Are We There Yet?

The Ride

“Are we there yet,” especially when spoken in a whiny, impatient voice, often gets on a parent’s very last nerve.  We all want to be there already, right?!?  If it was up to me, I’d be able to snap my fingers and we’d magically be teleported to whatever our destination might be.  No traffic.  No long car rides.  No messy car snacks.  I don’t want to be sitting in a car with my children any more than they do.  But if we want to get to our destination, we have to buckle up and enjoy the ride the best we can.

I’ve noticed that I often ask myself, “are we there yet?” when trying to navigate through a particular season.  More often than not, it’s in regards to wondering when a difficult phase one of my boys is going through will be over.  When will we finally move past this?  When will he finally learn to do that on his own?  At what age can I expect him to…?  I’m always looking ahead to when things might be a little easier.

Changing Seasons

But what I’ve come to realize is that as soon as one phase is ending, another one begins.  It makes sense knowing that there’s not a break in between Spring and Summer and more often than not, one season does not just abruptly stop for a new season to  begin (unless you live somewhere like Wisconsin where winter seems to slap you in the face before you even see it coming).  Seasons flow into each other.  Temperatures gradually increase or decrease, flowers slowly bloom in Spring, leaves slowly change colors in fall, and suddenly the look of everything around you is different.

When our five year-old started kindergarten last month, we found ourselves in a new season with our 3 ½ year-old son now being the oldest at home every morning.  I had been so focused on sending our oldest to kindergarten that I forgot about how this change would affect the other boys at home.  It’s changed the way our sons play together while big brother is gone, it’s changed their responsibilities, and it’s changed the sibling dynamics.

It’s been wonderful in so many ways to watch the younger ones step-up in the absence of their brother!  But there have also been some challenges.  I’ve been recognizing new aspects of their personalities come out and trying to adjust how I parent to each of them.  I’ve had to ease up some of my expectations because they aren’t able to help me in the same ways my oldest was able to when he was home.

Becoming the Student

Personally, I find myself in a new season as well.  I’m trying to intentionally be a student of each of my children.  I’m constantly trying to find what makes each of them feel encouraged and empowered.  I’m learning what frustrates them and trying to avoid the things that exasperate them.  I’m working to find ways to help them overcome their obstacles and find solutions to their problems.  But wow, this is tough work!  It takes intentionality, patience, and desire.  Some days I’m lacking in those areas and find it easier to just parent them how I want to parent them.  And those days are rough because I quickly learn that my way is not what they need.

God’s Design

It’s a beautiful thing that God designed each of my boys so differently.  And I’m humbled that he chose me to be their mommy.  But He doesn’t reveal to me their unique personalities just to impress me.  He allows me to see what makes each of them tick and then equips me to love on each of them the way they best receive it.  And in the moments when I choose to listen, He tells me just what each of my boys needs to hear throughout the day.  These are the days I live for!  These are the days when I choose to not be lazy or wish away a particular season.  Instead, I embrace where we are in the moment and be the mommy God designed me to be for my boys. These days are so worth it, easy or not!

So while it’d be nice to have a break in between challenging seasons of life, maybe it’s better to breathe through it and cultivate a growth mindset in the areas God is calling us to mature.  Maybe it’s better to find ways to make the ride fun by singing, dancing, and playing through it so that our, “are we there yet?” turns into “we’re already there?”  Because before we know it, we’re going to stop and look around only to realize that everything looks a little different.

Let’s raise His Mighty Warriors TOGETHER!

Taking (Four Children) to the Sky – Part 2

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In my last post, I shared our extensive itinerary of a typical travel day to Nana and Papa’s house.  I promised to share in Part 2 ways of keeping children occupied on the flight.  I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work, that is, for our boys. So here’s a list of some of my traveling essentials (specifically for airplane travel, but many would also be great for long roadtrips):

Food

When we travel, we travel fully equipped with food.  I’m not just talking about some snacks.  The night before our travel, I make turkey sandwiches and put them in divided storage containers I pick up from Target.  The boys each get one so when it’s time for a meal, I hand them their container and add a little fruit, fig bars, and crackers in the other slots.  This keeps everything clean-ish, organized, and fun.  The boys like having their own “plates” which we then reuse for other snacks throughout the flight.

New Coloring Books

In our house, we do a lot of sharing and passing down of toys, clothes, bikes, etc.. But when it comes to flying, I always make sure I take a trip to Target and Dollar Tree to pick out some NEW coloring books, crayons, etc.. I don’t let the boys see what I picked out for them until we are on the plane.  It makes for a little fun and excitement when they’re starting to get bored.  I’ve heard of some people wrapping up new books and small toys in wrapping paper but 1) I just don’t have time for that and 2) it sounds like a mess of wrapping paper and I don’t love messes!

Aside from basic coloring books, which are great, we also buy these Crayola Mess-Free coloring pages.  They are great for toddlers who don’t know how to keep the marker on the paper, but they are also great for preschoolers! I will add that toddlers sometimes get a little confused by these coloring books because the color from the marker does not appear immediately after coloring.  It’s a very short delay, but my kids have seemed to be a little confused by it until they were old enough to understand how it works.

These Melissa and Doug notepads are also super fun! The boys have loved these and they’ve lasted us multiple uses. The tube of the “paint brush” fills with water so even if a little spills out, it’s not a mess.  And anytime the “paint” magically appears with no mess it’s a huge win, right?

Snacks

My boys love to eat! So sandwiches just don’t cut it.  I also bring applesauce pouches, fruit such as bananas, strawberries, and blueberries, crackers, string cheese, fig bars, popcorn, and chips.  We usually try to space out the snacks in between activities, but there is definitely more snacking on travel days than there is in our usual day at home.

Dry Erase Board/Doodle Pad

I found this Crayola Dry-Erase Travel Pack on Amazon and the boys really seem to like it.  It folds up so it’s easy to store in the boys’ backpacks. This along with the Crayola Double Doodle pad have kept the boys occupied over many flights.  Magna Doodle boards are fun as well, but make sure you buy the smaller version so that it easily packs away in a backpack or carry-on. The bigger version takes up too much space.  As a sidenote, we keep these items stored at our house and ONLY take them out for flights.  Unlike coloring books, I’m not going to buy new activities like these for each flight (plane tickets cost enough, right?) so the boys know that they only get to play with these while they fly.

Treats

Have I mentioned that we love to travel with nourishment?  Well, we also love to travel with some treats! I’ve learned to save these treats til after the boys take their mandatory naps on the flight, and I’m not above “bribing” them with that treat in order to get them to take the said mandatory nap. (I know, bribing/rewarding with food is not a good life lesson and we usually try to avoid this.  But if you’ve ever flown with kids, you understand that sometimes we like to make exceptions.)

I usually pick out treats that are either new to our boys or that they don’t get often.  Again, it just makes it a little more exciting and keeps everyone’s morale high 🙂 I’ll pick out items like Skittles, fruit snacks, fruit strips, Scooby Snacks, etc.. I try to choose mess-free snacks to help keep me sane, but crumbs happen whether you like it or not.

Tablets

Screentime is a hot topic and many parents have strong feelings one way or the other about screetime.  Honestly, I’d say we fall somewhere in the middle.  We set limits for our sons with their screen time, but we do not ban it altogether. And when we’re flying, those limits go out the window.  If my boys are sitting quietly and playing a game or watching something age-appropriate on their tablet, I’m fine with it.  I’m actually surprised by them because more often than not, that’s one of the last activities they choose from their backpack.  And they usually don’t watch/play for more than 30 minutes.  But they are nice to have as an option.

Books

Board books or soft books are great for babies on flights.  The boys like to page through the books I bring for them as well, but will also grab the magazine out of the seat-back pocket and be perfectly happy skimming those.  They aren’t picky about which books I bring, so I usually find a couple that won’t take up too much space and that aren’t our favorites in case they get wrinkled or torn pages.

Travel Pillows and Blankets

When it comes to those mandatory naps my husband and I require of our kids, neck pillows and travel blankets are helpful.  Although we haven’t used them, I’d consider inflatable pillows from a space-saving standpoint.  Comfort is never a luxury of flying outside of first class, but at least these items can help.

Toys for Infants

It’s no secret that infants will put anything and everything in their mouths.  Now, I’m not a first-time mom anymore so I’m okay with exposing my child to germs and not sanitizing everything (except we do sanitize the seats, tray tables, etc. to do our best to be sure our son with a peanut allergy is as safe as possible).  But I would rather have my baby chew on baby toys from home than on the seatbelt or whatever else he can find on the plane.  I’ve found teething toys, Cuddle ‘n Tags Blankies, or even the small toys that attach to car seats and strollers help to keep my babies busy and happy.

Backpacks

Like I’ve mentioned, we keep all of these items in our backpacks.  Our two oldest boys carry their own backpacks and my husband puts some of the overflow into his. My own backpack holds the other essentials: the diapers, wipes, nursing cover, spare clothes (must-have in case of inevitable accidents or spills), and medications.  I also pack more diapers and wipes than I would normally need in case our flight is delayed or cancelled.  I only bring one extra set of spare clothes for the older boys, but I usually throw in a couple extra outfits for the baby.  (All of our food/snacks/treats are carried in a reusable shopping bag :))

Not Perfect

I could probably add more and more to this list.  Off the top of my head I can think of flashcards, Spot It games, and headphones for in-flight music and movies.  And my list seems to change every time we fly.  But these staples have gotten us through many flights and have proven to keep our boys entertained.

Let’s just say that I always prepare for the very worst, and am usually pleasantly surprised by how the trip goes. Yes, we’ve experienced diaper blowouts, cranberry-apple juice spills, crying babies, and more.

But at the end of the day, our flights have all been manageable thanks to a lot of prayers for safety, health, and peace before, during, and after our travel.  These prayers help me to keep an appropriate perspective on traveling with kids.  They help remind me that I don’t like sitting still very long as an adult which gives me more patience with my sons when they become restless.

Are our flights perfect? Nope. Are our boys perfect angels while traveling? Far from it. But they do stay relatively occupied and are beginning to understand what we expect from them when we travel.

Let’s raise His Mighty Warriors TOGETHER!

Taking (Four Children) to the Sky – Part 1

Many people have asked me about traveling with four kids.  To be frank, I don’t love flying at all, let alone with four boys, five years-old and younger.  Up until recently, my ears were always sensitive during both the ascent and the descent to the point where I was often in tears.  For whatever reason, the pressure changes haven’t affected me in recent years for which I praise God!

I am also not very patient sitting on a plane for more than an hour at a time.  I do not fall asleep easily, I’m not a big reader, and I just don’t like being confined to a small place.  I feel like I need to be ever so careful not to accidentally nudge the person next to me, I don’t want to inconvenience anyone by asking them to move so I can use the restroom, and I really don’t want to spill my beverage on my neighbor as it’s handed to me (I recently had a in-flight drink spilled on me and wet jeans are the worst).

Traveling with Young Kids

As you can imagine, traveling with kids is even less appealing to me.  There is just so much that goes into planning for both the expected and unexpected.  But in the past five years, I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work, that is, for our boys.

Traveling with four young children can be very overwhelming. But sometimes, I know that the attitude I CHOOSE to have about the situation makes a world of a difference in the outcome of the event. Being cognizant of the fact that my boys most likely enjoy being stuck in a seat for four hours even less than I do, can help me to understand the emotion behind their behavior. And once I’m aware of that, I’m able to better prepare for the trip.

Before I lay out how the course of our travel day typically goes, I want to say that part of the preparation of traveling for us includes preparing our boys for what to expect. Obviously our baby and toddler are not able to understand what’s about to go down, but our 3 and 5 year-old get it. So leading up to our trip, we discuss the long car rides to and from the airport, the shuttle bus that they’ll ride, the airport experience, and the flight itself. We let them know how they need to help us throughout the day and what we anticipate their responsibilities to be. This not only prepares them for the inevitably long day, but it also helps them gain excitement for the steps leading up to seeing our Wisconsin family.

The First Car Ride

When we travel, specifically to visit my parent’s in the summer, our day starts early in the morning with a nearly two hour drive to the airport. More often than not, we are able to schedule our flights around non-commuting traffic times so our car rides go fairly smooth. If we book a morning flight, we usually end up having to wake the boys up and buckle them in the car, still in their pajamas. If we’re lucky, they go back to sleep for a little while, but that’s not always the case.

The car ride can get a little long, but the excitement of starting our journey to Nana and Papa’s house definitely helps temper the frustration of being strapped in their car seats.

Luggage Drop Off

Over the past five years of traveling as a family, my husband and I have fine-tuned our travel preparation and it’s been a better and better experience each time. Last year, we decided to try something new. Instead of all of us going to park the car at an offsite long-term parking lot and then shuttle over with our luggage, strollers, etc., we decided to have my husband drop me and the baby off at the airport with everything except the boys’ backpacks. I’m usually able to find a stray luggage cart (so I don’t have to pay for one) and then get in line to check all the bags. I’ve been able to check all the bags under my name and the kids’ names.

After dropping me off, my husband and the older boys park the car and take the shuttle over to the airport to meet me. My husband just has to go up to the ticketing counter to show his ID, grab his boarding pass, and then we’re all off to head through security.  We most often fly Southwest because it’s a direct flight to Milwaukee so I don’t know if other airlines would allow us to check-in this way.

I usually have time to feed the baby before they arrive back at the airport, and my husband gets the boys dressed in the car and feeds them a quick breakfast (usually yogurt, a banana, and a breakfast bar) while they’re riding on the shuttle over.

TSA

Going through security can seem overwhelming, but it usually isn’t too bad. There have been a few times when the boys have been asked to go through the metal detectors one at a time and they are on the other side before us. We quickly learned that my husband needs to go through first, then the older boys, and then the baby and I. This way, we don’t have one run off before we’re able to collect all of our belongings.

We never bring liquids through security, except bottled water for the baby (which is allowed once tested). Some airports will test some of the food and others just browse through the bag. It’s nothing too painful as long as you’re not in a rush. As they’re testing everything, we are usually getting shoes back on, organizing kids and strollers, and making sure we didn’t leave anything behind.

Another thing that has helped our older sons cooperate throughout this process is making them responsible for their own backpacks. At this age, they enjoy having a “job” to do, and they like to know they are helping us. Because I’m a numbers person (a trait I inherited from my mom), I’m always counting our backpacks/carry-on items to make sure we always have all of our stuff. It helps when I can see the two boys each wearing their backpacks.

The Flight

The flight itself is so long! That’s why Part 2 of this blog post will be coming soon to cover this topic separately. But I will say that remembering that our kids are kids and allowing them some leeway in being antsy, goes a long way! We do our best to not allow them to kick the seat in front of them, to use inside voices, and to not argue with each other. Aside from that, we let them have fun and make the most of being crammed into seats for four hours.

When I prepare myself for the worst, I’m always thrilled with everything that does go well and I’m not shaken by things that could have gone better. After having changed more than one blowout diaper in the tiny lavatory with a miniature changing table that might only be big enough to hold a small mouse (sorry Baby, don’t mind your head being halfway off the table while I awkwardly try to put a diaper on your booty that’s sliding off the other end. Oh turbulence? We’re fine!) , I’m unfazed by much else.

While the older boys engage in all the activities we packed for them (see part 2 of post), I usually feed the baby, let him nap, feed him some more, let him play, and feed again. It’s not the most appealing way to spend a flight, but a well-fed baby tends to be a happy baby so we make do.

The Final Car-Ride

Upon landing, we take time for a bathroom break and then gather all our luggage. The only thing that separates us from the airport and my parent’s house is a little less than a two hour drive.

This last trip home, we were blessed to ride in Nana’s new minivan that has a rear entertainment system. The boys were able to watch a movie and crash for a bit. This was a huge help because this last leg of the trip is usually the most difficult for everyone because we are all just done and want to be there already!

Once we take the final exit, we all gleam with excitement to finally begin our vacation with family!

Timing

Timing is everything while traveling with littles. Over the years, we’ve learned it’s important to give yourselves plenty of time without having too much time at the airport. Idle time at the airport with kids is not fun, which is one reason why flight delays are such an inconvenience. We try our best to always allow enough time to get our bags checked, make it through security, change diapers, use the bathroom, and grab the gate check tags for our strollers and car seat without leaving more than about 30-45 minutes before boarding begins. Again, flight delays can completely derail this plan, but it tends to work for us.

Note: If you find yourself delayed, check to see if there is a children’s play area in your terminal.  Many airports have these now and, when they aren’t too crowded, they can be a life-saver for you and your children!

The Lesson

I feel like I now laid out for you every detail of our typical travel day, but if it can help even one person have a less stressful travel experience with kids, it was worth it. We by no means have this all perfected, but we have learned a lot along the way and made improvements to how we travel with our boys. As our family has grown, our travel experiences have actually become less stressful because our system has improved.

While I do not necessarily enjoy flying or the busyness of a long travel day, I do feel blessed to be able to give our sons this opportunity at such a young age. If we lived closer to family, they most likely would not have been on a plane at all by now, or at least significantly less times. These travel days give us the chance to challenge our boys to be good listeners, great helpers, and awesome leaders. We rely on the older boys to use the lessons we teach at home in responsibility throughout our journey. They also are required to be patient on the flight, courteous to the flight attendants and those around them, and gracious for the ability to be able to take an airplane to go visit Nana, Papa, and their cousins.

I wouldn’t consider it fun, but I do love watching our sons adapt so well to the expectations we set for them. And I feel it teaches them life lessons on how to work cooperatively and be flexible.

How do you travel and what tips would you share with others looking to travel together as a family?  I love reading about the experiences of others 🙂

 

Let’s raise His Mighty Warriors TOGETHER!