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. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mummy is Sick

I am fortunate that I can’t remember having been sick at all since Ayrton was born beyond a headache here and there.  That said, now that I’m feeling crappy..I swear my son’s thought process has had a radical shift in response.  For example, upon realizing that I don’t feel well this morning, I think his thought process went something like this…

“Ooh, mummy doesn’t feel good today.   If I scream enough I’ll get to watch all the TV I want…

…Time to tell Mummy I’m hungry.  I think I’ll refuse to eat anything other than left over rice because it’s easy for Mummy and fun for me to throw!

…Throwing rice is so much fun!  Especially when I can throw it in the dog bed to save for later when Mummy is trying to clean up all the rice that is all around and in my high chair.

…Hmmm…the dog bed is fun too!  While I’m eating the rice I saved for later, I might as well see why Ovi likes chewing on these toys…

…Okay, so Mummy doesn’t like me eating rice out of the dog bed or chewing on Ovi’s toys.  I’ll just go pull out all of MY toys.

…What’s this?!  I found the drawer with the play dough?!  Awesome!  Screaming is working today.  I’ll just throw a tantrum till Mummy opens all the containers for me.

…The only thing better than having all these colors of play dough is the fact that Mummy has a light colored couch she’s laying on!  I’ll just go share all my play dough colors with her.

…Mummy isn’t enjoying the play dough as much as I do.  I’ll give her a break and just go watch some more TV.

…TV is so much more entertaining when I rearrange ALL of the pillows and rugs in the living room to create the perfect seating environment.

…I’m thirsty.  Yay, Mummy gave me a big boy water bottle because she doesn’t want to pull mine out of the dishwasher and wash it by hand.  Oooh…this water bottle spills water when I turn it upside down!  And check out what it does when I shake it!

…Mummy is in the kitchen cleaning up the water I sprayed everywhere.  I’m bored.  Maybe I’ll go see what’s down here..

…The toilet!  Even better, the toilet brush!!  Man, this thing throws water even further than the water bottle did! 

…Mummy does not look happy.  She also looks kinda tired. Maybe when she finishes cleaning all that up I’ll just go cuddle with her, say “Hi Mama,” and give her a nice kiss on the cheek.”

Even after all the craziness on top of not feeling well, he’s still the sweetest kiddo.   

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Signs you’re the Stay at Home Mum of a Toddler(s)

1.     Your to do list includes: laundry (more?!), clean yogurt off of sofa, don’t try not to lose your sh*t about yogurt on the sofa, take attempt to shower, put on a bra, make a healthy lunch the toddler will eat.  You consider yourself successful if you manage to cross off more than one of these in a day.

2.     Your dentist and doctors appointments are like mini vacations and you are willing to switch providers to anyone who runs notoriously late.  “Sorry I’m late, the dentist was really behind today…”

3.     Your gift wish list for any occasion has shifted from the cutest shoes, jewelry, clothes, show tickets etc. to a bigger fridge, the special anniversary recording of Samuel L. Jackson reading “Go The F*ck To Sleep” and a minimum of 5 minutes of private Mummy time in the bathroom.

4.     You refer to yourself in the 3rd person, even when talking to your spouse.  “Mummy is tired.”

5.     Your idea of a “clean” house is now somewhat more subjective.

6.     Date night consists of a few hours out of the house where you and your spouse attempt not to fall asleep across the dinner table from each other and then spend the whole evening talking about the funny thing the toddler did that day.

7.     Hearing “Winter is Coming” sends cold shivers of fear straight through you because you know that means you’ll have to come up with indoor activities to entertain them or you’ll end up with something far worse than White Walkers on your hands, you’ll have a bored and cooped up toddler…