Changes in Latitude
I write this blog as a personal pep talk. We are planning to travel to Minnesota for my brother's wedding in two months. That trip includes 2.5 hours on a plane, and another 2.5 hours in a car after we arrive, plus however long waiting for departure and luggage takes. All of us are going, including our seven month old twin boys, a four year old and a two year old.
As a mini "trial run" we packed up the van and headed to the beach about a month ago. You'd think an adventure deprived mom who loves to travel would jump at this kind of opportunity, but I have to admit that I almost talked us out of it. The thought of packing everything we needed for a three night trip intimidated me. All I focused on was the work, the screaming babies in the car, and the adjustment to sleeping somewhere new. Plus, I'm still nursing our twins, so the timing had to be just right for us to leave our house and arrive at the beach without having to stop and feed uncomfortably in the van.
As I listed off all the cons to Mark, I had a flashback to when Evy was three months. She was my first so everything seemed like a lot. I made a GIGANTIC deal out of traveling with her by myself on a flight to Minnesota. I told everyone I talked to and made sure to emphasize that it was "by MYSELF". I'd wait for people's eyes to widen and mouths to drop with unbridled shock at even the thought of it. "Travel with a mere three month old? By yourself?! Are you insane??!!"
Looking back, if those people did show any sign of sympathy at the mention of my trip, I'm sure they walked away rolling their eyes. Most of the time seasoned moms would say something like, "it'll make you stronger in the end" or "just feed her on the way up and the baby will be fine." I couldn't believe their carefree attitude about it all.
Bless these ladies. I'm sure they wanted to say something like, "get over yourself....it's just ONE"!
That's probably how I'd react if someone came to me freaking out about traveling with one baby now. That sounds like a vacation. I'd offer to take the trip for them if they committed to staying in my house for a night.
All that nostalgia of when it was just me and Ev, made me realize something. For how scared I was going on that plane with my new baby girl, it ended up being a breeze. She slept like an angel and people were so kind. I had multiple women offer to hold her while I fumbled with my luggage at the security line. I ended up enjoying the experience and agreeing with those moms that said it would make me stronger.
Besides, the fun we had while introducing my sweet Evy to her Minnesota family was worth every agonizing thought while I prepared. It would have been worth it even if everything did go wrong and the plane sat on the runway for two hours in the southern summer heat with no air conditioning before the flight took off. (I know that would be worth it because that exact thing happened on a subsequent trip to Minnesota when I had both Evy and Levi BY MYSELF).
But as we debated about a weekend trip to the beach with four kids, my mind went back to that negative space of all that could go south. "The babies just started sleeping for more than 4 hours at night, what if they don't fall asleep at all? What about all the stuff we have to pack and then unpack when we get back? What if I can't go to the beach because I'm stuck holding the babies all day? What if it rains? What if sharks eat our older two because we're preoccupied with the babies? What if they cry the whole ride there and back? What if my recovering mom body looks like sausage casing in a swimsuit?"
What if, what if, what if, what if?
Thank the Lord I married an optimist. A man who never turns down an adventure. I could tell he was going to talk me into it and I knew he was right. The trip would be worth it and any suffering we encountered along the way would make us stronger. So, I agreed and we set about packing our entire household into our minivan.
To keep a long story short, we did suffer. Right out of the gate we hit traffic and my whole plan to feed the babies once we got there was foiled. We ended up stopping on the side of a highway exit and getting out the nursing pillows. None of the kids slept. Carter screamed for most of the ride. And I'm pretty sure all of the kids pooped and peed multiple times either in their pants or at a rest stop.
But more important than all of those fumbles, were the triumphs. Seeing Evy and Levi splash around in tide pools. Searching for sea shells. Chasing little birds along the sand. Finding crab holes. Putting babies to sleep in our baby carriers as we walked along the beach holding hands and drinking beers. Playing with Grandma and Grandpa Schulte and Aunt Bala.
And the most miraculous triumph of all - the babies slept better than ever at the beach. We had three nights of six or more hours of consecutive slumber.
Hallelujah. I told Aunt Bala, the owner of the beach house, that we had to move in until they turned two.
Even with a denial to that request, the fun far outweighed the suffering. And as we often find when we look back at trips, the suffering ends up being fun too. Most of the time, the most memorable fun of all.
So we say yes to adventure. And because we feel like seasoned parents now who have hit the road a few times, here are our top 5 tips:
#5 Travel at Sleepy Times - This probably seems like an obvious one. Sometimes everything goes as planned and the kids sleep, but sometimes it doesn't work out and you end up with an overtired monster on your lap. I still say risk it and go for the nap. I'll always remember traveling with Evy and Levi BY MYSELF on a plane trip and Levi was a wild man. Totally overtired and wired to the max. There was a dad with his son, who was the same age as Levi, sitting across the aisle from us. The kid was passed out cold in a snuggle hug with his dad. As Levi pushed the button to call the flight attendant for the 159th time, I looked at that dad with pure envy. I sat for the first half of the flight wondering how he did it. Then as his child stirred, dad pulled out a syringe and a big bottle of benadryl. Aha! The dad turned to me as he administered the medicine and gave me a smirk.
"Teach me your ways oh wise one" I thought as Levi spilled an entire bag of goldfish all over our seats.
We have never done the drugging thing, and I can't really give a good reason why. Sure it's probably not good to medicate your baby if it's unnecessary. But on the other hand, for 2.5 hours of peace for both me and the passengers around me, maybe it is necessary? Why not? Really, all you parents who are thinking you would never do such a thing, tell me why not? I'm not judging either way, just wondering.
The picture below is of our (undrugged) trip to the beach when we traveled at bedtime. We had screaming for about an hour, but at this point Mark and I are desensitized to it. In the car you don't have the added stress of other people seated nearby. The plane is a different story (and why Benadryl seems like a great option).
#4 Pack Everything - If you are traveling with babies, now is not the time to channel your inner minimalist. You don't want to have to leave the beach for an unplanned trip to Target. If there is extra room in the van, car, luggage, backpack, fit as much as possible in every nook and cranny. We even pack the nightlights from our kids' bedrooms just in case that's the one thing that helps them sleep, because at this point it is ALL ABOUT THE SLEEP.
For plane rides, this tip mostly applies to snacks. We fit as many foods that our kids enjoy in every compartment imaginable. Mark even wears pants with extra pockets so he can pack more snacks. If all goes bad, we know our kids will gladly stuff their faces with food for two hours. And in survival mode, we do not inflict our normal dietary restrictions. If they need to eat fruit snacks for two hours to shut up, FRUIT SNACKS IT IS!
#3 Party Favors - Last time we traveled to Minnesota with just our two kids, we saw a family with five kids load on the plane. After the parents situated all their little people, they made an announcement to the passengers around them. "I'm so sorry you ended up with seats near us, but please accept these treats as an apology for any disturbance we cause." Then they graciously handed out bags filled with granola bars, chocolates, and other yummy snacks to anyone in ear shot of their babies.
Mark and I agreed, this was definitely something we would incorporate in our travel plans once the twins arrived. I'm sure all those people were internally agonizing over their bad luck when they saw the family of five sit down, but those snack packs made them all smile. I think it made them realize too that it's just 2.5 hours of disturbance. Anyone can handle that. And because the parents were so thoughtful in preparing, lots of people offered to help.
Once again, sugar to the rescue.
#2 Monitors - Do NOT forget to pack the baby monitors. This is our ticket to fun. And because it's so rare that we get to travel away from home, it seems ridiculous to go out and buy another set when we forget. So we don't (okay we don't anymore...we learned this lesson the hard way). They're always number one on our packing priority list (now).
#1 The Right Attitude - Every time I've gone into a tough situation or trip with that negative frame of mind, it's almost like I hope for bad things to happen just so all that preemptive worry was justified. And EVERY SINGLE TIME the worry was all for not.
EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
Sure, bad things have happened, but the challenges have made both me and our family stronger. When Mark and I attended a marriage conference during our engagement, the speaker said he interviewed a large group of families that he considered "close" and "happy together". He said the one common thread among them wasn't having lots of money or a special nighttime ritual or mom's perfect homemade cooking.
It was camping.
All of those families went out at least once a year and lived in a confined, buggy, uncomfortable space together. And the reason they believed that camping made a difference was because it offered a special kind of communal suffering.
Their kids could retell epic stories of camping trips gone wrong. Rainstorms that made the tents collapse. Bears stealing their food. Bug infestations. Dad snoring and waking up the whole campground.
They bonded over the imperfect. Things are a lot more memorable when all goes awry.
So I will go on that trip to Minnesota and I will embrace all the triumphs and fumbles. Adventure is worth it. Spending time with people I love is worth it.
You can do it Mick!