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Up in the Air: 1 Plane, 2 Kids, and 13 Hours…

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Tikes on a PlaneOver the holidays my husband and I took our two daughters, ages 5 and 13 months (pictured here), halfway around the world to visit my family in India. My elder daughter, Ameli, has been several times, but this was our first time traveling with baby Isla in tow.

It wasn’t a journey for the faint of heart (not that traveling with little kids ever is). We took two flights—one a harrowing 13 hours—and had a layover. The promise of my littlest one meeting her great-grandmother for the first time and the wedding celebrations of a family friend helped propel us toward our destination, but if you’re curious how it really went, here are the sometimes-gruesome details:

8:30 pm on Christmas Day: Arrived at the international airport with snacks, several changes of clothes, and a charged iPad.

10:00 pm: Made it through check-in and security, with Ameli only asking “Are we there yet?” three times.

11:00 pm: On the flight, both girls started off sleepy and excited (not an ideal combination).

Midnight: Isla fell asleep. I requested a bassinet from the air hostess, who insisted my baby was too big for it. After a few deadly glares from me she brought it anyway. Isla just barely fit. Phew.

2:00 am: Isla realized her new digs were a bit too snug and insisted on sleeping on me…so I “slept” with one eye open in fear that she’d roll off. Ameli, meanwhile, fell asleep in her seat after complaining about not having enough snacks. (None of the dozens we brought were what she was in the mood for after midnight.)

Then there was a blur of messy diaper changes, food being flung from trays, and some wailing. I think we handled it, because if nothing else, we finally landed in Dubai with bleary eyes and frizzy hair.

After our six-hour layover in Dubai (yes you read that right, and remember it when you complain about some three-hour layover in Chicago), we were slightly rejuvenated with full bellies and stretched legs. We boarded a 4-hour flight to Kolkata. This time we were not seated together. My husband was right behind us…was that a hint of relief I saw on his face?

Neither kid was interested in more sleep. Or food. Isla flailed her arms and legs wildly, knocking everything off her tray. I desperately hailed down an air hostess but she curtly said that she would be coming back later to clean up. Ameli, meanwhile, laughed and clapped her hands with glee at her sister’s antics, inadvertently knocking over a glass of water and soaking my seat. As I tried to get my husband’s attention, I turned around to see him peacefully sleeping with his noise-cancelling headphones on.

We finally arrived in India wet and tired, with me wondering if it had been worth all the hassle. After immigration, as we exited the airport, we caught site of my family. Ameli yelled out “Mashi!” (auntie) and ran into my sister’s arms. As the mild air of my homeland warmly enveloped us I thought, “Yes, totally worth it.” And you know I’ll be doing it all again.

Sumana Ghosh-Witherspoon, a designer at American Baby magazine, grew up partly in Kolkata and now lives in New York City with her husband and two girls.

Image: Kunal Basu

 

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The Most Important New Year’s Resolution

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

family playing together indoorsEditor’s Note: In an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, guest blogs once a month with advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart on Goodyblog and on Parents Perspective.

January is an optimistic time of year. Although it’s dark and cold outside, the dawn of each New Year brings with it the promise of doing things differently and better than we have in the past. Of course, reality sets in shortly after the New Year and some of our most resolute vows fall by the wayside. I’d like to suggest just one resolution this New Year—but you have to promise me that you’ll keep it as if your entire parenting experience depends on it. It does.

This year, resolve that when you’re with your kids, you’ll really be with them. Here’s what I mean. Besides the often overwhelming choreography and daily mini-crises with our kids, our non-parenting to-do lists are also on our minds all the time–work worries, the dishes in the sink, the lawn that needs mowing, taxes waiting to be filed, bills to be paid, grocery shopping, home repairs. We have responsibilities to our spouses and friends, commitments we’ve made for community and volunteer activities or for helping out at the kids’ school. Some of us are also juggling responsibilities to our own parents or other family members. As a result, even though we spend hours each day with our kids, our minds are often elsewhere. It’s no wonder that each January 1, we can’t believe that another year of our kids’ childhoods has streaked by.

By resolving to be truly with your kids whenever you’re with them, you’ll slow things down a little, and enjoy parenting a whole lot more. Here are 3 tips:

  1. Meditate on your kids.  Think back to the magical time in the delivery room after they’ve handed your newborn baby to you for the first time. You held her close, counted her fingers and toes, brushed the wispy hair from the soft spot on her head, debated who she looked like. You were so into your baby! When’s the last time you noticed your child as deeply and meaningfully as you did in the delivery room? This New Year, “meditate” on your child three times each day, for 2 minutes each time, just the way you did in the delivery room. Pick three random moments each day when you’re with your child to focus on whatever she is doing–playing, eating, throwing a tantrum–and feel wonder in the miracle you created! This is your baby, now growing up a little each day. By committing a total of only 6 minutes a day to this meditation practice, you will feel more with your child than you have in a long time, perhaps since the delivery room.
  2. Listen lovingly. Our kids are always talking to us. Jabbering, chattering, babbling, and blathering. About anything and everything. It’s easy to tune out – to be there physically, even looking at your child while he’s talking to you–but not hear a word he’s saying. Your mind is on the…yes, the dishes in the sink, the lawn that needs mowing, the taxes waiting to be filed, bills to be paid, etc. etc. Kids often say wonderfully pithy and insightful things. Even more often, though, our kids are much less profound. Their speeches to us may seem like random streams of thought. But they’re talking to us because they want our attention and they want our feedback. Even though what they’re saying may seem unimportant in the grand scheme of our day, that’s because we’re hearing it through our adult ears. To our kids, what they’re telling us is front page news. When your kids are talking to you during this New Year, listen lovingly. It may take just a little more energy to lock in on your kids’ words, but it will be worth it. You’ll know, and they’ll know, that you are with them whenever they’re talking to you. Believe me, as your kids become adolescents, you’ll long for the days when they were little chatterboxes and blabbermouths.
  3. Channel your kids. Forgive me if this suggestion sounds maudlin, but it’s really worked for me. My dad died before our kids were born. As our kids were growing up, I realized more and more how much my dad was missing by not knowing them.  So when our kids were little, and still today with our grown up kids at milestone moments, I have tried to “channel” their images to my dad, hoping I can somehow share my kids with him. I hope he’s getting my “messages,” but even if he’s not, by focusing on my kids’ big moments in such a deep way as to channel them to my dad, I find myself more conscious and aware of my kids. I’m more WITH my kids when I’m mentally “showing” them off. At meaningful times in your kids’ lives, try “channeling” images of them to a loved one who’s not with you. As you’re doing it, you’ll see your kids more clearly than if you were just watching for yourself.

May 2015 bring you and your family health and happiness!

The Lasting Impact of the Early Childhood Years
The Lasting Impact of the Early Childhood Years
The Lasting Impact of the Early Childhood Years

Dr. Harley RotbartDr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado. He is the author of four books for parents and families, including No Regrets Parenting and 940 Saturdays. He is also a Parents advisor and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).

Image via Shutterstock

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Home Field Advantage

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

dad and son playing soccer indoorsEditor’s Note: In an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, guest blogs once a month with advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart on Goodyblog and on Parents Perspective.

You might be surprised, but this month I’m not writing about the holidays, gift-buying, or instilling the spirit of the season in our kids. Rather, I’d like to devote this piece to a topic that doesn’t get enough attention: the weather. People just don’t talk enough about the weather, right?

I live in Colorado, and it’s been quite chilly. The recent “polar vortex” that brought sub-zero temperatures to much of the country also brought back memories of cold spells when our kids were small and had disproportionately ginormous energy levels.

We are a sports family, and sports families can’t be hostage to the weather—every day is a sports day. Like the U.S. Postal Service, “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” kept our kids from playing ball (well, thankfully, gloom of night did slow things down a bit). That meant we had to design “all-weather facilities” in our small home.

With a playroom that was barely big enough to store all the sports equipment and toys, our dining room became the default basketball court, the living room became the baseball diamond and hockey rink, and the hallway became the soccer field. The dining room was the hardest to adapt because of the inconvenient chandelier—but unscrewing just four Phillips screws brought down the lights and made room for the six-foot indoor hoop. The square faux Oriental rug in the center of the living room had the right number of corners for all four bases, so we only had to move the coffee table to make room. Since our fireplace never worked, it wasn’t much of a sacrifice to convert it into the indoor hockey goal. Soccer was the most dangerous because the hallway was narrow and every kick went straight at the goalie or ricocheted off the hall wall right towards the goalie. Our solution: The goalie wore an old catcher’s mask. Yes, we could have used the living room hockey rink as a soccer field, but the only part of soccer that our kids loved was the penalty kick, so the hallway was perfect. Even though all the kids played tennis outdoors, we never managed to successfully adapt it to the indoor venue despite our clever deployment of an old volleyball net and racquetball racquets.

It’s safe to say that our indoor arenas didn’t improve our home’s property value. Although we made the kids use soft foam balls, bats, and hockey sticks, every wall got scarred, scuffed, chipped, and dinged. We could have patched and painted, but we preferred to see the vivid testament to a house well lived and childhoods well played.

Parenting Style: Positive Parenting
Parenting Style: Positive Parenting
Parenting Style: Positive Parenting

Dr. Harley RotbartDr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado. He is the author of four books for parents and families, including No Regrets Parenting and 940 Saturdays. He is also a Parents advisor and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).

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5 Going on 15: My Teenage Mutant Kindergartener

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

By Sumana Ghosh-Witherspoon

I never thought my sweet little 5-year-old would turn in to a teenager overnight…well, it happened. Suddenly I was regularly met with bored eye rolls and grunts like “Ugh” or exclamations like “No way, Jose!” I knew this was coming in another eight to ten years (which is why I have already been browsing boarding school catalogs), but now? At age 5?

I believe it all started a few months ago, when she began Kindergarten. Within the first week I was getting a lot of “smart talk.” Me: “How was school? What did you do today?” Ameli: “Fine…you know what I did, you’ve been to Kindergarten…” Me: “Maybe I have, but that was a long time ago.” Ameli: “Yah, that’s cause you’re really old, like how old are you? 9?” Defeated, I went back my errands and she went back to her iPad.

Soon it was time for her first night of homework. As I was trying to figure out the note from her teacher and what she was supposed to work on, she began “I know what to do Mama!” and “Noooo, that’s not how we’re supposed to do it!” Sheesh! My husband and I gave her a lecture and a time out.

Next it was Game Night at her school. Since her dad is the one who usually picks her up, I was excited to meet her afterschool teachers and others at the school. As we were huddled around a bowl of snacks and bingo cards, a man came up to us and said “Hello Ameli!” and looked at me expectantly. Me: “Who’s that?” Ameli, eyes downcast: “No one!” After much prodding I realized it was one of her teachers…she admitted later that she was embarrassed for me to talk to him!  Embarrassed? Of me? I couldn’t believe it…here I was thinking I am one of those cool parents, in the know and generally “with it”!  (Perhaps using the term “with it” doesn’t help my case, but you know what I mean.)

This time we had to have a meaningful talk with her…we delved a little and discovered several underlying concerns on her part regarding cultural identity, dealing with a new sibling (her baby sister joined us not quite a year ago), and hanging out with older kids at her after-school program that had all contributed in creating this teenage mutant kindergartener. At least we were able to find some of the triggers and can now act accordingly to hopefully correct the problem.

Then late last night Ameli woke with a start after an apparent nightmare and came running into my arms, teary-eyed, exclaiming, “Mama, I heard a scary noise in my room, I need a hug!” There she is, I thought, my little girl is still in there. Maybe I do have more time before eye rolls become a way of life!

What You Need to Know About Your First-Born
What You Need to Know About Your First-Born
What You Need to Know About Your First-Born

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How Nick and Nack Rescued Bedtime

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

reading a bedtime storyEditor’s Note: In an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, guest blogs once a month with advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart on Goodyblog and on Parents Perspective.

The release this fall of the film version of the beloved children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day, brought back wonderful bedtime memories from when our kids were little.

The best part of bedtime, of course is not the battle over brushing teeth or the call-backs after the lights are turned off. The best part of bedtime is the story! Like most parents, we loved the cuddling time with the kids in pajamas, bathed and brushed, and settling into a long-awaited calm.

But there were also nights when we caught ourselves daydreaming during the umpteenth reading of the kids’ favorite books, and Alexander was among their very favorites. We realized we were daydreaming because the kids had to remind us to turn the pages (we knew Alexander’s story so well that we were robotically repeating it without even bothering to keep up with the actual pages!). Typically we were reviewing the events of the day in our mind, or worrying about our obligations for tomorrow. But we were wasting these magical minutes with our kids by mentally wandering away mid-paragraph—leaving them stranded with unturned pages and uninspiring storytelling. Although the kids seemed satisfied even when we were zoning out, bedtime can be about so much more than just making kids sleepy. These should be special moments for parents, too, and we were often missing them even though we were there.

So, we fixed the Alexander problem by creating Nick and Nack, two microscopically tiny space travelers from the planet Orb. Nick was the adventurous one, always begging to be the next astronaut assigned a trip to Earth. His best friend, Nack, was a reluctant explorer, looking for any excuse to avoid Earth travel, and afraid of even his own tiny shadow. But Nack had another weakness that Nick could reliably exploit to coax his friend on yet another voyage: Nack was a chocoholic, and chocolate could only be found on Earth. No matter how hard Orb scientists tried to reproduce the rich and gooey brown delicacy using samples that Nick and Nack brought back from Earth, the recipe eluded them. So after his chocolate-stuffed pockets from the previous trip were empty, Nack had to confront his fears and venture back to Earth. Nick, on the other hand, could live without chocolate, but he couldn’t live without the thrill of the next Earth adventure. There was one more obstacle in Nick’s way besides convincing Nack to join him. Nick had to devise ever-more clever reasons to justify his trips to the Commander of Orb Space Exploration. Although the declared mission was rarely accomplished, Nick and Nack always came back to Orb with so much unexpected new wisdom that the Commander would let himself be talked into one trip after another.

Nick and Nack had grand adventures, especially because their spaceship guidance systems were not perfect, and they could never really predict where on Earth they might land. And because they were so very tiny, it was hard to know where they were even after they arrived! Nevertheless, with a whir, a chirp, and a rattle (sound effects hilariously, if inharmoniously, provided by parents and kids together), the Orb spaceship repeatedly took off for parts unknown on the planet Earth. When Nick and Nack landed, they had four jobs to attend to: 1) trying to find out where they were; 2) finding enough chocolate to keep Nack committed and relieve his unrelenting fear of the unknown; 3) avoiding the inevitable scary events that happen when you are microscopically tiny on a giant foreign planet; and, finally, 4) somehow managing to rev up their finicky and noisy spaceship and find their way back to Orb. Miraculously, there was always a happy, chocolatey ending.

And that’s how we saved our nights from the infinite loop of Alexander’s horrible days. If your bedtimes need a re-launch, put the usual storybooks down and improvise. Socks on your hands become an instant puppet show. Your wedding album, high school yearbook, old family photos, or the world atlas make great alternatives for bedtime stories, and won’t allow your mind to wander to the dishes in the sink. Or make up your own superheroes, magic lanterns, and space travelers.

Nick and Nack forever changed bedtime, letting our kids’ imaginations—and ours—soar with a whir, a chirp, and a rattle.

Dr. Harley RotbartDr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado. He is the author of four books for parents and families, including No Regrets Parenting and 940 Saturdays. He is also a Parents advisor and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).

Image via Shutterstock

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