Tag Archives: adventure baby

Family Fieldwork V2.0: Notes from the Field

The last three weeks zoomed by on this little island, and we are wrapping up data collections and switching over to conference mode for our last week in Hawaii.

So how is it going? The short answer is fairly well. We (I) spent a huge amount of time prior to arriving carefully selecting a house that was suitable for kids and grandparents, planning travel to arrive a few days early so we could adjust & set up, finding local stores and restaurants, sussing out activities for them, and packing items like power outlet covers and night lights so we could quickly “baby-proof” the beach house. These efforts paid off, as the children made a fairly smooth transition to life in Hawaii. We had a very long day of travel and arrived after their bedtime, so thankfully they were tired enough to sleep until 5am local time the first morning (that’s 10am in Virginia- they usually would wake up at 7:30). Joey was good to go after that. Blake had a few tough nights and we had a little more trouble getting his nap schedule on track, but we are now cruising along with a good routine for everyone. The team agreed that the most crucial piece of planning to everyone’s happiness was the house – easy walk to the beach, bedrooms for everyone plus a lab, and a spacious backyard safe for the kids to play in.

We got into work relatively quickly, sorting out instruments, unpacking gear, and connecting with local colleagues. We had tank experiments up and running within days. Weather kept us off of the water longer than we had hoped, but we managed to start collecting in-water data within a week of arrival and are now on track. Our first week was very busy and the boys started asking for more time with us. Thankfully we crossed off a few big hurdles early on (tank experiments!) and were able to adjust our schedule so that we had a fun family activity with them every few days. We are living in Kailua on the windward side of Oahu, so grand adventures like kayaking, hiking, and swimming are easily within reach for morning play before nap.

The boys love spending time with their grandparents, and the beach is a few minutes walk from our front door, so in general their days are spent playing in the sand, swimming in the surf, and enjoying our luxurious backyard complete with banana trees while Simon & I work. When the weather keeps us off the water and/or we are able to schedule half a day off, we take them further afield to different parts of Oahu for hiking, beaches, tide pool exploration, and a couple of memorable boat & kayak excursions.

We have almost completed our data collections, both in water and in tanks with collaborators at the University of Hawaii. We have a few instruments still taking data that we need to pick up early next week before we ship our equipment back to NRL on Thursday, but otherwise we are starting to clean and pack gear. In terms of work, we have shifted to preparing our presentations for the ASLO Meeting this week. My talk is tomorrow morning, so I’m finalizing the details of my powerpoint presentation today while Simon takes the kids on a rock pool adventure (apparently the sea urchins were their favorite animal). We are also taking care to back up data, start running codes for quality control, and organize our notes and photos from the trip.

A few highlights from our time here include Joey’s growing knowledge of sea animals. After reading a couple of books about sea turtles ingesting trash by mistake, he has led us on quite a few beach clean-ups. Blake is now walking confidently on grass, sand, and rocks. Both boys love to play in the ocean, and scramble around on dark black lava rocks in bare feet with smiles on their faces. We are very happy with our decision to bring them along, and are immensely grateful to the spoilers (Grammy & Papa) for caring for the boys so well and on an ever-changing schedule while we take care of our fieldwork requirements and juggle work needs with family time.

Baby & Toddler Swim

I could swim before I could walk. Never in my memory have I approached water without feeling confident in my ability to paddle around, navigate, or jump in. This was something that I very much wanted for my children.

Our first concern was safety – we are on the water often, and hope that our boys will not panic in an emergency if they are unexpectedly submerged. However, we also wanted to give them a true sense of confidence and understanding that would help them enjoy the ocean (and pools, lakes, and rivers) more as they grow. Finally, Simon really wanted to replicate the Nirvana Nevermind album cover.

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Joey loves jumping in – we always (try to) keep it fun for them

In the 2010s, teaching your infant or toddler to swim freely is not a straightforward task. The baby swim classes that my mom had taken me to don’t seem to exist anymore, at least not where we live. The premise that very young babies (less than six months) have an innate reflex to hold their breathe underwater, and will retain this with practice, seems to have been buried under concern of frightening children. It is our opinion that not knowing how to swim is a far more frightening option, but getting to the task at hand, there were no public or private lessons we could sign up for. We had to do swim school ourselves. For those that would like to try something similar, we found the following three resources immensely helpful. However, the most important thing was consistency and lots of time in the water. Experience is invaluable – I was far more successful with Blake than Joey at a young age.*

Little gear is needed – we used bath toys that we already had and let Joey pick out goggles at Target. One item that was immensely helpful in winter and spring was small wetsuits – both of our boys get cold quickly at an indoor pool. We like this one for infants and this one for toddlers.

Joey & Blake will now go underwater happily and hold their breath. They kick and paddle their arms to propel themselves, but don’t go far without adult help. I have let them lead the way for lessons in terms of what they are comfortable with. There are days when they don’t want to submerge, so we don’t. There are days when they enthusiastically ask for more, so we do. I had imagined far grander things, but for now I’m glad that we have been able to get them both comfortable in the water and solid on breath-holding.

As for the Nirvana photo – it’s a lot harder to replicate than we thought!

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*We are not swim instructors – just enthusiastic parents sharing what worked for our kids.

When Travel Doesn’t Go As Planned Part 2: Be Calm & Be Kind

We made it home! In time for Simon to start his new job! With most of our things!

After our last post, the comedy of errors continued including a rental car with no child seats (did you know that rental agencies are not obliged to guarantee child seats?, and that if you try hard enough, priceline will refund prepaid ‘nonrefundable’ rental car fees?), lost diaper covers, awkward seating assignments on flights, Blake being kicked out of a bar (too intoxicated), etc.

But something strange happened. After the first few days of everything seeming to go wrong, Simon & I stopped being stressed. We accepted the situation, paying an extra $1700 for flights, and moved forward calmly. We worked together to manage the safety, happiness, and well-being of our family first. We met many friends and colleagues along the way who were always surprised when we said our trip was full of things going wrong. “But you seem so calm and happy!” they said. Truthfully… we were.

The biggest reason is that we were with our kids, and my strong feeling is that happy parents make happy babies, and happy babies make everything easier. We both work hard to achieve family happiness at all times, but especially during travel and times of stress. The side effect of ensuring that the boys get time to play outside, timely meals, naps, and bedtime, is that we experience many of the calming benefits and are able to better handle the various fires being thrown at us.

In addition, we had a lot of good things happening alongside the fires. We had productive meetings with colleagues; Simon got good experimental data, we gave various talks, brown bags, and seminars at Scripps and at the International Coral Reef Symposium that were well received; we enjoyed quality family time in beautiful places; and we had happy reunions with friends.

Something else special happened on this trip though. In our times of great duress, we received unexpected assistance from strangers. Random acts of kindness that meant so much given our compromised state:

  • The strangers that switched seats with us on the red-eye flight from LA to DC so that our family could sit together in one row
  • The Virgin America flight attendant that provided six little bottles of water when we desperately needed it for the kids
  • The baggage claim clerk that helped me move all of our luggage to the street to meet Simon with the rental car and I was alone with Blake
  • The collection of Brazilian scientists at ICRS that happily held & played with Blake during the last night banquet for an hour while Simon & I ate and made friends with them
  • The friends-of-friends that offered to take photos of our whole family on our last day  (and only day on the North Shore!)
  • The cleaning staff at both hotels we stayed at, who were amazing about providing extra towels and coming back repeatedly so as not to disturb our napping children when cleaning the room

That’s not to mention all of our friends and family that stepped in, whether or not we asked, to play with Joey, hold Blake, and in general help us out immensely. Japanese grammy came all the way from New Zealand to Hawaii to look after the boys during the meeting. She did the typical grammy thing – spoil Joey rotten with care and attention – so that now Joey wants to “go back to Hawaii”. Why? “Obaasan”.

Those relatively small kindnesses made all of the difference for these strung-out parents that wanted to bring their kids on a work trip. Kindness matters most to those who need it. Look for the need and pay it forward. You might be in the needful position some day.

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When Travel Doesn’t Go As Planned

I wanted to call this “When the Shit Hits the Fan,” but I’m pretty sure my mom reads it.

You may have gathered that we have taken to the air again with our two kiddos and are currently in Hawaii. The lack of a pre-departure post is a fair indicator of our lack of organization for this trip.

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Joey collects Macrocystic kelp on the beach in La Jolla

Usually, I am a super-planner. Every detail thought out, from snacks for everyone on the plane to printing out hotel confirmations and addresses ahead of time (or more recently, saving them to my iPhone). Simon is surprised if I cannot spout off our itinerary in detail at any point on an adventure.

This trip was not well planned. In fact, it coalesced together in a messy fashion after we both were given slots for conference talks at the International Coral Reef Symposium in Honolulu this week. From there, we slowly added on items. We decided to bring both boys & a dedicated care giver (Japanese Grandma!). We decided to come to Honolulu early to use rewards nights at the Marriott for our anniversary, and to stay the weekend after the conference with friends on the North Shore of Oahu. Somewhere along the way, we had the idea to make a long layover in San Diego en route to Hawaii where we would visit Scripps to give talks, catch up with friends & colleagues, and Simon would collect some data off the pier while we were at it. So in summary, in two weeks we would visit two cities, stay in six different places, do a wide variety of work things, vacation with our kids, and catch up with friends.

 

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If we had gotten on our original flight to Honolulu, we wouldn’t have had this beautiful cliff top picnic on our last night in San Diego
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Joey likes al pastor tacos the best

 

 

 

 

 

 

What could go wrong?

Turns out, a lot:

  • We forgot toothpaste
  • We didn’t realize that we wouldn’t have childcare in San Diego for all of those talks and experiments & had to modify our plans at the last minute
  • Joey took three days of sharing a room with Blake to nap quietly without waking his brother, much to my dismay
  • Our bags didn’t really fit in the rental car with the car seats (so I had either a large suitcase or stroller on my lap)
  • Renting car seats with the rental car is expensive & they didn’t tell us that ahead of time. In fact, our first rental car reservation added so many costs & fees that Simon elected to cancel it and find another rental car at the airport, adding nearly an hour delay before we got to our digs for the night.
  • We missed our flight from San Diego to Hawaii and had to fly standby the next day
  • On our standby flight, we were seated behind another child who spent a lot of time screaming, making it extraordinarily difficult for our non-screaming children to nap and remain well-behaved
  • We lost Simon’s wedding ring and the quadcopter (not at the same time)
  • We continue to not have baby wipes available when we need them, despite bringing at least five packages with us

I’m forever optimistic, and am inclined to now list the things that are going well. I’ll spare you bullet points, but will say that we are still having a good time and for the most part the boys are not phased by our stress and struggles.

Whether this trip is a set of unique challenges or a complete disaster depends on your point of view. For example, we found ourselves leading a discussion with graduate students about government jobs and postdocs while holding a very alert and cheerful Blake, watching Joey play with the foozball table out of the corner of our eyes. At least we’d had the foresight to suggest this event occur in the graduate student lounge? And the grad student coordinator that organized for us had kindly provided Joey’s favorite snacks (bagels) as refreshments, further sweetening the deal for him. In fact, he has been asking to go to another “work meeting” with us since.

So what do you do when your plans fall apart? Or you failed to make a plan in the first place?

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Make a new plan stat.

Simon & I will waffle endlessly about things like where to go to dinner – until we get to a critical situation. Then we both switch gears and start damage control. We dish out orders to each other and the children, and follow one another’s instructions exactly.

We triage:

  1. Safety
  2. Immediate/unchangeable logistics (i.e. flight departure)
  3. Personal needs (hungry, tired, diaper change)
  4. Everything else
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Blake’s first steps in the ocean. This moment alone made all of the hardship worth it, but there were many other high points along the way too.

This trip has been a healthy reminder that planning is important, but even more important is learning to roll with the punches and make the best of it. We could have let various challenges ruin this trip, but that would have been a much bigger loss overall. The kids mean that we spend more money (missed flight? better just get a new hotel and go out for lunch so the boys can eat & nap), they also keep us on the happy end of the spectrum. They achieve this magic partly because we want the best for them, including happy parents, and partly because they are delightful and they cheer us up. Joey has even started making jokes. We also have some perspective that the most challenging situations wind up being some of our favorite memories and most endearing stories later on.

That ^^ was supposed to be the end, in hopes that posting would put an end to our comedy of errors. Nope! Cue some important emails to Simon yesterday about his first day as a federal employee – not only does he have to be in the office in person with paperwork on Monday, but he needs to arrive no earlier than 7:30am and no later than 8:00am. Our flights would not get him there in time.

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Both swaddle blankets dirty? No problem, use one of Daddy’s t-shirts instead. Improvising solutions to smaller problems along the way have kept our whole family much happier.

We each had our own itinerary on the same flight, and Joey was attached to Simon’s. Much of our first day at the conference was spent looking for flights, calling airlines and travel agents, and establishing that Simon really had to be at work by 8am Monday (he does). We went through a string of options and came down to the choice of 1: buying Simon a new flight home early, while I traveled alone with both boys on a red eye and really hoped that they would let me add Joey to my reservation without asking for large sums of money or 2: cancel all of our flights home and buy three seats on an earlier flight together.

I think we’ve finally learned something from the last few weeks, because we picked #2. This sadly means cutting our family fun weekend on the North Shore a little short, but based on how things were going we decided to plan conservatively.

What else can go amiss in the next few days? Stay tuned for updates 🙂

 

 

 

Travel With Babies & Toddlers – Sleep & Food

We’ve been (happily!) receiving more family travel FAQs since we returned from Japan. At least half are about how to deal with basic baby necessities while on the road, in the air, or overseas. Here are some pro tips we’ve built up over the last few years. Bear in mind that every child is different, and its always important to find the right groove for your family. Our strategy has generally been to be adaptable and teach our kids to do the same, whilst being one step ahead to ensure that they get the nutrition and rest that they need. There is a lot of patience and planning ahead, and we are also more lenient than we would be at home. It is ultimately most important that they eat or sleep – happy baby happy life!

Sleep

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Whatever it takes – an hour of slow laps around the aquarium with two sleeping boys and one tuna.

We have always prioritized our kids’ sleep more than anything else, because we have found that a well rested baby is a happy baby. We knew that there would be lots of trips and outings long before our first was born, so we made an effort to teach him to be somewhat flexible in terms of where he sleeps. In other words, anything goes as long as the kid sleeps – walks in the baby carrier, car rides, co-sleeping, etc. We are more strict at home about keeping them in their beds (at least, the older one 🙂

We always plan ahead so that we have some means to help the boys nap during the day, which is often in a baby carrier or stroller. While this isn’t as great as napping in a bed as they get older, it works for us. The biggest key is to identify when they are starting to get tired and get them comfortable in their napping spot before they pass the threshold to overtired and cranky.

Jet lag is tough for adults and tougher for littles. The same rules that apply to us do them – hydrate well, go outside in daylight hours, and try to force your schedule to local time as quickly as possible. However, between jet lag and activities while traveling, we often wind up with an earlier waking time and earlier bed time while traveling.

Both boys have a bedtime routine that includes certain items. Blake is swaddled every night after receiving his last feeding and PJs. Joey reads stories with his stuffed toys, and brings a stuffed toy into his bed. We maintain these routines on the road, and always bring key items with us (swaddle blanket, a couple of stories, 1-2 stuffed toys of Joey’s choosing).

Even so, it doesn’t always go to plan – which is why we fall back to “anything goes as long as they sleep.” If they will only sleep in the bed with me for the first few nights in a new place, then they can sleep in the bed with me. Trust me when I say that the less tired the kids are, the more enjoyable everyone’s trip is!

Also – me and Simon always come home tired. We no longer ‘vacation’ in the restful sense. (Actually we never did, but it used to be because we spent all of our time diving and exploring!)

Food

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Joey takes apart his sushi at an expensive sushi bar (the chef cut all of his sushi pieces in half!), eating first the fish and then the rice.

This advice also depends on age, but the short story here is that our kids eat what we eat (or some part of it).

For the first year, we combo feed. Breastmilk comes everywhere with me, and we always brought our own formula and bottles to avoid any issues with switching brands/types on them. We usually buy bottled water to mix it with unless we can get access to filtered water.

Once on solids, the children eat what we do, and that continues overseas. Our rule is that they have to try the food, after which it is OK if they don’t like it. Since the rule is the same wherever we go, J has never really questioned it. Like me, he likes some foods and dislikes others when introduced to new things. I will never forget Joey slurping soba noodles with delight in Japan or demanding more sashimi. At the same time, he wasn’t really into gyoza (dumplings) and other items we thought he would like.

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In general bottled water is one of my most hated products, and you will never see it in our house. I’ve had to bend on this too because its more important to me that the children have clean drinking water.

As with sleep, we are more lenient with food when we are away from home. Processed/packaged foods that are normally not around our house are provided at opportune moments. Joey still calls Oreos “Peru Biscuits” since he first received them there, and he only gets them when we are traveling. It’s more important to me that they eat something to avoid hanger. There are also inevitable long, boring, waits associated with travel and having special treats/snacks helps mitigate that.

I’m used to carrying around a wide array of snacks wherever we go, and I usually stock up on favorites before any trip (fruit/veggie pouches, clif kids bars, goldfish or other little crackers, raisins and other dried fruits). I don’t try to bring enough for the duration of the trip, though, since I’ve always been able to find new and interesting snacks on site. Almost everywhere has some variation on bread, rice, or pasta and fruit – staples of the toddler diet.

J does have food allergies so I always learn how to say and write the offending foods ahead of time, and check labels/ask at restaurants as I would at home.

It can be a whirlwind with a lot of trial and error. We always say we will not plan anything during our first day at a destination, and we almost always wind up doing stuff anyway with catastrophic results. Dinner in particular has been disastrous several times with slow service, new food, and very tired parents and children. I’ve taken a tearful Joey out of restaurants in several countries to go to bed before the food actually arrived, and had Simon bring me leftovers later. Hang in there – it gets better!

Four Months Flew By

IMG_1951Just like that, I’m not surprised that I have two children and we are plateauing to the ‘new normal.’ Slow down time – my tiny newborn is now an excitable four month old!

Four months ago we were enjoying our new baby whilst getting very little sleep. Every event felt like a milestone; every outing an achievement. I’ve slowly been increasing my work hours, and we have returned from our family vacation to Japan. Suddenly, it seems like we have a fingertip hold that isn’t going to give.

I went to the grocery store the other day with both boys and it wasn’t terrifying. I knew to go slowly and take everything one step at a time. Put first kid in carseat. Put second kid in carseat. Drive to store. Unload Blake first and place him in baby carrier. Then unload Joey. Let Joey push the little shopping cart. Make several laps of the store. Smile back at the more experienced parents smiling at us. We bought (most of) the things we intended to get and went to Starbucks afterwards.

Blake communicates more each day and is falling into a routine, designed around his brother’s routine. They both nap in their rooms in the afternoon (*Blake is trying to do so, anyway), giving their caregiver a break. They both go to bed at 8pm, and I have enough confidence that Blake will stay asleep for a few hours that Simon & I can spend some down time together and/or finish cleaning the kitchen.

IMG_1973Joey has accepted that Blake is going to stay, and has started interacting with him more. Nothing fills my heart with more joy than watching J bring toys to his little brother, read him a story, or show him how to make the infant toys work.

We are making plans to bring them along on a big work trip next month without thinking “can we even do this?”

It isn’t easy at all. We are still very tired and really looking forward to when Blake sleeps all night…! But we are doing it. It’s funny how no matter what your situation is, you often find yourself busy and think that things are challenging. Then it gets harder and you wonder how you ever thought it was exhausting before.

For Mother’s Day I asked to go hiking, so we spent the weekend exploring Shenandoah National Park. As a family of four. And it felt perfectly ‘normal.’

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Japan Travel With Infant & Toddler

We are still recovering from jet lag, but safely home from our journey to Japan. We had a wonderful time and will post highlights soon!

In the meantime, here are some notable things that are different in Japan from western countries that are particularly relevant to travel with little kids.

There are a lot of:

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    Joey quickly mastered the vending machines

    Vending machines. Selling everything from hot coffee to soda to ice cream to toys to full meals. This is often useful (quick drink or snack anyone?), although our toddler quickly learned to recognize the ice cream machines and requested that we stop at them often.

  • Trains. Travel by train or subway is challenging with small children since there is a lot of rushing through crowded, busy, stations and there isn’t always a lot of room to sit or play on the train. For infants, a baby carrier is 100% the way to go. For toddlers (Joey was 2.5 years) it is trickier. We used a light front to back double stroller (Kinderwagon Dual Hop), which was about the biggest stroller one could manage on public transit in Japan. In retrospect I’d recommend a light single (you will have to push through crowds and lift it over the step/gap when boarding and disembarking) or another baby carrier. This was one of our biggest challenges.

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    Shinjuku station rush hour
  • Huge, amazing, playgrounds. Even in the shopping mall on the roof. For a country with relatively few children (the current average birth rate is 1.2), Japan has extraordinary playgrounds. We made a point to stop every time we saw one, and often had it nearly to ourselves. No waiting for the zip line or complaints when the grown-ups joined in the fun!
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One of Joey’s favorite playgrounds in Japan
  • Rules. The Japanese have solved the problem of high population density with several rules (walk on the path to the left, queue for the train, etc). Everyone was very polite to us despite our often lack of understanding.
  • Outdoor public baths (when you get out of Tokyo). Onsen require some guts and cultural awareness to get onboard with the naked communal bathing, but they are actually amazing for toddlers. Joey loved playing in the wash room where showers/water could be put anywhere, and in the cooler parts of the naturally heated outdoor pools. One place we stayed had a private bath, which allowed our whole family to enjoy an outdoor pool together. Toys were provided for the children and the temperature was perfect for both of them (about 96 F).

There are not many:

  • Public rubbish bins. No one litters (see above re: rules). The intention is that you take your trash home with you. This is a great idea, but potentially hard to comply with given the number of pre-packaged items (especially from vending machines!) Thankfully we carry around plastic grocery bags with the kids anyway so it wasn’t too challenging to collect rubbish and store it in the stroller basket.
  • Dirty things. I am a germ-a-phobe about public transit, but everything was remarkable clean from the sidewalks to the trains to the stores.
  • Changing tables in mens or ladies restrooms. Japan’s solution is much better in my opinion – there is a third choice at any public restroom area called a ‘multipurpose’ or handicap restroom. The room is open to men and women and includes a changing table as well as handicap access and a regular toilet. Some also have a little plastic seat on a stand to contain your kid while you pee (best for children 6-18 months. Blake was too small and Joey was really too big).
  • Spacious restaurants. Most dine-in establishments are tiny, seating less than 30 people at a time or standing room only. This is sub-optimal for the kids as well. We searched for cafes with outdoor seating, and places selling take out (check out the department stores in Tokyo) near parks.
  • Places to sit. In part because most living spaces and restaurants are small, there is a distinct lack of sofas, cushy recliners, gliders, etc both in homes and public spaces. This isn’t a big problem unless you have an infant the needs to be fed frequently. In that case, work on your core strength ahead of time and be prepared to get creative.
  • Loud people. In fact, people walking down the street during business hours are so quiet that I almost felt rude talking. Joey attracted a great deal of (positive) attention between enthusiastically pointing out various items and being dressed in bright clothing. Again, the reception from the Japanese was very positive, but our family definitely stood out!

Japan has nearly all of the same features as the US, but the details are different. Some preparation will definitely help, especially for train and subway travel! I can’t say enough about the benefit of our baby carriers for this trip.

Packing for 4

I’m going around the world, and I’m bringing a… toddler. And his stuff. And his baby brother. and his stuff. Not to mention their caregivers (me and Simon).

We are on our way to Japan to visit friends and relatives. This is our first overseas trip with both kids, and packing for everyone was a mental exercise that could give the Sunday crossword puzzle a run for its money. Space actually isn’t an issue. Since Joey is now 2 and has to pay for his own seat (thanks, frequent flier miles!) he gets two checked bags. Blake also gets one as a lap infant on an international flight, in addition to a stroller and car seat. So in theory we could check seven 50 lb bags, two strollers, two car seats, and bring four large carry-on items.

Do you see the problem? We learned during our fieldwork adventures in Hawaii exactly what it means to travel with an absurd amount of stuff, and we do not wish to take that on with kids. So the trick is actually to make everything we need fit in the least number of bags possible, and keep each of those bags at or under 50 lbs.

This is what we are bringing:

Each kid gets one large checked bag. Simon & I are splitting the third, which is one of our American wheeled carry-ons. All of our camera gear and electronics will be carried-on in the camera backpack. Joey gets to choose his own toys and books for his backpack. Remaining diapers, clothes, wipes, snacks, changing pad, and anything else we need in -flight will be in the diaper bag backpack.

What are we bringing for the kids? Their bags are each being packed based on experience with Joey and our plans/background research about what we will experience in Japan.

For Joey (2.5 years):

  • Blanket
  • Clothing – 4 warm weather outfits, 4 cool weather outfits
  • Fleece jacket & raincoat
  • Diaper covers, cloth diaper inserts, and compostable inserts
  • Toys & books of his choice (in his backpack)
  • New coloring books & activity books for the plane & train rides
  • iPad loaded with games and movies for the plane & train rides
  • Snacks
  • Basic meds, thermometer, snot-sucker (for both boys)
  • Baby soap, lotion, toothpaste
  • Ergo baby carrier

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    Blake got an extra insert for support in the stroller

For Blake (3 months):

  • Travel bassinet (he just still fits in it!)
  • Travel bouncer/baby lounge chair
  • Blankets – heavy, light, swaddles
  • Clothing – 5 warm weather outfits, 5 cool weather outfits
  • Fleece jacket, warm hat, sun hat
  • Diaper covers, cloth diaper inserts, and compostable inserts
  • One toy
  • Feeding gear
  • Another Ergo baby carrier

We made it to Chicago and are waiting for our long haul flight to Tokyo. Thirteen hours of close quarters await. The iPad is loaded with movies and games. After doing his homework, Blake has secured one of the coveted Boeing 787 long-haul infant bassinets and in the same breath obtained premium economy seating for his whole family! – we will let you know if that actually materializes. The American Airlines Admirals Club lounge at ORD actually has a family room for kids and we got to have breakfast at Starbucks, so everyone is happy despite the 5am wake-up call.

 

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Simon practices dual baby-wearing. Both baby carriers are with us!

 

 

Taking a toddler on the Inca trail

The Inca trail can’t really be described as easy, but it is still possible to enjoy the trail while taking your toddler with you.

The trail involves approximately 42 km of walking over four or five days. “Less than a marathon!” you say, but this distance measure does not take into account 1) the altitude and 2) the significant elevation changes over the walk. As an example, day two involves a continuous ascent from 3000 m (9000 ft) to 4200 m (13,000 ft), followed by a descent to 3600 m (11,000 ft). That said, the key to happily completing the trail is to avoid overexertion and take regular breaks. Once you’ve pushed too hard and have fallen into the realm of altitude sickness, it is hard to come back.

We did not see any other small western children on the trail. The youngest walkers we saw were probably about 10 years old. We also noticed that most people who were hiking the trail were either young (i.e., in their 20’s) or older (i.e., over 50). The purpose of this blog post is to encourage the people in between – with young families – to take part in this kind of adventure. Done right, everyone can have a great time and your kids will have a great experience. It is my view that a safe childhood lacking in adventure is a sure path to dullness and mediocrity. Some discomfort and acceptable risk in return for unforgettable experiences can provide memories from which strength of character can be drawn for the rest of their lives.

It is important to firmly have in mind that this kind of trip is very different to one where you and your partner and/or friends visit some exotic adventure destination for wild times and late-night drinking. A multi-day excursion with a toddler is the same anywhere – it is an exercise in time management and in prioritising the happiness and sleep schedule of the child. The fact that this occurred over the Inca trail and in Machu Picchu was almost irrelevant to the happiness of the family. As most parents are well aware, a well-slept child is a child more able to handle an unpredictable schedule and moments of boredom. Sleep is the number one priority.

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Joey in the Osprey ‘Poco Premium’, which is priced like it’s made of gold, but is also worth its weight in gold.

We carried Joey in an Osprey ‘Poco premium’ baby backpack carrier. This expensive but quality piece of kit was probably the one item we had that contributed most to our happiness (with “Pete the Cat goes to the Beach” by James Dean a close second).  The Poco was designed so well that Joey was comfortable sitting in it for hours. So comfortable in fact that he napped in it during the middle of the day, every day. The gentle rocking of his carrier laboring up steep stairs was enough to have Joey nod off and the Poco did a satisfactory job of holding his body so that he would remain comfortably asleep. This benefit alone meant that whoever was carrying Joey could keep up with the group, who would not be willing to stop for several hours in the middle of the day while Joey napped. In fact, stopping was almost always a bad idea during this time. The cessation of rocking almost always lead to Joey waking prematurely and being grumpy for the rest of the day.

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Spectacular views were the norm. We are happy to report that this toddler had some sense of self preservation near large drop offs.

During the hike, Joey spent his wakeful hours partaking in a combination of the following:

  1. Eating snacks, preferring ‘Peru crackers’ a.k.a. oreos (which we learned are vegan, strangely).
  2. Drinking water from his bottle.
  3. Playing with his toy car, which was run back and forth along the drool pad in front of him.
  4. Looking at the scenery, trees and hummingbirds.
  5. Reciting stories.
  6. Calling for mummy/daddy and asking to be let down.

While nap time called for continued walking, regular breaks during wakefulness in which Joey was released from his carrier and could walk around were probably critical to him remaining in good spirits during his stints in the Poco.

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The ‘Glamp’, complete with yoga mat.

Camping on the Inca trail with a toddler was made considerably easier by the fact that it wasn’t really camping at all. Upon arrival at a campsite, the porters had already set up the tents and the chefs were busy making dinner. “Glamping” is the more appropriate term to describe this scenario. Given that the parents did little to no work in meal preparation and setting up the tent/bedding, putting Joey to bed was fairly easy.

One challenge was the lateness of dinner. As the porters had to build the kitchen every night, as well as make dinner, the meal was not ready until around 8pm – after Joey’s bedtime. He was bought to dinner a couple of times but his tiredness and irritability did not go over well with tired parents and other hikers. Eventually, the schedule was changed so that he was given an early dinner and sent to bed before the adults were fed. That way, everyone could eat in peace while the toddler regained the sleep time that was lost with the early (4-6am) starts.

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Unique encounters with nature were a highlight on this trail.

Inside the tent, care was taken to ensure Joey did not sleep on the floor. Previous experience had taught us that in a cold climate, the floor of a tent is very cold as there is no ground insulation. While a cold floor could be mitigated by an air mattress, the air against the walls of the tent cools and then pools on the floor. A back-sleeping adult typically lies with his or her nose and mouth above the coldest of this air, but a small child – who often sleeps on their front and does not possess nearly as much thermal mass – will be affected greatly. To avoid the chill, Joey slept on a collapsible child stretcher that raised him about 100 mm off the ground. While he sometimes rolled off his little platform in the middle of the night (and on to me) he remained fairly warm and comfortable even when the temperature dropped below freezing and/or he struggled out of his sleeping bag, which he disliked intensely.

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Joey in the Poco with his parents at the “Sun Gate” – the entrance to Machu Picchu, when arriving via the Inca trail.

It is interesting to note that while westerners think of taking a toddler on this trek as a challenge, the locals who live on the trail – far from any road – raise their kids here without porters, expensive compostable nappies or fancy baby backpacks. As far as we could tell, these people were extremely happy. I suppose difficulty is all a matter of perspective.

Joey had a great time on this walk and so did his parents. A couple of other parents on the trail mentioned to us that they would have liked to bring their children along. I wondered why they did not. Sure, the additional complexity is a burden, but that is the nature of raising children. I started to adopt a different point of view about these things which went something like: “If your child is amenable to this kind of thing, you could say you have a responsibility to do it. Not because you can, but because others either cannot, did not think of it, or thought it too difficult. Show by example that such a thing is possible, and that far from being just a burden, it is also a pleasure”.


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Success! Inca Trail & Machu Picchu

We have all three returned home safely from our trip to Peru, after having successfully navigated planes, cars, trains, and four days of trekking the Inca Trail to visit Machu Picchu. I think that overall we can easily say that this trip went well.

The beginning of the Inca Trail
The beginning of the Inca Trail
First day of hiking
First day of hiking

I’ll start with the good stuff. Joey loved hiking in the Poco and camping, and Simon was a champion about carrying him the whole way – including two serious climbs to nearly 14,000 feet! Everyone in our group handled the hike very well, and although it was significantly harder to breath at altitude no one had any serious problems. The tour company, Llama Path, was absolutely

Joey's bed time in the tent
Joey’s bed time in the tent

amazing in terms of service and accommodating all of our needs. This was a case where the journey beat the destination. The hike was extraordinary, traveling through an astonishing number of biomes over four days (near desert, cloud forest, rain forest, high alpine, and more).

Joey makes friends
Joey makes friends

We saw nearly every kind of livestock imaginable, much to Joey’s delight, along with native hummingbirds that squawked and later butterflies that littered the trail. During the first two days we passed several local villages, and the villagers out and about on the trail (their main highway) with donkeys carrying goods. The views were extraordinary, and we were able to visit many Inca sites along the trail. None were quite as magnificent as Machu Picchu, but we had them all to ourselves. After listening to our guide Coco describe the site and give another installment of his on-going history story, we were allowed to explore at our leisure.

Checking out a donkey on the Inca Trail
Checking out a donkey on the Inca Trail

I will never forget the site of Joey playing with his toy Prius on a 500 year old terrace that drops off to extraordinary mountain views, few other people around for miles. The stonework and masonry of the ruins and the trail was quite impressive. While some had been restored, other buildings and parts of the track have been left untouched for over 500 years and appear in near mint condition.

Joey feeds a baby llama
Joey feeds a baby llama

The views from our third campsite (Phuyupatamarca), which is not used by trekkers on the classic 4-day itinerary, were the best of the trip and simply breathtaking. But most of all, climbing the final stone staircase through cool, dark jungle to emerge at the sun gate and gaze over Machu Picchu was an unforgettable experience. After that, taking the bus in the following day for our tour, surrounded by hundreds of people for the first time in days, just didn’t seem nearly as good.

Our favorite campsite
Our favorite campsite

We took the 5 day/4 night itinerary with Llama Path on the Inca Trail. Day 1 was quite easy, nearly flat with one small climb over dusty even track to our campsite adjacent to a very small village/house. We were basically camping in a Peruvian family’s yard, and our group were the only ones in attendance. We stopped at our first Inca site, Llactapacta, and enjoyed impressive views along with extensive hide and seek amongst the many rooms. Day 2 was the most physically demanding, as we moved ahead of schedule to climb over Dead Woman Pass (13,780

Our group at the highest point - Dead Woman Pass
Our group at the highest point – Dead Woman Pass
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Joey practices jumping off of rocks at an ancient Inca site

ft) and then camped between the two mountains in the saddle. The most challenging part of the climb was not our muscular strength or endurance, but our lung capacity. Despite spending two days in Cusco (12,000 ft) to acclimatize we all felt short of breath during the climb. On Day 3, we started off with our last big climb over the second mountain pass then descended to our favorite campsite, Phuyupatamarca. Not only were the views extraordinary, we were visited several times by a group of llamas. Awesome. Day 4 was another early start (we woke at 6am and started walking at 7am most days) as we descended past many Inca sites. We spent so much time at each that we wound up a bit behind schedule at lunch for the first time, and at our guide’s suggestion we walked quickly towards the Sun Gate. Not realizing where we were, we powered ahead and were suddenly faced with several steep staircases. I put my hiking pole away and climbed up with my hands. The forest was cool and dark, but as we neared the top we could see light streaming through. On the other side was the Inca city of Machu Picchu, perfectly illuminated in the late afternoon light.

Made it - Machu Picchu!
Made it – Machu Picchu!

We spent lots of time admiring Machu Picchu as we wound down the trail closer to the city. It was near dusk when we walked past the entrance gate. Then came the only part of the trail I really didn’t like that much – about 1.5 hours of steep downhill stairs to our campsite near the town of Aguas Calientes.

Yoga doesn't stop for hikes
Yoga doesn’t stop for hikes

It was a bit of a buzz kill after thinking we had reached our destination at the Sun Gate! No matter, we made it to the campsite intact and had a last impressive meal with our porters. They head chef even made us a cake! The next day we were up before dawn (3:30) to walk into town and catch the bus to Machu Picchu for the day.

If you are thinking about doing the hike – do it. It is 100% worth it. Simon completed the entire trail with a 50lb bag of toddler and accoutrements (at the front of our group!). I was three months pregnant. Along the way we saw young (10 years old) kids, old (> 65 years old) adults, and individuals that were clearly not fit and/or did not exercise much. Everyone made it. Everyone in our group made it with smiles on their faces.

Joey with his Uncle Peter
Joey with Uncle Peter

The not-so-good. Our first days in Cusco were rough, despite staying in a really nice hotel. Joey was tired, cranky, and not feeling great from altitude. He refused to eat anything, and he refused to sleep unless I was lying next to him (not Simon or anyone else – it had to be me). After being blessed with a fairly chill kid for 1.75 years, we didn’t know what to do with this behavior. We decided to ride it out and gamble on the hike anyway, knowing that Joey loves outside time, his Poco, and tents. Taking a toddler on a group tour has its pros (we didn’t have to cook) and its cons.

Joey also brought Pikachu to Machu Picchu
Joey also brought Pikachu to Machu Picchu

The biggest con was that we had to mold his schedule to the fairly strict schedule set by our guide, which was not designed for small children. We finally had to start putting J to sleep before dinner to avoid extreme crankiness. We often had to duck out of meals or history lessons to take J elsewhere and tend to his needs. Some of our group members and some of our porters took great interest in Joey and would play with him while we set up our tent or got changed, which was a huge blessing. Some of the places we stayed for lunch or to camp were fine for him to wander around, but many were terraces on the side of a mountain, meaning that J required constant attention. While Simon & I had a blast, we were definitely not well-rested!

Was it still worth it? Totally. Would we do it again? Already planning our next trip.

For the finer details on how to take your toddler on the Inca Trail, read Part 2 from Simon. For tips on hiking the Inca Trail while pregnant, read Part 3 from Lauren.

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