Tips for Traveling With Kids

20160805_173516It’s no secret that I am a paranoid parent. I like to have a plan. I like to have a handle on things. And I like to keep my kids safe by my side whenever possible. So when we decided to take our family to a foreign country to live for a month this summer it nearly sent my controlling, OCD nature into a stressed-out frenzy.

I did a lot of research before we went left and found tons and tons tips for traveling with kids. Here are a few things that put my mind at ease and helped all of us better enjoy our trip.

1. Tag them – The thought of losing my kids was probably the thing that made me the most anxious about our trip.

If you have ever been near the Trevi Fountain during the heat of July or August you’ll know it’s absolute chaos. There are swarms and swarms of people all trying to get to the center of the monument to toss a coin in over their shoulder. There are vendors thrusting goods in your face and groups snapping pics with giant selfie sticks. And everyone seems to be speaking a different language.

20160816_111909I didn’t know how I’d keep my kids from getting lost in places like that and felt really stressed about it until I stumbled across this idea. I tagged each of them on a regular basis. I ordered some of these wristbands and a couple of sharpie markers. I wrote some personal information on the back of the wristbands in Italian before strapping one onto each of them. They said: “Help I am lost. Please call my parents Travis and Natalie at XXXXXXXX.”

Then we practiced a couple of scenarios with our kids on what to do and who to talk to if they got separated from us. It wasn’t a perfect plan – luckily we never had to put it to the test – but it was a plan.

The wristbands seemed to last a few days before the writing blurred together or they started to fray. When that happened we’d strap on a new one. Luckily my kids LOVE wearing these type of bracelets. They always have contests whenever we go to the fun park or the school carnival, to see who can keep theirs on the longest. They wore them proudly and that made this mama sleep better at night.

2. Pack light – What does a month’s worth of luggage look like for a family of six?

20160719_112330No matter how light I thought I packed, it still seemed like a lot. Especially when we were towing it along cobblestone streets while looking for our apartment the first day.

My suggestion to anyone traveling with kids is TRAVEL LIGHTLY. Bring outfits that can mix and max. Bring jeans that you can wear a few times before washing. Only bring one swimsuit per person. Don’t bring towels or blankets. Bring two sets of pajamas per kid – then have them wear them several nights in a row. Take one jacket per person. Only bring one, maybe two pairs of shoes each. This will really reduce the amount you have to tote around.

One of my friends gave me the best advice when she gave me this tip. She told me that she has resigned herself to the fact that when she travels she and her family will be in the same few outfits in all their pictures. It’s worth it not having to worry about extra bags.

We had access to a washer and dryer where we were staying in Rome, so we only took a week worth of clothes for each person and it still felt like we had too much.

But I was proud of myself. I stuck to the bare essentials and rolled all of our clothing into gallon Ziploc bags. I usually pack WAY too much. I always think I need to have extras in case someone has an accident or someone spills gelato all over everything – which happened to us more than once. But in all honesty with the exception of someone having an accident, we didn’t change clothes while we were out sightseeing. So what if my baby girl is wearing her red sauce on her sleeves? At least we knew she liked it!

3. Fi20160726_184213nd Some Comfort Food – We were living in the pizza, pasta and panini capitol of the world. Luckily our kids have grown up eating Italian food so they were pretty good eaters.

But there was the occasional melt down where one or all of our kids were crying for a cheeseburger or fries. Thank heavens for McDonalds. We ate there several times. And although it probably nearly killed my husband to do so, it helped them feel like they were at home.

20160805_203944 4. Allow Electronics – Finally, we allowed our kids to use their electronics more than we ever would have at home.

We gave our kids Kindle Fires for Christmas. We got a really good deal when they were on sale for Black Friday last year. At home they can play on them for 30 minutes a day. We set the parental controls to automatically lock them out when they have reached their limit – unless they are reading.

But that 30-minute limit went right out the window on our trip. We let them use their electronics unlimited while traveling. They could watch movies, play games or read books for hours while we flew in airplanes or rode on trains and buses.

They were in heaven. Which made traveling even easier on all of us.

20160805_203959Like I said earlier, we didn’t want to pack a lot of extra things. So rather than bring a giant toy bag, we invested in our electronics. Right before the trip we bought some new games and videos that they played and watched over and over. They were new and exciting and definitely worth the extra money.

But our kids didn’t just use them when we were on the go, they used them in our Rome apartment. They played them a lot while their dad was working.

And as much as it goes against everything I would normally do, it was one of the best things for us.

I am sure there are many, many more worthwhile ideas that help parents enjoy vacationing with little kids, but most of all I would say that being patient and realizing that a family vacation is very different than a couples or solo vacation is key.

When we took the time to look at things through the eyes of our kids and help them learn about what we were doing and seeing we all benefited. It was so fun to watch them listen to a tour at the Colosseum or try to pretend they were tipping over the leaning tower of Pisa. I’ll never forget my four-year-old running through the streets of Pompeii pretending lava was going to come down.

Those were things I would never have experienced without having them along. We had an amazing time. Traveling with kids can be a great experience.

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How Learning a Second Language Has Made Me a Better Mom

I have always wanted to learn a second language. I dabbled in Spanish in junior high school but the only things that I can remember are how to count to ten and sing “La Cucaracha.”

When I very first met my husband I found out he was fluent in Italian. Fluent! I was enchanted.

I asked him to go with me to an Italian opera for one of our first dates. It was so cute how he translated the play for me. I let him do it for the first act before I pointed out the English supertitles.

His talent for Italian only spurred my desire to learn.

But I couldn’t hack it. I bought Italian language books. I listened to free Italian podcasts. I even bought several Disney movies in Italian when he took me to Italy eleven years ago.

But sadly they didn’t work.

Nothing worked – until this year. I found a free language learning app. I started studying Italian on Duolingo.

At first it was hit or miss.

But with a month-long vacation with my family to Italy this summer I knew I would have to get serious. I needed to help myself and my children navigate the streets of Rome.

So I started studying every day. I made it a priority.

Which is probably no big deal for a lot of people but there are very few things I do for myself every day. I barely get dress and brush my teeth every day.

My kids always come first. There are always chores and meals and games and homework and diaper changes and so on and so on.

This time I put some of that aside for 30 minutes each day and I studied my Italian.

And it made me a better mother.

I had to tell my children to wait sometimes. I had to focus on my computer or iPad instead of all of them for half an hour. I had to sit on my couch and do something by myself.

At first I felt guilty. But I knew it would help all of us in the end so I pressed on.
Not only did I learn enough Italian to be able to ask where the bathroom was or how much something cost, I learned how good it felt to do something for myself for once.

I showed my kids that mom gets to do something for herself and the world will keep turning. I showed them that it is important to stick with something we enjoy. I showed them that hard work pays off.

And I reminded myself how much I love to learn.

It felt so good. Sure I’m not 100 percent fluent like my husband, but my 58 percent fluency really paid off this past month while we were living in Rome.

I was able to understand so much more than the last time I visited Italy. I could help my kids order from menus and find train stops. I could ask for directions and apologize to people when my kids were acting crazy. I could buy my own clothes at the market!

All of that felt so good. Putting myself first for thirty minutes a day made me happy and that made me a better mom in many, many ways.

My studying has dropped off since we got back in America last week. But only because I have a hundred things to do to get back in a groove here. When we get settled back into the U.S. I will restart my online learning.

I think it’s good for every mom to find something they do for themselves every day. It might be hard at first. You may feel guilty. But you deserve it. And your kids deserve to see you make time for something you enjoy.

Fidati di me.

Working on Working – How Can I Teach My Kids Work Ethic?

Here's part of the pile of junk my boys and I had to sort through and put away last week during a major cleaning session that ended in tears an time outs.

Here’s part of the pile of junk my boys and I had to sort through and put away last week during a major cleaning session that ended in tears an time outs.

I can’t teach my kids to work. I don’t know how. There, I admitted it.

I hear all of the time that kids are lazy these days. I hear adults say that kids have no work ethic. I hear them the blame parents.

OK then, how do I teach them to work?

I’ve tried and I have failed.

If I have them help me with a project or chore they gripe and complain the entire time. They drag their feet and mope about.

They put things in the wrong place. They need me to tell them exactly what to do next. And it takes us THREE times as long to get stuff done.

Uggh. What do I do?

A few weeks ago I bribed my two oldest boys. I told them I’d pay them $5 if they helped me clean the garage. An hour into the project my oldest started having a meltdown.

“It’s just not worth it,” he kept crying. “It’s not worth $5.”

It wasn’t worth $5 to me either. It stressed me out. I was yelling at them the entire time as they sluggishly drug items back and forth while we sorted through and got rid of our garbage.

About halfway through I noticed a pile behind the garbage can of items they were supposed to be throwing away – a couple of broken sprinklers, a light tube, some broken wires, etc. They were saving them to use them to build a time machine.

Uggh. Counter productivity is our specialty.

Three fourths of the way through they were supposed to get rid of the bubble bottles that weren’t completely full. I turned around to find a soapy mess in the corner of the garage. Both of my youngest kids had suds all over their hands.

The best part? It was a cool day so my neighbors had their windows open. They could hear me rant and rage as I lost my temper. I was supposed to be teaching them how to work and I was failing big time.

The next day we had to tackle the mountain of junk that had piled up in the bottom of their closet and side of their bedroom. Because, as I mentioned before, they don’t ever truly put stuff away. They just toss it in a hidden spot.

We spent a couple hours sifting through their stuff. Well, I sifted, they mostly cried and whined about how long it was taking us.

By the time we finished one of them ended up in time out for the rest of his life – OK only for the night but to him it seemed like forever.

So here’s my dilemma.

Do I save us all a little heartache and clean everything myself? Do I wait until school starts and throw out half of their garbage while they aren’t even home? Then they can’t argue with what to save and what to toss, it will take me half as long and I won’t have to hear them complain.

It would be a heck of a lot easier.

But then they don’t ever have to work. Their mom takes care of everything.

I really don’t think that’s the answer. So how can I keep my cool while teaching them work ethic?

I want them to be self-sufficient. I want them to be hard workers. I want them to take care of their regular chores – make their beds, take out the trash, help change their sheets, put away their laundry, etc. – as well as help with major family chores like cleaning out the garage and planting the garden.

So I guess I’ll keep refereeing while they fight during family weeding sessions. I’ll take deep breaths while they gripe about the garbage cans being too heavy. I’ll try to ignore them when they argue about what set of sheets goes on their bed. And I’ll keep reminding them to do simple things like put their toothbrushes away when they are less than a foot from their holders.

Hopefully some of this stuff will stick. And one day, magically they will do it on their own.

And I’ll definitely make sure that next time we tackle organizing the garage, the neighbors’ windows are closed. Either that or I take a chill pill first.

I Stink at Summer

Its summer. Which means I can’t find our scissors and tape, our sliding glass door is always left open, tiny ants are eating sticky otter-pop droppings on our floor and I am NEVER EVER ALONE.

Ahh summer. Every spring I long for it. I can’t wait to spend more time with my kids. Then every year two weeks into summer break I’m in tears.

I’m stressed. I’m tired. And I’m depressed.

It’s harder than I think it’s going to be. Every. Single. Year.

This year I was really sick the month before summer break. Not runny nose and sore throat kind of sick, but Lortab, Zofran and Benadryl taking kind of sick. I started feeling better the first week of vacation but I was a lot less prepared than I wanted to be.

So it’s felt even harder this time.

Why is it hard for me?

Because I like order and routine – two things that don’t happen in summer.

There’s no schedule. No order. No break.

And there’s never anything we ALL want to do. (Unless it includes watching Netflix or playing Kindles – two things I’m opposed to doing all day, all summer.)

I daydream about hanging out with my kids playing board games or watching movies. I picture us happily helping each other fold and put away the laundry or making fairy houses for our new flower garden.

HAHAHAHAHA.

We fight over the rules to every game, can’t pick a show everyone wants to see, laundry is “mom’s job” and we haven’t even attempted to start a fairy house.

I have resigned myself to going three months without having an adult conversation. Why? Because my children are ALWAYS near. They want to hear, see and be a part of everything I do.

I used to have a little down time in the afternoons while my younger kids were resting. During the school year I used that time to get dinner ready, pick up the house or catch up on Facebook, emails or my Italian studying.

With no afternoon down time these days I try to get those things done at night but bedtime is also thrown out the window with summer. My kids cry because they want to have “late nights” with their friends. If I let them stay up late they are grumpy the next day because they refuse to sleep in. They will stay up until 11 or 12 and still get up at 7.

Sometimes we get them in bed at the usual time, and then I feel guilty.

I stay up after I’ve sent them to bed “early” and I see videos and comments on Facebook about how amazing summer is and how I need to let my kids live it up and I start crying because I don’t think I let them live it up enough that day.

Sigh. I can’t win.

We are three weeks into summer and I’m barely starting to adjust. I don’t know if it’s getting easier or if I have just let down my expectations.

I’ve given up hope that my children will play outside on by themselves sometimes and give me a moment of peace.

I’ve given up on keeping my house clean. Bring on the ants.

I’ve given up on pinning activities to Pinterest – I can spend a couple hours getting supplies and setting them up for about 5 minutes of fun.

Finally I’ve given up on comparing my summer to other moms’. I’ve decided I stink at summer and that’s just how it’s going to be.

I’m going to keep taking deep breaths to stay calm as I referee my kids throughout these hot summer months. And I’m going to do it all while exhausted.

 

Big Boy Bed

Big Boy BedIt was bound to happen. I mean he was three-and-a-half already. But that doesn’t mean I was ready for my little boy to come waltzing out of his room after he was tucked safely into his crib.

He finally did it. He figured out how to climb up out of the side while using his neighboring dresser as a makeshift ladder.

There he stood in our darkened living room well after bedtime grinning from ear to ear. He had escaped. And he was thrilled.

It’s the first time he’s ever really wanted to come out. He’s never really tried to get out on his own before that.

But that night a month ago was the first of many, many nights (and afternoons for naps) that he helped himself out of his confinement. He claimed that he was “done sleeping,” but part of me knew he was too proud of his newfound freedom to stay caged any longer.

He was growing up.

So we took down the side rail of his crib and transformed it into his brand new big-boy bed. Aside from being a little disappointed that he hasn’t grown into a T-Rex yet (something he’s always wanted to be when he grows up) he has been completely elated with his new sleeping arrangements.

I was less than elated.

My boy. My perfect little rainbow baby. The child who brought more smiles to my face and love to my heart after Luca died than anything else. How can it be that he is growing up so fast? How is he big enough for a crib-less bed?

I was surprised at how hard it was for me to make up his new bed. I tucked the sheets in carefully while pondering how quickly things can change.

A couple weeks later I held this same son’s hand as we walked down the steps to registration at his new preschool.

Again my heart was heavy as I began to internalize what that registration symbolized. Is he really old enough for preschool? Am I really going to have to let him go, without me, twice a week? Can’t I swaddle him close and keep him with me for the rest of his life?

I can’t help but feel like time is racing by for my fourth little baby boy. Sure we’ve made it through the difficult nighttime feedings and I’m more than beyond ecstatic that we survived his potty training days. But that doesn’t mean I am ready for him to “grow up.”

When I sit back and truly think about it, thoughts of inadequacy and doubt creep into my mind. Have I played with him enough? Have we read enough stories together? Did I rock him to sleep as many times as I could have? Sing him enough lullabies? Have we played PJ Masks as many times as possible?

Then I reassure myself that I could waste away asking myself these questions. I know I have done my best. We have built a blanket “HQ” in my room every day for weeks. I can’t tell you how many Lego dinosaurs I have made. And I have found my puzzle piecing soul mate. We have cuddled and snuggled away many, many afternoons. I have loved him to the best of my ability every day of his life.

And when I start to get teary eyed and can’t bear for him to get any older, I close my eyes and picture that grin on his face. The one he wore when he figured out how to get out of his crib and came to find me. That same grin flashed across his face when he met his new preschool teacher and got to play with the T-Rex she had in her toy box.

He’s ready. I can’t hold him back. Nor should I.

Mad Scientist

science projectMy son signed up to do an unrequired, ungraded, extra science fair project this month.

He’s in the fourth grade. Fourth graders aren’t required to do a project. They save that special experience for the fifth and sixth graders. But they can sign up to do a project if they want.

So why…did…my…son…sign…up?

He’s a really smart kid and loves science, but sometimes he gets bored doing projects. He doesn’t like doing homework (what kid does?) and I have to keep on him to get his reading time in.

So when I found out he signed up to do something extra, something that would be incredibly time intensive, I was frustrated.

Not a great motherly response, I’ll admit, but it’s the truth. His father was thrilled and excited that his oldest wanted to learn more. I knew that this “science project” would be a hands-on mother-and-son project. And I don’t even really like science.

I helped him brainstorm projects that related to his fishing passion. He decided to test different fishhooks to see if they would dissolve.

He loved picking out different hooks at the store and concocting different liquids for them to sit in. We set up a tray and let them soak for several weeks.

That was the fun part.

Four weeks later it was time for the not-so-fun part. And I suddenly turned into a mad scientist.

There ended up being a mix-up with the project’s due date. I had a paper saying that the projects were due on Jan. 20. He had a paper that said Jan. 14. I thought we had plenty of time to work but then he came to me really late one night after I thought he was sleeping. He was stressed and anxious that he wasn’t going to be able to get everything done in time.

That’s when I reminded him that this project was his choice. (After reassuring him I’d help him get it done. That we were in this together.)

Of course he was right and we were out of time this week. We had to hustle and pull the project together last minute.

So we spent the better part of a Saturday afternoon and evening typing up his results. If you’ve ever seen my 9-year-old type, you would know that it is a difficult task. You would know that he absolutely hates it.

I took pity on him and helped him type. We had a bargain. I’d type a sentence then he’d type one. Then I’d type one, then he’d type one, etc. But it still took forever.

DSC_0141 1

I was frustrated with him. I was frustrated that it was taking so long. And I was frustrated that elementary school science projects had to be so scientific.

I think elementary school science fair projects are a joke. I think that they were created by teachers who don’t think moms have enough on their plate.

Because there is absolutely NO way that a traditional fourth grader could do all that is required of them for the project on their own. They are judged on typed reports, charts, graphs, illustrations, presentation boards, etc.

They haven’t ever typed a report that long. They haven’t ever set up a colorful giant tri-fold poster board. They haven’t ever set up a table in a word document. They haven’t created a bibliography. And this is just the paper portion.

Let’s talk about the experiment itself. They don’t know how to measure based on the metric system. They don’t know how to create things like “salt water.” They don’t know how to measure results.

It’s not their fault. They are just too young. They haven’t experienced any of this yet.

So let’s have them dive in and figure it all out while playing scientist and crafting an interesting experiment that they have to parade around the elementary school gym while answering difficult questions about their methods – all while in competition with one another.

Sounds fun to me.

I don’t know why teachers don’t let the kids dream up different experiments that they can perform together in class. Wouldn’t it be more fun for them to get to do the projects together? Who needs the detailed reports and tri-fold posters? Hands-on learning together sounds more ideal to me.

I should have taken the time to teach my son as we went. I should have calmly explained how to gather and type up his data. It would have been the perfect situation to nicely show him how a project is done.

But I was a crazy person. I was stressed that he wasn’t helping. I was stressed that he didn’t know what to do. And I was stressed that his three siblings were making a giant mess all over the place while I was working on the project with him.

There was weeping and wailing and some major complaining – by my son and myself. I am ashamed to say that it has not been one of my best parenting weeks.

Of course our printer didn’t have any ink (it never has ink when we need it) so we typed up all that we needed to print off, loaded it to my thumb drive, and made it to the copy store five minutes before it closed.

We cut out and glued on our illustrations, charts and results. And it turned out amazing.

It was frustrating, it was hard and I yelled at my son way more than I should have. But in the end we did it together. I told him that I was proud of his hard work. I told him I was sorry for losing my patience with him. I told him that I blew it and that I should have used this as a teaching opportunity, not a let’s-hurry-and-get-this-done activity.

Then I made sure to follow up by telling him that I’m OK with him not signing up for any extra projects … at least not for a while.

Still Screaming and Pretty Much Addicted

Well, I’m still screaming and pretty much addicted. I must be because no matter what I do, I can’t stop. I CAN’T STOP YELLING AT MY KIDS!!

No matter how much I want to.

I started the Orange Rhino Challenge back in April – a challenge that I was able to succeed at very briefly. (You can read about that here.) I lasted a few weeks without shouting at my boys.

Then summer vacation struck.

That’s when I stopped listing how many days I was “yell-free” on the bottom of my blog. I was ashamed to admit I can’t quit. I’m not “yell-free.”

The more time I spent with my boys the harder it was to keep from screaming. The more time I spent with them the more tired I was which led to more screaming. The more time I spent with them the more messy my house was which led to more screaming.

I CAN’T STOP!!!

Tuesday night I lost it yet again. Apparently my boys lost their hearing the night before because no matter how many times I asked them to do something on Tuesday they couldn’t hear me.

More like they wouldn’t hear me.

They wouldn’t stay near me by the pond when I took them fishing. They wouldn’t keep in my sight when I took them to the train museum. And they especially wouldn’t keep away from the hose and waterspout when they were out playing in the back yard.

All things they had been asked nicely to do. More than once.

It’s not like I was asking them to clean their room or empty the dishwasher. I was asking them to listen and obey me while we tried to jam a few more fun activities into our last week of summer.

Right before bedtime I asked them to go to the bathroom and get ready to hop in the tub. I walked in a few minutes later to find them pinching vitamin E tablets with a set of heavy-duty pliers, then dumping them into my plugged bathroom sink.

That was the straw that broke this camel’s back.

I snapped. Again. My voice transformed into demon-mommy tone as I shouted for them to head to their room and hop into bed. That’s when my oldest wouldn’t stop shouting that he wanted to bath.

Over, and over, he kept shouting at me.

Tough. Luck. Buddy.

I spanked his bum, put him in bed and left the room without cracking the bedroom door like I usually do.

My 5-year-old was sobbing. He was scared to death, which made me feel really bad.

After a few minutes my oldest came out with red, wet eyes and apologized. I went in their room and told them that we all needed to start treating one another better. I told them that they needed to show me some respect.

But I doubt that will happen. They think they can walk all over me. They think that if I tell them to stop doing something they don’t have to listen, until I scream.

How can I break this scream, feel like crap, apologize, never-ending cycle?

How do other people get their kids to listen?

Maybe I should read some books written by experts. Maybe I should see a shrink. Maybe my kids should start listening.

I know I need to start enforcing more consequences when they don’t listen. I need to make sure that I follow through with my threats. They need to know that I mean business.

I know I need to get more sleep at night so I’m not always a zombie mom walking around on edge.

I know I need to take a chill pill sometimes and realize that kids are kids and that they aren’t going to listen to EVERYTHING I say.

If I can do these things I might not be able to eliminate yelling completely from my life, but I may be able to minimize it. And in doing that I may be able to minimize the guilt I feel after screaming at one of my sons.

I love them. I really don’t want to shout at them.

I might not be able to completely kick my habit, but I can try not to be quite such a yelloholic.

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