The question I get asked the most by reporters and such wanting to do a story on a mom traveling with two young children is, "What travel tips do you have for other parents?" I've been traveling with my oldest daughter for 8 years now and I still can't come up with a list of tips for other parents. I recently screwed up an interview so badly I decided to really think about it and come up with a list. I actually took out a pen and paper and began: 1. um...nothing. truly blank. I talk a lot. I write a lot. Why can't I come up with a list of tips?
The last interview went something like this: Nice young interviewer asks me the tips question and I begin with a very long winded answer about how I parent no differently while on an airplane than when on land. I have never seen it my responsibility to entertain my children or keep them busy. This is their job. When they were infants I did not subject them to noisy 'activity centers,' tv, or toys that made noises or lit up. I would put them on a blanket on the floor and they would watch the tree blowing in the wind outside the window. A simple wooden teether would keep them occupied for long stretches of time.
So, I'm attempting to tell this young man in his early 20's with no children that I travel with my regular purse (which always has a bag of raw almonds in case anyone gets hungry) and each child has their own bag with whatever they've put into it and that's it. The last trip to the British Isles they were ages 5 and 7- they each brought a blank artist pad and their crayon roll. When they were 3 and 5 they each had a few of their favorite books and crayons and paper. When they were infants I brought disposable diapers (my travel indulgence) and a change of clothes but never used bottles or sippy cups. I don't bring extra 'kid snacks' or juice boxes. We don't use portable dvd players, ipods or gameboys.
So, I say to the interviewer that it's all in what each family does that they should continue doing. If I give them advice to leave all their gadgets home and travel like we do but their kids are addicted to them - that would be a problem. "Just do what you always do." I tell him. This sounds completely reasonable to me. He keeps pushing me. He wants a list he can print. So, he continues with, "What if you have an active toddler that won't sit still and it's time to take off and he won't sit down?" Here's where things get tricky... Past job titles of mine include "Child Development Specialist" and "Parenting Instructor." Surely I should be able to come up with a good answer here. Instead I say, "Well, I don't really think an airplane is the place to begin parenting for the first time. If you've never put parameters around your child's behavior, maybe expecting that child to sit still for 10 hours for starters is a little unreasonable." This is not a very helpful answer I realize. "Well, what if you haven't and here you are and your kid is screaming and it's time to take off? Then what do you do?" he probes. At that point I say, "Gee, I suppose you can do what my pediatrician recommended to me and just drug em'."
I think any intelligent reader can guess by now that that is not at all a good answer! We wrap up the interview and I forget about the conversation until the story prints. It is interview style that goes something like this:
Newspaper: What are some travel tips you can share with our readers to make a flight easier? Me: "Drug em." (laughs) Yup, that's right, My entire answer ends up as drug them! From me the gal that has had a root canal au natural, home-birthing, herbal healing earth mom with the advice to drug kids for flights. Well, it certainly taught me a lesson.
If I were to make a list I suppose it would go something like this:
1. Do not put your infants in plastic noisy gadgets that go beep, vibrate or swing.
2. Do not ever put your infant in front of a tv!
3. Do not have battery operated toys for babies and young children.
4. Give your child space to explore their world in real time.
5. Don't rush your child.
6. Don't over schedule your child.
7. Do not feed them artificial foods.
8. Spend LOTS of time outside in nature.
9. Spend time with children singing and talking
10. Slow down and just adore who they are and stop pushing them to do so much.
That's my real list. and I'm sticking to it. And yes, I do know that a newspaper will never print it! An airplane is an intensely interesting place for a toddler- there is so much to see. If a parent hasn't knocked wonder and a true sense of exploration out of their child, flights are fantastic. What I see over and over again is that the parents that have the most difficult time are the ones who allow their children to explore the least. They try so hard to keep them distracted rather than engaged. When walking with the child down the isle why not let them stop and pick up that piece of lint and explore it? Notice on the next flight the parents who are relaxed and allow their children to turn around and play peek a boo with the people behind them or cruise the isles with a toddler without rushing them are the ones with the happy kids. The ones who are carrying the kids are usually the ones with the screamers and the dvds and the giant bag full of plastic toys. Children (as all people) want to be engaged rather than distracted.
Next time you find yourself with your child on your lap facing away from you and you're trying to distract them with something, turn them around, look them in the eyes and begin a gentle song. Children, today more than ever crave connection. um, do I need to clarify - that's connection to other humans and not electronics? I actually look forward to long flights because they are times when I am not distracted by things like phones, cooking, cleaning and all the stuff of daily life that pulls me away from my kids. To have a 10 or even 20 hour stretch where I'm continuously available to them is a treat for all of us.