Parenting lesson #10: Be prepared, but when the diarrhea hits the fan, seek help from another parent.


I like to be prepared.  Although having three kids has thrown my life into more chaos than two ever did, I still try to keep myself from getting caught off-guard.  For example, as a general rule, I have six diapers in the diaper bag.  My nursing class teacher shared how she got stuck traveling with her baby who had diarrhea.  Flight attendants had to take turns running paper towels to her seat, and the story stuck with me.  I don’t ever want to have diarrhea all over me in a place where I can’t get to a change of clothes.

This story comes to mind when I travel, so I try to pack extra diapers.  But for our last trip home from Florida, I had three remaining diapers when we left for the airport.  It should have been more than enough to get me through.  But that’s not how things went down.

We knew when we left for the airport that our flight was delayed.  What we could not have foreseen was that the one-hour delay would become a four-hour delay, the final hour of which came once everyone had boarded the plane and a rogue piece of luggage fell from the overhead compartment, injuring a passenger.  This necessitated emergency aid in the form of a sheriff’s vehicle and fire truck pulling up next to us at the gateway “just in case” while the crew waited for this passenger to feel better.  (You can’t make this stuff up.)

The rip-off package of two diapers and eight wipes.  No thanks (but good to know they're there)!
The rip-off package of two diapers and eight wipes. No thanks (but good to know they’re there)!

When your 5-6 hours traveling with three children becomes 9-10 hours, you learn to relax.  You roll with the punches.  And you improvise.  A four-hour delay with Eliza would have had me sweating bullets about the diaper dilemma.  But with Ethan, I wasn’t all that concerned, despite having used up two diapers before our flight even took off.  I briefly considered buying the $5 airport pack of two diapers and eight wipes, but the cheap skate in me just couldn’t do it, and the diapers weren’t the right size anyway.  But the anal-retentive part of me couldn’t board the plane with only one remaining diaper.  (I might be anal, but Ethan is not!  And diarrhea was what I feared, remember?)  I decided to make a new friend.  There was a woman with an 11-month-old nearby.  I introduced myself, explained my situation, and asked if she had a diaper to spare.  She was happy to help.  I told her I just needed a one-diaper cushion.

Thank goodness for that woman.  And every other mom or dad who has been that person for another mom or dad in need.  I must confess that I haven’t always had the most gracious thoughts towards unprepared parents.  But the truth is we all need help sometimes.  No matter how well you plan or predict, parenting is beautifully unpredictable.  In the end, I did need that diaper.  I used one on the plane, and then of course Ethan pooped as I waited at baggage claim for Greg to pull up the car.  No, the little man didn’t get diarrhea.  And if he had, I might have ended up like my nursing class teacher.  But I have found that stressing out about every potential worst-case scenario makes for a really stressed-out mom.  Which can give you … diarrhea.

Parenting lesson #3: You are embarking on a new phase in life that many see as an invitation for unsolicited advice and judgment.


They certainly look like a fun way to pass the time …

As with everything else, not everyone will agree with you when it comes to parenting.  And it seems like more so than in any other occupation, family and strangers alike feel the need to voice their opinions about the job you’re doing.  It’s possible there’s nothing else we do in public that’s as judgment-inducing as how we deal with our children.  When you have a newborn and you’re already nervous about being out, inevitably some little old lady will tell you that your baby – who is in a fleece sleeper and covered in blankets – is cold.  When Eliza was four-weeks-old and I was dealing with feeding issues, my mother-in-law came to visit.  I had just fed Eliza and she was crying.  My MIL said, “Do you think she’s hungry?  Why don’t you just give her some formula?”

I wish I could say that these unsolicited remarks end at some point, but they do not.  It happened to me Wednesday while traveling alone with the kids, and I know it will happen hundreds more times.  After spending 1 1/2 hours driving to the airport, and the next 1 1/2 hours going through security and traipsing the kids across the terminal for 3 gate changes, I was already spent.  Honestly I was just thankful I hadn’t lost my kids in an elevator or bathroom.  But the wait wasn’t over.  There were storms that were keeping our plane circling above, and in the end, our flight was delayed an hour-and-a-half.  When your kids are at the past-exhausted, giggly, we’re going to hit each other because it’s funny mode, you can only do so much.  I decided that getting them some exercise on the moving walkways was a good way to expend energy and pass the time.

Once there, I felt a little like perhaps this wasn’t the best decision.  I didn’t want to be in the way of people hurrying to make their connections.  I did a decent job keeping the kids to the right so people could pass on the left.  Regardless, there was one older couple traveling with a single female companion, and they all huffed and puffed as they walked around us and threw me disapproving glances.  Then the single companion said to my kids after passing them, “Children, hold on to the railing!”

In some ways, it’s entirely annoying that others – especially strangers – do this.  I am not perfect and I might not always make the best decisions, but I would appreciate it if people assumed I have thought through what I’m doing.  Were my children in danger of falling?  I don’t think so.  Were they in the way of others?  Perhaps a little.  Did their presence on the moving walkway hinder anyone?  Maybe by a few seconds.  But honestly, if you’re a stranger and you want to help a parent, sending dirty looks at her is not helpful.  If this woman had looked at me and said, “Do you need some help?  Would you like me to hold their hands and help you get through the walkway?”, I would have known she was concerned for their well-being, not trying to chastise me for what she thought was carelessness.  There’s a part of me that wishes I would have reacted how Greg would have reacted, which would have been by saying, “Yes, and kids, remember not to speak unless spoken to.”

I really hope that regardless what stage I’m in with my kids, I give others the benefit of the doubt, and if I really want to be helpful, that I’ll offer actual help, not judgment.  When I see a woman holding her baby in one arm and feeding her toddler some candy with her other while loading groceries into her car, I’m going to offer to strap her baby into his car seat or load her groceries, not shake my head at her for giving a toddler candy.  Because I’ve been there, and I don’t want to forget what it’s like to live that tough moment.

This parenting journey is hard, with lots of twists and turns.  Sometimes what we need least are these opinionated naysayers.  But if we can laugh it off, and perhaps take any bit of truth from these incidents for the next test, it’s all part of the experience – the wonderful, challenging, beautiful experience.

Parenting lesson #15: You and your kids will get sick. A lot.


One of two pics we took – our makeshift luggage stroller at the airport

It’s not a matter of if your kids will get sick, but when.  They are germ magnets and must develop their immune systems.  For us, our first winter colds happened while traveling to Utah this past week.

The trip was supposed to include 3 ski days, family photos in the snow, and happy vacation moments.  Instead, I was attached to the toilet with an invisible 10-foot rope the whole time, and Zach’s cold developed into bronchitis and an ear infection.  Both kids now have the stomach virus as well.  We took two pictures.

It can be disappointing when things don’t work out how you’d like, especially when you’ve paid to take a vacation.  But I’ve had to learn to roll with the punches (okay, I’m still learning this).  Once you have kids, you learn to be more flexible and improvise better.  The kids spent a day at the ski mountain day care center while Greg skied with a friend and I got a sick day (Score!  I know I’ve complained about not getting these anymore as a full-time mom).  Eliza spent her first couple of hours in ski school, and she loved it.  We stayed with an old friend, spent time with three college friends, and had an amazing meal out (that later came out a way I didn’t want it to – but that’s not the point).

As I sit here with both kids napping, nearly fully recovered, I’m thankful I can finally drink coffee again and remember the fun we made.  I want to vow to stop worriedly anticipating getting sick, as I so often do.  It’s going to happen.  I just hope I’ve put in my stomach virus time for at least a year.  And I hope when it strikes again, it won’t be on our next ski trip.

Parenting lesson #30: Getting away gets easier


The lake view from our balcony as the sun set

When you’re a parent, a family vacation does not count as vacation from working.  So I have found that for me, getting away without the kids is super important if I’m going to feel refreshed.  Greg and I just came back from a four-day lake trip with old friends, and it was heavenly.  I can honestly say that if you need assurance you can escape for some adult time, our experience is that it gets easier over time to leave the kids behind.

Perhaps you are a parent that doesn’t believe in ever leaving your children behind for vacation.  (As my high school student government teacher used to say, you are entitled to your opinion, however wrong it might be.)  Or maybe you think someday you’ll do it, but not until your kids are much older.  (Completely understandable, but still wrong.)  Or maybe you’re interested in doing it after you’re no longer breastfeeding, whenever that day seems to come, or even a soon as you can find someone willing to give you the break.  (I was one of those, so of course I think I’m right.)  And though I will admit it is difficult to do, I would highly encourage it for the sake of your marriage and sanity, provided you have friends or family you would trust to take care of your kids.

I have come up with a definition of stay-at-home parenting.  It is like having a challenging, awesome job, mostly because things are always changing and you adore your colleagues.  But the difference between this job and all others is that you live with your co-workers, too.  So even though you might not be working 24/7 per se, your boss and work friends are always around and you are inevitably immersed in work conversations, gossip and to-do lists.  I don’t see how anyone could do it without needing some time off, not only to refresh but also to remember that there are other things going on in the world.  (And this need I’m sure heightens for working parents.)

When Eliza was about 11-months-old, Greg and I took our first overnight trip away.  We left her with both of my parents at our house and about a two-page detailed instruction guide regarding her schedule and every potential scenario they might face and how to handle it.  We ended up at a restaurant about 2 hours away where we did not have cell phone reception.  (This was not on purpose.)  It was unnerving, especially because I was pregnant and thus not willing to use a good cocktail to calm myself.  But the restaurant called our house for us and reported that all was well.  We were able to breathe a bit easier, relax and enjoy ourselves.  It was the first successful attempt and it worked: Eliza and my parents survived unscathed.  We were gone a total of about 16 hours.  And it was amazing.

Then a few months later we took a “babymoon” outside of the country.  We left Eliza with my mom for nearly six days, again with detailed instructions.  Both my mom and Eliza came out of it alive.  Each time you successfully leave, it builds confidence that you can do it the next time.  (And video chatting helps!)

Then along came Zach.  That complicated things.  It’s one thing to leave a single toddler behind.  It’s another to leave a baby and a toddler.  We took our first overnight trip away when Zach was 7-months-old and Eliza was about to turn 2.  We of course left detailed instructions and I had to pump a lot.

And now, here we are.  Zach is 20-months and Eliza is 3.  Though Zach still isn’t the perfect sleeper, he’s generally now in a phase where he’s done teething (until those 2-year molars come in), he eats table food, and he and Eliza play together.  This time, I left my mom behind without a schedule or instructions and a hurricane approaching.  She knows they nap in the afternoon and when they generally go to bed.  They can feed themselves.  They tell you when they’re hungry and thirsty.  (Well, Zach pretty much just points and screams, but I consider that communication.)

The point is that I’ve never been as comfortable as I was this time around.  I had less of an idea what they would eat and do than ever before, and I was okay with that.  Time spent getting spoiled by grandma is important.  And though I missed the kids terribly, Greg and I were able to celebrate our ten years of marriage by having fun and enjoying each other, which is what made us want to be together and have a family in the first place.

So, if you’re waiting until it “feels right” to leave your child or children at home (even just for a date night), I would highly encourage you to get out and do it.  Because marriage is hard work that’s worth working for … and sometimes that means taking a vacation.

When traveling, in the words of Lone Starr: “Take only what you need to survive.”


Spaceballs is a fantastic movie, a true classic.  There’s a part where Lone Star tells Princess Vespa to pack lightly for their walk through the desert.  They discover she has brought …

LONE STARR: What’s this?  I said take only what you need to survive.

PRINCESS VESPA: It’s my industrial strength hair dryer.  And I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT!

LONE STARR: Okay, princess.  That’s it.  The fairy-tale is over.  Welcome to real-life.  You want this hot-air machine?  You carry it.

The definition of a vacation, according to dictionary.com, is a “period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually for rest, recreation, or travel; recess or holiday.”

Why is it, then, that I usually come home from a vacation feeling like I need a vacation from my vacation?  Let’s face it: when you’re a parent, getting away with the kids is not going to magically suspend parental duties; and getting away without the kids leaves you with the stress of worrying about them while you’re away and a keen awareness of what’s piling up at home.

What makes it even worse is when the packing and unpacking become chores.  I spent four straight weekends from late March through late April traveling.  It seems the more into motherhood I get, the longer my suitcases, shopping bags and laundry piles remain sitting out somewhere they shouldn’t be once we’re home.  Sometimes it makes me wonder if traveling is even worth it.  Thus, here are some tips I’ve come up with to ease travel burdens (and I’m going to try to follow them ALL the next time I go somewhere):

1. Keep an electronic checklist of what you need to pack for each family member.  I especially found this helpful when I had to travel with pacifiers, bottles, pump parts, and the like.  I just keep adding and subtracting to this list every time we go somewhere.

2. If you travel often to the same place (as we do to Florida and Colorado to visit family), leave what you can there and keep an electronic, updated list of those items.  Then refer to it every time you are packing so you can know for sure what you don’t have to bring.

3. Keep a dopp kit for each family member that never gets unpacked.  It should have all the essential toiletries.  Remember – the key word is essential.

4. Buy sample sizes of hygenic items or make your own with small plastic bottles and tubes so you don’t have to pack or unpack the big bottles.  If you come back from a trip and the little shampoo bottle is running low, refill it right then.  All of your liquids SHOULD fit in a quart-sized zip top plastic bag.  Keep this bag packed and ready to go so all you have to do is grab it.

5. Leave the industrial strength hair dryer and other items you really can survive without at home.  Now that I’m a mom, I rarely take jewelry or non-essential makeup on trips.

6. Be creative with what you take so you can mix and match four items to make six outfits – a skirt, a pair of shorts or pants, and two shirts should allow for six combinations of outfits.

7. If you can’t plan to do laundry and the weather is pretty predictable, pack one extra outfit in your carry-on and otherwise, pack exactly the number of outfits you need for each day you’re gone – and no more.

8. For short trips, choose items from your closet that will all go with the same purse and shoes.

9. Stuff socks (or bras or panties, if you dare) in your shoes to save space.

10.  Inevitably, things don’t fit back into your suitcase to come home as well as they did when you left.  I always pack folded clothes on the way out and then roll each item to re-pack the suitcase.  Rolling your clothes makes them take up less space, making room for the items you (inevitably) bought.

11. Take extra plastic bags for dirty clothes or wet ones; when re-packing to return, I always make a “dirty clothes” suitcase filled with everyone’s dirty things (that are literally just thrown in) and a “clean” suitcase.  The dirty one goes straight to the laundry room and the clean one goes straight to a bedroom (where it often sits for days on end).

If I follow all the above tips the next time I travel, I know I will be more at ease and have less stress upon return, when life goes back to “ludicrous speed.”  You just gotta love that movie!

How to survive a lengthy road trip with young ones


From December 6th through January 6th, our family slept in 8 different places.  We packed up our new minivan with the kids and the dog and headed south to see family, friends, and go on a cruise.  It was … amazing, fun and exhausting.  It made me realize the extended road trip can be a part of the type-A mom’s travel repertoire with the right tools.  Here’s what I learned that I will remember for the next one:

1) Drive as much as you can when your kids would normally be asleep.  If you have young children like we do, this is a must.   We had a 15-hour drive, and we set out right when afternoon naps should have begun.  They slept well, then hung in there a couple of hours until we stopped for dinner.  After dinner, we drove another four hours before stopping for the night – and they slept then, too.  So we made it halfway without the kids really making any noise at all.

2) Break up the drive. Don’t expect little kids to be able to sit in their car seats for more than about three-to-four hours at a time (whether they’re sleeping or not).  You can plan fun, half-day stops at destinations along the way if you’re not on a timetable (think South of the Border).  Or if you just need to “get there,” seek out the Cracker Barrels (because between the rocking chairs and store inside you can keep a two-year-old entertained) and the Chick-Fil-As with indoor playgrounds (so your kids can spend some energy regardless of what the weather is like – and sanitized hand wipes are provided).

3) Have a portable DVD player. When we recently bought our minivan, Evita the Silver Bullet (aptly-named because she has liberated us and has 248 horsepower), we decided against the installed entertainment system.  Instead, for a third of the cost, we purchased an iPad and bought the case that attaches to the back of a headrest.  This was the most important item we had for achieving peace in the car.  We loaded it full of episodes of “Dora the Explorer” and a few movies, as well as educational apps that entertained Eliza for 15-20 minutes at a time.

4) Pack a lot of snacks. It’s amazing how tiny pieces of food can not only stave off boredom and hunger, but also buy you quiet time.  Raisins, Cheerios and Goldfish are some of the best options for keeping kids happier longer.

5) Sit with your kids. For parts of the drive when we knew both kids would be awake, one of us sat in-between the two car seats to help entertain them.  This especially made a difference with Zach, our one-year-old.

6)  Pack long-term and short-term bags. Put items you won’t need for the drive in heavier, larger suitcases that get packed underneath everything else.  Pack smaller, weekender-type bags with all the essentials.  That way, loading and unloading all of your stuff along the way into random hotels won’t be as much of a hassle.

7) Play games and sing songs. Take turns choosing who gets to be in charge of the radio and make sure your kids hear some music that they like.  When my kids get older, I know I will play the same game my parents played with us.  If you grow up near farmland, you will inevitably see cows.  My parents always promised us a dime for every cow we caught peeing and a quarter for every one we caught pooping.  You’d be amazed at how long you can entertain children who are straining to see whether a cow is peeing or pooping while they fly by your car window at 70-miles-per-hour.  I have also pre-emptively bought a “ROAD TRIP BINGO” game.  (www.knockknockstuff.com).  I’m excited to play that when the kids get older.

Our maiden voyage in Evita turned out great, and we look forward to the next trip, whether it’s just a weekend or another whirlwind.

What traveling with two has taught me


Last week I took the kids to the beach for a few days while Greg traveled for work.  (Notice I did not say I took a vacation.)  Here are a few things I learned about embarking on such an adventure.

Toddlers and mobile infants do not like being strapped down for long periods of time.  By long, I mean more than half an hour. This might seem obvious, but if you know you’re going to have to immobilize them, you’re going to have to accept and prepare for the fact that you will have to stop.  A lot.  On the way to the beach, our first stop was prompted by Eliza about 20 minutes in, who was screaming.  She had started to nod off but woke in her usual way these days when she has night terrors.  I decided to fill up the tank and check on her.  At the gas station I chose to hold my already full bladder to avoid taking both kids into the bathroom because Zach was asleep and Eliza said she didn’t have to pee (and had calmed down).  About three seconds before entering the on-ramp again, she said, “Pee, pee, PEE PEE!!”  So, our first stop became two stops.  I lugged both kids into a Burger King bathroom to find Eliza had wet herself.  I checked her car seat.  Wet.  I guess whatever dream she had about dogs barking scared her enough to pee.  I changed her clothes and strapped her back into the damp seat.  The next stop was prompted by Zach crying, who needed to eat.  The final stop was prompted by Google maps, which clearly screwed up its satellite imagery of how to get from 295 North onto the Atlantic City Expressway via routes 168 and 42.  (Of course it was now rush hour as well, so every wrong turn meant more time sitting doing nothing on a course to nowhere.)  I’m not sure what town is in the middle of all that, but I had to get out at a convenience store in what I think was a poor suburb of Philadelphia with both kids and get help.  Zach also screamed for the last half hour of the trip before arriving at the rental house, but I was NOT going to stop again.  (I knew I would just be prolonging the torture.)  The point is that what should have been a 3 1/2 hour trip lasted 5 hours, 15 minutes.  You have to assume the journey will require lots of stops for young children and take about 25-40% longer than it should.

Have a plan to keep them busy when they must be in car seats.  I had planned to take the drive over afternoon nap time so the kids would sleep, and that at least bought me some quiet time.  (Of course, Eliza did not sleep at all on the way back after we stopped for lunch, but Zach did – until the last half hour, when he decided to scream.)  I was going to borrow my friend’s portable DVD player, but she couldn’t find the cord for it at the last minute.  Having Dora along for the ride would have helped a LOT.  Instead, Eliza wanted to sing songs she knows over and over and over again until we were hoarse.  If I would stop singing, she would say, “bitsy spideh gain, BITSY SPIDEH GAIN!”  I’ve also heard you should take a trip to the dollar store and get some new toys so you can keep your kids occupied.  Snacks that take a long time to eat (such as raisins or goldfish) are also helpful.  I put them in the snack trap cup for Eliza so she would only minimally spill them everywhere.  Of course, it is not easy to pass food and toys back from the driver’s seat, which leads me to my next point.

If at all possible, have a one-to-one adult-to-child ratio. This, I have already learned, is the key to a successful trip anywhere with little ones – the aquarium, the zoo, the mall – and especially a multi-day outing.  Of course, there are times you have to, or even want to, travel with them alone.  I definitely prayed several times that God would keep me from crashing while driving as I wrangled my right arm around behind me to hand Eliza food or fish around for her blankie that she dropped.  If someone had been in the passenger seat, the drive itself would have been much safer.  At the beach, there was never the same group of moms and kids there, but my friend who organized the trip brought a babysitter as well as her sister-in-law, and I am being honest when I say I couldn’t have done it without their help.  Looking back, I think most of my conversations began with, “Would you mind holding Zach while … ” or “would you watch Eliza while … “.  Everyone pitched in, which was great.  I honestly think they felt bad for me.  It’s kind of weird to hear someone say, “It’s very different to hear you talk about how hard it is with the two of them versus living it.  This is great birth control!”

No matter how hard it is, you have to do it. It takes guts and a lot of work and planning, but what’s the alternative?  I’m pretty good at keeping my kids on a schedule because I really value how important sleep and routine are to growth in their early years.  But sometimes, you have to get out and do things.  And there’s something to be said for teaching your children to be flexible and how to adapt to different situations.  Of course they didn’t eat or sleep as well as they normally do, but they had a great time and experienced something new.  One of the most important things I’m taking away from this trip is that I have to plan the next one.

But I hope in-between I get a real vacation, which would entail leaving the kids at home.