I’m loving that my daughter is now old enough to enjoy shopping-time with me. I get tempted to try things on her, she gives spot on advice (e.g. “Maman, c’est moche! / c’est bizarre! / c’est quoi ça?!? / Maman, ça c’est pour les enfants!” / ENG: “Mom, it’s ugly! / it’s bizarre! / what’s that?!? / Mom, that’s for kids!”) & we often have the best laughs out of things we don’t buy! 😂
Coming back to the routine can be tough after an exciting and eventful vacation but I’ve learned through the years to appreciate returning to the order and predictability of my routine and particularly now that I have two kids, the routine’s structure makes it easier to manage them (as they inevitably get spoiled and lose good habits due to gifts and treats here and there by friends and relatives… one of my main concern was their eating and sleeping schedule which was, despite my best efforts, a bit chaotic during the vacation as I could not control relatives insisting to spend more time with them or giving them this or that treat!) The transition back though is inevitably though as you have to deal with the unpacking, cleaning and the very early morning run to the grocery store to get your daughter breakfast before her first day of school and then convincing her that she has to now go back to school! Ultimately however there’s a time when you feel that the wheels are in motion again, and precisely then you should look for a calm moment and take a small celebratory / reflective tea break! In any event I think that small daily rituals like a tea break make a hectic routine much more bearable so make sure to carve out some time for yourself on any day!
There’s a pub in my neighborhood called The Anglesea Arms, as soon as there’s a shred of sunlight, its terrace gets flooded with drink and sun-seekers… the mood in it is often contagious and the crowds overflow to the streets. One way or the other I end up passing by this place on weekend afternoons with my family and just as my eldest is throwing some sort of fit and my baby daughter is demanding to be held…My husband and I inevitably look at the crowds, then each other and grimace a nervous resigned smile and keep on strolling our two kids away into a non-pub / kids friendly environment. I’m sure many mommies out there have that place in their neighborhood, which just like The Anglesea Arms, is the constant reminder of how much their lives have changed since they used to hang out carelessly sipping a drink with friends at a bar terrace on a weekend morning. These days my weekend ritual starts, not much later after the last Anglesea Arms enthusiasts are forced to go home, inaugurated by my morning alarm / aka my 3 year-old daughter shouting in my ear: “maman j’ai faim! / mommy i’m hungry!” (an earlier stint occurs as well sometimes, while Anglesea Arms revelers are probably counting down their shots, by my daughter shouting “maman, pipi!”)… So she’s got my attention, I remove all the bed linens and open the garden door to let in the freezing air to force my husband out of bed to help. I head to the kitchen to prepare my toddler’s breakfast and then head back to the bedroom to find that my husband has still managed to stay asleep and before I get a chance to say a word, inevitably, baby # 2 starts crying and I have to go breastfeed her. It’s at that time that my husband usually wakes up and passes by the nursery to ask me what we’re going to do today and it’s usually at that point that my baby # 2 burps all over me and that my daughter starts shouting from the kitchen that she wants more Cheerios…
Despite the increasingly grey and wet weather in London these days, I refuse however to be imprisoned at home over the weekends caught in attending to one then the other or acrobatically attending to both and generally find that it’s easier to distract the kids outside the house so I endeavor to make my best to head out of the house as soon as possible. There’s of course a lot to get done for that to happen: showers x 4, getting dressed x 4, etc… Slowly but surely however we do head out (I’m glad to report that we hit a 10am record yesterday!) + 2 strollers and having gone through our 100 items checklist of things we need to have done or need with us on the go… On our way, we often pass by The Anglesea Arms again, which by then is of course empty and my husband and I stare at the place, our well-groomed and calm kids, then stare at each other, take a deep breath of fresh air and unreservedly smile and keep on strolling into our new parent identities…
A couple of months ago, amid the chaos of our post-baby#2 summer London move, my husband announced to me that his October vacation request was approved. It was his attempt to cheer me up at the end of a long hectic day while I was still trying to put to bed a restless newborn. My initial reaction: Traveling with a breastfed baby and a restless tot? Thanks but no thanks… it was just impossible for me to picture through tantrums and colic how traveling would be anything but exhausting.
Sales pitch: (1) only way to break the exhausting homebuilding ride I had embarked on; (2) keep my older daughter entertained during her October mid-term break; and (3) to compensate for not being able to head to a beach destination in the summer because of the move logistics.
I was sold on (2) and set myself deadlines for things I wanted to achieve at home before our departure and started planning the trip trying to balance making it as kids friendly as possible while still making it enjoyable for my husband and I… still, I wasn’t very thrilled.
Before we knew it, 2 months had passed and we were off to the airport, a kid strapped to my husband, another holding my hand + 3 travel bags, a car seat and of course my Coco Cocoon bag / diaper bag.
Bad Start: After going through the painful airport security checks with our two kids, we decided to grab breakfast… my toddler was restless and the infant was crying and when I tasted the ‘yogurt’ and granola I had ordered for my daughter I discovered they gave her mayonnaise and granola! To say the least I was already ready to head back home by then, but somehow I managed to keep calm and go on (well maybe the waiter there might disagree with the keep calm part).
Surprisingly the Plan Worked: Much to my surprise and delight however, after this initial hiccup, things started lining up and the vacation was a success to both parents and kids. Having been back for a couple of days and had the chance to reflect on how we pulled this off, here’s what I think are the key components for a successful trip with your kids and hopefully this will convince you not to always rush to your parents/in-laws to drop your kids before heading on vacation!
Planning, planning, planning…
Destination: The key is to minimize being on the go with the kids as they will get exhausted and in consequence will exhaust you through whining and having to deal with their many needs in unexpected places (changing diapers and breastfeeding while hiking or just visiting touristic sites + museums in a new city is therefore not the best idea). You want to be somewhere where you can enter into a comfortable vacation routine to address your kids’ needs (fun, food, sleep and WC) without that becoming stressful to you. We chose to go to the Maldives and stop on each way in Dubai. Despite the fact that there was some long and varied traveling involved (by land, air and sea…as we had to go far to find sunshine in October), we thought that this was balanced out by the fact that we planned for a very kids friendly environment to await us in each destination.
In the Maldives, we chose a resort that has a kids club and thankfully we got lucky as we found a local babysitter we were able to quickly trust with both our kids. We would therefore drop off both kids with her at the kids club in the morning and get some time for ourselves while knowing that they are safe and being entertained. The kids club was managed almost like a pre-school and they had a daily schedule of activities. At the end of each day my toddler would come back with different arts and crafts achievements and many stories about the different activities they did (from a crab race, to visiting the turtles at the turtles conservation program at the hotel to feeding the fish in the ocean…).
Of course, we would pull them out from time to time during the day to spend time and play with us at the beach or pool. My toddler loved the formula and would wake up looking forward to seeing her friends at the kids club while we were grateful to be able to relax, listen to music and read our magazines (we had left our books back home as we thought we wouldn’t get a chance to read at all but perhaps in retrospect we could have managed a bit of reading…) It was also amazing to see how our own patience and interaction with the kids would change once we had the ability to relax a bit between playtimes with them. By the time we saw them again, we were recharged and ready to go build that sand castle or splash in the pool. The balance of solo relaxation and family quality time was just perfect.
In Dubai, both the hotels we stayed in and my main shopping destination there (The Dubai Mall) were also very kids friendly and had enough to keep us and the kids entertained. I was particularly thrilled to be able to leave my daughter for a bit at a kids club in the mall as well where she did some arts and crafts while I got a chance to really shop (vs. the running after her in stores and apologizing to the salespeople which is what my shopping experience sometimes turns to with her). She then joined me and hopped on a pushable car-type stroller, which she loved and kept her distracted. The mall also had regular strollers which we took advantage of for the baby.
Packing light, packing right: As a fashion lover, I always found it hard to pack light. I like to bring lots of options! This time around, I was realistic about the number of outfits I would pull off with the kids and favored the practical + kids friendly options since I knew I would end up opting for those anyways once there. A stylish familly vacation wardrobe should make you feel voguish without sacrificing comfort as your time spent there will involve dealing with kids, hence running, jumping, sliding, floating, splashing, carrying them around, breastfeeding…
Expectations: The fact that I had low expectations to start with and anticipated a trip revolving around the kids was key in feeling that it was a success at the end and in making me appreciate the amount of adult time we ended up having (which was much more than what I had anticipated). If I had embarked on this expecting to have something more similar to the kind of trip we used to have pre-kids I would certainly have been disappointed… therefore expectations (here & pretty much regarding everything else in life) are key to satisfaction.
So start planning your next family vacation and take the challenge of not dropping your kids off with your parents/in-laws before traveling!
Halloween arrives this year as my daughter completes her transition from a toddler to a preschooler and therefore, unlike last year, I will have less control over her choices, and this time around her trick and treat experiences are much more likely to impact her eating habits… I will therefore want to make sure that this highly marketed and colorful occasion doesn’t turn into a celebration of unhealthy eating which risks creating a fascination with unhealthy sugary treats. Furthermore, as I’ve noticed at my NYC building last year with children racing to my door, Halloween literally becomes a competition of who hoards the most treats and therefore kids end up amassing loads of candy, which can last them for weeks or months! So, while I cannot control the neighborhood, I have plans to make the Halloween experience as wholesome as possible for my daughter and her friends by coordinating with a couple of moms and her school to create a fun event focusing on the pretend-play and the costume side of the event as well as line-up healthy replacements in Halloweeny disguise (i.e. themed packaging or presentation) to give them a chance to compete with the shiny packaging of the typical sugary and highly processed treats.
Below is my list of suggested replacements:
Cereal and granola bars
Trail mix, unsalted plain roasted peanuts or pumpkin seeds (careful with allergic trick-or-treaters)
Cheese strings or individually wrapped mini cheese shapes
Unsalted plain popcorn
Mini boxes of raisins
Unsalted plain pretzels
Single serve boxes of ready-to-eat cereal
Individual juice boxes (100% juice)
Apple or pear sauce
Dark chocolate bites
Finally, what’s also important is that when the kids return home with their big bag of goodies (hopefully with more healthy than unhealthy stuff this year!) you should try to explain that while the treat wraps are colorful, those treats are not gift-wrapped toys! and they are not to be all opened and consumed in short order but rather they should be left in a “treasure box” and consumed as snacks and in moderation.