Monday, February 16, 2015

Why I Hate Self-Check Out

It is 8:32 on Tuesday morning.  I’ve been sitting in my living room through at least 4 episodes of Timmy Time on the DVR trying to convince myself that I can somehow turn a carrot, an apple, some crackers, and a couple of teaspoons of hummus into lunch and dinner for today so I can avoid going to the grocery store until tomorrow when the 2 year old is at his part time daycare.  I could have gone last night after the kids were asleep, which by the way, was miraculously by 8:30.   I considered it.  I really did.  Until I realized that what should be a quick trip to the store would take me three times as long as it should because after peak grocery store hours they only have the self-check out area running. 

Let me just say two quick things before explaining why I did not go to the grocery store last night.  First, I have a Master of Business degree (hey, it took me long enough to finish it, I may has well brag about it).  It may not be getting used much right now, but I get it.  I know why a company chooses to install these things and use them as much as possible from a P&L standpoint.  They have to be operationally cheaper than people, or they wouldn’t bother investing in them.  Cheaper operations means lower prices means more customers, in theory.  Second, I’m not actually opposed to them – when I only have 3 things to buy and no children to wrestle.  I think they are a brilliant way to reduce lines and get people in and out of the store quickly.

That said…I hate that stores have decided to adopt them as a replacement for ANY open checkout lines just because the store isn’t busy.  Here’s why:

1.     I have an entire trolley (basket for my American friends) full of groceries and nowhere to put them.  Well, can’t you just scan them straight from the trolley and put them into bags you say?  Yes, of course I can, but the bagging area is only wide enough for one bag.  So then where do they go?  Ah yes, back into the trolley.  On top of the groceries I still need to scan.  Or, I have to put them on the floor until I’m finished and then reload the trolley with all the bags.

2.     The machine is touchy.  If I accidentally press the wrong button or slightly rest something on the scale, I then have to wait for an employee to come over and clear it for me.  Why couldn’t that employee that is just standing there watching me, be scanning my groceries while I load them on the belt?

3.     It has to weigh everything I put in the bagging area.  If I forget to let it do that before I remove the bag, the aforementioned employee has to come over again to clear the machine and confirm I am not stealing anything before continuing to stand there doing nothing until the next time I confuse the machine.

4.     I have to wait until I have placed the most recently scanned item into the bagging area, and it has been weighed, before I can scan another item or the machine freezes and the employee has to come and clear the machine yet again. Meaning it is impossible to scan quickly.

5.     Weighing produce.  I have to search through all the pictures of every single item of produce and then try to match up what I have with one of the options on the screen.  Do my bananas have red on the tips?  Oh, no, so it must be this one.  Seriously?  What is stopping me from saying all my produce is whatever happens to be cheapest?  Yes, I do have 10 kilos of spring onion thank you very much. 

6.     I have to tell the machine that I was the one to remove the bag that had been in the bagging area.  Every. Single. Time. I remove one.  Either that, or the employee, whom I am starting to get to know very well by this point, has to come over and confirm that…Actually, I’m not really sure what.  Maybe that someone else hasn’t taken off with my groceries while I was trying to locate the barcode on my next item?

7.     The employee who has just been standing there, other than the 15 times I confused the machine, then has to check my receipt to make sure I didn’t just ring in all of my produce as 10 kg of spring onion, while I stand there thinking this truly would have been much faster if she/he had just been the one to scan my groceries in the first place.

After mentally running through this experience last night, I decided I was far too tired to deal with it, and it would actually be less painful to skip the nighttime grocery run and drag the toddler and baby through the store this morning instead.  For anyone who has taken two small children to the grocery store…I know, right? 

For everyone else, this basically means I would rather - have to strap 2 kids into car seats, drive to the store listening to them screaming about being “stuck” in said car seats, spend 10 minutes searching for a trolley that has both a baby seat and a toddler seat before giving up and just strapping the baby to me and putting the toddler in the child seat, then spend the next hour trying reach things on the bottom shelf while not throwing off the bouncing motion that keeps the baby calm all while saying, “stop touching things,” followed by the drama of loading all the groceries into the car, then trying to find the right area to return my trolley so I can get my two dollars back, then trying to wrangle two kids who are no longer contained by a trolley back to the car and into their car seats  - than be subjected to the agony of self-check out. 

Come on grocery stores.  Give a tired Mom a break and go back to having at least one check out lane open at night so grocery shopping can go back to being the vacation it was meant to be.  I’m happy to pay the slightly higher prices to make it a luxury vacation.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The 7 Things I Wish I Could Make My Toddler Understand

 I'm back!  It's been a bit crazy since the baby was born, which has caused me to ask myself So. Many. Times. why the toddler doesn't just get certain things that would make all of our lives easier.  If only I could get him to understand these things, maybe we would have days filled with nothing but good times, rainbows and sprinkled covered cupcakes.  So for my son, the seven things I wish I could help you understand…

1.     I hate telling you no.  I wish I could let you do and have everything you want.  Unfortunately, I have to say no sometimes.  I say no to keep you from hurting yourself.  I say no to make sure you are staying healthy and not living off of junk food, and quite frankly sometimes I say no for no good reason other than I want you to learn patience and respect so you grow up to be a good person.

2.     I hate yelling at you.  Believe it or not, I don’t enjoy yelling at you.  If you would just do what I ask, when I ask you to do it (or not do it), I wouldn’t have to yell and we would both be happier.

3.     Your penis is attached.  I promise you don’t have to immediately check for it every time your nappy/diaper comes off.

4.     Poop is ALWAYS stinky and yucky.  You don’t need to immediately try to get a sample after checking to make sure your penis is still attached. Every. Single. Time.  I promise, it’s still stinky and yucky, just like last time.

5.     Screaming and throwing a tantrum will never get you your way.  Ever.

6.     I am a sucker for the way you say please and thank-you without being asked.  If you want your way, come at me with a “please”, a smile, and some puppy dog eyes.  Follow it up with your adorable little “tank-you Mom” and you’ll probably never get a “no” from me again.

7.     Your laugh brings me more joy than anything else on this planet.  Seriously.  Even more than wine and chocolate.  Which makes parenting SO HARD sometimes when I have to let you scream it out, or put you in time out, or deprive you of whatever your little heart desires more than anything else at that moment in time.  I promise I am doing it for your own good, and I will be anxiously waiting for you to get over it so I can hear that giggle again.

There you have it son.  The seven things I wish I could make you understand.  Oh, and once you figure them out, could you go ahead and make sure your brother gets it?  I’d love to avoid going through all this again when he gets to your age… K, thanks, bye.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

In Flight Entertainment for Under 2’s

After a bit of delay, here is the next post in my series of traveling with Under 2’s.  People regularly ask me how I keep Ayrton entertained on the plane – especially now that he’s so active.  Obviously the easiest time to travel with an under 2 is before they can move around on their own.  I highly recommend travel with babies that are not even crawling yet.  It will be the easiest travel with an under 2 you ever do.  That said, even crawling and walking hasn’t stopped us, so here are the things we have done with him depending on his mobility status:

Pre-crawling (~ 0 – 6 months):
Like I said, easy.  We pretty much just held him, had him sleep in the bassinet or in our arms, or we played games like patty cake or peek-a-boo – which are apparently hysterical.

Crawling (~ 6 – 12 months):
This is perhaps the only time I might lean toward getting a window over an aisle seat (but not necessarily).  I would usually put a blanket on the floor along with some of his toys.  It gave him a little more freedom than being held on our laps, but he was still pretty well contained from crawling away.  He also really still enjoyed the patty cake and peek-a-boo games and thought it was heaps fun to stand on our laps and make faces at the people in the row behind us.  Snacks are also good, and things like teething rusks will last a while.  At this age they are usually still sleeping a fair amount on long flights, so it’s still fairly easy to keep them entertained.

Walking (~ 12 Months+):
This is when it gets to be lots of fun (for the Sheldon’s in my audience, yes, this is sarcasm).   Usually the biggest struggle is trying to keep him on our laps, since we are avoiding buying him his own ticket as long as we possibly can.  Hopefully we manage to get a row to ourselves which makes this a bit easier once we are in the air, but if we don’t, the next challenge is trying to keep him from kicking the seat in front of us.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any great tips for this other than trying to keep him turned sideways.

On long flights he loves playing with the built in entertainment system.  Which is great as long as there is no one sitting in the seat in front of us (him) – but he’s not exactly gentle with it, so if there is someone in front of us this becomes more of a hindrance than a help.  We also try to keep him entertained by the plane itself as long as we can before we break out the stuff we brought with us - there are plenty of new things for him to explore, so we save things like movies for when gets completely bored.  Here are all the things we have done/do to keep him entertained on the plane:

·      Playing with the infant seat belt.  Ayrton finds clipping and unclipping the seat belt amazingly entertaining.  Once we are in the air and he no longer has to have his seat belt on, we let him click it together and pull it apart.  We usually end up with a good 10 – 20 minutes out of this.  On flights where he either had to keep his seat belt on or they didn’t provide an infant seat belt, we’ve asked the flight attendant if he could play with the one they use for the safety demonstration – usually they’ve let us, but that may not always be the case.

·      Reading/tearing the in flight magazine.  Ayrton loves books, pictures, words etc.  He usually spends a few minutes turning pages and “reading” it before the tearing begins.  I don’t worry about the destruction since they have plenty more, and it will get replaced for the next passenger.  The main thing is containing the mess.  So far we’ve managed to convince Ayrton that giving the torn pieces to us are part of the game, then we just toss them when they come around collecting rubbish.

·      Looking out the window.  Ayrton LOVES looking out the window.  We usually get lots of “ooohs” and “aaahs” from him as he points at things.  This may be because he is the son of an engineer, but there is definitely some entertainment value in it.

·      Bottle and cap.  We still give Ayrton a bottle at take off to help with equalizing his ears but usually by the time we are in the air he is more interested in just taking the cap on and off of the bottle.  He also thinks it’s funny when we narrate.  “On!” “Off!” 

·      Books and toys.  We bring a few, but they can get heavy fast, so mostly just bring the ones we know he really likes and we can get a decent amount of time out of.  Even though he loves balls, we avoid anything that can roll when he drops or throws it.

·      Snacks.  We make sure we have plenty of his favorite snacks and he usually gets spoiled with at least one snack that is a special treat he doesn’t usually get.  We try to save that one for if he starts to get fussy and then make sure he knows he doesn’t get it unless he calms down first.  Although, it has backfired when we ran out and he wanted more. 

·      Coloring kit.  Using some kind of latchable container (Tupperware, an old wipes container etc.) I put a few crayons and a stack of sticky notes in it.  The coloring keeps him occupied and the sticky notes keep the drawings from going everywhere.

·      Buddha Board.  These are AWESOME if you’ve never seen one.  They are in the category of a zen garden for meditation etc. for adults, but they are perfect for in flight art for the kiddos.  They come with a paintbrush, and all you need is water and they can paint to their hearts content.  As the board dries, the drawing disappears and they can start all over.  No mess, the worst they can do is spill some water (which dries amazingly fast on the plane anyway) and you never run out of paper.  We have a miniature one that is perfect for traveling, but they do come in several sizes and colors.

·      Songs and games.  Even at this age, Ayrton loves patty cake, this little piggy went to market, peek-a-boo and plenty of others.  Especially anything that has motions he can do too.  We do lots of If You're Happy and You Know It, 5 Little Ducks Went Out to Play, 5 Little Monkey’s Jumping on the Bed etc.  For peek-a-boo, I like to have one of my silk scarves/handkerchiefs that I just put over my head.  It’s lightweight, easy to pack and is fun for him to pull off my face instead of just waiting for me to uncover mine.  Plane blankets work well for this too.  

·      Go for a walk.  On long, international flights, we will walk laps around the plane.  This is harder to do on domestic flights that only have a single aisle, but sometimes just a change of scenery can be enough to get Ayrton to calm down if he gets fussy.

·      Our phones.    Ayrton absolutely loves playing with our iPhones.  Just make sure that you know how to child lock it if you’re just going to hand it over or you end up spending half your time trying to figure out what has been deleted or reopening the app.  iPhone has a great Guided Learning feature for this in settings.  He also thinks watching videos of himself is the best thing ever and he’s usually happy to spend quite a bit of time flicking through the camera roll on my phone.

·      iPad.  We load it with movies and apps that he enjoys, but we try really hard to make this the last option because it will usually hold his attention the longest.  We’ve bought volume limited kid headphones for him so that he can hear the movie and the games without disturbing the people around us or accidentally blasting his ears with too much volume.

The last thing I would say about being on a plane with under 2’s is try to stay patient and calm even if your kiddo freaks out.  Just like at home, most of the time they’ll stop a tantrum within a couple of minutes if they think it’s not getting them what they want.  Getting stressed about it and trying to force it to stop can just make it worse.  Let it run its course and try not to worry too much about what the people around you are thinking. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Parenting Mixed Race Children

I recently read a blog post written by a white woman with adopted black children.  The post is about how no one had prepared her for the true reality of adopting black children as a white parent - that her children could be killed by police for walking down the street, that they would be labeled as gang members or sluts for doing the same things as white teenagers, and that she would have to teach her children to be guarded because they would be treated differently than their white peers. 

This got me thinking about my own mixed race children.  While I suppose I’m “lucky” that my mixed children probably won’t have quite the same challenges as the black children this woman adopted – my half Chinese children are more likely to suffer from stereotypes of being good at math and science rather than being identified as dangerous gang members - there are still people in this world that will hate them for what they are, because more often than not, people with multiple ethnicities are simply classified into whatever they “look” like – usually based on skin color. 

I never truly understood the significance of what this means (or the additional challenges it can add to parenthood) until my mixed race son was born.  Although he looks like his Dad, he is light skinned like me, and often this is all people see.  The worst experience I’ve had yet was in the restroom of a rest stop in Montana when on my way to my parent’s house.  I was changing my then, 6 month old son, on the changing table and an older white lady came out of one of the stalls and came to stand over him while I was changing him.  At first she was very friendly, and just kept commenting on how cute he was.  Then she proceeded to tell me that her daughter had just had a baby, and that the baby had come out looking CHINESE, as she wrinkled her nose in disgust.  Somewhere between the urge to punch her in the face for simultaneously insulting the two loves of my life, and just being too stunned to say anything at all, I managed to reply sweetly through gritted teeth that her grandbaby must be beautiful since my son is half Chinese.  She spluttered something about how yeah, but her grandbaby isn’t Chinese, so it was weird she came out looking that way.  Then she went quickly on her way out the door. 

As we are expecting our second little boy, I can’t help but wonder if this baby will look like me and have Nando’s skin color.  How would that have changed this interaction? Would she have assumed he was adopted?  Would she have just kept her mouth shut?  Or would she have been more blatant in her racism?  I know this is not the last time my children will experience prejudice based on assumptions made from their skin color, and it both makes me sad and enrages me at the same time. 

It also raises so many more questions for me.  How do we as parents of mixed race children help them identify with all of their cultural heritages?  (I personally identify with much more than just “white”).  How do I, as a blond, white mother, truly understand the prejudice my half Chinese children will face throughout their lifetimes?  Or can I ever understand how deeply it could impact them?  How do I help them to be strong enough to overcome it without taking away any single piece of their identity? 

I try hard to make sure that my son and I are at least trying to learn his father’s Chinese dialect.  We eat foods that I grew up with and I’m trying (albeit not very successfully) to learn from Nando’s Mum how to make the dishes he grew up with.  We follow both Chinese customs, and my family’s holiday traditions because Nando and I both want our children to grow up identifying with their whole self.  Yet, I still can’t help wondering if they will someday have an identity crisis because the world will categorize them by their skin color and treat them accordingly.  Will my light skinned son shun his Chinese self for an “easier” life as a white man?  Will this second baby, if he’s darker skinned, identify more as Chinese and forget that part of him came from a different world? 

Ultimately though, I can’t prevent any of it even though I desperately want to protect them.  All we can do is love them unconditionally, teach them where they came from, and raise them to be the men we want them to be regardless of skin color.  If we are successful at that, they will be strong, confident gentlemen, capable of dealing with anything life throws at them and of defining themselves by any identity they choose.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

19 Months Old, 30 Flights, 4 Countries, and 2 Continents – Flying With Under 2’s

We've been fortunate enough to be able to travel a lot in Ayrton's 19 months of life on this planet.  After 30 flights with him, we've gotten our system down to a science.  Knowing we travel a lot, I’ve had many people ask me for tips on traveling with a baby in particular, so I’ve decided to do a series of posts for traveling with under 2’s.  For this first post, here are my tips for flying with babies and little people.

1.     When booking flights, check the infant policy for what you are allowed to bring for an infant.  Most airlines allow you to have a carry on for the baby as well as checking 2 – 3 infant items such as a car seat, stroller and/or port-a-cot.  Some airlines are specific about which items you can check and others just say how many infant specific items you are allowed.

2.     Don’t underestimate the value of red eye flights with tiny babies.  It was perfect to have flights that took off right around bedtime when Ayrton was really little.  The older he got though, the more that became a bit of a nightmare – I would discourage red eyes whenever possible once kids get to be around 1 – unless you know you have a row to yourself (and/or you’re buying a ticket for your kid) so they can lay down to go to sleep.

3.     When flying internationally, call your airline as soon as you book to find out if there are bassinets available on your flight, and if there are, if you can reserve one.  Some airlines let you pay a small fee to guarantee you get a bassinet (worth it!).  Others don’t charge but are first come first serve, but they will at least note that you want one and you’ll get it unless there is a younger baby that needs one.  Bassinets really only work up until about 12 months at the max – but they are a lifesaver, especially if you’re traveling alone.

4.     When checking in, ask if there is any possibility of getting a row to yourself.  If you’re nice and they have open seats, usually they will try to block a row for you so that the open seats in your row will only be used if they have to be.  (Often this ends up being the row reserved for wheel chair passengers if they don’t have any, which means you also end up with extra leg room.)

5.     Check your stroller and use a carrier in the airport, even if the airline will let you gate check it.  That way you can skip the elevator search and get through the airport faster.  Just keep in mind that most babies will not want to be carried in any carrier that is not forward facing by the time they hit 4 months, until they are big enough to go in a carrier on your back, so I suggest investing in a carrier that has multiple options for carry direction.

6.     At security, always ask if your baby has to come out of the carrier.  Usually the answer is yes, but every once in a while someone will let you go through without taking baby out.  This is more often the case when you are traveling alone and look flustered.

7.     Baby liquids are not the same as other liquids.  I’ve never had a problem taking any full bottles, baby food or baby medications through security.  As long as they are for baby, you should be fine, just ask if they need to be taken out for security screening or if they can be left in the bag.  In the US, they usually just want to screen your bottles in a separate screening process.

8.     Bring a blanket to wrap baby in (I usually bring a warm blanket and a muslin so I’m prepared for any temperature) to keep the infant seat belt from rubbing on sensitive baby skin.  (Other items to have with you will be in my post on packing lists).

9.     Some flight attendants are really helpful in warming up bottles, but they usually have to do it by putting it in a bowl of hot water so it can take quite a while.  We travel with a thermos full of hot water (for formula) or warm milk (once they are drinking milk).  It usually stays warm for about 12 hours and it keeps you from having to deal with a baby that is getting more and more worked up while you wait for the bottle to be warmed.  The other option is to try to get your kid used to cold formula or milk ahead of your flight – that didn’t work very well for us, but when he’s starving he will drink it cold. 

10.  If your baby is drinking formula, invest in the individual packets of formula rather than carrying your formula in one of the split containers or the can.  Not all brands make these packets, but if yours does, they’re worth it.  You can carry a lot more extra formula in case of delays, they are more compact and easier to pack, formula will be fresh, and you won’t have to worry about it spilling all over your bag if the lid comes off.

11.  Make sure to have something for baby to suck on at take off and landing.  If you are breastfeeding, no worries.  Otherwise a bottle and/or pacifier will work great.  Most babies fall asleep shortly after take off anyway since the plane engines are great white noise.

These are the biggest things I’ve learned flying with Ayrton, but please feel free to ask me if you have any other questions, and watch for my posts on ground transport, hotels and packing lists!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Things I've Learned Living in the Southern Hemisphere

There are certain things I have learned throughout my life that I have sort of taken as absolutes, or at least for granted.  Moving to the Southern Hemisphere, I have to laugh when it’s the little things that give me reality checks, even after 2.5 years.  For example, when you live in the Southern Hemisphere…

1.     Birds fly North for the winter, not South.  (This little tidbit is what inspired this post, since I just made this realization today.)
2.     There is no such thing as a white Christmas unless you are spending it on a white sand beach.
3.     July is the middle of winter.
4.     The stars and constellations you can see here are different.
5.     The water may go down the drain in the opposite direction.  (In fairness, my Dad has been trying to get me to prove this definitively for the last 2.5 years and I have yet to verify it despite numerous attempts – although according to Google it does, all forces being equal.)
6.     There is such a thing as a Southern Hemisphere compass that is balanced differently for the Southern Hemisphere.

I’m sure I will continue to learn new things living here, but I always think it’s funny when I realize that I’ve always taken the simplest factoids for granted.