Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Oh Crap! Realization of the Day ... Parent-Volunteers

Another mom and I volunteered for the Halloween party today at the 4-year-olds’ pre-school. We played a game of “Stick the Face on the Mummy,” in which I chose children to come up one at a time--based on whether they were sitting crisscross applesauce with a smile on their face. My daughter sat very still with a smile—albeit fake—the whole time. My son, the life of the party, was goofing around a little—in a fun, harmless way. There was one other child—not mine—who was pouty today. She didn’t seem to want to participate in anything we did and certainly didn’t want to be the last kid to stick the face on the mummy. In my house, she WOULD have been last, and I would hope that if (and when) my kid acts that way, he/she would be the last to go, as well. But, instead, I chose my own children last. I thought about it after. Are kids, whose parents volunteer in the classroom and on the field, treated fairly?

When I was growing up, there was sort of a stigma with being the coach’s kid—that you got more playing time and preferential treatment over the other kids. I was not a coach’s kid, and never felt slighted with playing time, but I do think it happened from time to time.

But, today, everywhere I go where there is a parent volunteer, I see the volunteer’s kid get shafted. Parents are trying so hard to NOT give their own kid preferential treatment, that I think they are actually being kind of unfair. I see our kids’ soccer coach putting all the other kids in first, while his own kid consistently is the last to go into the game—and probably gets less playing time.

Now, today’s example at the Halloween party was not one where I think my kids were treated unfair. Certainly, if I was unbiased with no children in the classroom, I would have chosen the pouty girl last. Maybe that’s just some of the Nebraska tough-love in me. But, everyone got an equal shot, and I’m pretty sure my kids were not fazed. It just made me think.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Oh Crap! Realization of the Day ... Honesty

You always worry about whether your kids will tell the truth. Today, my daughter was drawing a face on a ghost and said, “I am making it a people ghost.” She looks at me to see what she is missing on her “people ghost,” and said, “Oh, the lines (as she points to my forehead) and the beauty marks. I’m making a mommy ghost.” Sigh. The realization is that kids are way more honest than you want them to be at times. Happy freakin' Halloween!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Yes, My Kids Watch Television!

As we start the week with the first two days of school closed due to our not-so friendly, Sandy, it brings me to a topic that many of us lie about—or, feel guilty about, in the least. We read and hear things about limiting your child’s screen time, and part of us hopes our children don’t really like television so it won’t be a battle in our house. We stress about it every day. “Let’s see, you watched a show before you went to school, so you only get one more half hour show, or you will exceed your one-hour limit for the day.” We feel guilty if we are using the television as a babysitter. The Crap No One Tells You is that most of you WILL use the television as a babysitter and will eventually find comfort with that decision.

I admit it. I have, and will continue to use the television as a babysitter. But, here is why I don’t feel bad about it. Number one, there are times--mostly when I am preparing dinner--that I need the kids in a place I can see them, but they won’t be requesting my attention. If that means one hour a day that I am NOT engaged with them, I think they’re going to be fine. Not to mention, as a stay at home parent, I NEED that time.

Number two, about 90 percent of the screen entertainment my children are exposed to is educational programming or learning games on the LeapPad Explorers. There are so many great options now that I can get OnDemand whenever I want, or record them for later use, so they don’t get bored watching the same shows over and over. Though watching the same show over and over and over seems to be something they actually prefer (makes me want to claw my eyes out at times, but I remind myself of the alternative … “AAAAHHHH … Mommmmm … Weber, stop it. Mom, Capri took my balloon. AAAAHHHH … Mom, Weber pushed the baby.”)

And, there is something about hearing them shout out the answers to the television character that makes me feel like it’s a good thing. I remember before the twins were talking much, I would watch some of the programs and wonder if Dora’s question to “What was your favorite part?” is ever answered by anyone. Then, one day they started answering. They started finding the super letters with Super Why. They started patting their laps to get Rocket to go faster in “Little Einsteins.”

So, why do we feel so guilty when our kids are watching television or playing games on the computer? And, why are we so ashamed to admit it? Instead of telling the other parent, “My kid hardly watches television.” Why don’t we fess up and say, “Yea, my kid loves television, and there are days he watches three hours of it?” You know you’ve had that conversation, and probably told a little white lie about how much television your child watches.

The experts say kids need to learn from experiencing and seeing things in the real world. They say kids are too lazy these days and not getting enough exercise as a result of watching too much television or playing video games. I completely agree!

Most mornings of our lives are spent away from our house—seeing things in the real world. Museums, botanical gardens, parks, zoos, farms, nature walks, library and story time, music classes, swimming pool, beach, organized sports (not to mention pre-school four mornings a week)—just a few ways we offer our kids discovery, pretend playing, exercise, and arts and crafts. When we are at home, there are many hours spent outside riding bikes, kicking the ball around the yard, swinging and playing on the play set, painting and playing in a new fort (whatever box was delivered from Overstock that week), and going for adventure walks around the lake (the “Duck Walk” as my kids call it).

Then there are days like today, when they have already watched 2 hours of television. But, we also played “Go Fish,” indoor balloon volleyball, read a couple books, practiced writing the letter “r” and the number “2,” completed a couple workbook activities, played a shark board game, and had our own music/dance class. This was all before quiet time.

I do believe kids can get exposed to a lot of positive things by watching television. And, their imagination play is huge as a result of it. Every once in a while they will impart some knowledge on me out of nowhere. I’ll ask them where they learned that. Several times the answer was from a show. They may also learn something that they will ask me more about, which leads to some discussions on topics we would have never broached.

We are very lucky in this generation that we CAN expose our kids to so many positive and educational experiences through the use of media. When I was a kid, it was “Sesame Street” and “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.” They were on at a set time of the day and if you missed it, that was it. We didn’t have a VCR until maybe I was in Junior High, and even then the access to videos was limited—and, most certainly not educational. I have to imagine my mom with five kids age 8 and under, would have loved the amenities I have in television today. She would have been responsible with it, as I believe I am, but it may have saved her sanity some days and who knows, maybe I would have been a more worldly as a result?  

Dr. Ari Brown, a pediatrician and lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics report “Media Use by Children Younger Than Two Years” say children under two should especially avoid television because it provides only entertainment—no educational value, and could result in short-term language delays. He suggests that promoting independent play is time better spent while you are making dinner. I respect and appreciate this. I really, truly do. I do strongly believe in independent play and its benefits. However, no disrespect to Dr. Brown, I imagine he was not at home all day with his baby, or on the days he was, was probably not the one being whined for every time he left the room. Sometimes, that extra voice coming from the television is all my baby needs to get his focus off the fact that I am not in the room with him. Then, once he strays his eyes from the television, he will play independently.

My twins were more interested in television at a younger age and I probably forced it on them more because they were twins and I was losing my mind. But, I attribute their learning sign language to the “Baby Einstein” video. Obviously, I was teaching them, too, but I strongly feel it reinforced what they were learning from me. While my third born at 10-months-old now, is not very interested in television, he does seem to like shows with a lot of music. I will often peek in and catch him dancing this hunched over sideways old man jive. It’s very cute. Maybe he’s not learning anything and just having fun with the music, but I guess I don’t mind. At this age, he has become extremely clingy, and mama needs a break.

I used to admire parents who never let their children watch any television. Now, I fear for their mental wellness. Please don’t take this article the wrong way. I’m not advocating television take over for teachers or parents. But, I’m also not going to deliver you with the arrogance of some experts on this topic, who make it seem like it’s so easy to avoid television. Just like pretty much EVERYTHING in life, moderation is the key. I feel comfortable with my decision to allow my children to watch television, because I am confident that my significant efforts to incorporate educational and active play in their routine every day are beyond adequate. But, experts and other parents will continue to make you feel like less of a parent because of it. I guess this is just the warning to you. You may be like me and come to the conclusion that you are doing the right thing and have the right balance in your child’s life, but still feel silently guilty whenever the topic arises.

As for now, as the rain continues to tap on my windows and the gusts of wind pick up, and while I still have electricity and my kids are in quiet time, I write and I daydream. I dream of the day when my baby will sit through his first movie with the twins, while my husband and I snuggle with them on the couch on a day just like this. There, I said it!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Oh Crap! Realization of the Day ... Kitchen Table

In my house, I have an island with a couple of stools and my kitchen table. It’s really nice having two spots for eating, because the realization is that some days you will rush out of the house after breakfast and get home when it’s time for lunch with breakfast dishes out and syrup drizzled all over the table. My solution: sit at the island for lunch.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Oh Crap! Realization of the Day ... Hands

As I looked at my hands the other night … starting to dry and crack with the dry Fall air, it made me wonder just how many times per day I wash my hands. I wash them several times during meal preparation, after every diaper change, after every trip to kid-infested (I mean, germ-infested) activities, and the list goes on. Then, there are the times my hands are in water for long periods—washing bottles and dishes, bathing kids, and my own personal hygiene (which, sadly, doesn’t add up to much time).

So yesterday, I kept track. Not including the many minutes my hands were in dish water or bath water, I washed my hands 33 times. Everyone knows washing your hands will dry them out, but here’s the Crap No One Tells You … as a parent, your hands will be in so much water you may develop athlete’s foot under your wedding band. Lovely.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Oh Crap! Realization of the Day ... Breastfeeding

There are a lot of reasons women are unsuccessful breastfeeding—or, flat out just do not want to. The realization is that even if you do want to breastfeed, you may not be able. IT IS NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF! I was only able to breastfeed my twins for 5 weeks—that was when my sanity supply was depleted. It would have worked if I was producing enough for both babies. But, I wasn’t, and that meant feeding one by breast, followed by feeding the other by bottle, and then pumping to try to increase my supply. Once my help left, I couldn’t keep up with this routine, plus cook, clean, shop, and wash enough bottles for the next cycle without forcing myself into PPD. Oh, and shower, blah ha ha!

With baby number three, I had more success and went six months before trying to switch to just morning and evening feedings. Once I tried that, I dried up in less than a week. I know other moms who were able to continue that for months with no problem. EVERY woman is different. EVERY baby is different. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like you have failed because you could not or would not breastfeed—even a lactation consultant (that is an “intimidating” group of people).  

A friend of mine, who is a blogger and fabulous photographer, wrote of her experience with breastfeeding, and I love how she told her story, “Somethings just aren’t the end of the world …”

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Oh Crap! Realization of the Day ... Pets

The twins were in school, the baby was asleep, the breakfast dishes were done, and the dog was whimpering to come inside. I let the her in, and she immediately went to her spot in the sun on the hardwood floor, her big brown eyes begging for some attention as I walked by with a load of laundry. I stopped, knelt down to her warm, black fur. It was the first time in almost a year I actually sat with her and loved on her for more than 10 seconds. Before your first child is born, you swear your relationship with your pet is not going to change. I said it myself. The realization here is the family pet IS neglected after children come into your lives. You still love it, but it’s needs are ALWAYS behind the needs of your child—and, that alone is a full-time job. I’ve vowed today to make more of an effort to give our dog more attention. Because, as I sat there with her this morning, I realized there is not a being out there—besides my husband and I—who loves those kids as much as this dog.
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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Oh Crap! Realization of the Day ... Zen Moments

I'm out to breakfast with my family this morning, and at one point, my husband puts his cup of coffee to his lips and the baby starts fussing. Then, he says, "Ahhh, I just wanted a zen moment."

The realization here is that you should never expect a zen moment while at a restaurant with your kids. I thought that was pretty obvious, but it occurred to me this morning that maybe some people need this reminder.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Oh Crap! Realization of the Day ... Socks

I returned from Target today with 36 pairs of socks for three kids. You might think that sounds reasonable, except if I swore to you two months ago when I did my Fall shopping that all the kids had plenty of socks. Everyone knows about the big sock disappearing mystery, but I swear the smaller the socks, the faster they disappear. How many times per week do I say, “Where did all the socks go? Where could they possibly be? I’ve scoured the house, under furniture, between seat cushions, stuffed in other shoes, behind the washing machine, in the vehicles. Where did they disappear to? Did they grow feet and run off?” I guess there will never be an answer to that question, just like why do I feel the need to end every sentence in a preposition? So, the realization is that you should count on buying about 3x the number of socks you think you need to (smile).

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Oh Crap! Realization of the Day ... Driving

Parents, every once in a while, drive a car without sliding doors, a hatchback, Goldfish crackers on the floor, or car seats in the back. Borrow from a friend, go to a dealership for a test drive, or see what trusting suburbanite left their keys in their car. I don’t know why, but when I get into my husband's new car I feel the need to listen to Hair Nation with the windows down and my Ray-Bans covering my crow’s feet. I guess it makes me feel young to drive around in a sporty car with no kids, listening to loud music. Why Hair Nation? I guess I was listening to that music when I WAS young. So, now, when I know I am leaving by myself in the evening—to play volleyball or join friends for dinner—I intentionally park the minivan in the middle of the driveway so my husband has to park behind me. “Oh, sorry,” I say to him. “I guess I’ll just have to take your car tonight.” I think he’s onto me. For those 20 minutes, though, I feel like I’m in my 20s again. It’s very therapeutic!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Oh Crap! Realization of the Day ... Sass

When my daughter started sassing me (about 3 years ago when she was 1), I would reprimand her. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I realized she sometimes didn’t realize that what she was doing was wrong—the first time she did it. So, I started asking her each time. Sometimes she knew her expressions or the tone of her voice was sassy and wrong, but sometimes she didn’t. The realization that kids don’t know what they don’t know has made me calmer during these teaching moments. I’m not so quick to punish on a first or second offense and think through it before I open my mouth—instead of my initial reaction, which is to jump across the table. I know I have a lot of sass in my future with this independent little girl, but maybe we can table some of it for 8-10 more years.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Best Cool Mist Humidifier

Related to the previous post on using a cool mist humidifier as white noise, I thought I would share one I like (and, I've gone through several). It's has two settings ... loud and very loud. Some humidifiers are too wet and actually get the floor wet around the humidifier. This one is such a fine mist, you don't even see it or feel it, but it must work because the tank empties.


Oh Crap! Realization of the Day ... Humidifiers

Wouldn't it just be the case that the baby is the light sleeper in the house? It doesn't matter how many times I shush or threaten my 4-year-olds, they wake the baby from his nap almost every day. So, instead of tying them up and sticking a sock in their mouths while the baby is napping, I've turned on a somewhat loud cool mist humidifier for some serious white noise. As we enter the dry months, it serves a bonus purpose.

Crap No One Tells You ... About Getting Pregnant

I am so thrilled to finally be able to share the news of a friend (and mom source we will call Carrie), who just gave birth to beautiful and healthy twin boys. I wouldn’t dare have talked about this before and possibly jinxed what was an incredibly healthy pregnancy with multiples. I am thankful to her for allowing me to talk about her story now.

Unfortunately, she and her husband were not able to get pregnant the traditional way, and “tried” for three years, including five fertility procedures. Somewhat surprisingly, though, among my group of mom sources, getting pregnant was not the romantic endeavor most dreamed it would be. The Crap No One Tells you about getting pregnant is that it will likely not happen on a romantic vacation or in your candle-lit room. It will not happen in the month you want so you will have the baby before your brother’s wedding in 11 months, or so you can be on maternity leave during the summer. It will not happen when you are 28, then again when you are 30, so you can achieve your “life plan.” Instead, in the least, it will probably include a basal thermometer, the “My Days” app on your phone at your bedside every morning, and peeing on ovulation tests for several months.

About half of my mom sources had a degree of difficulty getting pregnant. Coincidentally—or not—about half of my mom sources started “trying” after 30. Of those who faced difficulty, most people heard this from close friends or family, with whom they shared their plans, “once you stop thinking about it, you will get pregnant.”

One of my mom sources is very passionate about this so-called advice, “Because that’s SO easy. Okay, I’ve waited until I’m 30-something to have a baby, which I knew my whole life I have wanted. But, yes, I will stop thinking about it. Thank you for the sound advice. Why didn’t I think of that? 

The advice here is, if you don’t ever want to hear this, then don’t tell ANYONE you are trying to get pregnant. Hopefully, you will be able to “stop thinking about it” and be successful getting pregnant on your own. (Don’t forget your husband … oh, crap, was that Carrie’s problem?)

If you do, however, have to turn to fertility specialists, this will lead to questions you never thought you would have to answer like, “one embryo, or two?” I got a call from Carrie on her way to her first IVF procedure—this was early in the morning about 4 weeks after my third baby was born. I was in one of my very deep 3-hour sleep segments, but answered the phone because I knew it must have been important for her to call a mom with a newborn so early in the morning.

“One embryo, or two?” she asked me.
“Huh?” I grumbled. 

“I have to decide whether I want one embryo or two. I’m freaking out about twins, and you were the first person I thought of to help me through this decision,” she told the deliriously sleep deprived mother of 3-year-old twins and 4-week-old baby.

I, myself, after finding out I was pregnant with twins (the fun way), was completely terrified—terrified of pregnancy with multiples and terrified of what to do with them when they arrived. I read myself into a tizzy, as we often do now with information overload on the Internet. I was sure they would be premature and live in NICU for weeks, if not months. I was sure they would have developmental delays and other health problems, despite the fact that every twin I knew at the time was completely healthy—mind and body. Well, my twin brothers are still up for debate.

While I ended up with healthy twins and somehow survived their first 3 years at that point, how could I possibly give her advice on this very important life decision? I asked her what the doctor thought, which was that she was healthy and still fairly young, she had several good embryos, and she would be a good candidate for one if she wanted to go that route (apparently she did not go to “Octomom’s” fertility doctor). The only advice I could give her was for she and her husband to go with their guts.

In the end, they decided on one, which was a decision they ended up regretting a couple weeks later. But, they didn’t give up and went in for IVF – Round II. Keep in mind, these IVF procedures followed three unsuccessful IUI procedures. I can’t go into detail on what IUI is, except that it is not as intense as IVF, there is no egg harvesting, and it is essentially the “turkey baster” method.

Because Carrie and her husband’s embryos had now been frozen, the quality of the embryos were not as strong, so two looked pretty appealing. And, as Carrie said, “I really wanted to be done. Done with shots. Done with vaginal ultrasounds. Done with 2-hour trips to my fertility doctor. Done with disappointment.”

So, the next time, two it was. And TWO it WAS! And that is the story of how Carrie’s twins were conceived. Romantic, huh?

What impressed me so much through their difficult process is how positive they remained. They never seemed to feel sorry for themselves—even while many of their friends were getting pregnant by just looking at their husbands (sorry guys).

One of my other mom sources went through several years of fertility treatment, as well. As she said, “If we would have felt sorry for ourselves, it could have severely damaged our marriages.” She would say, “this sucks,” then move to the next step.

“We are lucky there are so many options for those of us who want children,” Carrie said. “It’s hard to say to what extremes my husband and I would have gone through to conceive a child of our own. We just kept going and figured we would know when it was too much, and give up. I guess then it would have been okay to feel a little sorry for ourselves.”

Some people look at using fertility treatments as some kind of choice hopeful parents are making these days. The only choice is the choice to have children. If anyone making this accusation knew the process, they would know that no sane person would ever choose the fertility option over the good old-fashioned way of getting pregnant.

But, just for fun, I took Carrie’s somewhat gory details and tried to make fertility sound like a “cool” choice (let me start by saying, I do not endorse the use of drugs, extreme use of alcohol, or careless sex) 

1.       You will drink a lot of wine (to drown your sorrows every time the nurse calls and says, “sorry, the pregnancy test was negative”).

2.       You will use a lot of drugs (2” needles in your ass every night and many more slightly smaller needles in your abdomen full of hormones and other crap, which turn you into raging bitches—Carrie’s words, not mine).

3.       With your legs spread, someone attempts to warm a device to stick … (forget it, there is really no possible way to make a vaginal ultrasound “cool.” Oh, and there are MANY of these).

4.       You get to use sleepy gas (when they pluck your eggs from your ovaries, which leads to severe cramping for several days and sometimes weeks).

5.       Your husbands get to go into a room by themselves with a dirty magazine and a cup … hold on … either way, I guess there’s no problem there.

6.       A couple hours before you are to attempt pregnancy, you get to chug a bunch of juice and not worry about the calories (and sit there without peeing until you feel like your bladder will explode all over the waiting room).

7.       You attempt to get pregnant with a whole room full of people participating--there’s another word for that, but I don’t want to get banned from FB (embryologists, nurses, doctors … oh, and your husband standing next to you WITH his clothes ON, of course. It’s super hot.)

I could go on, but do I need to? I’m sure anyone thinking about getting pregnant is already on the phone with a fertility doctor.

In all seriousness, there are so many reasons why couples have difficulty getting pregnant and schools are overrun with multiples. I’m not a doctor, and I won’t claim to know why fertility treatments are on the rise. But, the fact is, a fertility clinic gave several of my friends healthy children whom, chances are, they would not have been blessed with on their own.

Ginormous “THANK YOU” to my friend and mom source, Carrie (even though this is not your real name, you know who you are), and her devoted husband, for opening up about such a private and personal topic. If you can help just one reader get through their struggles with getting pregnant—even if it’s to make them smile for one day when they might be feeling just a little sorry for themselves—you have done a wonderfully selfless thing by sharing your story. You are meant to be parents and will be fabulous ones at that. And, you WILL survive twins. I promise. In the meantime, I will be there with all the Crap No One Tells You … About Raising Twins.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Oh Crap! Realization of the Day ... Diapers in Hospital

This one is for expectant parents. If you deliver your baby in a hospital, for the love of God, let the nurses change all the diapers while you are there. You will change more than 6,000 diapers per child in his first two years, alone. You will NOT be viewed as an uninvolved parent if you forgo this responsibility for two days. Change the first diaper, if this is important to you. Put the dirty diaper in your baby book, for all I care. But, after that, push the call button and let someone else do the dirty work for a couple days. You’ve earned it!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Oh Crap! Realization of the Day ... Sippy Cups/Bottles

When buying bottles or sippy cups for the first time, don’t invest in a whole set until you’ve tested one to make sure he likes it. Babies can be really picky when it comes to this. With sippy cups, try different spouts—soft and hard. The twins could only do the soft spouts at first, but the baby could drink from the hard spouts early on. Unfortunately, with soft spouts, it’s a given that the baby will hold the cup by the spout and twirl it in the air like he just don’t care. I don’t need to tell you what that means.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Oh Crap! Realization of the Day ... Buckling Infant Carseat

I’m guilty of this. I take the infant carrier with baby out of the car and attach it to my stroller on a trip to the mall. While at the mall, I take him out for a feeding or diaper change. When I put him back, maybe I only buckle the top buckle, because we are just strolling around. It’s time to go home, I move the carrier back to the car, and realize after I am home and taking him out of the carrier that I forgot to buckle between his legs. The “Oh Crap!” advice is to always buckle completely even when you are not in the car, because you WILL forget even when you tell yourself not to.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Oh Crap! Realization of the Day ... Pregnancy Peeing

When you are pregnant and in your last trimester, don’t leave the house without a panty liner … especially if you have a cold or seasonal allergies. Every cough, sneeze, and laugh will cause you to pee a little.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Oh Crap! Realization of the Day ... Parking and Shopping

(This didn't actually happen today, but I am starting a tip of the day based on things I have learned over the years or tips other parents have shared with me.)

When you go to the grocery store, do not park in the spot reserved for parents with babies, but instead next to the nearest cart return stall. Usually there will be a cart in there already that you ca
n use to load up your baby. Then, after you unload the groceries and the baby in the vehicle, you are right there to return it. This is especially good advice if you have more than one child, and they are not strong walkers yet (this was something I learned very early on when shopping with the twins). If you put them back in the vehicle before you return the cart, you feel major anxiety being more than 5 feet from your vehicle. If you take them with you to return the cart, you have to carry them both back. And, definitely do NOT park in the reserved spot if you do NOT have a baby with you. Mama bears WILL attack.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Crap No One Tells You ... About Airplane Travel with a Baby

I returned from a round-trip, transcontinental airline trip with a 9-month-old baby this week. The key is that I returned, because, quite frankly, after the painful two legs it took me to get from Virginia to California, I seriously considered staying there until my son turned two. Was it worse that my first flight was delayed, which led to running in flip-flops with a stroller that is too short to catch my next flight (which they kindly held for me), and going seven straight hours without a bathroom break? Or, that my baby cried for about 20 minutes straight on both flights, trying to squirm out of my arms and flailing around knocking into the oh-so-close man next to me?

If only I could have ordered a stiff drink, but of course that would mean risking the lack of bathroom breaks and dry clothes since, no doubt, the baby would have spilled my drink on me and the surrounding passengers (see “Drinks” below). I followed all the travel rules from every list ever written on traveling with a baby and booked travel during sleepy times, packed extra pacifiers, diapers for every hour in transit, snacks for me and baby, drinks, bottles and sippy cups, bibs, wipes, blanket, extra clothes, plastic bags, and plenty of toys and books to keep him entertained. While absolutely useful and necessary, I am here to enlighten you to the Crap No One Tells You about airplane travel with a baby.

It doesn’t matter how many toys and books you bring to distract your baby. You are lucky if each toy keeps his attention for more than 90 seconds. I saw the diagram for the maximum size of a carry-on, and I can assure you it won’t hold enough toys to get through five hours of in-flight travel. Here’s what worked for me—on my return flight after I threw the “rules” out the window:

SkyMall shopping magazine. Give him the magazine and let him tear it to shreds. It’s a lot to pick up when you land (the flight attendant will GLADLY provide you with a trash bag), but will give you a good 30 minutes. Take a break, then possibly another 15 minutes. The ripping of pages may sound annoying to some, but I guarantee they’d rather hear that than a screaming baby.

Plastic Water bottle. As long as it makes noise when you crush it, this item is hugely more entertaining than the shaker/squeaker/colorful thingy you brought. It will give you at least 10 minutes off and on. Oh, and if there is water in the bottle, use it on the airplane’s descent when baby’s ears need to pop and he is screaming so much that he won’t even take his pacifier or bottle. This will catch his attention long enough to put something in his mouth to swallow. This is where the handy “extra clothes” come into play.

Other passengers. It’s true, some people are annoyed if they are stuck in earshot of a baby, but hopefully you will find, as I did, that many people love gawking at a baby, and this is highly entertaining for baby. A great introduction to other passengers is to offer earplugs to those surrounding you, according to one of my mom sources. She said it breaks the ice and adds a little humor. Love it! Games of peek-a-boo are popular with other passengers. And, throw some compliments their way with comments about how your baby is flirting. Flattery carries a lot of weight and usually buys you another 10 minutes from said passenger. While you might be tempted to book seats in the back of the plane, seats in front of, and behind you, keep baby entertained from multiple angles. Plus, if your baby falls asleep, the door to the bathroom can be quite noisy, and can startle a sleeping baby. It’s best to be at least a couple rows from a bathroom.

Going to the bathroom. If you’ve been lucky enough to have met a passenger, who made friends with your baby, you may be able to ask that person to hold him in case you didn’t wear your “Depends” and need a potty break of your own. I wouldn’t hesitate, especially since there is nowhere to go with your baby. Maybe I can do this because it’s kid number three. If you’re a first-time parent, too paranoid about a stranger holding your baby, or your baby won’t go to others, then you might want to go with the “Depends.” Worst case, take your baby to the bathroom with you and hold him on your lap—or, if he can stand, even better. Just beware of turbulence … okay, that’s gross … not that kind of turbulence.

The back of the seat in front of you and the tray table. I would advise you to bring a pack of disinfectant wipes to clean these areas, because no doubt your baby will lick them, bite them, and slobber all over them. I did not have this item, but rather went with the thought that I am building his immune system. Sorry, little guy.

Bags of pretzels. Not to eat. Need I say more? Oh, and sorry to the woman in front of us. I didn’t realize the power of his arm. She seemed not to mind.

Smart phone. Loading some kids videos on your phone prior to traveling is also a great distraction. My 9-month-old wasn’t interested in the episode of “Sesame Street” I loaded, but he did enjoy playing with my phone for a while. If you set the phone to vibrate when keys are pressed, that’s fun for them, too.

Talk to the Gate Agent. Prior to boarding, ask the gate agent if it is a full flight and that you are concerned about being able to get your baby to sleep. I was lucky on two of my flights to get moved to a row with an extra seat. The fact is, if money was no issue, I would have purchased an extra seat and put him in his car seat. In his car seat, he knows he can’t squirm around and makes due with what he has. But, many of us appreciate being able to save some money by going the lap child route. The gate agent and flight attendants are usually sympathetic to a parent traveling alone with a baby.

Get an aisle seat. Easy access to the bathroom for a stinky diaper is important. With Wi-Fi available on planes now, there are laptops up everywhere, and God forbid you ask them to pack up. I don’t blame them, it’s just an inconvenience for them, and you feel like a jerk asking. Also, if your baby is fussy, this allows you access to get up and walk with baby and chat with the flight attendants at the back of the plane (when they are not busy, of course—thanks, mom source). This same mom source—who travels a lot more than I do with her little one—likes the window seat better, because her baby likes to look out the window and play with the shade. Again, this is where you just have to know your baby and decide which way best suits you.

Drinks. Don’t order one. Bring a bottled beverage with you (doubles as a toy). Thank goodness the nice gentleman next to us wasn’t bothered by flying ice cubes. Oops. Rookie move! In my defense, he was sleeping when I ordered.

Layovers. If you have enough time between flights, throw your germ-phobic ways out the window and let baby crawl all over the terminal. It will help wear him out for the next flight. Part two of this is to book a flight with more than 45 minutes between flights. So many flights I’ve been on in the last couple of years have arrived late, and you just never know how far apart your connecting gate will be. Direct flights are also a great way to go, if you have that option. Where I live and where I travel to doesn’t usually allow for that without a 2-hour commute to another airport. That still may be something to consider for you, though. The extra time in the car may be worth not having to worry about the layover.

Don’t count on TSA agents or gate agents to help you. Give your extreme appreciation to the ones who help you fold up your stroller and place it on the belt at security or to gate check it while you have baby in your arms. While it’s hard to believe someone could be so insensitive, some of them will just stare at you while you juggle your 24 lb. baby in one arm and your stroller that refuses to fold in the other. Oh, and when you get your stroller on the other side, remember you don’t have shoes on when you step on the folded part of the stroller. Ouch.

To wear your baby or use a stroller. One of my well-traveled mom sources wears her baby through the airport instead of bothering with a stroller. This makes it much easier to get through security, no doubt. And, if he falls asleep in the carrier, there’s no transferring when it is time to board the plane. However, before and after boarding, I like the relief of being able to put the baby in the stroller—despite some of the complications that can come with it. If a layover is involved, the freedom to use the restroom or eat is much easier without “joey” in the pouch. Plus, if I’m traveling with my somewhat large camera bag plus a diaper bag, it’s nice to be able to use the storage in the stroller for those carry-ons. Again, you have to decide what works best for you and your specific travel situation.

Cherish when your baby falls asleep. I say this, but I know I don’t need to. Once your baby is sleeping, and you are holding him in your arms, you realize that all the crap that got you to this point was worth it. I haven’t held my baby while he slept since he was a couple months old. This moment—his chest rising and falling, his lips making the sucking motion with nothing in them, his flawless baby skin, the smell of his youthful head as I bring him ever so carefully to my face, the softness of his chubby hands, his plump little piggies peeking through the footless jammies that are just a little too long—this moment was the best of my vacation. It reminded me how sad I was when I realized I would never see my twins, as babies, falling asleep in my arms again—a catalyst for having a third, by the way. It reminded me to slow down. I was forced in this 20” space with no laundry and no dishes … just time … time to stare at one of my three biggest accomplishments of my life. Thank, God, for those 20 minutes. And, then someone opened the bathroom door.

All in all, I found that most people—agents, flight attendants, and passengers—were extremely accepting and helpful. Don’t be too proud to accept their generosity, especially if you are traveling alone with your baby. I hope you find these tips helpful. If not, you may want to heed my sister-in-law’s advice on traveling with a 9-month-old, which she told me AFTER we arrived at her house in California … “Don’t!”

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