Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Riding in Planes With Kids

We have just arrived home from our Thailand vacation, and let me tell you, the past 24 hours were not the ideal ending to our tropical holiday.

It all began on Thursday morning, the day when we were scheduled to check out of our villa. Now, in any normal person's world, that would also have been the day that we flew home, but...not so much in MY world.

You see, once I'd gone through all of the trouble of researching, finding and booking the rental house, I just kind of sat back and didn't feel any pressing need to actually, you know, think about HOW we were going to get there and back.

Long story short, by the time I got around to realizing that one must actually book plane tickets AHEAD of time, all of the flights out of Phuket on our friendly neighborhood budget airline were booked on Thursday.

No problem, I thought, I'll just email the rental house company and get us in for one more night. Obviously, the next day I got a response email informing me that new people were coming the afternoon that we were leaving, so one more night wasn't possible.

No problem, I thought, we'll just stay in a hotel for one night and leave on Friday. When we got to Phuket, we had a look around at some hotels and got some ideas where we wanted to stay. I went on a last-minute hotel deals-type website and was able to find a room at one of the hotels that we'd seen on the beach for a very decent price. Booked!

There, that solved that problem. RIGHT?

Well, it might have, if I'd bothered to think about our flight times for oh, say, two minutes and realize that 7:00 p.m was not really the most awesome time to make a 3-hour flight with two small kids. Which clearly I did not.

Spending one night in a hotel only reinforced my low opinion of staying in hotels with our kids. We had to wait 3 hours to check in and were informed that we could NOT, in fact, get a late check-out the next day (which would have really, really helped us out. A lot). What the hell were we going to do between our noon check-out time and 4:00 p.m, which was when we would need to leave for the airport.  OK, we thought, so we'll just leave our bags and go hang out by the pool.

The pool which, by the way, was so crowded that finding two free chairs together was a major accomplishment, so much so that I didn't even feel like an a@#hole when we left our towels on them all afternoon, even when we were sitting in the restaurant having lunch.

We spent the night alternating between turning off the lights and waiting quietly for the kids to fall asleep, and turning the lights back on 30 minutes later with an exasperated sigh and "Oh, for god's sake, let's just read and they'll go to sleep when they're tired enough!" while the kids rolled around, giggling and fake snoring.

Do I even need to tell you that when we woke up on Friday morning, the view from our window was of the gray, windy, RAINY sky? I didn't think so. Because of course there was no way that WASN'T going to happen.

Anyway, we passed the time (with the help of a $30 round-trip cab ride to the mall) and were ready to get on that plane and get the hell home.

If only the plane had been ready.

I know that to most people, an hour delay isn't that bad...hell, most people would probably say, "ONLY one hour? Not bad!" but those people are probably not traveling with kids. Because, you see, in Kid Time, one hour is really about six hours.

The true beauty of our situation was in the fact that our gate was situated RIGHT IN FRONT of the airport spa, so from our seats, we had full view of all of the childless travelers enjoying their delays by reclining in chairs and getting massages or foot rubs by aromatic candlelight.

That was awesome. Or so it seemed for THOSE people. At least I could enjoy the scent of the candles as the aromatherapy goodness wafted out of the door. 

The good news, I figured was that the kids would be so tired by the time that we got on the plane that they would just go to sleep for the whole flight.

Remember that sentence later on so that you can laugh and laugh at me and my delightful naiveté...

The OTHER good news was that we spotted another family hanging around our gate who had 3 kids under the age of four...THREE! We were counting on them to be our Deflect Family- you know, the ones whose kids deflect attention away from ours by behaving equally bad or (in the best case scenarios) WORSE. We figured the odds were in our favor; no family has three kids who all behave well all the time, right? I'm sure there may be some out there, but if there are, I've never seen them.

Finally,  after a few hours of feeding our kids nothing but french fries from the various fast-food establishments located around the gate, it was time to board. (Side note: you know how in the US, there is a push to include all kinds of healthy food options around airports, making it possible to buy salads, fruit and fresh juice for your kids? Well, those don't so much exist overseas)

We got to our seats, and the jackass in front of me immediately reclined his seat as far back as it would go, despite the fact that I was sitting with an almost-two-year-old on my lap. I really, really disliked that man, to the point that I only half-assed attempted to get Skye to stop kicking his seat. I actually encouraged it a couple of times. I may have even kicked it myself once or twice...or five times.

As we were preparing for takeoff, I got Skye settled, began singing her some night-night songs and got her to ALMOST fall asleep. That, apparently, was the perfect time for Kaia and Jabiz to get out the travel Shoots and Ladders game and start playing.


Needless to say, Skye bolted upright and took an immediate interest in their game. That interest was immensely bigger than any interest that she had in sleeping. I realized right then and there that the chances I had of getting any sort of rest on that flight were slim to none. Mostly none. But at least I realized it early on. Because bitter realization trumps bitter disappointment every time.

So, skip two hours ahead, and Kaia finally fell asleep about 40 minutes before we were scheduled to land, and Skye finally fell asleep....never.

However, the two bright spots about our flight were that Skye was at least tired enough to just kind of sit there on my lap, shredding the inflight magazine, and that our Deflect Family did not disappoint- their kids alternated 10-15 minute screaming fits every half hour or so, which allowed me to unclench my shoulder muscles and stop worrying about what my kids were doing.

This went on until the magical time that occurs about 30 minutes before we end any flight. That time is known as The Time When I Just Don't Care Anymore. I love that time, because I know that even if my kids start screaming and won't stop, or start jumping up and down on my lap, it won't last more than 30 minutes and I stop caring. Seriously, I JUST DON'T CARE.

This time has been shortened down over the years, starting with the year we traveled to the US with Kaia when she was six months old. We arrived in Hong Kong on our way back to Malaysia, and the flight home was only three hours. I declared at the Hong Kong airport that after the 15-hour flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong, I No Longer Cared What Happened. Seriously. I honestly thought to myself, "It's three hours, what's the worst that can happen?"

Apparently, the worst that can happen is that your six-month-old will proceed to scream inconsolably for no reason during the ENTIRE three hours. I quickly realized that I DO, in fact, care what happens for three hours. Three hours is a HELL of a long time. So, you know, I've had to pare that time down a bit.

Luckily, Skye was so tired by the time we got off the plane that she voluntarily climbed into her previously-unused-during-the-entire-trip-because-she-refuses-to-sit-in-it stroller and we had a relatively quick and calm airport experience. I knew there was a reason why we brought that thing, besides using it to hold my carry-on bag and purse while I tote Skye.

So, the main lesson that I learned from this is that night flights kind of suck, and should be avoided whenever possible with small children. Had I realized this, I would have tried to get a morning or early afternoon flight out the day after and spent another night in the hotel. I am glad to be home, though.

OK, so what lesson have YOU learned from traveling with kids?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

You Say To-may-to, I Say To-mah-to...

My husband and I are both teachers, which means that we both have summers off. Having 6 weeks of uninterrupted bonding time with each other and our kids is the trade-off that we make for not being paid a ton of money and having to deal with the student-parent-administration Trio of Joy for the rest of the year. And I'm not going to lie, it's a good trade-off. 

For this summer, we have rented a small house in Phuket, Thailand. It's a pretty nice house- it has its own small pool, wireless internet (well, some of the time), and a full kitchen. However, it's still just that- a house, NOT a hotel. OK, so it has a maid who comes once a week to change the linens and towels and do a general clean-up, but that is where the similarity to a hotel ends.

So far today, I have made the beds, cooked two meals, washed the dishes, done the laundry, ironed and gone grocery shopping. I will repeat some, if not all, of these chores for most of the days during which we are here. I'll also clean the floors, disinfect the kitchen counters and wipe spots off of the bathroom mirror.

Now, I know that many people out there consider this to not be an ideal vacation set-up. MANY people have the mentality that they go on vacation so that they DON'T have to cook, clean or pick up after their kids.

Well, I am not one of those people.

I USED to be one of those people. I used to love to go on vacation and head to the nicest hotel that we could afford. I loved eating in restaurants, leaving the room when the maid came to clean and then coming back to new sheets on a freshly made bed, followed by an order to room service. I loved not caring about the suitcase full of dirty clothes that I would end up going home with...and, well, you get the idea.

Obviously, that was BEFORE we had kids.

Now that we have them, my idea of a vacation has slightly altered. Just slightly. So, while many of you may not consider our holiday set-up to be the stuff that good vacations are made of, allow me to explain why, for us, it is the PERFECT holiday.

For me, any worthwhile vacation does NOT include any of the following things:

1.) Eating in restaurants with my children. Especially when those children consist of The One Who Won't Sit and The One Who Won't Eat. Oh, sure, we've had the occasional night out and dined in some low-key place with the kids, but those nights are far and few between, AND they weren't very relaxing. In fact, the only reason why we went out was because we felt like we should get out of the house once in a while for a meal.  That's what normal families on holiday together do, isn't it? Well, if it is, I can't for the life of me figure out why.

I much prefer cooking some pasta or a homemade pizza while the kids are swimming, coloring, or watching a video. No need to entertain them until the food comes, hoping that you don't bother the people around you and spoil THEIR holiday. No need to scour the menu for something that the kids will eat, only to end up ordering greasy cheese pizza and french fries. Again. Granted, that is also  the result of the fact that we are a vegetarian family, so our options at restaurants are usually already limited to begin with. When the food is ready, they come in and eat it. When they're done, no sitting and waiting for the check to be paid.

PLUS, it's just cheaper. There is no arguing about that. Restaurant bills add up, even when you are eating in places that have the words "Beach Bar" in the name.

Ahhhhhhhh.....for a parent, this is bliss!

2.) Sharing one room with the kids. I don't know how many of you have ever tried putting small kids to bed while in a hotel room, but unless you, too, want to turn out the lights and go to sleep at 7:00, it is NOT easy. They are just not going to go to sleep with the television or the lights on. Sometimes my husband and I will put the kids in bed, and then go and read in the bathroom until they pass out.

Now, that is something that we are willing to do for a few nights if we're on a weekend away, but for a MONTH? No. Freaking. Way.

There is something so very, very liberating about putting the kids in bed, shutting the door, and actually continuing with our night. What can we do?


Watch a movie! Read a book! Write a blog post! Have a late night snack! Skype with friends!

This? Is awesome.

 3.)  Trying to wash clothes in a hotel sink or bathtub whenever Skyelar spills something, falls in something, or rubs something onto her clothes. Which is EVERYDAY. Sometimes more than once.  One time when we went to Bali, I spent more time in the bathroom trying to scrub various stains out of her clothing than I did by the pool. Or so it felt that way, at least. EVERY available hanging space in our bathroom was taken up with damp clothing, and our towels were relegated to a sad pile on top of the toilet.

Now, I do realize that hotels usually come with laundry services, but after the $90 bill that we got slapped with the last time that we used a hotel's laundry service, this is no longer even in my realm of consideration.

I'll also add that I do not consider walking half a mile in SE Asian heat while carrying a big bag of clothes to the nearest laundry place part of an acceptable vacation, either.

I've done all of the above, and I will sure as HELL take throwing a few loads of laundry into the machine and spending an hour a week ironing over them. Did I say sure as hell? AS HELL.

4.) Sharing a pool with a hundred other families. The pool at this house may be small, and it may not have a shallow end, but the fact that the lounge chairs surrounding it are ALL OURS, as well as the knowledge that 25 other kids haven't spent the past hour peeing in it makes up for that.

We can go out whenever we want to and find a place to sit- no rushing out early to put down towels and claim seats together, no worrying that if we go in to take a nap, there won't be any spaces left when we come out (and along with this comes not having to feel like complete a@#holes by leaving towels thrown over empty chairs for hours at a time in order not to lose them).

There are also no awkward moments when some strange kid comes over and tries to usurp one of our kids' pool toys, which I swear always happens whenever we go on vacation. And I don't mean SHARE them, I mean TAKE them. Which then puts me in the position of being forced to judge their parents because don't they see what's going on? Why aren't they DOING something about it, for god's sake?

See those chairs? We can sit in them WHENEVER WE WANT TO!
There are many more reasons (including the opportunity to go and check out grocery stores in unknown places. I am a COMPLETE grocery store freak, if you did not know that already. Just having an excuse to go to a new grocery store makes any vacation totally, totally fabulous. Unless the grocery store sucks, which they sometimes do), but these are my Big Four.

So, allow me to excuse myself now as I cheerfully get ready to sweep the tile floor AGAIN and start brainstorming tomorrow's breakfast menu...at least I won't be in line at the buffet trying to explain to Kaia why they don't serve pancakes everyday, or why she CAN'T have chocolate cereal at home even though they have it at the hotel.

Bliss, I tell you! What's YOUR idea of a great vacation?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

It's not me, it's you. It's definitely you.

Toddlers can be finicky little people. They can also turn on you on a dime. One day, only YOU can satisfy their yearns for affection, and the next day- you're OUT OF THE CIRCLE! Seriously, OUT! They are like that girl in middle/high school who would be your best friend one day, then pretend she didn't know your name the next. Though, toddlers are way cuter than THAT girl.

When Kaia was about Skye's age, she turned on ME and became the #1 Daddy's Girl in the whole entire world. Seriously, I could not go near that kid without her screaming her head off and running in Jabiz's direction. Ironically, we also went to Phuket, Thailand for a vacation around that time, and I distinctly remember one particularly embarrassing evening when Jabiz dared leave the room for 30 minutes to go to the hotel lobby and check his email.

Kaia did not take that well. No, no she did not. Not at all.

The screaming basically started the second the door shut and continued in high-pitched howls that seemed to have no end. I did what any parent would do- first, I tried to comfort her. Then I started begging her to just lower the decibels a BIT so that I would have the nerve to dare to look the people in the next room in the face the next morning at breakfast. Then, I just decided to ignore her until she wore herself out.

Sounds like a good plan, right?

I went to the bathroom, and as soon as I closed the door, the screaming stopped. I breathed a sigh of relief and figured that she had finally, FINALLY given up.

Clearly, I did not know with whom I was dealing.

As I came out of the bathroom, I suddenly realized that the reason why the screaming had stopped was because she had ESCAPED. The hotel room door (which, inexplicably, did not automatically lock when closed and which was also ridiculously lightweight and easy to open) was ajar, and Kaia was GONE. Freaking out, I ran down the corridor, until I heard the screaming start again. Except, you know, THIS time it was just all out in the open, in front of all of the people walking to dinner.

"Daddy! Daddy! DAAAAAAAADDY!" There she was, sitting on the hallway floor, tears streaming down her face and looking at me as if I was coming to take her for her first root canal.

"No! No! NO!!!" That was all that I - or anyone- could hear as I approached her, and I swear that if we'd been in the US, someone would have called Child Protective Services. But we weren't in the US, we were in a foreign country, and is there CPS in foreign countries? I have no idea, and neither, apparently, did anyone else.

I picked up her tiny little flailing body and carried her, still screaming, back to the room, feeling my face turn a deep shade of red. I then proceeded to sit with the screaming, though by now I had just given up and turned on the television, volume LOUD, hoping that people would simply assume that maybe I was just obnoxiously watching a really, really violent program. We sat like that the entire time until Jabiz came back. About 5 hours later. No, not really. But it felt like it.

I finally got my redemption on the 8-hour flight back to Doha, when Kaia would ONLY allow Jabiz to accompany her up and down the plane aisles as I sat and watched the first entire movie that I'd seen on a flight since she was born. It was right then that I decided that this new phase? Didn't suck as much as it had first appeared to. But I knew that someday, it would all come back to bite me.

Karma, thy name is Skyelar.

Skyelar, as it turns out, is NOT a Daddy's Girl, she is a Mummy's Girl. Like, really, really, REALLY a Mummy's Girl.  If you went online and looked up "Mummy's Girl", you would be faced with a picture of Skye putting up her hand and screaming, "No!" whenever Jabiz tries to carry her anywhere.

Some of you may think that secretly, I like having Skye all to myself. After all, she is adorable, loving, and for the most part, usually somewhat delightful to be around.

You people would be wrong.

Allow me, please, to outline the things that being the mother of a Mummy's Girl entails:

* Having to eat with a small child wriggling around on your lap because god forbid she spend 5 minutes away from you. This is particularly thrilling when you have a glass of beer in front of you that she assumes is hers to share and really doesn't appreciate being denied.

* Enjoying the pleasure of spending hours wading around in the shallow part of the ocean during trips to the beach while Jabiz and Kaia are out swimming past the breakers or boogie boarding.

* Waking up in the morning with sore arm and upper back muscles because the Little One has decided that walking 2 feet away from you is just too, TOO much distance to have. Except when we are in the grocery store, that is- then she cannot seem to run away from me fast enough.

* Did I mention the lap sitting? I think I touched on it when in reference to restaurant eating, but I must elaborate here and extend it to include 3-hour plane rides, as well as ALL car rides. And NO, we did not bring a car seat with us, because we did not plan on renting a car, so just deal with it and don't judge me or email me about it.

* Having to carry a GINORMOUS diaper bag PLUS a 24-pound toddler everywhere you go, because the second that Daddy tries to carry her, she gets her Pitiful Look on her face, throws out her arms, and screams, "Mommy! MOOOOOOMMY!!". We've learned to resist that, but then The Flailing starts, and it's really hard to ignore The Flailing.

These are just a few examples. However, I've been told by friends who've been down this road before to enjoy it while it lasts, because in time, Mummy's Girls have a tendency to turn into Leave Me The Hell Alone Girls, and then I apparently will look back on this time fondly, even WISHING that we could return to it.

I have a hard time believing it now, but my friends are all pretty smart and seem to know what they are talking about in all other areas, so I will take their word for it.

And have I mentioned that my arms have never been so toned?

Did your kids ever go through this phase?