Wednesday, August 15, 2012

airports, children, and coping mechanisms

I will soon be taking the kids to Florida to be with Dad. He is working there all this month and this is a way to have  "vacation" without having a vacation.  Flying with kids and staying in hotels can justifiably give some parents heart palpitations and IBS on the spot, I know this because I have been through enough airports and hotel lobbies to have experienced most every possible scenario. Including the IBS one. And also one that involved boils, but that is another story for another time.

Due to frequent travel and staying in many, many hotels with infants and children, I have some unsolicited advice for the panicking parent who dreads traveling with young children:

Be packed the day before. NOT the day of! (I tell this to myself all the time.)

So many things are out of your control: Long flights, layovers, security,delays, over stimulation, no naps, airport food, being stuck on a plane for hours... then when you finally get to the hotel, everyone is frazzled, over-tired, and crazy excited.  And the whole time you are displaying your children before strangers. So don't worry about it. This may sound trite, but I totally mean it. Give up the ties to control. I tell my kids that we need to work as a team, they like that.  Get there WAY earlier that you should be. (Sounds anti-intuitive, but I find it better to be early with some time to idle than fretting about being late.) Take an ativan if you need to,  or go visit one of the many fine establishments in the airport and have yourself a drinky-poo and get your kids a snack. Sit at one of those tables and watch people go by.  If you are tense, your kids are going to reflect that exponentially. If your flight is at 10 am note this: Airports run on airport time, not normal time. Remember that. Too uptight to have a drink or won't admit to prescription pills? You are just going to have it suck it up, ain't you Shirley? Do deep breathing, whatever it takes.

 Kids to young to sit at a table? Yay! you get to wander up and down the halls! Most airports have playzones that are usually really lame, but we go there anyway. After we get through security and find the gate, then we can wander around. We like to find moving sidewalks and go back and forth on them. Seriously, we could do this all day. I stay out of the shops as much as possible. We examine the airport sculptures and art in extreme detail. We take frequent trips to the bathroom. We wonder where people are coming from or going to. We also invested in a portable DVD player, but most of you have smart phones now, so you can just stick that in your kid's face and they should zone out happily enough, once you have exhausted the fun out of moving staircase rides. But I would recommend that as a last resort only. You don't want to use up all of its allure, you might need it more desperately later on.
Another thing I like to do is point out where I think all the hidden cameras are and see if the kids can spot them too. Note to the kids that there are always security guards watching their every move. Let them know that airport security guards don't like kids who misbehave. Fear is a great motivator!

I always have a little kit with me full of fun stuff like:

BANDAIDS! (never gets old-they have bandaged me, my bags, willing bystanders...a must have.)
Tin of mints
Gum or gummies (for take offs and landing which are hard on kids ears)
String liquorice (takes forever to eat, fun to tie knots in)
Pad & pens pens also good for drawing faces on hand or fingers for puppets
Sticker (activity) books
Those sticky, waxy craft strings or pipe cleaners
Sticky google eyes (Another must have for us-makes everything funny)
Tag readers
all that stuff can fit in a regular size purse, & can be brought out piece by piece like a big surprise.

I always make sure, when we are settling on the plane, to congratulate the passengers around me on their great luck being stuck next to kids. It usually throws them off guard and slices through the hostility and we all have a laugh. And if it doesn't, then I know the person is a dick and I stop caring about their comfort all together.

So, that should get you through the airport, now on to the hotel.

Check in:
If there are two parents, this is a no-brainer. One checks in, the other hangs with the kids.  Easy.
Now try it alone with 2 kids under 5...a wee bit more interactive.
Really I have no insights to this one, sometimes it has gone smoothly, with the kids beside me the whole time, happy to 'guard' the luggage. Sometimes they have both abandoned me to whirl around in the cool door that spins or ride the elevator. We now spend the extra time doing a couple of door revolutions first, before we get to the counter and also check out the lobby a bit, because they just want to see it, so I let them. There is no rule that you HAVE to go immediately to the counter and check in, you can sit in a chair first, walk around a bit, then the kids are usually able to wait for the business of check-in to happen. Usually.

If you are like us, elevators are the coolest things. Ever. And if you are also like us, the kids are no longer allowed to push the elevator buttons because of the 'me first/not fair' fight that happens over who gets to push which buttons when. By the way, this fight can begin before we have even entered the hotel. Starting with a whisper and escalating into actual in public screams and punches. So the only time kids get to push buttons is if they have displayed beautiful manners the whole way through check-in, and decide quietly who gets the inside/outside button. And further button pushing is allowed only if the strictest criteria of manners has been met.

Which brings me to stairwells.
We have had to deny use of elevators altogether in the past, due to unrestrained sibling insurgencies and, instead, used the stairs, which are an untapped source of hilarity and joy believe it or not. On the stairs, we are secret agents and up and down we go. Z once flat out ran up and down 6 flights of stairs 10 times in a row before passing out from sheer exhaustion and elation. Beats TV.
Do not underestimate the entertainment value of a staircase.

Now the kids are 4 and 6 this has gotten pretty easy, but it was not always so, and having very young kids in a restaurant that is not used to appalling examples of human behavior can be a challenge. I have two tricks that worked almost all of the time when the kids were younger.
1- doopy fingers: where I walk my index and middle fingers around the table saying doopy doopy doopy then 'trip' over a spoon, or fall of the edge, or doopy up the arm of the child. When the kids were little, that would do it for the whole time we were waiting. Of course you don't get much of a conversation in with anyone else, but kids like doopy. But only bring out doopy at a restaurant! Do not dilute the power of the doopy!

2- 'mind stories' where the kids choose characters and I make up a story. Sometimes I am feeling inspired and sometimes I am re-telling what we did that day, but as long as I am telling a story, the kids are in their chairs and not climbing up the buffet table.
When these don't work I just scream at the wait staff and make a huge mess. Kidding!

Hotel pools:
Yes. As much as possible for as long as possible.

These are a few coping mechanisms off the top of my head.
Bon Voyage!

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