Thursday, January 23, 2014

Travelling with Kids Part 1 of 2: 1 Mom, 2 Kids, 3 Airports, 0 Meltdowns

Have you ever hosted a pudding tasting on an airplane? Because I have, and it was awesome.

But first.  Of all the people I told that I was flying across country by myself with two kids and a layover, literally zero of them said, 'oh, that sounds fun'.  Sure, there are about seven million things I would rather do over the course of nine hours that aren't fitting three people in an airplane bathroom while you pee, but we did it. And we survived. And no one cried (and by no one I mean me). And I learned a few things along the way, which I thought would be helpful to chronicle as much for my future flying self as for others who may find these little tidbits helpful.

Tip #1 - Get good gear.

The single best piece of gear for our flight and trip was actually handed down to me by my sister-in-law - a stroller that converts into a carseat.  When it wasn't holding a baby it was holding a bag or two.  I splurged on a seat for the birdie (well worth the 12,500 frequent flier miles), so after rolling the baby through the terminal, once we got to the plane I pushed two buttons and bam! the stroller became a carseat.  It's the closest I'll ever come to feeling like an international spy.

Knowing I had this super rad contraption on hand to help me physically restrain handle at least one of my tots, my next order of business was packing just the right amount of stuff to get 'er done while also keeping my other hand free for my older child who, I should mention, has a special knack for finding every discarded medical glove and tampon applicator in North America.

I limited myself to as many bags as I could handle either on myself or on the stroller, so that I had one free hand at any given moment, which ended up looking like this:

- a 'mom' backpack with my wallet, phone charger, computer, etc.
- a 'kids' bag with diapers, wipes, toys (more on this below), hand sanitizer, etc.
- a 'food' backpack.  I should note that the duckling is allergic to eggs, peanuts and tree nuts, so we pack food for him everywhere we go (yes, including to restaurants), so I had to also account for airplane meals and snack food for the week (more on snacks below).
- the duckling's backpack, which held his LeapPad, headphones, coloring books, etc.

This doesn't include the two suitcases I checked curbside.  Word to the wise - technically anyone under 2 years old can't check in curbside (at least according to American Airlines. Someone tell me how that makes sense), but the curbside agent was a nice and reasonable gentleman who took pity on me, so I got 'er done.

Tip #2: Turn everything you pack into an activity.

Jason Good once wrote a piece chronicling three minutes inside the head of his 2-year-old, which is both hysterical and terrifyingly accurate (you can find it here). Knowing that too little or too much stimulation can send either (or both) of my kids into a table-flipping rage spiral, I knew I had to be the Andy Cohen to my two mini housewives, controlling the pace and tone for our 'Real Housewives Reunion: Cross-Country Flights' Edition.

There was no tv on either of our flights (so much for plopping the kids down in front of RHONJ), so it fell to me (and the occasional stranger who would agree to a round of peekaboo over the seats with my kids) to provide nine solid hours of entertainment to the birdie, 18 months, and the duckling, 3 1/2.  Luckily I came armed with a metric ton (or is it a cubic ton? I never know which is bigger) of activities for the kids.

Here's a little more about the activities I packed:

I picked up some cheap new toys, mostly at the dollar section of Target, which I wrapped in tissue paper to add 'opening a new toy' to the list of activities I had up my sleeve. I labeled each one so that I could pick which toy the kids got next based on their attention level at the moment.

I also packed a handful of activities my son always begs me to do with him when I'm busy doing other things like dishes or laundry, stuff like these Melissa and Doug puzzles (which I packed in ziploc bags) and his favorite Curious George books.  It was a treat to be able to do some of those 'together free time' things that require free time, since well, we had nothing but free time.

Tip #3: Have a pudding tasting and draw on your kids with eyeliner. 

Listen, even I start to lose it a little after eight hours of travel, so you can't expect any less from little ones. Whatever you can pull out of your back pocket (or makeup bag) to cross the finish line is WORTH IT. Here are a few of the random activities I pulled out of thin air to keep us all from going over the deep end:

- liquid eyeliner tattoos: until I can find a portable facepainting kit, I'll just draw police cars and hearts on my kids with purple liquid eyeliner.  Seriously it was like I had taken them to the fair. They lizzoved it.  And I got to do my makeup. Win win.

- pudding tasting: Shoprite had a sale on pudding, so I bought butterscotch and chocolate non-refrigerated (egg-free) pudding and held an impromptu pudding tasting for the duckling on the plane. He closed his eyes and I fed him pudding, having him guess the flavor, butterscotch or chocolate.  I have to admit this sounds totally weird, but the novelty factor knob was turned to 11 on this one.  Nailed it.

- marshmallow trivia: I was grabbing for straws in the ninth hour and decided to quiz-bribe the kids with questions about our trip.  For every question the duckling got right, both he and his baby sister received a mini marshmallow.  'How many airports did we visit?', 'What were the three books we read?' and 'What was your favorite snack on the plane?'...for every correct answer there were marshmallows to be had.  It turned what could've simply been five minutes of marshmallow-eating into 15 minutes of game-playing, which is all I needed to trade the kids into Daddy in exchange for a well-deserved glass of wine.

A Few Other Random Tips:

- Pack snacks and meals for everyone including you. We were the weirdos eating turkey and cheese roll-ups on the airplane because our layover, despite what the booking agent told me, allowed zero time to pick up a quick bite for anyone including myself.  Luckily I had plenty of food for the kids (#foodallergies), including deli meats, cheeses and pasta, enough so that I could get in a little protein (and sustained energy) for myself for the last leg of our journey.
- Whenever possible, book a single trip.  Why?  Two letters: TV.
- Bring a change of clothes in a large ziploc for anyone who runs the risk of peeing through their clothes. If that includes you, so be it. No judgments.
- Speaking of ziplocs, pack extra empty sandwich and gallon-sized ziploc bags to wrangle leftover snacks, discarded toys and any miscellaneous items you don't want floating around in the bottom of your bag.
- If you have small children that rely on bottles or sippy cups, pick up a travel-sized dish soap. I learned this one a long time ago (during a time I call 'Hazy Baby Bottle Era') and have stuck with it 3 1/2 years later.  To be able to have clean spoons, sippy cups , binkies and/or bottles is priceless.

So that's what I learned, that and coffee is my biffle for life.

Next up is a packing guide, which is good for nearly everyone. I have a super secret and brilliant (looks like someone skipped the slice of humble pie tonight) tip for never forgetting anything you pack ever again. No big deal.

Til then, I love you more than pudding and liquid eyeliner.

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