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.

I get by with a little help from my friends. And Greg.

This weekend was exactly what I predicted – magical.  But it almost didn’t happen.

Last week Eliza got what I thought were bug bites right along her diaper line.  They continued to get more red and actually enlarge, such that on Thursday, I started drenching them in Neosporin.  On Friday, the ointment didn’t seem to be doing much to help.  Also on Friday, I decided not to budge when Eliza didn’t want to eat what was in front of her.  So, when she didn’t finish her eggs for breakfast, I offered them – and only them – to her for her snack and lunch as well.  She refused to eat.  I told Greg we must not give in to her strong-arming antics.

On the way to the airport, and I mean, FIVE MINUTES from being dropped off for my weekend getaway, Eliza made a bit of a choking noise from the backseat, so I looked to see what was going on.  She had puked spinach and cheese omelet combined with milk all over herself and had tried to breathe in during the process.  It just kept coming.  When she was finished she whimpered, “Towel?  Towel?”  I grabbed napkins from the glovebox and tried to reassure her as she wiped herself off a bit.  And thus began the downward mental spiral.  “She has a stomach virus.  That’s why she hasn’t wanted to eat all day.  I’m a bad mother for forcing her to try to eat her eggs.  She must have been nauseated all day and I am the jerk who kept trying to make her eat.  How can I leave her at a time like this?”  We pulled up to the curb and Greg cleaned up the mess while I tried not to freak out, especially about missing my flight or leaving them in their predicament.  I knew Greg would have to come home and wash her car seat straps and cover.  Eliza felt hot.  She was going to have to ride home in a diaper.  And I just said, “Greg, can I go now?” in an annoyed voice.  I was afraid he would say, “You’re really going to leave like this?”  But instead, he just had me put Eliza in the car so she’d be safe and off I went with Zach, beginning to feel nauseated myself.

I spent the entire flight thinking I was coming down with whatever stomach virus Eliza had, making sure I had a barf bag at the ready.  I imagined Eliza yakking all over herself on the car ride home, and Greg trying to take care of her, and her crying out for me, the mom who had deserted her in her time of need.  How could this happen exactly when I was supposed to get a weekend off?  I sent Greg a text when I landed, and I didn’t receive a response.  I immediately assumed he was dealing with a hysterical child who was severely ill and could not be consoled.

We finally talked later on, and he told me Eliza hadn’t gotten sick again and was sleeping well.  He said her butt, though, looked awful and he was guessing it was a staph infection that was spreading rapidly.  My mind jumped to the worst.  I have a friend whose son has had a handful off staph infections in the past few months, and he has had multiple surgeries on them.  It has not been pleasant, to say the least.  In this moment, instead of being rational, I immediately got more concerned again, thinking she would need to be rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night and have emergency staph infection removal surgery.  Greg actually got annoyed that I was being so meddlesome because he was in control and was going to take her to the pediatrician in the morning.  I continued to wonder how I could be such a horrible mother, leaving them both at such a time.

Missy offered to drive me home, but I knew that was irrational.  I kept praying for God to protect Eliza and take care of her.  The next day, after getting seven straight hours of uninterrupted sleep, dropping Zach off to be babysat by a friend’s mom, and receiving a call from Greg confirming Eliza had impetigo but was being treated and in good spirits, I began my magical day.  I was finally, FINALLY, able to relax.

Why is it so easy as a mother to feel so guilty about leaving your children when you know you need the break?  Why did I immediately assume the worst when Eliza threw up?  Why does it seem so wrong to expect anyone other than myself to clean up barf, deal with sick kids who can’t sleep, or make doctor visits?  Why does it turn my insides out to imagine my sick child calling for me but for someone else to answer that call?

I needed that trip to remind me how to “let go and let God.”  I must remember, always, that taking a break doesn’t make me a bad mother and I can’t allow the guilt to creep in for needing “me-time.”  I can’t say nor believe bad things about myself because I am not perfect.  Because I have to tell you, this weekend was really awesome.  And Eliza’s impetigo is healing (praise God).  And this, too, shall pass.