Monday, August 26, 2013

7 hours on the road {tips for making a long car ride bearable}

As you read this, we are in New Hampshire, visiting with my Aunt and Uncle in the middle of the woods. As you read this, we have completed a 7.5 hour car from PA to NH, but are still looking forward to a 2+ ride from NH to Cape Cod, then a 6+ hour ride from Cape Cod back home. That is a lot of time in a car. With a 3.5 year old. And a dog. Wooo boy!

Picture source.
But, there are some easy tips for making such travel less stressful for everyone.

1. Schedule carefully!
No one wants to start off their trip feeling rushed and harried; and kids pick up on it when Mom and Dad are feeling annoyed. Know what time you want to leave (and what is your absolute MUST leave by time), and count back to figure out exactly how much time you need to get ready and out the door. Then add some extra time for the inevitable delays.

2. Build in lots of stops.
Fingers crossed you won't been 10 bathroom breaks in a a 5 hour ride, but if you anticipate and build in one an hour, then you'll feel ahead of the game if you don't need them. Check your route out too; is it a big road with visitors centers and rest stops right on the road? Or is it a smaller road which will require a little bit of searching. Knowing what's ahead is half the battle. For those with smart phones, download the Sit or Squat app and always be able to search for a nearby restroom! Make sure you build in a food stop too if you'll be traveling over a mealtime. Its a great way to get some leg stretching in too.

3. Know your travelers.
Driving over nap time? If your kids will sleep in the car, its a great way to get some quiet on your drive. Do your kids need a special stuffed animal or blanket to be able to sleep well? Make sure you have it in the main part of the car, not packed in a suitcase in the trunk! Don't have a napper? Make sure you have some books for your voracious reader, or a pad of paper and some colored pencils for your budding artist.

4. Stock up that Mom's Bag of Tricks!
We always pack a little bag of things for Gwen to take on longer vacations. Some books, some toys, little things to keep us entertained on rainy afternoons or quiet evenings. But separately I always put aside a few things that she doesn't know I'm bringing to break out in the car. This is a great time to get creative and create some special "road trip games." Depending on the age of your child, that could be: spotting license plates, car bingo (where you create cards beforehand with things you might spot on your trip), special cue cards that might help them learn about new ecosystems or areas you are passing, or a simple counting game (how many red cars, etc). Other things you want to be sure to have (unless you want extra pit stops): some healthy, filling snacks; a refillable water bottle (freeze it half full the night before, then top it off before you leave to have nice cold water); some great music.

5. Show a little extra consideration.
Recognize that this is a unique situation, and that special considerations can go a big way to making the ride a happy one for everyone. Remind yourself all the running and playing your kids normally get to do in the time you will be spending on the road. We aren't big on TV in our house, but Gwen does enjoy an occasional Sesame Street or something similar. We do not have a DVD player in the car, and normally Gwen does not get my iPhone or Kindle. However, I will make an exception during our 7+ hour car ride. I loaded 2 episodes onto my Kindle, which she will get to partake in towards the end of our trip. If you don't do TV at all, then this isn't for you, I'm sure... but a little leniency in some way, can go far in keeping everyone happy.

What are your tricks for happy travel?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

International Travel With Kids Made Easy as a Breeze

Toys break, and clothes go out of style, but traveling will give your child memories to last a lifetime. Whether you head to France for some Parisian culture or Botswana on a safari, taking your children to different countries is a great way to spend quality family time and help them develop a wider view of the world.
Traveling internationally with children, however, can be a challenge for even experienced globetrotters. Special paperwork may be required, and while some travelers squeak by without the proper documents, other tourists have been stopped by zealous border officers or airline personnel.


If this is the first time you've applied for apassport for your children, do not wait until the last minute to send in the application. Things come up during the application process that can add several weeks to the process, so it's best to have time on your side to fix any problems.
If your child already has a passport, check that it's still valid. Adults are often surprised to discover that even though they got their passports at the same time as their child, the minor's has expired. This is because children passports expire every five years, while an adult's is good for 10 years.

Letter of Permission

If you are traveling with your child who is under 18 without the other parent, U.S. Customs and Border Protection highly recommends that you obtain a notarized letter of permission from the absent parent. While you may not always be asked for this letter when traveling, not having one could cause you to be detained by customs officials or airline personnel or barred from entering some countries. Canada is strict about this requirement. For travel to Mexico, this letter needs to be translated into Spanish and both copies must be notarized.
Written and notarized permission from both parents is necessary if you are taking a child who is not your own with you on an international trip, even if he or she is your blood relative.

International Cruises or Land Travel

You might consider taking the family on a cruise this holiday for ease of international travel. And why not, a cruise is a rather practical holiday route to go with and often caters to families and offers activities for kids specifically. But remember that there's paperwork involved there as well. Although you and your children can travel between the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda with just a passport card, it may be better to fork out the extra cash for full passport books. Two recent incidents where cruise ships became crippled out at sea point to the importance of bringing more than just passport cards with you while traveling internationally. According to Consumer Traveler, if these boats had been towed into a foreign port, any traveler who only had a passport card would not have been able to get a flight home.

Adopted Children

You will need to carry a number of documents if you are traveling with an adopted child who is 15 years or younger. If your international travel will be by land, bring a United States birth certificate, a consular report of birth abroad, a birth certification and either a naturalization or certificate of citizenship. If you are flying, you will be required to bring your child's U.S. passport or a valid foreign one and a Lawful Permanent Card. In either case, you will also need your child's adoption decree and the court-ordered proof of custody or guardianship.
It's vital you're careful with these documents. Children are increasingly a target for identity theft, according to Lifelock, so any paperwork with their social security number and other personal information should be closely guarded.

-- Hannah Collins

Monday, August 12, 2013

the view looking up

Some days are easier then others when it comes to sympathizing and empathizing with my spirited 3 year old. She's has a snotty cold right now, and I truly feel for her and understand that she needs a little extra TLC. Other days, its not as easy. Those days I try a little change of perspective.

I stumbled on the idea for this practice unexpectedly. Gwen will sometimes join me in the shower instead of taking her own bath later, and I will get down on the floor to help her wash and rinse her hair. During one of these times she asked me if she could use one of the rinsing cups, which I thought was up on top of our shower head organizer. So sitting their on the floor I looked up for it... and up and up and up and up.

How truly humbling it is to have a moment when you realize just how big this world is to your child. Just how small they still are. I couldn't believe how high up, far away, and out of reach that cup looked to me! I think how large I must seem to her sometimes, larger and farther away still when my voice reflects anger or annoyance instead of the kindness I want it to always embody.

So, when my frustration is at its peak, I get a new perspective. Sitting or kneeling on the floor, I get down so I can look up to her. Look up at those beautiful, sparkling blue eyes. And I take a deep breath and try to bring my emotions back down to earth with the rest of my body.

This world is a big place, and we are small in it. But none more so then our most impressionable littles. Sometimes seeing things through the eyes of my child take seeing them from their level, and that change of perspective can make all the difference.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

When You Don't Homeschool...

... can you still hold tight to your ideals? Can you raise unconventional children in a conventional environment, in this case that being public school?

Well, I certainly hope so. That is, I'm working on it.

Overall, I love the public school my kids attend. There are various issues, some being school-wide, and others being city-wide (and thus harder to take on--not that I'm not trying!), as there are in any school, but so far we've been very fortunate and my two older children have had largely positive experiences.

As a family, we do some things differently than many of the families in our neighborhood. As a member of the "natural parenting" community, I see a great deal of blog posts and articles all about homeschooling and its benefits. I know them well, as I homeschooled my son before he attended Pre-K. My husband and I both value public school education, and we like the fact that our children have other authority and mentoring figures in their lives--we think of it as part of the "it takes a village" mentality.

Since I don't currently homeschool, I've often wished that I could find resources on how to continue to parent the way we do while our kids are in an environment that is, at times, very different, if not completely opposite from the one at home. After three years of parenting children receiving public school education under my belt, I've made some discoveries on what works for us and I'd love to share them with you.

First and foremost, know your child. I have two typical, active, social children, and neither of them require any special services. They are adaptable and adjust quickly to change, and they are not intimidated by the size of the school, nor the number of students (1400! Though I have to say it doesn't really feel that way). Our school is a good fit for them. Children's needs vary. Some may flourish with a busy, active pace, while some may need a smaller, quieter environment. Don't automatically rule out a large school, but don't assume your child will adjust, either. If you are a free range parent, be aware that children in typical public school are expected to line up, sit down, stand up, and the like, pretty much by the end of Kindergarten (it's really not that bad. But again, it's all about your child, and your personal beliefs about learning and teaching).

Make friends. With your child's teacher, that is. We all hear teacher horror stories, but in my experience, the vast majority of educators are wonderful people who care about children and like (if not love) their job. One of the best things I've done for my kids has been to get to know their teachers. I keep up correspondence in whatever way is appropriate and accepted, and keep the lines of communication open. Since I sometimes have requests or questions that most other parents do not, being friendly is a must. If a teacher goes above and beyond to work with my child, I make sure he/she knows I appreciate the extra attention. And if my children are involved in a discipline issue, I make sure I am receptive and not defensive. Nothing turns a teacher off more than a defensive parent who seems unwilling to listen to constructive feedback.

Get involved. Admittedly, this can be difficult, if not impossible, if both parents work. I have to say, though, there is no better way to find out what's happening in your child's school, and in their classroom, than investing some time there, no matter how minimal it is. Parent teacher conferences are a great way to start, as are curriculum days and any open classroom days that your school might have.

I am on our school's PTA and it is absolutely invaluable for me and my children. I am in the building several times a week and have gotten to know the administration, as well. This gives me the opportunity to bring to light issues that I would like the school to work on, and allows me to even tackle some of them along with a wonderful group of parents who are also devoted members of the PTA. It's a sincere privilege. If joining the PTA or volunteering time seems impossible, start an email list with other parents in your child's class, and keep communication going that way. Other parents are a great resource. I have gotten much useful information just chatting at pick-up.

Unless the school has a food co-op or a kitchen that makes fresh meals, make your kids' lunch. The NYC Department of Education tries, goodness knows--but the meals are still not things I would feed my children on a regular basis. For one, they are not prepared on site, and they are mass-produced. There is a huge healthy eating initiative going on right now, and though I appreciate the effort, that food cannot possibly compare to what I make at home. With all the focus we put on healthy, organic food, it would be impossible to accept school lunch for my children.

Don't let school supply lists or teacher requests intimidate you. When my son was in Kindergarten, it was requested that we send his snack and lunch in brown paper bags and ziplock bags. I sent a note kindly explaining that as we were trying to reduce waste in our household, all of the containers and bags we sent our son to school with were reusable, and were not to be thrown away (and this will certainly be the case for my daughters, as well). LunchBots, KidsKonserve and LunchSkins are all companies that sell reusable lunch supplies.

Each year's school supply list requests Purell sanitizer, a conventional cleaning spray, and Huggies baby wipes, and I stubbornly send in BabyGanics hand sanitizer and Seventh Generation cleaner and wipes. I'm thisclose to sending in a homemade cleaner, next!

Choose your battles wisely, and fight fervently.
There are certain things, like slowing the curriculum pace or shortening the school day, that are pipe dreams, and I've learned that it's best to focus on things that are feasible for the school to change or improve, like amount of physical activity the children receive, activities and fundraisers to promote spirit and unity, and various other concerns where a solution seems attainable. This isn't to say that the big fights shouldn't be fought, though. Just this past year our school won a huge battle with the Department of Education, and it was one of our community's finest moments.

Don't let your child become another brick in the wall. Our school makes a great effort to make its students feel attended to and looked after. I've never been made to feel like my child is just one among the crowd. At the same time, there is a certain amount of group activity inside the classroom and out, and there are certain expectations that are placed on the children in terms of following directions and receiving instruction (if only for safety and the sheer mass of children going anywhere at a given time. Lunch periods boast over 400 kids in one space). As long as the children are treated respectfully and are given positive reinforcement, I don't take issue with that. Here is something I'm attempting to tackle: the lunch aides in particular leave a lot to be desired in terms of how they approach the children. My goal is to meet with the principal and talk about giving the aides further tools to positively discipline the kids without incessant yelling or unreasonable punishment.

When it comes to the instruction your child receives in the classroom, be as involved as you can with the teacher to find an approach that works for your child, the teacher, and the class as a whole. Whatever the concern is in your school, be it academic or otherwise, speak up and make your voice be heard. You are your child's best advocate. Don't assume anyone else will fight for him/her.

Stay strong--you and your children both. We are living in an age where seemingly every person in civilized society has a gadget and/or is on some type of social networking site. I share a fair amount online and I have a love/hate relationship with social networking, and I don't think it's appropriate for my children. My eight year old son asked me what Facebook was the other day. As I explained it to him I made sure he understood that in our family, at least, that kind of activity is reserved for adults. He also asked me when he would be able to get an iPhone (my answer was, when he's old enough to work and pay for it himself. Same for my girls. That's just the way the cookie crumbles). It's worth noting that many people we are close to and care about make different choices for their kids when it comes to this, so it's important that I reserve criticism and not come from a place of judgment, rather point out that these are our family's choices and what we believe is acceptable.

Along the same lines, my kids will ask for certain food, toys or activities that they see other children getting or engaging in. Once again, I do my best to reserve criticism--even more so since we talk a lot about people being created different, but equal. I have to accept that as many positive things as my kids are being exposed to, there is plenty of negative exposure, as well. and  I simply explain our family's beliefs and reiterate why we choose to live the way we do and consume what we do. It gets harder as our children get older, especially as they approach the age where insecurity sets in, and they just want to be liked. Going against the grain gets tougher and tougher. To that end, I try and instill in my kids a strong sense of self. I want them to be independent, confident and steadfast in who they are--and of course, that starts with me.

Come September, I will have two kids in school all day, with only my little one left at home to brainwash—er, parent and teach. My hope is that all my children will take with them the good lessons and learn to ignore the bad.