Traveling with children
The hilarious side of traveling with young children
By Leah Spina, leahspina.com
Although we have flown as a family before in the past, this summer was the first time we flew as a family of six. I would be remiss, dear fellow mothers, if I did not take time to recount the glorious adventures for your great entertainment.
So, please. Put the darlings to bed, throw on your PJs and join me in our epic journey of hilarity and chaos: THE SPINA COLORADO TRIP 2019.
After getting burned on trips before, I researched direct flights from Dallas within a radius of under two hours. (I will attempt trips involving layovers and flights over two hours with all four children in approximately five years.)
I discovered a few interesting direct, under-two hour destinations: Florida, Mexico or Colorado. Since I abhor the heat and David loves the outdoors, we decided to use up ALMOST 200K AIRLINE MILES and book ourselves tickets to Colorado for a week to escape the oppressive Texas summer. This was also the LONGEST trip I had ever planned with our family – seven nights.
And in case you were wondering, WE DID NOT SLEEP THRUGH THE NIGHT ANY ONE OF THE SEVEN NIGHTS. It was like roulette – each child consistently woke up at least one time, if not multiple times with multiple children each night. I cannot even tell you how nice it was to sleep through the night when we returned home the first night after returning. We woke up the next morning and David and I wordlessly grabbed hands in bed in glorious thanks. It is still very amusing to think of the hundreds of thousands of dollars we parents spend to not sleep through the night on family trips.
*Please note the careful selection of the phrase family TRIP vs. family VACATION. While we are very grateful to get away, trips with multiple little ones are many times more work than at home. Thus, the wise title our friends came up with: our long-anticipated FAMILY TRIP. Hahahahahah).
But I digress.
Once I booked the trip, a cold chill swept through my body of WILL THIS WORK OR WILL IT BE A TOTAL FAILURE. That is when you rent no less than 27 DVDs. That is when you create packing lists for your packing list. WILL THIS BE WORTH IT? WILL WE HAVE FUN? WILL MY HUSBAND AND I BE SO BURNED BY DAY TWO WE WILL WANT TO GO HOME? I SURE HOPE THE KIDS REMEMBER THIS TRIP!!!!
PACKING FOR A TRIP FOR SIX PEOPLE
The week of our trip, I started the packing process. I decided to go ahead and check our car seat and two boosters after friends said rental equipment was shoddy and uncomfortable. I didn’t want anything to go wrong that I could control, so I was like, eh, we can check everything for free with David’s AA status so no sweat.
(Samson was delighted to learn he was big enough for Colorado’s no booster law and I was equally delighted to have one less booster to check.)
Well, lemme tail yew. I don’t care how many items David can check for free. By the time I finished packing, there was a heap of items the size of my minivan by our wooden front door. I realized, in a cold sweat, THERE WAS NO PHYSICAL WAY we could even transport that amount of items from a vehicle to the airline counter to check. (We are talking multiple suitcases, stroller, large hiking backpack, clothing for both cool and hot Colorado summer days, kid carryon backpacks, car seat, two boosters, diaper bag, etc.)
I kept recounting the amount of humans physically capable of helping and those that were dependents. (. If they could do nothing, they were a full dependent. If they could help a little – like one small item – I calculated them as a half-dependent. If they could full on push a stroller or pull a full-sized suitcase they were INDEPENDENT.) The ratio of independent humans to luggage was bleak.
I looked at the mean clock laughing at me as the precious, golden uninterrupted nap minutes ticked by. I sprinted to our outdoor shed, blazing in the Texas heat at the peak of afternoon oppression, climbed a rickety ladder AS ALL DESPERATE MOTHERS DO to the second level and yanked down our largest suitcase of all.
I was now sweating by this point. (Wait, southern ladies do not sweat. They glisten or glow.). I ripped open the smaller suitcases and jammed all the items into only two gigantic suitcases. I zipped them slowly, yelling at laughing Samson and Esther to sit their little bodies on top of the bulging suitcases so I could slowly force-zip them close.
I was in full happy-vacation-mom-mode by this point and we were all delightfully making memories: “GUYS! I MEAN IT! QUIT LAUGHING! I NEED YOU TO SIT *RIGHT HERE* AND BE STILL!!! IF YOU DO NOT DO THIS, WE ARE NOT GOING ON OUR TRIP. DO YOU HEAR ME? DO YOU WANT TO JUST STAY HOME? IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT? PLEASE HURRY! THE KIDS ARE NAPPING!!! WHY IS THIS NOT SHUTTING?!?!?!?”
Finally, I zipped the blasted last zipper shut. Now. My David is a quality guy and I consistently horrify him in my efforts to get things done quickly without quality. Usually in a Pollyanna-on-steroids-make-it-work method “IT WILL FIT! NO WORRIES, HONEY!”
This was one of those examples. I surveyed the zipped suitcases with pride – it was truly amazing how much stuff I had just forced in only two bags. But I knew if David took one look at it, he would be appalled as they were bulging with odd poking items and I’m pretty sure the seams were stretched beyond repair.
BUT I DIDN’T CARE. The adrenaline was pumping and my heart was racing from all the physical exhaustion of said Texas heat shed and forced labor of my offspring. I had won and the suitcases had lost. Leah 1 suitcase problem 0. We now had exactly the right amount of independent humans to transport that mountain to the kind check in lady. I smiled wickedly in glee like the Grinch after he robs everyone of their Christmas gifts.
But then a cold, cold thought shot through my sweaty, er, glowing head.
WERE THESE BAGS OVER 50 POUNDS?!?!?!!?
Oh, no. I ripped David’s scale from the garage and yanked the biggest bag up on it. But it was too large to read the scale. It literally covered the entire scale. No problem. I stood on the scale, then recorded my weight. I then picked up the bag (more like yanked it and staggered to the scale because of the weight – it wouldn’t take an Einstein to recognize by the look and then the weight that there was NO WAY this would even be close to the 50 pound mark). I didn’t care. I was ruthless by this point, like a wild savage and naptime was almost over. I had to make this work.
To my horror, I tried to look down past my white-knuckled death grip on the suitcase handle to see the scale. But the bag was again too large for me to even look at the numbers below. If I tried to bend over, the weight of the bag made me topple over. I had to stand ramrod straight to bear the weight of the bag so I couldn’t read the scale.
I again employed my non-napping hooligan darlings, beckoning them kindly to assist their glowing mother OR ELSE NO TRIP. “Esther! What do the numbers say? Quick! It will go away if you do not read it IMMEDIATELY!”
Esther: “Well, it says either a 6 or a 9, I’m not sure.”
Me, about to drop the blasted suitcase, “SAMSON! COME HERE RIGHT NOW!!!!”
Sure enough, both bags were both overweight. I kept ripping out items and transferring them to our carry on bags until I got close to the 50 pound mark. And lemme tail yew. When the lady weighed them at DFW, it was the most terrifying seconds of my life. I held my breath, wondering if our good old home scale was even accurate. And guess what? Each bag weighed EXACTLY 50 POUNDS. Bless it.
THE RIDE TO THE AIRPORT
I try, as best I can, to do as much work as I can before we leave for a trip so it’s a happy day despite all the stress of traveling.
My wise mom reminded me to TAKE IT EASY when anything went wrong or I had a different opinion on what should be done when Dave and I were collaborating on travel decisions. “Just look around the airport when you arrive, if you wonder if traveling can be stressful,” she laughed. “Look at all the arguing upset and angry people. Traveling is stressful – try to be nice to one another and just go with the flow when things go wrong.”
Well, we had an immediate problem when it was time to leave for the airport. We couldn’t fit all the people and the luggage in the minivan. I kept nervously tiptoeing around the bulging minivan full of hyper excited children hoping against hope it would all fit. I tried to be quiet and let SWEATING David lead as he kept shoving all the items in around the little humans like a real life game of Tetris.
(Bless his heart, I told him there was no more room in any of the suitcases for his clothes. So he was forced to pack all his belongings for a seven-night trip in a separate camo hunting backpack so he still had two hands free to pull both suitcases.)
When he finished, the bags were so high both in the middle of the vehicle and the back, there was literally no way for me to crawl through to the very back row to smash myself down between Samson and Esther. But I did not want to cause another problem and make us miss our flight.
So I did what any caffeinated minivan mom that desperately didn’t want to cook a meal for a week would do. I primitively hoisted myself up over the suitcases – entering from the back – and slithered myself like an uncoordinated writhing lizard through an opening approximately 16 inches wide and six inches tall at the top of the suitcases and then fell down into my seat.
I triumphantly yelled through the forest of suitcases, “READY, HONEY! Let’s go!”
RENTING A CAR WITH SIX PEOPLE
Back when I was popping out the babies one after another, I never realized how much the amount of children one has affects traveling options. Take the initial planning of this Colorado trip with six passengers. After the shock of the total amount of flights I selected online to purchase (it seriously could not be this amount of tickets, but IT IS), I then popped into a rental car site. I typed in the dates and times, as I have done many times in the past, but then with a sinking heart, I slowly scrolled down, down, down the options realizing that with SIX passengers our only options were now a minivan or fullsize SUV. No more cheap rental car rates, y’all. I selected a minivan.
Since we were using miles to fly, I had selected a smaller regional airport over Denver’s huge airport – Colorado Springs. If you think I googled photos of the airport before booking, YOU ARE RIGHT. I beamed at the smallness and thought about blissfully walking to our rental car instead of taking a tram or bus. YOU ARE SO BRILLIANT, LEAH SPINA! YOUR FAMILY IS SO BLESSED TO HAVE YOU PLAN SUCH AMAZING TRIPS WITH SO MUCH FORESIGHT!
Well. We landed and I approached the rental car line. Only two passengers were ahead of me, and I was prepared that this would be the roughest part – rental car lines are always a beating, but this short line was one of the perks of a small airport and I was a “member” of this particular rental company to streamline the process. But no. This is when the melting began.
Joshua was strapped down like Fort Knox in the stroller with two buckles and black straps so tight his little potbelly protruded from the waistband. He could barely breathe. There was no way we would release him when we had so many children and bags. He started crying.
David was on the other side of the airport ripping the maxed-weight suitcases and multiple carseat/boosters off the moving luggage carousal with Samson and Esther standing like stones beside him. (The result of our very docile instructions to them TO STAY STILL OR YOU KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO YOU!!!)
But Hannah, age 3, whom sometimes controls me if I don’t drink my coffee first thing, started her tantrum. She was also strapped in tight in the double stroller, but started screaming because she wanted to WEAR HER PACKPACK – aka backpack – that was hanging on the stroller. The reason she wasn’t wearing it was in all my attempts to save weight, I had loaded ger pink Unicorn backpack down so heavy with a DVD player, etc that there was no way she could wear that thing and stand up right. The weight would crush her. Even though she is a big girl for her age, THAT BACKBACK WAS BIGGER.
But, as sometimes happens in toddler world combined with a stressful situation, her repeated cries started to wear me down.
You know when a toddler asks for something they want, like cereal right when you wake up in the morning? And you say, “No, Hannah. No cereal.” And they start to chant faster and faster the SAME PHRASE AS IF YOU SAID NOTHING over and over, “Cereal mom? Cereal mom? Cereal mom?” And in your terrible parenting moment, you reward their bad behavior and consistent whining with “OK! YOU CAN HAVE YOUR CEREAL! JUST BE QUIET!!!”
That was what happened. The car rental agent was taking forever. The line was not moving. Joshua and Hannah were both crying and David couldn’t move since he had too much luggage and needed me to move everything. “OK HANNAH! YOU CAN WEAR YOUR BACKPACK!”
I unstrapped her and she popped up like a Jack-in-the-Box and immediately quit her Fake Crying. I helped her slide her arms through her backpack and she screamed for me to snap the little strap across her chest. I let her go. And just as I anticipated, she staggered a few steps away and then the tremendous weight of the over-weight backpack smashed her down, down to the floor of the airport. She was now laying on her stomach, with her arms and legs laid out like a still snow angel, with the backpack weighing her down on her back and her neck. Her red cheek was plastered on the super-clean-airport-floor as well.
She was wailing in frustration because she couldn’t move UNDERNEATH THE ROCK BACKPACK, completely still. Passengers were now walking around our crying toddler on both sides in shock. But I could not move or we would lose our place in line with crying stroller Joshua and David could do nothing since he had all the bags and no man power.
These are the times when traveling with young children that you can either choose to laugh or cry. I looked over at David over our crying child on the airport floor, helpless. I pointed to Hannah and he started to laugh and I started to laugh. There was literally nothing we could do.
Finally I grabbed the keys to our rental, raced over to Hannah, ripped her beloved 40-pound backpack off her small figure, strapped her back in the stroller and sprinted to David and the bags and children of stone. Somehow we managed to transport everyone and everything to our rental minivan.
(The kids kept saying, “LUXURY. Man, this van is LUXURY” when they climbed in the rental van. We finally realized that even though our minivan at home is nicer minivan, the basic rental minivan was extremely CLEAN compared to ours. So they kept chanting, LUXURY! Every time they entered the rental van.)
When we got home , I wondered whether all the work and stress was worth it. Dave and I started to decompress and process some of the crazy situations. The kids talked about the memories. And over time, the trip got better and better in our minds and the “worst” parts became the best jokes the kids begged for us to tell over and over again.
And I guess that’s why I just emptied our airline miles again for SIX flights next year for another memorable family TRIP. This time I booked a SUBURBAN rental instead of a minivan to hold the luggage. I just don’t know if it will be LUXURY, but I know we will make lifelong memories. 😉
And, look, I do not consider myself a parenting authority. If anything, after our fourth child was born, I have been very very humbled as a parent. I suddenly am aware of just how selfish and impatient I am each day – how much I need God and cannot be a kind mom without Him, even if I want to more than anything else. I am a sinful human mother in need of God’s grace very moment of every day.
I just wanted to remind us both that you and I won’t always have summers with our kids. What’s that sobering statement that we only have our kids 18 summers so make them count? And even if the family TRIPS are hard or you got burned from all the work, I believe WITH ALL MY HEART that it’s worth it to build positive memories and build relationships with your kids. Good parenting takes a toll on a relationship with a child. I’m managing bad attitudes, teaching life skills when they don’t want to learn, making them do the right thing non-stop – it can be hard on our relationship even though I know it’s right to be a parent first, friend second when they are younger. Trips, to me, are the adventure and fun that breathe back the joy of parenthood. Watching kids fly in an ordinary airplane, experience new things, “Mom! Look! This hotel room even has a TOILET! LOOK!” – it’s just the best. We are so truly blessed to be able to travel with these little gifts from above. Help us, God, to be grateful mothers that look past the work and stress to realize how blessed we are to be called “ mom.”
I ALSO DON’T HAVE A LOT OF TIME THESE DAYS TO EDIT MY WORK SO I APOLOGIZE IN ADVANCE FOR ANY SPELLING OR GRAMATTICAL ERRORS IN THIS ARTICLE. PLEASE STILL BE MY FRIEND.