Thursday, February 28, 2013

Survival Guide to Air Travel II: This Time With Babies

On Tuesday, I wrote about how I keep my two-and-ups entertained during air travel.  But what about babies?

Just look how entertained he is.
For me, six months and under is EASY.  They just nurse.  The whole time.  Trans-Atlantic, trans-continental, whatever.  They nurse, they fall asleep, they wake up, they nurse, repeat until landing.  Nursing is great for sleeping AND keeping quiet AND keeping ears from getting blocked.  Many airlines have some seats available with baby cots, but I've never used them because my babies usually sleep with me at this age.

I never worry about trying to keep them on any kind of schedule on the plane.  The above baby (Gus) slept from Los Angeles to Houston, then from Houston to Paris, then slept all night once we got there.  Of course, it could have worked out otherwise, but I'll always pick sleeping baby on the plane.  Maybe my crying baby is bothering the people in the hotel, but at least they won't be able to glare at me.

A six-month to two-year old is the most challenging baby to travel with, in my experience.  They are too old to sleep the whole time, but too young to be entertained by most of the toys and tricks that keep two-year olds and up occupied.  It is doable though.

As with younger babies, I would never intentionally try to mess with a toddler's sleep schedule.  For instance, keeping them up really late the night before.  I find that all things (even an awake toddler) are more manageable when we are all as well rested as possible.  If you try to manipulate sleep, you might just end up with a super-cranky under-slept baby who won't sleep on the plane either.

I also never, ever give my kids medicine they don't need.  I have always found travel with babies to be manageable without resorting to stuff like that.

I think the keys to success are snacks and novel new toys.  Baby Jack (pictured) sat on that blanket on the floor and ate ice cubes one by one most of the way to Cancun.  Things like eating ice cubes, or putting something in Daddy's pocket, or moving peanuts from one cup to another will often entertain a toddler for quite a while.  Especially at this age, they are usually willing to do something they like about 700 times after I get tired of doing whatever it is.  If it's on the plane, I just suck it up and keep doing it.

If the seat belt sign is off, I'll walk up and down the aisle letting baby toddle along.  Baby likes it and most of the passengers seem to get a kick out of it too. 

I bring plenty of snacks for toddlers.  Whatever I can think of that they really like that isn't too filling so they can eat a lot of it and use up a lot of time.  Little fruit cups, or my own cups of berries, and sweetened cereals all work well.  I don't know about yours, but my babies will eat individual Cocoa Krispies for a really, really long time. 

I have almost always been able to get sippy cups and fruit cups and other snacks and drinks for babies through security.  Only occasionally, I have had overzealous agents confiscate things or make me dump something out.  Usually, if you're in the family line you can bring on whatever you want.  (Which kinda makes the whole thing pointless, amirite?)

The other half is the toys.  Board books, especially Lift-the-Flap or Touchy-Feely books keep my toddlers engaged for quite a while.

Anything which allows baby to put stuff in stuff, or lets you peek stuff out at baby is also a good bet.  We have a little stuffed Peek-a-boo Birdhouse much like this one, that someone gave us as a gift when our oldest was born.  We have gotten a lot of mileage out of it, and it's always been very popular on airplanes.  Toys that nest into themselves like this Three Little Pigs Play Set give you plenty of entertainment but don't take up too much space.  

Which brings me to my final point, which is: DON'T BRING TOO MUCH STUFF.  Sometimes I do, and I always regret it.

This is the husband and I and baby Gus on our way to France for 10 days.  He got one overhead bin-sized rolling suitcase and the baby and I were packed in the other.  The track bag is full of diapers (or couches if you're French) that we slowly used up and replaced with souvenirs.  The backpack has what we need to be able to access on the plane, including the snacks and toys, one diaper for every two hours we'll be in the air ('cause you never know), two changes of clothes for the baby, and one for me.

We checked everything but the baby and the backpack.

I would only bring a car seat on board if you are certain your little guy needs it to sleep.  My little babies sleep best on me, so I always check the infant seats.  For toddlers, it's a real toss up.  Mine usually do sleep better in it, but then when they are awake, having a car seat keeps you from the flexibility of switching kids between seats and makes it difficult or impossible to use the seat back tray.  Also, an older baby in a car seat is virtually guaranteed to spend the entire flight kicking the seat in front of him.  It's nearly impossible not to.  In my experience anyway.  I usually just check it.

An important part of being able to not bring too much stuff is having access to laundry during the trip.  We always stay in apartments or bed and breakfast-type places so we will be able to do laundry.  It makes all the difference.

We really do love traveling with our kids.  We missed the other kids so much on our trip to France that we decided to bring them along with us from that trip forward.  And we have had some truly extraordinary experiences together.

Like the time we got on the wrong bus in Mexico City and got to walk down a freeway on-ramp and back to the bus stop:

Or the time baby Gus threw a fit when the Gendarme tried to hand him to Pope Benedict XVI (the baby next to us was VERY well behaved):

That's Gus on the far right.  He was pretty mad.
At least Jack's opportunity was a big success.

Farewell Papa!  You will always hold a very special place in the heart of my family.  God bless Pope Benedict XVI and his successor!


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

From the Trenches: A Survival Guide to Air Travel With Small Children

Thanks to a reader question from my dear sister-in-law (Hi Brie!), today's post is on flying with kids.

Ah yes, that's it.  Safety first.
Although this way is also fun.
And this.
I have done A LOT of traveling with kids.  From a trip to Hawaii with the husband and our six week old only, to our upcoming parents, grandparents, and six kids to Rome in April (to meet ANOTHER Pope!?) and about a bazillion trips to see family and friends from San Diego to Boston.  It's not our first time to the rodeo.

Here's what I do to make air travel with kids survivable, and occasionally even fun.

  1. If I'm flying internationally, I always try to fly on a European carrier.  Swiss is our favorite.  They have kids meals (if you request them in advance), and snacks and drinks are available for the entire flight at little help-yourself stations.  My kids love to help themselves.  The flight attendants come by before takeoff with baskets full of toys and games for the kids to choose from.  On our first flight on Swiss I never even opened the bag I brought of snacks and toys for the flight.  Each seat back has an individual screen (even in coach) and there was a decent selection of kids' programming from movies to cartoons to nature shows.  And if you fly through Zurich they have the most amazing family lounge ever.  It has a little room with cribs and toddler beds, like something right out of Annie, plus books and video games and changing tables and art tables and microwaves. 
  2. Domestically, we prefer Southwest.  Because they are usually the most affordable, but also because they have snacks.  Lots and lots of snacks.  However, with their new boarding policy, families with small children board between the As and Bs, instead of first thing.  We have sometimes found it hard to find two rows together at that point, so it's worth it to try to check in online early enough to get an A boarding pass if you have a big family.
  3. Once we're on the plane, I commit to being engaged with my kids for the duration of the journey. I can relax when I get there. It's not very often that I am a captive audience for my kids.  For once there's really not anything else more productive I ought to be doing.  I try to use that time.  I bring a book and a Rosary on the off chance they all fall asleep at the same time, but that's usually it.
  4. Less is more. I carry on one bag for me.  The kids get one backpack (maybe one for the boys and one for the girls).  They can help pack it, but then they must prove that they will be able to carry it through the airport by wearing it around the house for at least 15 minutes without complaining.  Any more stuff than that is more trouble than it's worth. I also forgo strollers in the airport, and I check car seats for any flight when I don't absolutely need it for sleeping. Without the car seat I have more options for switching kids around, and I can use the seat back tray. In the car seat my kid is virtually guaranteed to spend most of the flight kicking the seat in front of him.
  5. Two words: barf bag puppets.
  6. More words . . . there are plenty of things to do with stuff that's already on the plane.  I bring paper and blunt nose scissors and glue sticks and we cut up the Skymall catalog and make collages (automatic dog waterer, statue of a lady with a lamp for a head, popcorn cart, Harry Potter wand, backyard Sasquatch . . . ).   I get giant self-adhesive googly eyes and sticky-back felt squares and decorate the barf bags.  If I get tired of arts and crafts we see who can hold an ice cube the longest, or play ice cube hockey on the tray with coffee stirrers.  Sometimes we have races to see who can find particular items first in the Skymall catalog.  I really cannot emphasize enough how long you can entertain your kids with in-flight magazines.  Two hours, sometimes more -- they are a real goldmine of distraction.
  7. Basically the goal is to waste the most time, with items that take up the least amount of room.  Especially if I'm not flying on Southwest (since they have snacks) I like to bring some clean shoelaces and a bag of fruit loop-type cereal.  I tie a knot at the end, then the kids have to string the cereal onto the shoelace without eating any until it's full.  THEN they get to take each piece off and eat it.  It takes forever on both ends. 
  8. Other great plane toys that don't take up a lot of room are:
Coloring Books and Crayons are a perennial favorite.  Two pages means two kids can color at once.  Or if they start getting bored with that, they like getting to tell me how to color a page.

Colorforms or Reusable Stickers (Airport or Melissa & Doug) usually come with a bulky binder or pad or carrying case, but you can just put the pieces in a ziploc bag and kids can stick them to the seat back tray or the windows of the plane.

Travel AquaDoodle will keep kids occupied on the plane or during long car rides, just make sure to have a bottle of water, and store the pen in a ziploc bag.  A cheaper and even more portable (store it in a paper towel tube) option is this Painting and Calligraphy Mat, some paint brushes, and a cup of water from the flight attendant.

Really, how can you go wrong with Play-Doh?  We bring a couple of army men to charge a hill and a monster truck or two to squish unsuspecting snowmen.  Another favorite is trying to guess what Dad is making before he finishes.  I usually make my own using this easy recipe (try the koolaid option for great color and smell, but considerably less nature).

Any tiny toys are great on the plane, but I especially like Squinkies because they're rubbery so they don't easily fall off of the tray.  My babies haven't tended to put a lot of stuff in their mouths, so I don't mind having these around.  But they do come in cute little choking-hazard balls.

Aaaaannnndddd . . . a screen of some sort does come in handy on long plane rides.  We used to have a DVD Player but now we just use the iPad.  A Headphone Splitter allows everyone who can fit in the seat to hear.  I like screens on LONG plane rides for the same reason I don't like them at home.  They turn my rambunctious, energetic kids into slack-jawed, zombie-children for hours on end.  We don't usually use screens on flights less than four hours.

All tuckered out from all that fun. 

So that's how I keep my two-and-ups entertained.  But what about babies?  C'mon back by on Thursday to find out.  

  * Full disclosure on the Amazon links: clicking on a product from any of my posts will take you to Amazon, if you buy that item (or anything else) after clicking through my blog I get a (very small) percentage.  Awesome!


Monday, February 25, 2013

Percy Jackson: A Book Review in Which I Disagree With Everyone Else Who Has a Blog

My ten year old son loves to read.  And though he enjoys the books recommended by our classical curriculum, sometimes he yearns to read something a bit more modern and edgy . . .

or perhaps something a bit more ancient and Greek.  Somewhere, he heard about The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) and asked if he could get it at the library.  I looked at a couple of reviews online, and people generally raved about it.  Catholic people.

I figured it would be fine.  I did, however, require that Jack read an actual Book of Greek Myths before he read the "fractured" version.  (This is a pet peeve of mine, children reading books riffing off of classic tales about which they know nothing.)

So he started it, and, as I usually like to know for myself what my kids are reading, so did I.  He was ahead of me, which is poor planning on my part.  But I was pleased when he came to me with an early concern about the book.  There were extramarital liaisons.  We discussed that those are certainly a theme of the original myths and that he should keep a discerning eye open to make sure that immoral acts are described non-graphically and shown accompanied by realistic consequences.

I tried to catch up with him, but I'm sorry to say I didn't and he finished before I did.  He said he enjoyed the action and comedy, but was worried I would think that it wasn't a good book for kids.

He was right.

I should take a quick moment here to say that I LOVE middle grade books and fantasy books and books in general.  I have often found myself in the position of defending popular books that other Catholics worry about.  I had every intention of liking and recommending this book.

Also, I'm assuming here that you are reading this review because your child wants to read this book but you don't want to, so there will be major spoilers.

I didn't like this book because of its relativistic approach to religion, its matter-of-fact presentation of extra-marital relationships, and its celebration of Percy's mother's murder of her husband.

I am not concerned that reading this book would tempt my children to become polytheists.  But Mr. Riordan seems to be trying to avoid conflicts with Christianity by having one of his characters separate the notion of a "big G" God from the "little g" gods.  It isn't particularly convincing.  Much more troubling is when Percy sees a scamming televangelist being escorted to the worst part of Hades.  When he questions whether the man wouldn't be expecting a different type of hell, he is told that people just see whatever they believed in when they were alive.  This is morally relativistic new age baloney, and I won't have it.

I found this image after I wrote that.
Apparently Hephaestus is a character in Wonder Woman comics?

Also, it would be hard to avoid references to sexual relationships outside marriage in a tale about Greek myths.  But in the original myths we see the pain and suffering and inconvenience to gods and men that these dalliances cause.  Not so in this book.  Percy's father says Percy's mom is a "queen among women" and she is presented as strong-minded for hooking up with a married god but then refusing his offers of help and instead living unhappily with a smelly, poker-playing new husband.

Percy and his little friends are also sent on a quest into the love nest of two cheating gods (who aren't there).  Super creepy and inappropriate.  And again, zero consequences.

In the original myth, Aphrodite is married by her father Zeus to the crippled blacksmith Hephaestus, despite her love for Ares.  She continues having relations with Ares after having consummated her relationship with her husband.  Hephaestus sets a trap and catches the lovers in the act.  His agony and the shame of the entrapped lovers are a big part of the story (although the assembled gods find it all rather amusing).  NONE of that happens in the book.  Hephaestus's trap is foiled by Percy and we can assume that the lovers are free to carry on.

This is the least unclothed Aphrodite ever gets, 
at Wikimedia Commons anyway.
Finally (although there's more), at the end of the book, we learn that Percy's mother has murdered her lout of a husband with the severed head of Medusa that Percy has left for her.  Just in case she wanted to murder her husband.  And it turned out she did.

But Percy suspects that he had beaten her.  And the husband smelled really bad and was always quite unpleasant to Percy.  So we are expected to rejoice that although she claimed that she didn't have the courage to leave him, she has somehow found it in herself to murder him, then sell his statue (which would be his corpse, right?) to a museum for a huge amount of money.  What fun!

I also had all kinds of issues with the writing.  I was annoyed by the undertones of "humans are hurting the gods by pollution and lack of open spaces".  I didn't believe the oft-repeated idea that Percy's ADHD and dyslexia are really just signs that he was a demigod the whole time.   (I have since learned that the author included that aspect for his own son, but still, it was bothersome to me as I was reading.)  I was very frustrated by the 24-style "flip" of a character from super-good to full-on villain with almost no explanation or foreshadowing.  I hated that the whole cross-country adventure of our hero was necessary because he can't fly on airplanes because he is the son of Poseidon and the sky belongs to Zeus, so he just can't fly.  Fine. Got it.  Then, he flies home.  He's worried, but he does it.  And Zeus doesn't kill him.  That's not okay with me.  You can set up the rules of your world, but then you have to follow them.

I guess that's the bottom line for me.  If I had connected with the writing more I would probably be trying to figure out a way for you to just discuss with your kids the problem areas of the book.  That's what I did with my son. But I just don't think the positives even come close to outweighing the negatives on this one.

If your kids have already read it or you plan to let them, you may wish to ask these questions:

  1. What are the consequences for the people and gods in this book who are involved in affairs outside of marriage?  For instance Percy's mother, Poseidon, Ares, Zeus?  What about all the children at Camp Half-Blood, none of whom has an intact family?  Do you think this is a good situation for them?
  2. What happens when we die?  Is it possible, as we read in this book that "Humans see what they want to see" after they die?  Would this be a dangerous thing to believe?
  3. Poseidon tells his son Percy "I am sorry you were born" and calls him an "unforgivable mistake."  Do we believe that there are children who should never have been born?  Does OUR God ever make mistakes?
  4. Percy's mother thinks that her life wouldn't "mean anything" if she let someone take care of her.  Do you agree with this?
  5. Percy decides not to kill his stepfather.  But he leaves the head of Medusa for his mother, and she uses it to kill her husband, since he is very mean and beats her.  Is it morally acceptable to kill someone under these circumstances?  Did Percy help his mother by leaving this weapon for her?
If you don't want to have these discussions with your child, you should really skip this book.

So, what to read instead?  I have a stack of newer YA and middle grade fantasy books that I'm going to read for Jack (and for you guys).  But since I haven't gotten to those yet, I'm going to have to go with Chronicles of Narnia and the Redwall Series.  They are a similar reading level, and are full of quests and adventures that boys love.  They also have a beautiful moral message, and a congruous fantasy world that doesn't break its own rules.

Update: You might also be interested in this post Encouraging Discerning Readership in Children (and an update to my Percy Jackson review)

Update #2: I had an interesting discussion with Charlotte from Waltzing Matilda in the comments of her review of this book. I think she may have changed my mind about whether Percy's Mom killed Smelly Gabe, or if it wouldn't be more accurate to understand that she has imprisoned him eternally. I still don't love this book. I still do think it can be read with guidance, but wonder why you would bother. But I really do think Charlotte has a point on the murdering thing.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Balloonford?: 7 Quick Takes

If you usually read my blog, you'll understand how much of a challenge "quick" takes are for me.  Let's see how I do . . . 

--- 1 ---
Happy Chair of St. Peter! 
In this house we celebrate the fasts AND the feasts, so we always look forward to the feasts in Lent, and make a big to-do.  But this year it falls on a FRIDAY, making it a regular 'ol abstinence day.  Chair of St. Peter <shaking fist> why aren't you a solemnity?  (Not that our usual celebrations involve a lot of meat, it just somehow feels less festive.) 

Here are some candy chairs we made to celebrate the feast a couple of years ago.  Candy + cookies + frosting + sprinkles = tiny, delicious Chairs of St. Peter!

It seems especially poignant this year doesn't it?  What with trying to understand the papal election process and random, crazy emails that ought to be more decisively refuted by certain clearing-houses that claim to be impartial.  But it's a nice time to remember that while we LOVE the man, our assent is to the CHAIR.

In case you missed it, here is the story about the time Jack got his First Communion from the Pope.

--- 2 ---

Great Moments in Homeschooling

     Me: Capital of Arkansas?
     Bobby: ummmmmmm . . . 
     Me: It wouldn't hurt TOO much if I threw it at you.
     Bobby: Balloonford?

--- 3 ---

A new book by Jonathan Last challenges the population control alarmists with its own alarming interpretation of population statistics and what it means for the future of America.

We are trying to do our part around here (you're welcome, America).  But the thing I keep coming back to is, they're ALL SO DIFFERENT, how could I not have them ALL?  And how could I not want all the rest God might send my way?

I have six children, but only one can do this:

Crazy, right?  He is FIVE.

I have six children, but only one has ever had an imaginary friend:

It's an owl named Flappy.
These two are numbers four and five.  If we hadn't been open to what some people would consider an irresponsibly large family, they wouldn't be here to amaze and amuse us.

But, hey, we didn't stop there.  We also got this one:

His special skills include shrieking and banging on stuff
and HE will have BOTH cups. 
Cute though, inney?

--- 4 ---
Los Angeles may have it's fair share of troubles, financially and, well, you know.  But you really can't beat the weather.

Memorizing the Gettysburg Address

The winner of our family sand castle contest on Thursday

--- 5 ---

In case you missed the Downton Abbey season finale, here's how it might have gone down on Facebook:

--- 6 ---

My sister-in-law (Hi Brie!) and I watched it together and we knew SOMETHING was up.  Seriously could they BE any more lovey-dovey? (I mean, no, of course, that's how the husband and I talk to each other all the time.  In fact, he was just saying to me over a game of cricket how he never imagined he could love like this, weren't you dear?)

But I never thought they would do THAT again, in the SAME SEASON!  I was rather incensed.  But then, I looked into it (way past my bedtime) and discovered that it really wasn't Julian Fellowes' fault after all.  I guess I'll forgive them.  Although I still think the final shot was a bit beyond the pale.

Just think, the Brits got to watch that on Christmas Day!

--- 7 ---

I really think it's extraordinary that Six Flags lets homeschoolers participate in their Read to Succeed program, since you'd have to figure that what makes it financially worth it for them to offer the program is that one kid gets a free ticket and the whole family pays to go along.  This year I'll get four free tickets for readers, one free ticket for their teacher (me), and my two little ones will get in for free.  Wow.  I will pay for parking, and perhaps a caramel apple or two . . . 

My eldest commented that while he likes BOTH Read to Ride at the Fair AND Read to Succeed at Six Flags, Read to Succeed is WAY better because you don't have to write book reports and you can ride as many rides as you want.

There's still time to enroll!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!