well acquainted with our hotel and with the park (and all their separate events). Walt Disney World has a ridiculous number of things to do and places to be, but my husband and I have just figured out that we can’t do them all. Granted, we have the luxury of knowing we’ll be back, but even without that, I can’t imagine we’d waste a fast pass on a roller coaster our children can’t go on when there are more important things to use them on (like meeting princesses, of course). So, we decide what’s most important to our littles and work from there. My five year old is crazy excited to try splash mountain for the first time, so it’s one of the first fast passes we booked for our next trip. IMG_3195.JPGThen we hit all the others that we knew the little people loved. We know what rides usually have shorter (or at least manageable) lines and we don’t fast pass those (a little internet research will provide this info too). And the day of? My husband is constantly shifting our fast passes around to see if a new time opens up, or if there’s no line on a ride we have a fast pass for he’ll cancel it and book a new one for another ride. The point is, we try to make the most of our time and prioritize. Also, we pay attention to the weather. Sometimes a rainy day is the best day, as long we’re prepared. If it’s just going to pour all day, we head to Epcot (and yeah we wear those silly looking ponchos–how else do you push a stroller and keep dry?). There is so much to do at Epcot indoors, so it works for us. And on the upside, rainy days mean fewer people, which is always a plus (especially when dealing with the new Frozen ride).

Engage the Littles: Bored little people can make a long day even longer. My bunch of littles like to take their time and wander, but that’s not always a possibility when dealing with Disney World and a gazillion people meandering through the park (especially when our little Elsa decides she needs to use her powers to freeze those gazillion people). So, often they’re in the stroller amidst their, often loud, protests. And honestly, at some point those little legs are just so exhausted they need to take a break. To keep the little people happy while they’re sitting or while we’re waiting, we take advantage of the adventures that Disney has to offer. There’s Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure at Epcot, Sorcerer’s of the Magic Kingdom at Magic Kingdom, and Wilderness Explorers in Animal Kingdom. In addition to these specific scavenger hunt/puzzle type of activities (which have generally been too complicated for my little people), there are the continuous hunts for hidden Mickeys, penny presses (they sell books to put the pressed pennies in), FullSizeRender.jpgand pin collecting (and exchanging). The most exciting of all the hunts that my littles do are the special ones that Epcot puts on. At Easter they scouted for hidden eggs in the World Showcase,
and when they completed the chart, they got a prize. During the Food and Wine Festival, they hunted down Remy standing with a specific ingredient, and again, they won a prize upon completion (a special pin). The egg hunt and the Remy hunt both made my five year old happier to be in Epcot than she has ever been (excluding those times with the Frozen ride, of course).

Keep It Light: Maybe it’s because I’ve been lugging a little person around with me for five years (not to mention the 9 months prior), or maybe it’s because each of my three littles travel with quite a bit of…well…stuff. Either way, when strolling around the parks at Walt Disney World, the last thing that I want are bags banging into my shins as they dangle from the stroller hooks or bags wrapped around my wrist or worse, a child on my hip so that I can fill the stroller with even more stuff. Nope. Doesn’t work. I mean, I’m the kind of person who avoids carrying anything if I can. Stuff, clutter, just bothers me. The last thing I need is stuff cluttering up my little bit of Disney space. We have two ways of combatting this. First, we bring a few small things from home to give the kids in case they start to get that crazy kid urge to absolutely positively need a new something. A little piece of princess jewelry picked up at that sacred space known as the dollar spot at Target? Done. And when my little gets tired of it? It’s small enough to drop into the single small backpack she puts in the bottom of the stroller. Now, I wouldn’t be truthful if I didn’t say that we do in fact indulge our littles, and they often come home with ridiculously more than they left with. But, we get this shopping out of the way early in the trip so that we can have it directly shipped back to the hotel rather than have to deal with it all day. We buy it and never see it again until we decide to pick it up at the hotel store (this only applies if you’re staying on a Disney property). No worrying about whether the small pieces of the castle have dropped somewhere or the car has been vroooooomed into oblivion. And if we’re leaving the next day, or that afternoon, we just have our packages shipped to the front of the park and pick it all up on the way out (this can be done regardless of what hotel you’re staying at). I don’t have to constantly check for things. My little people don’t have to collapse into a heap because they’ve lost some part that is integral to their enjoyment of their new toy (aka any part they deem valuable, occasionally even packaging). Their daddy doesn’t have to frantically run through the park searching out a lonely Tinker Bell lying listlessly amongst the flowers. It’s all bagged up and waiting patiently for us.

Be a Grown Up: Just because we’re surrounded by talking animals and women dressed as princesses doesn’t mean that my husband and I can’t focus on being a grown up from time to time. Back to that prepare thing. When we book our hotels, we know our hotel before we get there. We determine what rooms are available, what amenities are available. When we have family with us, we ask them to watch our kids one night so we can have dinner together at the hotel. When no one is there to help us physically get away, we request a room with a balcony. After the littles go to sleep, we slip out to the balcony for a glass of wine and grown up conversation. But grown up time doesn’t need to be restricted just to the hotel. Often, my husband and I can barely have a conversation in our own home before our little people go to bed (the five year old hears everything we say, the two year old just likes to make sure it’s his voice that we all hear, and the 10 month old gets so excited by the two year old that he just screams. It’s great. Really.). At Disney, though, we can have longer conversations than we’ve ever had. The kids don’t care about what we’re saying to one another when there are flying elephants and spitting camels in the vicinity. This is our breathing time, our rejuvenating time.

Disney World can make a person’s head swirl. Just the thought of it exhausts some people, but it doesn’t have to be exhausting. In fact, it can be more relaxing than those few moments when all the children in the house take a nap and you finally stumble upon five unexpected minutes of quiet (before panic sets in that you may not be using these little golden nuggets of time effectively and there’s laundry to get done and dishes in the sink so maybe you should run and get that done instead of just basking in this pure silence…mom guilt is real). Disney can be that place that has no “to do” list; it can be that place that fills your cup rather than depletes it.

Three Kids and a Change in Plans

We all woke up early. I don’t remember who was first, but it doesn’t matter. We were all just looking for a reason to get out of bed. It wasn’t completely dark out, but it was still that steely cold grey. Except this wasn’t winter. It was summer. In Tokyo. During rainy season. And, having arrived the night before from NYC, it was our first day of two weeks we were going to spend in the country, splitting our time between Tokyo, Kyoto, and Tokyo Disney (don’t judge; we’re a Disney family).

I threw open the window curtains, and we watched the city wake up out of our floor to ceiling windows on the 14th floor. We waited. And waited. People started to fill the streets, but the sun stayed hidden, as it would all day. And the next. And the next. And the next. We dressed. We ate. We thought maybe it was time to get out of the hotel room and check out all the nooks and crannies we could manage to squeeze into our days before we left for Kyoto in five days. We were optimistic. Even my husband, who is more opposed to rain than the Wicked Witch of the West, was ready to take on what we thought was a little bit of drizzly morning rain.

Our first discovery just reinforced that this day was meant to be good. We followed an underground tunnel to an office building next door and stumbled right into the hands of Starbucks. Being five months pregnant, the ice coffee craving that this sweet little spot handled just helped set the blissful pace. Or so I thought. With coffee in hand, we lowered the rain covers on the strollers and crossed the street to the entrance of the long winding walkway to the rail system. No problem though. It was all covered, so stroller covers were up and little people legs were kicking with happy.

Then it happened. We got off the rails at Harajuku Station and were greeted with sheets of water. We waited. And waited. And then we just couldn’t wait any more. So, it was rain covers down and into the fray. We tried to go to a shrine. The path was pebbles, and it was surrounded by dark trees. It was beautiful in the rain, but it was impossible to push strollers through the mud and pebbled puddles. We headed to the streets. And then it got worse. We turned to the closest place we could find. The Gap. Yes. We tried to go in The Gap while in Tokyo. Even that didn’t work. It was so early that nothing was open yet. It seemed Tokyo had given us warm coffee, and then sent us out into the rain. And the littles? They were rapidly losing their minds. Their strollers had quickly become sweat boxes with the plastic rain covers on (did I mention that it was 800 degrees?). My little people couldn’t see out of the foggy, sticky wrapping. For all they could see, they could have been anywhere.

That day it rained on and off (as in the sky exploded. All. The. Time.). We hid out in restaurants and stores. A bank. Places we hadn’t actually meant to see. We tried to wander the city streets, but could barely keep our heads up. Finally, we went back to the hotel early to let the kids stretch their legs before dinner and to let our water-logged skin snap back into place. When back at the hotel, with the help and input from the concierge, we tried to make dinner reservations, offering our own options and options and options to those given by the concierge, but we found that most places wouldn’t allow children. (In fact, the place most recommended to us because we had children was Denny’s. Yes. I am talking about “Moons over My Hammy” Denny’s. You can imagine the pain this caused my husband who considers himself quite the foodie. To be fair, our food issue was not only due to having children with us, but also by the fact that my husband is allergic to shellfish and I was pregnant, so unable to eat most fish. Probably not the best place to travel expecting to eat local cuisine under those circumstances. So, there’s that.) We found one delicious, recommended Italian restaurant (weird I know) that would take us and one great Indian spot as well (that’s weird too, huh?). The rain though, lasted days, but in those few moments it didn’t rain? It was running through gardens and exploring new streets, new stores, new cultures (we fell in love with noodle places). Unfortunately, it was like a deluge most of the time.

On day four we were taking a bus trip to Mt. Fuji. My husband and I offered this as a short-term beacon of hope for the littles (seriously, they had Tokyo Disney coming in a few days). We were going to go from a bus, to a boat, to a cable car, to a final train home. It was a little person’s dream. Except we couldn’t see out of the bus windows because of the fog. And the boat drifted quietly through the thickness. And if it weren’t for the gentle lurching of the cable car, we’d never know it left the ground. We were so close to Mt. Fuji, as far up as cars can go, and yet we had no idea. We couldn’t see up or see down. In fact, we saw nothing. It was like we were behind the veil of a fogged-over stroller cover. We knew we had to make some changes.

That night we decided to leave Tokyo on the early train to Kyoto rathFullSizeRender (3).jpger than spend one more day with the ins and the outs and the rain of the city. We vowed to come back when the kids were bigger. When they cared about good food. When they found new skylines profound. (Sometimes, the thing about living in a city like New York is that while other international cities are exciting, if they are too international, too modern and westernized, they just become a comparison.) My husband and I were excited to get the little people on a high speed train. We were excited to get to Kyoto. We were excited for temples, for the philosopher’s path. We wanted to remove ourselves from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. We were excited to slow down and to feel Japan.

One high speed train later, we were at our hotel in Kyoto in a “traditional” room. The beds were on the floor and all the furniture was close to the ground, which is great if you have a four year old and a one and half year old. (It is less great if you are pregnant.) The rain started to lighten, and on our first morning, we saw a bit of sky. A clear sign we made a good decision. An indication we needed to get out and explore. Kyoto was a welcome weather change. While it was overcast, it was only raining 50% of the time. It was hot and sticky, but still, we managed to dry out between showers. This trip was starting to turn around I thought. IMG_6826.JPGThe Temples were beautiful. But in combination with the rain and a bajillion steps, were a slow (think molasses) process. The little people got to be outside without their foggy rain covers. But, the little people were hot, and the little people wanted to run around (on the Temple grounds unfortunately). We took them to the Children’s Center at the hotel, hoping to give them an outlet. We found ourselves lingering in our hotel room a little later each morning and coming back a little earlier each afternoon. And then we recognized that feeling again. It was time to leave. Earlier than planned.

We needed to stop this trip. We needed to make it a vacation, which it would never be if the little people didn’t feel happy too. Too many days of seeing the world from behind foggy stroller covers had made them restless. Too many days of staying quiet. Of sitting still. Of not being a part of the world around them. They felt all give and little take. And we felt helpless to find them their kids space. So we gave. And we agreed to go Tokyo Disney early.

I want toIMG_0315.jpg say I feel ashamed to admit that I left such a culturally significant, spiritually in tune place as Kyoto just to take my little people early to Tokyo Disney, but I would be lying. I learned about Japanese culture sitting outside on a bench at the Mermaid Lagoon and watching parents and children, groups of teens, couples, and generations. I saw values in how people waited in line at Aquatopia. I learned custom in food choices. I watched my children’s faces and saw them grow. I heard their questions about the world because this world with princesses and talking animals was more relatable to them. I talked with my husband, reconnected without interruption, because my littles were soaking in every inch of what was happening around them. And it never rained. And what started as a trip ended as a vacation.

Why Flying with An Infant Can Be Easier Than You Think

Those first six months are what they warn you about: “Get your rest now blah blah blah.” And yeah, they’re just so…tiny…and unpredictable…and needy…and awake… The sheer exhaustion of keeping a teeny little person happy within the confines of my own home is enough. So why travel with this little bundle of snuggly trouble? For me, I had no choice (if I did, who knows where on the “traveling with kids” spectrum I’d fall).

When my first-born was five weeks old, my brand new daughter, husband, and I flew to be with my mother. My father had suddenly passed away four days before I went into labor, and this was the first time I was able to fly to the home he and my mother shared. With all of these happenings swirling around me, I can confidently say I flew without fear, excitement, anxiety, or anticipation. In this massive storm of birth and death, I flew without any emotion. This made the business of flying with a newborn merely about the business and practicality of actually flying with a newborn. I never thought about it. I just did it. Over the course of the next six months, my daughter and I flew seven or eight times together, sometimes with my husband, sometimes alone, sometimes alone with our dog. It was easy. She was still so little. So pliable. And that’s what made it easiest.

Looking back on it (and dealing with it again and again with subsequent little people), I can pinpoint some of those reasons that made flying with an under six-month-old infant so beautifully, blissfully easy.

  • Food: Teeny little people really don’t need much in terms of food. It’s amazing (not to mention it frees up precious, precious packing space). No worrying about having enough snacks or the proper variety of snacks. I don’t have to make sure I had the current snack of the week (you know the one that the older child is apparently repulsed by the moment she has convince me to buy a gargantuan amount of). No stress about how to feed lunch to a kid who will only eat T-Rex dinosaur chicken nuggets at three minutes past noon every third Monday of the month. It’s breastmilk or formula. That’s it. (And I am aware of my rights as a breastfeeding mother senna_sleep-on-plane_infanttraveling with an infant, something most TSA agents are not aware of.) The added benefit is that in those moments that I always anticipate my infant will cry, take off and landing, it is so simple to just nurse my tiny. And that comes with the added bonus of putting my teeny little person right to sleep.
  • Toys: What toys? It’s a person who’s smaller than a pillow. I pack just a few toys for my littlest people when I travel. In all honesty, I prefer to find something safe in my surroundings. If my tiny little one wants to play with a wooden spoon, have at it. Here’s the lid to a Tupperware container. What? You want to chomp on a remote? Let me run a baby wipe over it (seriously what is in those magic little cloths?) and take out the batteries. It’s all yours. The point is, when dealing with a little this age, 80% of my carry on tote is still mine (you know, to be filled with the books I’ll never have time to read, the New Yorker magazines that have been collecting dust for years).
  • Judgment: When my husband and I flew to Japan we managed to nearly clear out an entire first class cabin. How? We brought our four year old and one and a half year old (in the interest of full disclosure, my husband is a bit obsessive (understatement) about miles and points, and the littles and I reap the benefits of this neuroses). There was a general sense of loud camaraderie as we were all about to embark on this journey. But as the other passengers started to notice that a tiny-for-her-age four year old was sitting by herself and a 1.5 year old was peering from the lap of some pregnant lady, one by one the people slipped away as they switched cabins. They’d whisper, slide by, and just disappear. The unfortunate truth is people generally expect the worst of children flying on a plane, and they don’t want to have any knowledge of the existence of a child, so they are overtaken by fear and anger. As frustrating as this can be as a parent, I’ve come to realize people are far more compassionate towards my youngest child than they are towards the older. It seems infant cries are forgivable. Toddler cries are not. Toddler cries are clearly because the toddler is spoiled and the parent is neglectful. Infant cries are just a helpless creature navigating this great big world.
  • Exploring: I have every type of baby carrier ever made. In the history of baby carriers. Ever. (Joking (not joking).) I have this belief, in fact I still have it deep within me, that when I find the perfect baby carrier, I will find the perfect stroller, and then I will find the perfect life. Perfect body, perfect house, perfect job all trickle back to that single Holy Grail: the perfect for all situations baby carrier. Life and the ability to easily move and explore are directly correlated. An infant plays a perfect part in this. My teeny littles have always been the easiest to move and explore with. First of all, it is much more comfortable to wear an infant than it is to wear a toddler. When my husband and I climbed the narrow steps that were rubbed slippery-smooth from wear at the Basilica di San Marco in Venice, Italy, I wore my baby and easily made it up those stairs. (I did not make it as easily down, but that had nothing to do with the baby.) It was no big deal. And in Venice, there were no switchback ramps to get the stroller onto the canal bridges. But, she was little. I picked a light stroller. The steps were few. At least I think they were. I barely remember because it was just no big deal. And the surrounding water? Everywhere? That is not walled off? My daughter was young. She had no desire to walk or run around. She enjoyed her view from her stroller, so I wasn’t afraid of those edges. They just weren’t a big deal. It is so easy to explore with an infant. They don’t mind going to museums or wandering a market place. Tiny people spend every day exploring their new world, so they’re content to explore the world with you, whether it’s the backyard or a new country.
  • Sleep: I rush to get my children in some kind of regular sleep schedule. I’m not afraid to admit that I am a huge advocate for sleep training. That’s just how my life is. If I want to be even remotely reasonable, I need to sleep. If people around me want to be safe, I need sleep. I take naps and night time seriously, but traveling I just have to let it go to a degree. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not comfortable letting my littles slip into exhaustion-fueled frenzies.) But there’s something less stressful about an infant. While they need sleep, they have the magical gift of being able to fall asleep anywhere (my husband also seems to have this gift). And generally pretty easily too. In contrast, my still-napping 2 year old will rarely fall asleep anywhere but his bed (or hotel room crib when traveling) unless he is exhausted. And if he does, it can be a pretty uglysenna-car-seat-sleep_infant sight to behold in those minutes before sleep wins. This isn’t the case for the tiny people. They fall asleep in car seats, in strollers, in carriers, in arms. And if
    my infant son is struggling, we adjust. For instance, my daughter just soaked the world in with wide eyes when she was tiny, so I would put her in the Ergo. Within minutes she would be asleep, and I could put her back into her stroller to nap (a delicate but doable undertaking). Easy peasy. No hotel crib required. Little people still take their naps, even as the world moves around them, so you can explore without running to your hotel and frantically shushing everyone within 400 feet of your room. (To be fair, on long trips, we do plan a down day every third day or so for our two youngest (toddler and infant) to take a proper nap.)

At first thought, traveling, and flying, with an infant can seem intimidating, but it really is the easiest time to start. Being forced to travel when young, my daughter has no travel anxiety or fear. She has her own “must haves,” her own habits once on board. She is filled with curiosity. She explores. She encourages us to do the same. And because I started when she was young and manageable, a tiny ball of snuggles, I’ve had the confidence to travel with my little people since my little people made their first travel-ready appearance in this world.

 

 

Five Tips for Preparing for a Road Trip with Little People

Perhaps one of the scariest, most dreadful aspects of traveling with children is the actual act of getting there. Whether flying, driving, walking, riding, or boating (who am I kidding; we’re not boating anywhere with a toddler–I’m not that crazy), nothing is as intimidating as being stuck in a small space with tiny people that are just beyond reach but well within your earshot. The only thing I’ve found to ease this buildup of butterflies is to brace myself and prepare. While this family tends to take quite a few of those two hour trips, these tips are those I’ve cultivated from the two- and three-day trips we’ve been making as of late…

  • Pack Snacks: Let’s face it. This is a tactic most parents know. If your kids are anything like mine, you take snacks with you just to go to the store to pick up more snacks. Road trips for us are a bit different though. I pack everything in the portions I want my children to have, since reaching my child to take the container back is close to impossible. Especially the two year old. In fact, it’s one of his favorite games. He likes watching me flail around from the front seat, arms flapping like a fish out of water. But with food packed in properly portioned containers, he can just keep his container, so I win. Also, I have to take into account how much I want to clean off the floor and seats, since generally about 63% of the contents of any snack container will land there rather than in my children’s mouths. This affliction does not strike just one particular age. It seems all my children have it. Additionally, with a Kindergartener smooshed between an infant and a toddler in a single row, I make sure I pack two of everything. Even the snacks that only one child claims to like. I think it’s a rule that in cars, children’s tastes must change, and they must like everything that the other is eating. Now when the two year old decides he’d like to eat some seaweed, I have seaweed for him. Even though he would never touch it at home. Ever. Finally, I choose a variety. There are moments when I just need to distract my children with sugar (more on those later) and moments when I am overwhelmed with bad-food mom-guilt (baby carrots, anyone?).
  • Creature Comforts: I dress my children in comfy clothes, even though sometimes I’d like to make a good first impression when we arrive at our final destination. I don’t want my mother or friends or randoms on the street thinking I manage an unruly ragtag bunch of little people. Imagine having to sit in a seat for six hours, though, with a stiff collar on or on a poofy, yet cute, skirt. This would be no fun for my littles, which means no fun for me. So for my comfort, they are dressed in the softest, smoothest clothes I can find, short of pajamas. They also bring a little back pack each with lovies, blankies, and a bed buddy. This helps lull them into a catatonic state. But this is when things get a bit dicey. I’d love the quiet of a nap, especially the rare, mythical three-kid nap, but the consequences of that nap are the same as shooting a unicorn. Absolute Tragedy. My husband and I use the nap (and planning the drive around the nap or night time) cautiously. My children don’t fall asleep in car seats in instagram-perfect positions. They have bent necks, seatbelt marks, dangling legs, drool. Imagine waking up after that. Now imagine not being able to move much out of your five-point harness. Now imagine being two. This is my toddler after waking from a road trip nap. It is not pleasant. It isfullsizerender-1_a-sleep-car filled with neck-vein popping shrills. This is when I curse those naps and slight bit of peace they soothed me into thinking could last until we rounded the corner to our destination. This is when I offer those special, sacred snacks: the sweets. This is when it is time to pull over and take a stretch break. And at night? Have you ever had a five year old irrationally sleep-scream at you in the parking lot of a small gas station in the middle of nowhere Virginia at 11 pm while you frantically try to calm her so she doesn’t wake your other children? No? Me neither then. Let’s just say we don’t push the kids through the night if we can help it. Not any more at least.
  • Plan Stops: In addition to making those unplanned stops to comfort an inconsolable toddler or let a 10 month old change positions, we purposely plan frequent stops. We recently broke up our “18 hour” drive into three days. I use quotes because the time given by any map is an ideal. It doesn’t account for the traffic we will inevitably hit, the number of times the Kindergartener will need to use the bathroom, the two year old’s decision to need to use the potty at all rest stops even though he is still in diapers at home, the hugs I will have to remove everyone from the car to give. It does not include costume changes when the toddler squirts ketchup on himself and the smell of it makes the Kindergartener sick. Eighteen hours is not 18 hours. It is far more than that. And to a child, 18 hours may as well be three weeks. To a mother of three children under five, it might as well be three years. Generally, we use the two-year-old’s nap time as our frame of reference. I think my description above explains why. My toddler never recovers from his naps. He tends to be emotional the rest of the day. I don’t want to be in a car with that swirling around him and exploding on all of us. Neither does he. That whole “Life’s a journey not a destination” yadda yadda yadda actually applies here. We strive to make the drive part of the vacation. Sure, we stop at all the goofy places. Check out the largest rubber band ball in the Eastern USA. See the world’s biggest cowboy boots. Get ice cream at 2 pm. Then we get to the hotel we’re going to stay at. We aim to get there so we can set up camp well before the sun goes down. Let the kids jump on the bed (does that make me a bad parent?). Spend time swimming in the pool or exploring the yard. Let’s face it; the ideal doesn’t happen. We try not to expect it to, that way it doesn’t seem everything is going “wrong;” it just goes a different, albeit sometimes exhausting, way.
  • Don’t Over Pack the Back Seat: The kids need things to entertain them, but it doesn’t need to be a playroom in our back seat. If there are too many options to choose from, they’ll burn through them all, expecting there to always be something else, and the passenger (me) will spend most of his or her time twisting in circles to pull out those magic items and give them to the correct child. Then he or she will spend the rest of the time trying to gather them off the floor to put them back where they belong, be it back in a bag or on the lap of a child who will promptly throw them off again. And eventually they will fall to the sides of the car seats only to reappear as the van slides open and a heaping pile of cars, stuffed animals, food, and puzzle pieces slide out. This no longer happens. I keep it simple and pick the basics (and seriously, iPads).
  • Give Them a Lap: There’s just no where to put all the stuff when kids are in a car seat. How can they hold their crayons and their paper and their lovies and their drink and their snacks when they have such a tiny lap? I’ve tried the lap desk, but it just slides off, and it’s not deep enough to hold onto all those things that tiny hands can’t hold. I’ve used little handled art bins for food (thank fullsizerender-2_travel-binsyou to a million places on pinterest), but they are still too complicated to hold and eat out of. Now I use one large, unsectioned art bin and one deep basket for each little. The art bin is large enough that all my 2 year old’s crumbs and misplaced food generally ends up within its borders rather than in the folds of his seat. It also gives him a race track to zoom his cars on rather than zooming them off his seat and onto the floor. My 5 year old’s dolls have a place to dance and sleep. And when she spills her water (which she will do) it doesn’t go onto her car seat. It goes within the confines of her art bin. The food itself goes in the baskets, and they can both reach it easily and then rest what’s half eaten in a retrievable place. (Pipe dream. That doesn’t happen because of, well, snacks.)

There’s always a few harried minutes (or hours) to any trip, but in the end, we all just want to look a little less crazy than we are when we finally show up. For me, preparing helps. It’s about anticipating what could go wrong before it does. (Actually, the two year old is totally fine with looking crazy.)

Three Kids and a Wrong Hotel Room

So we’ve been doing this for nine years. It was supposed to be no big deal. I’ve done this without kids, while pregnant, with one kid, with two kids, with two kids while pregnant. It’s the perfect sunset to the sticky, sun-drenched summer. My littles talk about it all year. It’s comfortable; it’s a time of peace and restoration. A simultaneous farewell and a welcome.

We always go to the same hotel in Vermont over Labor Day–well, actually there were two years we went different times of year, but they never involved the little people. This year was met with the same glee-filled anticipation. We were prepared for this trip. I was prepared for this trip. I knew what to expect. I had a plan. My husband was in on the plan. The kids knew the plan (well, the 5 year old was in on it, the two year old probably had his own plan involving dinosaurs and diggers, and the 10 month old…he’s 10 months old. My plan is his plan.). We had my in laws with us; they knew the plan. The hotel knew our plan.

We pulled into the circular drive of our hotel, and my husband went to check us in. It was sunny. But not humid. The first indications that fall was about to knock on our door. Other than the kids’ desperate pleas to get out of the car and get to the playground, all was moving forward nicely. Just as I had envisioned.

We finally crawled out of the car, stretched, and made the same walk we’ve been making for years. We found the same elevator and pressed the same buttons. Up floor four and then to our two specially chosen rooms. We’ve been here enough times to know the exact rooms we want. They’re big (a necessity when you still need two cribs and a refrigerator brought up by housekeeping); they’re connected to our in law’s room (another necessity when you need a staging area to put kids to bed who have three different bed times); and, perhaps most importantly, the rooms overlook the outdoor bar and fire pit where our monitor still has perfect reception. If anyone has been trapped in a hotel room after a child’s bedtime, you understand that this is of the utmost importance. The wine doesn’t hurt either.

My husband took out the key card, swiped it, and…nothing. A red light. They must not have activated the card I thought. An inconvenience, but not the end of the world. So back down to the lobby my husband went. And then I heard it: there were voices. From inside our room. I frantically texted him. I had been wrong: the hotel, apparently, did not know our plan.

With my stomach swirling, my head exploded with thoughts of being stuck at 6:30 pm huddled in a damp bathroom until the work of putting each child to bed separately had passed. And my hands went numb with the thought of dealing with that final, dreaded, bedtime of the five year old who begs me to stay with her until she falls asleep. Every. Single. Night. Even at home in her own bed. I whipped out my phone, “Fix this!” I yelled to my husband. I begged him. And his response was, “There’s nothing they can do. We’ll make the best of it.”

THE BEST OF IT?!?!? This from a person who would not be stuck in the bathroom, who would not be sitting in a dark room, desperately trying to fight off the sleep that I would eventually blame on dry contacts. I was angry. I wanted him to be angry too. I wanted to feel validated in my anger, but all I got was a measly, “We’ll make the best of it.” I don’t think he understood how tragically far from my expectations I now expected “the best” to be.

The cribs came. I squeezed them in. The fridge came. I squeezed it in. We unpacked, a physical acceptance of the situation. I was still angry. My in laws left their door open. We left our door open. There was only one otimg_6488_bedrm_equinoxher room on this floor (the room between us, the
connecting room). The kids happily skipped back and forth. I looked out the window. The fire pit was still there. Still burning. I turned around. My two year old wanted to be put into his “bed.” He wanted the 10 month old in with him. He wanted the baby’s food. And they giggled. And ate together. And they giggled some more. He doesn’t usually like the baby. But there they were giggling. I had never expected he’d figure out how much he liked his little brother while trapped behind the bars of a small hotel crib. And that’s when it started to go away.

They never knew there was a problem. To them, it was as perfect as it needed to be. Their expectations weren’t of perfect rooms or carefully controlled plans, but of being with their mommy and daddy without exception and exploring their own little freedoms. Instead of trapping them in my in law’s room during bedtime, maybe they needed to have more of those freedoms. The day, the hotel, the rooms were perfect to them, and so it needed to be perfect for me…just the way it was.

And when I let my plan, my vision, go, it fullsizerender_boys-in-hotel-cribwas. As I put the littles to bed that night, one by one, my husband took the others to the deck, to see the fire pit, to roll on the lawn, to be kids in the final dusks of summer. They made smores. After the baby fell asleep, I came out to get the middle little and watched him follow his sister with awe as she made new friends and played ball. He desperately wanted to keep up and be as big as her. After he was in bed, I came out and watched my big girl, about to go into Kindergarten, do cartwheels in the moonlight, listened as she told me the facts she knew about the moon and space before scurrying off to do “just one more” cartwheel with her new friend. Then I put her to bed, and she fell asleep before I finished folding the covers over the frame of a little girl who was now not as little as she is in all the memories I have of her in that place, most of which were not the result of a plan gone right or an expectation fulfilled, but of accidents, chaos, and veering off path.

(And yes, I did then go back down to the fire and order a glass (or two) of wine.)

Three Kids and a Van

Most of the traveling I’ve done with my kids has been on a plane, though that’s starting to change a bit now that there are three tiny people and all of their tiny travel “essentials.” (I use quotes around essentials for the 5 year old who believes that she needs to bring at least 42 stuffed animals to sleep with no matter where we go, a belief I fear is rapidly spreading to the 2 year old.) After a monsoon-season trip to Japan last year, we decided this year we’d take a less intense vacation rather than a trip. We struggled to figure out what we wanted to do, and ultimately decided we’d make our Spring trip to Disney World longer, so we had more of a chance to relax at the pools, and then spend a week in OBX with family friends. And then, with those destinations in mind, we made the biggest decision: We. Would. Drive.

We had steadily been increasing car sizes with each child: from a Mazda 3, to a Mazda CX-7 (it doesn’t even exist anymore), to a Mazda CX-9. So that’s where we were. A CX-9 and three children still in car seats. It wasn’t going to be so bad–except I seemed to be the only one who could figure out how to buckle in the big kid in the middle. And when I shut a back door, all the seats slightly shifted to the other side and then slightly shifted back upon shutting the other door. Oh, and the big one has always gotten car sick and asked if we’re there yet even before our driveway has faded from the rearview mirror.

The day to leave for Disney was inching its way towards us. We’ve made triannual trips to the magical place for five years. There was nothing to be nervous about. Right? Oh yeah, the drive. But what was the alternative? Then we figured it out. Comfort. We needed to make the drive part of the vacation. But how do you do that when the little people can barely lift an elbow without hitting one another? So Saturday night my husband and I had “the talk.” You know the one. Where you decide to trade in your SUV for a minivan? Where you leave behind yet another part of your Brooklyn Cool for Suburban Quaint. I mean, my husband wouldn’t even allow the term “minivan” in our household. Until that moment. It felt like a forbidden confession. We both knew we needed one but were afraid to say it. Honestly we went to the only dealer open and got one of the only two minivans they had available. The next day.

The kids were in love. They had space. They had movies. They had sliding doors they could get in and out of on their own (of significant importance to the 2 year old who thinks he can do pretty much anything on his own). The 5 year old didn’t have tummy aches anymore. The car seats didn’t shift when the doors shut. I had some moments of quiet (remember, they had movies). I finally got it.

I didn’t even need to defend myself when people I knew, other moms, family friends teased me about the decision. But that’s just the way travel goes. People question your decisions to fly 14 hours around the world with two kids while five months pregnant. They question your sanity. Stare at you with pity and anger, occasionally at the same time. Are shocked thFullSizeRenderat you take trips for fun. Rarely do people root for you or get excited on your behalf. They only see and react to the chaos, real or perceived. But these people also rarely understand the depths of memories and moments you’ve made in the chaos and because of the chaos. They don’t see the creation of little people filled with wanderlust, destined to look beyond themselves. Those people don’t know what it’s like to see the world not just through your eyes, but through your children’s eyes too.

Forget about those other people. Go get your minivan. Pile your children in. And let your children show you their world.