Tuesday, June 10, 2014

France, Part 4: Traveling With Kids

I've done my fair share of travel over the years, but it's been a long time since I've been on a plane.  And no matter how many times I've been on a plane, I always feel like everyone is probably staring at me and judging me for being a total novice.  I never pack the right things or ask the right questions or know what the heck to do when the flight attendants roll up and down the aisles.  Needless to say, when it came to flying with two kids, I was NERVOUS.  Crazy nervous.  I heard horror stories about babies who cried for eight hours or kids who whined for eight hours or parents who failed to bring a change of clothes and had to sit in a pile of stinking baby poop for eight hours.  Everyone I talked to said the same thing: "It sucks, but it's only eight hours of your life."  That was my attitude going in.  Like I was preparing for battle.  It's going to suck, but then it will be over.  

For once in my life, I think the worrying paid off.  The over-planning and the freaking out and the obsessive blog-post reading were a good thing in the end.  I learned some good lessons while I scoured the internet for tips and tricks for flying with little kids.  Once I realized that all of the advice posts were starting to sound the same, I decided to stop reading and start planning.  I still felt like I had no idea what the heck I was doing (that's my life's mantra, by the way, I never have any idea what the heck I'm doing), but looking back I can say with confidence that we made some key choices that really worked out well for us.  This is not intended to be another advice post on how to travel with kids, just a record of how WE survived our travels with kids.  Here are the things that worked or didn't work for us:

Umbrella Stroller 


My biggest fear was not the eight hour flight, but the insanely long lines at the airport.  Margot does not stand still.  I tried for weeks to get Margot used to being in a baby carrier so we could get through the airport without losing her.  We tried two different kinds, but every time we went to put her in one, she pitched a royal fit and my blood pressure went through the roof.  The kid hasn't been in a Moby Wrap since she was nine months old - I don't know why I expected her to LOVE a baby carrier.  Instead, we chose plan B and bought a used umbrella stroller at a second hand sale for $5.  I didn't want to invest any money into something if it wasn't going to work, and I wanted to be able to leave it behind if I really needed to.  We put her in the tiny stroller for a few outings around town and she LOVED it!  Thank goodness.  One of those outings was a very special...

Airport Family Field Trip!
I read a lot of advice posts about showing your kids books and videos about airports, which we did, but I thought, "What the heck?  Why not just TAKE THEM to the airport and look around?"  It was great for both girls.  Sylvia got to see the check-in desk and the security lines and Margot got to practice riding in her stroller around the airport.  It also helped put my mind at ease while we stood there and watched family after family disappear into the metal detector! We took our field trip two weeks before we left, so by the time my mom dropped us off for our flight, the girls were READY!

When we arrived at the check in desk and waited in our very first line for a total of five minutes, Margot still pitched a royal fit while she was IN the stroller.  But it wasn't anything that decision #3 couldn't fix:

Margot is obsessed with the iPad.  I'm not usually strict about when and how she uses it, but I knew that we had to be strategic about it in order to keep the peace on our trip.  Once it was placed in her hot little hands, she was all smiles and giggles.  This got us through our first short line and appeased her for the next line - security.  However, we failed to prepare her for the moment we had to yank it out of her hands and send it through the machine.  We also didn't know we'd have to collapse the stroller (we thought we were going to get some special treatment for traveling with kids, but apparently you have to pay extra for THAT line and we still had to take off our damn shoes).  

 It Happens
This caused the one and only monumental, Chernobyl-sized break down of the entire trip.  It was like a scene from a sitcom.  I tried to politely take the iPad away from Margot and get her out of the stroller while Sylvain fumbled with our bags and emptied his pockets.  Margot started screaming bloody murder, then I heard Sylvia scream, too.  I looked up to see that her entire pack of Goldfish crackers has been emptied onto the floor and the devastation was too much for her tiny body to handle, so there was excessive wailing and gnashing of teeth.  It was one of those Mom-fail moments where I cursed the Lord for not giving me enough hands and arms.  Have you ever tried to wrangle a baby, collapse a stroller, sweep Goldfish crackers off the floor and take your shoes off at the same time?  Let me tell you - it's impossible.  And I couldn't put Margot down because she's a runner, so I had to do all of those things while I held a screaming toddler UNDER MY ARM.  I slung her under my arm like a sack of potatoes.  She was already crying about the iPad, so who cares, right?  I'd love to see the surveillance video from that nightmare. 

Before security, when all was right with the world.
After we cleared security, we hiked a mile and a half to our gate.  We had to separate at this point because Sylvia was about to pee in her pants, so Sylvain gave me all the luggage and picked up Sylvia so he could RUN with her to a bathroom.  I grew that third arm I was looking for earlier and dragged two rolling suitcases (one perched on top of the other), my giant purse, the diaper bag and the stroller through the terminal.  While six months pregnant.  I was literally laughing at myself because I knew how ridiculous I must have looked.  

Sylvia made it to the bathroom and we all sat down at the gate to wait for our flight, just in time for Margot to have a gigantic poopy BLOW OUT in her diaper!  I couldn't remember the last time she had a blow out because it had been that long. Luckily I packed an extra set of clothes for all of us, so she was in her extra set before we even boarded the plane!  I washed her pants and undershirt in the bathroom sink with hand soap and dried them under the air dryers.  When I finally met everyone at the gate it was almost time to leave!  I looked at Sylvain and said, "At least all of our drama is happening on the ground.  It can't get worse than this, right?"  I know, famous last words, but I was right.  That one-hour span was the worst of it.  The rest of the flight was smoooooth sailing!

Bulkhead Economy Comfort Seats

Oh my goodness, this was the best decision ever and worth every penny.  We had heard tales of the glories of bulkhead seats - the ones with a wall in front of them.  Not only are there less people for us to bother, these seats also have a couple extra inches of legroom and they can attach a bassinet to the wall for babies to sleep in!  Since Margot was a lap passenger, I though the bassinet might just be a good place to let her sit for a while, but it turned out that she was too long for it and they wouldn't let us use it.  It didn't matter.  We had PLENTY of room in those three seats!  Can you see Sylvain STANDING UP in front of our seats?  The wall is behind him and he's not even touching it!  It was much cheaper than buying four regular seats in the back, even though it was a little extra per seat to get that crazy new middle-of-the-plane comfort.  The seats were wider, too, and we probably could have put both girls in one seat for a while, but we didn't want any prison riots to ensue, so we kept them apart.


We made these goodie bags for the two rows behind us and the seats to our sides.  The message is written in English on one side and French on the other.  After we got settled in our seats, the girls handed these to the passengers around us and we magically became everyone's favorite family!  As worried as I was about getting on everyone's nerves, I must say that the girls did such a great job on the flight and the folks around us were more than accommodating when a round of "the fussies" hit.  Whining and crying never lasted more than a few seconds, though, because of...

Strategic Activities
I knew the key to a long flight would be keeping the girls busy, but I didn't want to bring a ton of junk we wouldn't use (like I do for church every Sunday).  I also didn't want to spend a ton of time making "busy bags" and toddler games that they would use up in the first 15 minutes and then whine for more.  Luckily, Sylvia's in a sweet spot right now where she loves to color, and Margot's in a sweet spot where she will do whatever Sylvia does without question.  The girls will spend HOURS coloring, so I bought each of them a new coloring book and a fresh pack of crayons.  I bought some of those invisible ink books at Target for a dollar, along with a scratch off picture for each of them.  I loaded up the phones and iPad with plenty of new apps that would hold their attention and I brought some single-serving snacks that they never get to have at home (cookies, Cheese-its, lollipops - although now we burn through lollipops like they're water, but whatever).  I kept all of the toys and goodies in Sylvain's carry-on bag and planned to only pull them out when we were desperate.  As it turns out, all we needed were the coloring books and...

Giant Kid Headphones

See those tiny headphones in Margot's ears?  Those don't work for kids. They don't stay in their tiny ears and if they do, they hurt.  Margot was watching the flight attendant video and I hadn't unpacked the giant kid headphones yet, but once we were in the air, I gave Sylvia and Margot their new headphones and it was like Christmas morning!  Yes, they took up a lot of space in our bags, but they were definitely worth it.
Minnie Mouse for Margot
TMNT for Sylvia
I didn't take a picture, but I wish I did, because they sat with these suckers on their heads and watched Frozen on the airplane TV screens FOUR TIMES IN A ROW!  It was glorious. In fact, one piece of advice I found over and over again was to not bring anything for yourself to do because you'll be tending to kids the whole time.  While this was mostly true, there were a few times during round 3 of Frozen when I thought to myself, "I probably should have brought something to read."

Pajamas and Benadryl
I packed pajamas, dou dou bears and bunnies (aka: our girls' lovies), blankies, pacifiers, and night-night books (small paperback ones, not the giant board books) in Sylvia's Hello Kitty rolling luggage (which a dear friend let us borrow and I am eternally grateful)!  All of those things are lightweight so I knew she could roll that luggage all over the airport and all of those things are essential to getting my kids to sleep.  The time difference between here and France is 6 hours, so our flight left at 5:30 pm our time and arrived at 1:30am OUR TIME.  In France, it was 7:30am when we arrived, which is usually about the time we eat breakfast around here.  I knew my girls wouldn't sleep for the whole eight hour flight, but I really wanted them to sleep as much as possible.  After dinner was served, we gave them Benadryl and put on their pj's.  We read a book and sang a song, just like we always do, and we waited for them to fall asleep.  No dice.  Margot passed out pretty quickly and stayed asleep for about three hours, but Sylvia was just too excited to sleep.  She wanted to sit on Sylvain's lap, so Margot actually got to sleep in Sylvia's seat on top of one of the stewardess' giant down blankets that she let us use!  Sylvia finally fell asleep on Sylvain's shoulder and slept for about two hours.  Sylvain and I didn't sleep at all.  

When breakfast was served, we put them back in their clothes to at least make it FEEL like we just had a "night" and we tried to get them to eat, but they really just kept snacking until we got to Sylvain's dad's house and had a real lunch.  We were all a little tired and cranky when we arrived at the airport, but the excitement really did override the exhaustion and we powered through!  Margot spent more time in the stroller, attached to the iPad, and Sylvia was fine as long as she had a lollipop and something to make her feel helpful, like pulling her suitcase or reading the signs on the walls.  I pretty much had to throw all of my expectations and standards out the window and say to myself, "As long as everyone's moving forward in the right direction, I don't really care what we look like, sound like, what we're eating or what we're missing!"  We made it to our final destination in one piece and took a nice long nap to start our trip!

Burning Energy
Our trip home was much the same, except this was the flight on which we had to have a really long DAY instead of a really short night.  The security line went much more smoothly here and we had a good two hours to kill in the terminal.  We did a lot of shopping with our remaining euros, but the girls especially loved the Disney play area for kids!  I knew they'd be sitting for nine hours, so I asked Sylvain to make sure they were MOVING and burning energy while they were in there!

Sylvia received all kinds of new and exciting toys for her birthday while we were in France, so she was more than occupied on the plane.  The airline had every Disney movie under the sun as well as all of the Disney channel cartoons, which we don't have at home, so we watched Frozen, Tangled, Toy Story, and a few episodes of Jake and the Neverland Pirates.  All on two screens, of course, because each girl had her own and they were not interested in watching the same thing at the same time!  We tried to get up and move as much as possible - lots of trips to the bathroom or moving to the floor in front of us to color or read or just sit for a minute.  Before we knew it, we were HOME!!

Patience....and Grammy
The lines in the airport after our flight landed were NO FUN, but they still weren't as bad as that first round of security on day one.  We had to do this ridiculous dance where you find your checked bags then you give them BACK to be re-checked by security before you pick them up again.  We forgot to transfer our duty free liquids (champagne, wine and liquor!) into our checked bags, so we were stopped at security and Sylvain had to put them in our carry on suitcase and send THAT through with the checked luggage.  It was a nightmare for him because the girls and I were already through the security gate and waiting on the other side!  He had to repack the carry-on and wait in the crazy long line AGAIN, while we sat in a row of chairs and waited.  At this point delirium had set in with Sylvia.  But I still had plenty of lollipops so....no one died.

We finally made it through with all of our luggage and belongings.  Nothing was broken or stolen or missing, thank goodness!  My mom was planning to meet us and take us home, and I don't know what it is about seeing my mom after a long trip, but it always brings tears to my eyes.  She's been there for almost every big trip I've ever taken and she always reminds me that there's no place like home!  When Sylvia saw her and shouted, "Grammmyyyy!!!" I almost lost it.  I was so tired.  I was so happy to be home.  I was so glad she was there to take care of us. 

Sylvia chattered on and on about the trip and about her "Daddy's Daddy" on the way home.  When we got to our house, Mom had surprised us by sneaking in earlier that day to leave milk, juice, a chicken pot pie for dinner, an Easter bunny cake for dessert, a bouquet of flowers and balloons for the girls.  She hung up the cutest sign (I don't have a picture!!) that said, "Welcome Home Fasciottos!" and "There's no place like home!" with pictures of the girls in their Halloween costumes: Dorothy and the Lion.  So sweet!

It took us days to recover from the jet lag, so we had a lot more early morning iPad time than is usually allowed, but eventually we were back on track, back to work, and everything was back to normal.  It was a wonderful trip and I still can't believe we made it all the way there and back!  I can't wait to do it again - with THREE kids next time - YIKES!!

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