Traveling with kids: How to survive and keep your sanity

My husband and I have always been traveling quite extensively and once our kids were born we decided not to stop the habit. Thus we do some city trips now and then (like we went to the National Sea Center Nausicaa in Boulogne-sur-Mer to celebrate our first son’s birthday), we go to visit interesting places (also not just interesting for kids, but interesting first and foremost for ourselves – e.g. recently we went to see the Moses bridge in the Netherlands). Additionally, my family still lives in Latvia and my granny is already relatively old which makes regular air travel a necessity. We traveled with our daughter by plane for the first time when she was couple of month old, with our son – when he was just one month old. Since then we accumulated quite some air miles. Also by car during the last 3 years we traveled both short and very long distances (like 2000 kms one way). Although I am in no way guru of traveling with kids, throughout our experiences we have accumulated a list of useful and tried tips and tricks on how to survive and keep your sanity while traveling with your precious little monsters angels. Some of the tips are more about air travel but most of them are applicable with adaptations to other means of transportation as well.

So, let’s begin:

1. First and foremost, attitude is everything. Things tend to go wrong at the moments least expected. Try to go with a flow and try to keep your cool. Kids are little radars that very easily pick up their parents mood. So if you become irritated and cranky prepare to have your little ones go even more berserk.

2. Factor in some spare time. This is a difficult one because, for example, with air travel you don’t want to be at an airport too early as you would simply go nuts waiting. On the other hand, you don’t want to rush in at the last moment and then discover that you have a so-to-say toilet accident that you need to urgently solve. You need to reasonably add something like in between 15 minutes and half an hour to your usual timing – that would normally do. Same for traveling by car – factor in additional stops on top of what you would normally do yourself.

3. Have antibacterial wipes, wet tissues and just normal paper tissues easily accessible. And by easily accessible I mean not just in your handbag or diaper bag, have a small version in your pocket that you can take out in no time. And speaking about pockets…

4. Wear clothes with pockets! It is not the idea to look like Anatoly Wasserman but he has some point. It is very handy when you can have the above mentioned tissues, or a small toy to immediately act upon a possible emergency. Also for passports and boarding passes – you need to show those things way too many times so better have them by hand (in case of documents opt for an inside pocket or the one which you can close securely).

5. A toddler can have his or her own bag. That saves space in your hand luggage and gives a toddler a feeling of involvement (allow him to pack, but by all means check and adjust afterwards!). Just don’t choose these cute pull-ones with wheels, as they twist and turn all ways and you will end up carrying that uncomfortable thingy yourself in addition to everything else you already have. A small backpack is the best choice.

6. Have some plastic bags (preferably zip lock but usual ones would also do) in an easy-to-reach spot.

7. For everyone kids included opt for the shoes that are easy to put on and get off. In an airport that will save you some time at the security check; and on the long-distance car ride you would want to take your shoes off in the car to relax your feet but be ready to run out fast if your toddler suddenly (and urgently) needs to pee.

8. Where there are kids, things tend to get messy and clothes might get dirty so make sure you have some spare clothes nearby. Here I prefer to pick the ones that are more or less suitable for both of my kids – a little bit too small for my daughter, a little bit too big for my son, yet overall fitting both of them; and from fabrics that are easy to roll. And in general…

9. … roll your clothes. There are numerous ways of how to efficiently pack your luggage but I personally choose rolling. When done properly you can stash a lot of things in less space. Also stuffing socks and underwear inside shoes allows to use the otherwise unused space to its full capacity. To optimally use the luggage weight allowance when traveling by air try to wear your heaviest clothes instead of putting them in your luggage.

10. Have that additional moment of going to the bathroom and change even seemingly clean diapers closer to departure (for air travel). It is feasible to do it while on board but so much easier when don’t have to.

11. Of course you don’t expect to lose your little one in a crowd yet better safe than sorry so either get an ID-bracelet or write your mobile phone number on the inside of kids clothes, or even just write it on their arms.

12. Explain to your kids what will happen, what they should do in case they are lost… It is not going to work with small kids of course, but repetition does wonders. And in general I am very much pro explaining everything even to an infant.

13. Have some entertainment for kids ready but give it out in small doses (by no means all at once!) You know your kid better than anyone so you know if a coloring book works better than a toy car, so pick. There is no need to have a lot of stuff (2-3 different activities would do). If you have an iPad, pre-load some offline games. If you have a small tablet-PC put some cartoons on. If you opt for electronic devices make sure they are fully charged, otherwise a cartoon stopped in the middle will cause more drama than it was supposed to avoid.

14. A good idea for a bit older kid would also be a child-friendly photo-camera. That is a great stimulation of creativity for them but can also produce unexpectedly nice artistic results to add to your family photo-album.

15. There was a good advice on one of the websites – ignore the idiots and don’t be one yourself. Some people don’t like kids in general, irrespective of how well-behaving they might be, so imagine if they are not? Don’t ignore other people or intentionally annoy them but also don’t stress too much about what somebody thinks about you or your off-springs.

16. Wear kids out! Let them run when it is possible to run. Let them explore when it is possible to explore. Let them shout when it is possible to shout. Traveling is a great experience for your little ones, so let them experience everything to its fullest. And also in the airport, let them run around (reasonably!) before they will be confined to sitting still in an airplane for hours.

17. Finally, also for the air travel, make sure to make them drink or chew on something at take-off and landing otherwise those little ears will hurt. Nurse if you are nursing, give a bottle, or if a kid totally refuses to drink – give them a gummy bear! Long live Harribo’s! What also helps if a kid is already screaming from ear-pain – gently massage the area around their ears, that normally helps to relieve the pain a bit.

18. Couple of words about car seats and buggy’s during air travel. When our kids were infants we took car seat (Maxi Cosi) with us on the plane as it was used also on the buggy. Rules depend airline per airline but usually you are allowed to take Maxi Cosi and sometimes even keep it during the flight on the chair next to you. Otherwise the flight attendant will take it away while already in the cabin and give it back to you after you land. As for the buggy usually you have two options: either to check it in together with your check-in luggage or keep it until the plane. So far we went for the latter, as even if a kid doesn’t want to sit in a buggy anymore, you can use it to put all your hand luggage. As an additional bonus, with a buggy you usually get through a fast security check.

 

Some additional comments on traveling with an infant

The great thing about infants that are breastfed and can be carried in a sling is that they can be breastfed and be carried in a sling! Both points make traveling with them much easier than with an overly active toddler. When my kids were infants I had a set of breastfeeding clothes and a light blanket to cover-up and I always found a place where I can breastfeed as discreetly as possible. In the airport sometimes you can get into the lounge, or almost always go to a chapel. On the city trip you can find a quiet place in the park or in some cafe’s. I have breastfed even in a church once while on our city-trip to Paris… To note that I was always sufficiently discreet and covered-up so no one could actually tell that I am breastfeeding anyway. Breastfeeding while traveling by car is even less of a trouble – you can just pull over, make a kid happy and move on – to explore the world together.

 

And finally – some general tips which make sense even traveling without your precious little ones:

1. Take pictures or make scans of your passports and other documents and e-mail them to yourself. In that way if you ever lose your documents you will spare yourself lots of time while you’ll be replacing them.

2. Have a last-moment to-do list with things you need to still do right before you leave, for example: plug-out coffee maker, switch off water (in case applicable), take out garbage, finish that pack of juice that’s been open for 2 days,… whatever there is. If you actually have it all written down and you scratch items off as you take care of them that would improve your “pre-departure” efficiency and remove at least some stress.

3. I like spontaneity but it helps when you have at least a draft of your plan for the day. You need to stay flexible (and especially with kids) but you need to know at least in general lines where would you like to go and what would you like to do or see.

 

And I’ll wrap up with what I have started – most importantly enjoy your travel experience and stay positive! Attitude is everything!

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Protecting wings from being cut

While browsing through my Facebook I stumbled upon an interesting question posed in one of the groups – “Who is cutting your wings?”. Replies split almost equally between those who were blaming themselves and those who identified some external sources of influence: like a husband, family, friends, colleagues. It made me think about dreams, about identifying them in the first place and daring to follow them. And about all those moments when you are so inspired and uplifted, yet all your enthusiasm is crushed like a bug on the ground by someone whose opinion you value. Those moments when you feel good about yourself, but are made feel worthless; when you are, as Russians say, multiplied by zero; when your dreams are shattered and wings are cut…

… But let me start with identifying dreams first because “if one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable” (Seneca).

Long time ago when I was something like 17 or 18 years old (damn, I am old!) inspired by the movie “The Secret” I made my first list of wishes, hopes and dreams. There were 100 items from all possible categories starting with things I want, moving onto experiences I want, even places I would like to visit. Dreaming without any limitations, without thinking whether you can afford that, whether you are physically or mentally capable of doing that at the moment – dreaming without analyzing. I remember that it was fairly simple to write down the first 50 items or so, yet to reach the number 100 it took me almost a week. I looked at my old list couple of months ago and  – it’s almost complete! Some items were scratched off because I don’t want them anymore, however the majority of my wishes and dreams has actually realized. In the hindsight there were quite a few items in that list that back then were simply impossible for this or that reason: like going to China or learning to play golf, or studying abroad or having “Manolo Blahnik” shoes. Guess what: I went to China as part of my MBA studies (done abroad), I learned to play golf last summer and pretty much like in “Sex and the City” my husband proposed me putting on beige “Manolo Blahnik” shoes on my feet.

Few yet unrealized items are now transferred to my “Life plan” – which is an extensive list divided in 6 categories covering all the main aspects of my life – lifestyle, health, emotional well-being, financials, personal development and vocation and family (I will talk about how to write it in one of the future posts). Yes, a bit insane, I know. However, knowing precisely what I would like in my life and with my life creates a good focus. Just for a giggle – if tomorrow I am going to win “Euromillions” then I know precisely where and how I will spend that money. Yet also if it never happens I am pretty convinced that somehow there will be a way to get everything that I want. Even (and maybe especially) if I don’t see that way at this moment in time.

Now after dreams are identified comes a more difficult part – daring to follow your dreams and this is where wings are often cut

I am lucky to be supported at all times by at least one person in whatever crazy initiatives I would like to pursue. I always believed in myself but for success it is psychologically important to have or find that other person who also believes in you no matter what. When I was growing up I always had my mother by my side. My mother has never questioned my dreams, never put me down saying that something is not possible and or is not for me. She never reminded me of past failures. She inspired me and lifted me up when I felt down. She was there for me when after the first course at a law faculty I decided to switch from a full-time to a part-time program because I believed that if I work simultaneously I will achieve more. I remember a lot of friends at that moment saying that I am making a mistake, killing my inspiration and enthusiasm about actual legal job with comments like: “in this way you are going to fail your studies and are not going to get far anyway”. I graduated with 7,62 on 10, having four years of legal experience including representation before the court behind my belt. The same repeated when I quit my job and decided to do an MBA. I have been told by almost everyone around me that I was making a huge mistake, that I am jeopardizing my future, that I will regret and that I will never be admitted to the business school anyway, yada yada yada. And once again, my mother was there for me, protecting my wings from being cut. I have several stories like that where only with a support of my mother, with her unconditional belief in me that I succeeded, and I am eternally grateful to her for that.

This type of support is what I hope to be able to give my kids as well – to be there for them to protect their wings from being cut.

 

P.S. It is easier when you are supported, I understand. But even if you don’t have that person or people that believe in you at this moment, at least don’t betray yourself – don’t give up on yourself! Ever. There was a great quote by Walt Disney (yeah, a second quote in a short text, but it somehow fits) –

“If you can dream it, you can do it!”

– So don’t stop dreaming! Believe in yourself and your dreams! And go for them! You will find the ones who will support you along the way!

 

 

 

 

 

 

“She has a knife!” or how to involve a kid in your everyday household chores

“She has a knife!!!” – my friend was shouting with fear in her voice. In the first second my muscles tightened ready to neutralize the obviously imminent threat to everybody’s life. And then I heard a soft voice of my daughter saying “Mom, I want to cut my banana”. My muscles relaxed again. Nothing major – it’s just my 3-year old daughter with a chef’s knife cutting her banana because she likes to eat it piece-by-piece with a fork, instead of just biting it.

No, I am not a total reckless idiot (at least I want to believe that): she knows how to do it, as she’s been doing it for a year already, besides I am next to her anyway. My daughter helps me to cook, she knows how to use a potato peeler, she knows how to use a knife, how to use a kitchen scale (and what do those numbers mean). In that way it was more fun to learn the numbers after all. Also counting down she learned with the help of a kitchen appliance – the microwave. She knows how to make coffee with my coffee maker and with my percolator. And yes, she knows what a percolator is! For those who don’t, it’s a type of special pot for making coffee – I am a coffee addict and I have a lot of that special stuff. She also knows how to sort laundry and is currently successfully teaching that to her 1,9-year old brother, who is simply trembling to pour in the washing liquid and finally push “Start”, shouting “yeeeeeeeah!”. She is closing the buttons of her father’s shirts (those non-iron ones that I am hanging to dry). She helps me fold dry laundry and put everything in the rightful spots. Yes, sometimes I have to refold but it happens less and less nowadays, and we do have some issues with “the rightful spots” from time to time. Also, she wipes the floor with a “Swiffer”; well, now not anymore as this has been delegated to her little brother. They both love to use a vacuum-cleaner and a steam-mop. She knows how to use a screw-driver and scissors… I could probably continue boasting (LOL) but I guess you are more interested in the “how the hell do you achieve that?”

It could be that I just pulled a lucky ticket with both of them, but since I hear the stories of successfully involving kids in household chores from some other mothers as well, I would like to believe that I did something right in my approach.

First and the most important is that my kids are allowed to make mistakes. Like – truly allowed. Actually I cannot stress it hard enough – not being afraid of making mistakes is according to me an extremely important quality that I hope they will be able to keep when they grow up, as that would help them a lot. Practically, what do I mean by it? I will tell you a story. The first time my daughter wanted to use a vacuum-cleaner, I looked around and quickly understood that all these Lego blocks will end up in the bowl of my “Dyson”. Probably that’s also the fate awaiting my necklace that’s lying on the table and probably those chalks and everything else but the actual dust. The easiest solution would be to do it myself and reply to her – “It is not a toy. When you will grow up…”

Yes, I had to take out those Lego blocks and wash them, my necklace survived against all odds and the chalks were partially affected. But also with some guidance miraculously the dust got cleaned. The point is everybody learns by making mistakes and it’s OK, and it is not that difficult to wash Lego blocks after all. If she screws up I am never commenting anything like “why did you do that again?!”, “can’t you do anything right?!” or alike with the same message. She is learning. I must admit that I am also learning, as it is really difficult to restrain yourself not to comment.

Second, almost everything is allowed (within reasonable limits and with certain precautions of course). If my kids want to use a knife they don’t get a Montessori wooden one to “cut” a wooden banana. I find those types of toys a total waste of money. My kids get a real knife. First – a small and less sharp one, then – just any normal knife. Undoubtedly I have to explain and I have to supervise, and probably a finger will be cut at one point in time. Well, I don’t give them a machete! There are also nice tools out there to protect little fingers while they are cutting – check out Opinel Le Petit chef set. And let me repeat once again – you have to explain. When I am at home with kids I am talking a lot: explaining what am I doing, what am I using, why, what for, and so on. And it doesn’t really matter if they don’t understand everything yet, or don’t remember. One day they will. And it’s good for their language development, especially since they are raised bilingual Russian-Dutch with a passive English (that I am speaking with my husband).

Third, is the motivation. Pure human psychology here. If you force somebody to do something you are likely to face a resistance. If you are asking for help, you are likely to get one. So – “little one, can you please help me, I can’t do it myself” works much more efficient than “do-this, do-that”. People in general, but little ones in particular, are willing to help others, they also want to feel themselves useful and significant (“I am such a big girl/boy, I did that myself!”). I personally use that. That allows not only to develop respective motor skills, but also develops their emotional intelligence.

Fourth, another trick that works for me – arouse interest! “Do you want to help me bake a new cake?” (especially if I stress the word “new”), “Do you want to plug-in the blender in the socket yourself?” (and stress on – yourself – as much as you can!), “Can you find all the matching socks?”, “Let’s see who can fold these towels faster! Whoever wins gets a candy!” You can turn a lot of chores into a game or a contest with a bit of creativity. And like with everything it’s not going to just magically work the first time, but one day it will work. Magically!

I can only hope that my kids will keep the same enthusiasm vis-a-vis helping their mother when they grow up, but at least now: 1. they learn a lot using just everyday items; 2. they are involved and they feel involved; and – most important selfish point  – 3. I get help.

P.S. Chocolate brownies that are in the featured image for this post we made together with my daughter yesterday. Some ingredients were of course gone before they reached the cooking bowl, but overall she did pretty well – at least breaking eggs into the mixture she does much better than her mommy…

Negotiations with a monster: Applying Negotiation skills theory to persuade a toddler

Today I would like to revise some of the basics of the Negotiation skills theory, something that is taught in business schools but should actually be introduced as early as in the primary school and for everybody not only the aspiring managers and consultants. You should take it with a grain of salt yet also a toddler is a party in negotiations. Yes, when there is a discussion about something you just want to shout out loud that he or she is going to do the way you want them to do otherwise their ass will be kicked big time, but however tempting that is, it’s not a solution in the long run.

I have studied the negotiation skills theory both through various online courses, including Harvard, yet the first introduction into the theoretical foundations was done by an almost legendary South African professor Dr. David Venter. I was lucky to get to know him (and his wonderful wife – Paula Venter, whom he uses as an example and an object of comments all the time!), be able to listen to him and even at one point in time stay in his cozy house in Hermanus – the best place to watch whales. I will use some of my notes from his course and the information from the Negotiations Planning template by Infostrat©.

So let’s begin. A toddler is a monster by definition! There are couple of aspects which are especially difficult in negotiating with this monster:

  1. accepting that a toddler is to be negotiated with, not just bossed around all the time;
  2. dealing with irrational behavior – crying and shouting (but, hey, your business partners tend to get emotional and seemingly irrational as well. Yes, usually they don’t fall on the floor in the middle of a shopping mall and don’t scream that they desperately need that new toy car, but those are nuances. Emotions can get pretty high also in a boardroom.)
  3. dealing with your own emotions and mostly with your own anger (this little thing dares to question my authority?!)

So, you have – let’s call it – a disagreement with your toddler. You went to the shopping mall, your kid saw a toy in one of the shops and wants it. You say no, your kid switches on the drama-button.

According to the Negotiations skills theory you start with identifying the nature of the conflict and the issues related. In this case it is your unwillingness to buy a toy that a kid wants, hence issues, roughly speaking, are: ownership of a toy and financials. Usually financials are less of an issue and much more the problem lies in the intangible plane. The intangible issues related to the conflict are numerous: feeling of entitlement, feeling of undermined authority, honor, ability to get what you want, ability to decide, perception of usefulness, feeling of control, just to name a few.

Now, what do you do? First, you have to identify the deal parameters. Here, let me first introduce couple of terms:

  1. aspiration base – the highest achievable goals or objectives for a negotiated agreement. In plain words – realistically, what do you want to achieve?
  2. real base – the minimum you want to achieve.
  3. BATNA – best alternative to negotiated agreement – what alternative exists to satisfy your interests.

So those three points are to be identified next for all the participants of the negotiations. The contracting zone or the zone of possible agreement (ZOPA), or bargaining range lies in between the real bases. This is where an agreement is possible.

Coming back to our toddler… Your aspiration base is probably – the kid shuts the hell up, gets up and peacefully walks home holding your hand and forgetting about a damn toy, right? And the minimum? At least shut up, huh? No, I guess you are more interested in the kid getting up and walking home. Your BATNA will be kicking that ass. Now, let’s look at the other side. The aspiration base of the kid is getting that toy. What’s the real base? Hmmm… Poor kid is not in the situation to “walk away from the deal”, so the real base of the kid is not having a toy, but at least expressing emotions about this unfairness of the world. No real BATNA either – I almost feel sorry for the little monster!

This all brings us in the ZOPA (that sounds extremely funny for the Russian-speaking, as [zhopa] in Russian is “an ass”; you would say literally “I am in the ass” when the situation is a total disaster). So the ass… I mean the ZOPA for our situation with a toddler will be anywhere between “not having a toy, but at least expressing emotions” and “not shutting up, but at least getting up and walking away”.

The Negotiations skills theory further prompts us to identify the most important characteristics of the other party and then proceed to the SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) and competitive advantage, but I will skip these steps in our example (you have a very strong competitive advantage after all, you tyrant!).

What is important is what comes next. Interests, where also one has to identify shared interests, complementing interests and conflicting interests. Your interests are something like: having an obedient kid, quietness, getting your way (moral satisfaction of exercising authority), not having an additional useless toy at home, moving on away from the shopping mall, and so on. Interests of the kid are: having this extremely useful toy, getting his way (same moral satisfaction!), being able to express his emotions, being listened to and so forth. The real conflict if we analyze it deeper is actually only a toy, but having a toy is not even in the real base of the kid. It is all about emotions! Emotions that need to be recognized.

Theoretically (and also practically) you now have to proceed with identifying value creating options and concessions and counter-concessionsFor that there is yet another template (also by Infostrat©, which prompts to answer the following questions:

  1. what is a concession we can make to motivate the other party to move in the direction that we want? – How about an ice-cream? Or even better – we are now going to eat an ice-cream, which one do you want: vanilla or chocolate? In that way the choice is not in between accepting or not accepting, but in between accepting option A or option B.
  2. what is the reason why we would make such a concession? – We would get the kid up and moving and that’s what we want, right?
  3. what is the cost of the concession to us? – low strategic importance, minimal investment.
  4. what is the value of the concession to the other party? – moral satisfaction and a pleasant feeling in the belly
  5. what is the counter-concession we would require? – here! we can get more than our real base: and the getting up and the shutting up.

Even though I used real negotiations steps and terms, the example itself is of course meant more as a humor, as you are not going to fill up a negotiations template every time you face a tantrum from your toddler, nor you are going to buy him an ice-cream. The important point, however, is – this little monster also has interests and feelings, emotions and wishes, hopes and aspirations. A kid is entitled to all of them and just shouting and forcing your way because otherwise your authority will be undermined or you might feel ashamed in front of other people is not reasonable either.

There are different ways to deal with tantrums in kids and as a parent you most probably know best what works and what doesn’t work in your case. However, some general advice is – stay calm yourself, if possible pick up your kid and give him a tight hug, see if you can give-in (within reason of course) or what works best with my kids – distract or use humor, make a funny face or tell or better show something interesting. Just keep your cool, admit the rights and interests of your kid and figure out what value creating options can you create and which reasonable concessions can you make. It will get better one day…

 

Eliminating ironing

That’s controversial of course and a lot of people will disagree that it’s a good decision, but it saves me a lot of time and spares me back pain. I always hated ironing! However, when you are either tight on budget or just don’t want to spend extra money on laundry and ironing service for your husband’s shirts that’s what you have to do – you iron them! My speed was about 10 to 12 shirts an hour. An hour of standing and doing a repetitive, annoying and tiresome action with my arm which frequently resulted in the pain in between my shoulder blades. Not fun.

I have researched the matter, tried different speedy ironing techniques, but finally found a solution which avoids the iron all together. There are non-iron shirts! Whomever invented this thing is a genius. There are several manufacturers who offer good quality non-iron shirts yet for ourselves we found one in England – Charles Tyrwhitt. I should probably already ask them to pay me for advertising because I have referred all my friends to them. They are really worth every penny. One caveat – when you wash the shirts (and if your washing machine allows that) switch on the “easy ironing” button or just pick lower centrifuge speed and (!) this is very important – immediately take the shirts out and hang them on hangers, closing all buttons. Yes, it takes a bit of your time, but it totally eliminates the need to use an iron afterwards. Shirts look as if they have actually been ironed!

Ironing is still required for pants and t-shirts, unless you also opted for a non-iron version, and that’s it. I know that some people, like my mom, like to have their linens ironed. I don’t. Moreover, if you fold your linens neatly and stack them on top of each other most of the times they look good as such. Maybe this is due to my choice of fabrics, I don’t know. My linens are 100% cotton satin and they don’t get crooked.

The bottom-line is that you don’t have to iron everything unless you really want to, there are options out there that allow you to have the same result, while sparing you time and not costing more (and if you take into account that an iron consumes hell of a lot electricity –  even saving you money).

 

 

Self-development, reaching goals and lifestyle balance through the prism of parenthood and immigration

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