How to fly with kids and stay sane Pt2

Being locked in a metal tube with your children and a bunch of strangers for hours on end is probably not on your bucket list. Lots of other things are, like going to Machu Picchu, visiting Cambodia or spending some time in Cape Town and going on Safari in South Africa, but maybe you’re in your late twenties or thirties, have children and have pretty much given up on achieving any of these travel-dreams until your kids grow up and move out. It doesn’t have to be this way.

In the first part of this mini-series on flying with kids I covered hand luggage, plane essentials and my view that flying with kids does not have to be a nightmare. Today I’m looking at drugs and unavoidables.

Drugs

My wife and I have friends who have had totally contrasting experiences. These instilled in us certain key principles for how to approach the issue of ethically medicating your kids for a flight so that they sleep for most of the time.

One friend of ours was flying to and from the UK alone with her full-of-beans 2 year-old and was understandably concerned by the prospect. She was told that antihistamines are an absolute winner; just dose up your kid at the start and they’ll fall asleep. So she got a prescription, got the meds and prepared for travel. When the time came for the flight, she dosed her kid as advised and… endured the worst flight of her life. The antihistamines had the complete opposite effect on her child than hoped. For 12 hours on a plane she had to contend with a completely hyper child who insisted on running around.

The second cautionary tale comes from someone who did test meds before flying. In this instance our friend had been advised to get child-friendly sleeping pills. So with due diligence she got the prescription and the drugs and proceeded to test them. She decided to see what effects a child’s does would have, so she took half a pill. Eight hours later she woke up feeling groggy and awful. This was after taking a child’s dose. She was so overwhelmed at the impact had on her, a fully-grown adult, that she ditched the sleeping pills idea entirely.

Through the experiences of our two friends we were able to distil a couple of key principles.

  1. Always test the meds in advance. What worked for another child may not work for your own. You do not want a hyper child on a plan or a child who is in a borderline drug-induced coma.
  2. Drugs can make it worse, so proceed with EXTREME caution, if at all.

 

The Unavoidables

Flying can be ok with kids, but it will never as peaceful as it was childless. Here are some unavoidable realities of flying.

  1. You cannot stick to a routine on a plane. It’s just not possible. The 11pm meal service (?!) and cabin lights means that you’re fighting an uphill battle to get your child to sleep on time. I’ve found it’s best to wait for the main cabin lights to be switched off (If it’s a night flight).
  2. Long-haul day flights are hard work. Your child is awake and wants to play, need I say more? Aim for night flights unless your kids are super well-behaved on a plane or easily engrossed in playing games on a tablet for 6+ hours.
  3. Your baby will cry. At least a little bit. Both of my boys were great flyers as babies – but they did cry from time to time. It’s not the end of the world.
  4. Meal service can be tricky. This is especially true if you’ve got a baby that one of you is holding. Also, tiny tables full of things in front of small humans usually ends in stuff getting knocked off.

Essentially, you need to change your expectations about what a pleasant flying experience will look like.

 

In conclusion, flying with kids doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Sure, a bit more thought and planning needs to go into it, but I think the same applies to every aspect of life when you become a parent.

So go on adventures, see the world, and take your kids!

 

Think I’m missing some key flying tips? Add them in the Comments below!

 

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How to fly with kids and stay sane Pt 1

In late October last year we (my wife and our two under 4s) moved from Cape Town, South Africa, via Durban to Glasgow, Scotland.

“What?! You swapped sunny, hot South Africa for cold, wet Glasgow? Are you mad? What were you thinking?”

Yes, I suppose we are a bit mad, but I think that a bit of madness is required if you’re serious about seeing your dreams come true, (and by dreams I mean those huge, ambitious life goals that don’t seem to be rooted in reality, not the ones about talking hot dogs or lobsters answering telephones!).

Shortly after this major life event we were back in S.A. for my sister-in-law’s wedding. So, in the space of 3 months we made two long-haul return flights with two kids under 4.

Each flight was two-legged going via Dubai and each leg was 7-8 hours long. That means, door-to-door, we travelled for about 24 hours straight each time, (that includes getting to the airport, checking in, lay-over in Dubai, getting through immigration and baggage and travel to our final destination). So each flight was a pretty epic undertaking.

Needless to say we picked up a few tips and tricks along the way and with summer holidays fast approaching, now is the time when the big decisions are made: do we choose the safe option and drive somewhere warmish within a few hours’ drive or do we take a risk and fly somewhere genuinely hot in a small metal tube filled with other people?!

We mulled over this question recently and opted for a bargain holiday in Turkey! Yes, the flights are about 5 hours long. Yes, they are at inconvenient times. Yes, it will be more work than (but not actually a lot more money than) simply driving to [Enter UK beach destination of your choice]. We will spend a week in the (genuinely) warm sun, on the beach at an all inclusive resort that includes childcare. It will be immense!

Flying with small humans , even short flights, can be quite daunting, and this is because, for most of us, it’s either a new experience or we’ve only had bad experiences before. If you’re in the first camp then your only memories of kids on planes will be the screaming infant of someone, mainly because nobody remembers the quiet babies, and if you’re in the second camp then I sympathise completely.

No matter what your experience (or lack of it) has been, the tips I share below were earned with  a bit of blood, quite a lot of sweat and fewer tears than you’d imagine, because exotic destinations are not among the places you must kiss goodbye to when you become a parent.

I’ve split the travel tips into a few categories and will spread it out over a couple of posts. Today I’m just going to cover luggage and plane essentials.

Luggage

The contents – or lack of it – in your hand luggage can make or break a trip.

  • Hand Luggage: I’ve read some tips that recommend using all of the bags you are permitted and packing them full of stuff. I have a slightly different approach: take as few items of hand luggage as possible. Remember that, inevitably, you WILL end up carrying at least one of your children in the airport, and if there’s a significant lay-over or some travel required at the other end you do NOT want to be carrying 3 bags of varying shapes and sizes PLUS a child. A small individual bag (mentioned below) for each child who’s old enough to carry one plus a nappy bag and another bag for the whole family is ideal. This way the most you or your partner are carrying or pulling along on wheels is one item and carrying one small human.
  • Kids’ luggage can work. A little backpack with their toys, a tablet, a bottle for water and snacks is very useful as long as THEY carry it. Another option is a scooter suitcase. They are small, hand-luggage sized suitcases that double as push scooters. Most of them also come with a rope for towing. These are helpful if your child is definitely going to be conscious. If you’re going to have a late night flight and you’re kid is likely to fall asleep in the airport then you WILL end up carrying the child and the cute, bulky, sharp cornered thing.

Plane essentials

I’ve made quite a lot of long-haul flights and have frequently witnessed dead-eyed, hapless parents desperately trying to entertain their wailing progeny with the in-flight magazine, the emergency instructions, the seatbealt, basically anything they could find. Here are a few things you can pack to make sure that you, and your fellow passengers, stay sane during taxi, take-off and landing.

  • A fully charged tablet with multiple episodes of your kid’s favourite shows and games on. Most media apps such as iTunes, Amazon and Google Play have some sort of ‘Watch offline’ option. There are, of course, ways to download shows from Youtube that aren’t 100% above board but work. If you get a bulkhead seat then you won’t be allowed to take out the screen until you’re in the air. So the precious minutes you have screen-less need to be taken up by something else. A tablet is a good – but not the only – option.
  • A fully charged phone with a couple of favourite games for the same reason as  a tablet.
  • A couple of favourite books (small ones)
  • An activity book.
  • A couple of favourite (small) toys. You don’t want more than 4 or 5 of these as they take up space. Ideally you don’t want the noisy ones with the flashing lights…
  • A new toy is great, especially on a long haul flight. Do not underestimate the power of the precious minutes bought by a novel gift.
  • For babies, a dummy/ bottle or breast (your wife’s not yours) to help them ‘pop’ their ears as the altitude increases. Babies need help to relieve the build-up of pressure within the ear canal, and sucking on something, anything, helps. If your older kids have trouble with this you can tell them to hold their nose and then try and blow out through the now-closed nostrils. This makes your ears ‘pop’.

Having kids doesn’t mean the end to your travels and adventures. If you take some steps and plan ahead you can make flights quite bearable. In the second part of this series we’ll look at unavoidables, drugs and research.

Babies, Man-Pregnancy and Living Dangerously

Seven weeks ago today my wife gave birth to a small human that she had baked inside her own body. In my opinion, no other human achievement could come close, “Oh, so you found a cure for cancer?  That’s pathetic! My wife created a human and she doesn’t even have a science degree!” “You understand what happened in Interstellar?  That’s quite impressive! But my wife grew a baby with her body and now feeds that baby with her body. And she’s somehow still alive.”

Can you imagine what life would be like if Dads gave birth? I’m pretty sure that 20% of us would be dead by the end of the first trimester, 50% by the end of the second, 95% shortly after labour and 100% after the first breast feed (which happens shortly after labour). Humanity would be doomed. And can you imagine the moaning? It’d be a hundred times worse than Man-flu. Man-pregnancy. Yikes. It makes me feel relieved that my role in the growth period was short (in comparison to 9 months) and pleasurable.

Truth from the Flght of the Conchords

Truth from the Flight of the Conchords

Fortunately, I can be much more involved in my son’s post-uterine existence. Oh yes. He’s still at the age where he loves cuddles. And by that I mean he’s still at the age where he has no choice and cannot escape cuddles, unlike my eldest, who is surprisingly fast for a 2 year-old.

There’s a big difference between being a Dad for the second time as opposed to it happening the first. Mainly, your expectations are lower. You don’t expect to sleep for longer than one hour for the first month, so it’s a pleasant surprise when you hit the total of TWO hours over that same time period.

The big danger, though, is that you get complacent, “Oh, don’t worry about me. This is baby number two. I know exactly what I’m doing!” And this leads to being over-confident, taking unnecessary risks and getting embarassed. I realised this one day as I was changing my newborn’s nappy and had a hose-like stream of excrement flood onto my hand. This never happened with baby numero uno. You see, as a new Dad I was quite diligent and cautious about things, such as immediately replacing the old nappy with the new so as to contain the inevitable mess. This was because I was clueless and didn’t want anything to go wrong.

Then that child survived and I got cocky.  I started thinking, “It’s ok, I’ll just leave this puny human who is only good at eating, puking and crapping at surprisingly high velocity nappy-less for a dangerous length of time. I know what I’m doing now. That paranoid nappy technique is for noobs.” Or maybe I too like to live dangerously (I sometimes go two months without a hair cut).

Since that, and other, such incidents my confidence has dwindled with the result that I’ve been taking fewer risks and now have hands that don’t always smell of my baby’s nappy contents. Long live caution and clean hands!

Mr Poopy McPooperson himself. He's looking very please with himself in this one. He's probably reminiscing about pooping on my hand.

Mr Poopy McPooperson himself. He’s looking very pleased with himself in this one. He’s probably reminiscing about pooping on my hand.

The Date Night Maketh the Dad

Why is there an article about date nights on the blog about daddyhood? Because the best thing you can possibly do for your kids is to have a great relationship with their mother, your wife or partner.

“Are you kidding me? That doesn’t make any sense! Surely the best thing you can do for your kids is to put them first.”

Whilst your commitment to daddyhood is laudable, your approach is flawed. There are far too many people who put their children before their marriage/relationship. This doesn’t sound so bad until you see what the result of this actually is.

The marriage car

Think of marriage as a brand new car. You and your wife get it on your wedding day and for the first couple of years it’s got that amazing ‘new marriage’ smell, everything works well and it looks amazing. You wash it and service it regularly to keep it in peak condition. Then you have kids. You decide that keeping your kids happy is more important than keeping the car in good condition.

At first it’s just little things you neglect to do, so you don’t wash it as regularly. Then you stop servicing it regularly. It starts making funny noises but you decided that everyone’s car must be like that when they have kids and choose to ignore it. Before you know it your car breaks down. Maybe it’s before the kids leave home, or maybe it’s when you’ve got an empty nest. Either way, you realise that your amazing marriage has suffered some serious damage that will take a long time to fix. You might even start to think that the damage is irreparable and that it’s time to move on. Or maybe you choose to stick with the dysfunctional machine, but it’s no longer a source of joy to either of you.

Sadly, this is the way a lot of marriages go. By the time the kids leave, the husband and wife realise that they don’t actually know or necessarily love each other any more. All of the years spent neglecting their marriage by ‘loving’ their kids have brought them to a place of disappointment, brokenness and despair. Do you think their kids are blessed by this? No, neither do I. No kid feels loved in a negative environment.

Date night to the rescue

So what do we do to avoid this? I can’t really answer that question in one post, but I can talk about one element that helps: date night. Having a regular date night, as we all know, is a vital way of maintaining vitality in our relationship with our spouse or partner. However, the reality is that knowing doesn’t always result in doing. When was the last time you actually went on a date with your significant other? And the time before that? It’s way easier to not go on a date.

Finding time in your schedules, organising a babysitter, budgeting to pay the babysitter and finding something that you both want to do can be exhausting. And then there’s the guilt, “But what about the kids?! What if they wake up and are upset that we’re gone? What if they give the babysitter trouble?” These factors snowball and can become an overwhelming force with the result that your date nights become 6-monthly events and not a regular part of your life.

The thing is, you’ve got to fight for the little things like a regular date night. Not only will the act of being out and alone together bring you and your wife joy, but the fact that you’ve fought to spend time with her will make your wife feel hugely loved, and this is not only good for your marriage, but it’s good for your kids too.

The date night how to

So date night is important and worth fighting for, but it’s easy for it to become dull and predictable as is beautifully depicted by Steve Carrell and Tina Fey in the movie of the same name. So how do you keep it fresh? Here are my suggestions:

  • Don’t do it only at night. We can get so caught up in the idea of date night being an evening activity that we miss out on other wonderful opportunities. My wife and I often go out for coffee during the day. Weekends are great for this. use the grandparents, use your friends and reciprocate. Offer to look after your friend’s kids one saturday afternoon so that him and his missus can go off gallivanting and temporarily relive the days of being a HYP.
  • Be creative. Although the dinner and/or a movie combination is a winner, it’s good to have other options. Why not try something new together? Get out of your comfort zone. Do something adventurous and distinctly un-parent like. Try archery, do a class together, sing karaoke, do whatever, just try something new.

Amazing marriages produce amazing kids. So be a good Dad, do date nights.

Oh the places you’ll (not) go!

As most of us Dads already know, the arrival of children into our lives inevitably coincides with an increased frequency of embarrassing moments. Typically, in the BC (Before Children) days, you’re young, have some income that you can have fun with, and think of yourself as somewhere at the upper end of the cool scale, just above Poor But Hip Student but below Wealthy And Glamorous Bachelor. Let’s call it Hip Young Professional (or HYP from here on in). You are every advertiser’s dream demographic and all of the exciting new bars and restaurants with their expensive craft beers and ironically-dressed staff seem to have been created with you and your partner in mind.

Then you get pregnant, “Hurray!” you say to each other, “Now we have a wonderful baby who will fit seamlessly into our lifestyle and draw adoring glances from the hipster clientele at our favourite hang-outs!” Oh how wrong you were you deluded former-HYP, how wrong you were. Let me tell you a story that illustrates what you can expect from going out in public with a small human.

The incident

It was a Saturday afternoon and the forgettable early Premier League kickoff had just finished. Dream Wife said we needed some things from the shop so, as usual, I tried to persuade her that the bread, milk and eggs weren’t really as essential as society in general would have us believe. She then mentioned we were out of crisps and beer so I valiantly ventured forth with our first son, who I’ll refer to as CM (Cheeky Monkey), who was 1 at the time. I love my son to bits, and he was at the cute stage (aren’t all stages cute?) where he was learning some vital words. His chosen favourites were ‘goal’, ‘dad’, ‘more’ and an obscure variant of ‘popcorn’. I strapped him into the buggy and off we went. At the time we lived around the corner from a Super Spar so, after a brief walk in the sun (you can tell we weren’t living in the UK at the time), we arrived.

I’m not a fan of shops. My approach is one of a military-style extraction behind enemy lines: get in, get what you want and then get out as fast as possible. Spending any longer than absolutely necessary is both dangerous and a waste of time in my book. So within 5 minutes we had what we needed. As soon as I saw the eye-wateringly-long line to pay, inspiration struck; my son had been great so far but was showing the early signs of crankiness so I decided to keep him happy by getting him a little bag of popcorn. “Haha!” I foolishly thought, “This parenting stuff’s easy.”

I gave my son some popcorn and dutifully stationed myself in the queue. After a couple of minutes of him happily munching away, he had finished his meager portion and asked for some more. Now when I say “asked for more” I mean he shouted ‘more popcorn’ at the top of his little voice. It doesn’t sound so bad does it? That’s because you don’t know how he pronounced ‘popcorn’ at the time. His limited linguistic skills meant he didn’t say ‘popcorn’, he said ‘cock’. This wasn’t so bad in the comfort of our own home as my wife and I knew what he meant and thought it was cute. However, as CM was screaming “MORE COCK” in the middle of a crowded supermarket I thought that we should probably revisit that particular policy.

As any embarrassed parent does, I tried to nervously laugh it off as a funny incident with my toddler whilst cringing under the suspicious gaze of the many patrons, “Haha! Here’s you POPCORN, my boy. More POPCORN for you, haha…”

Mourn your loss

This is why ‘family’ restaurants exist. These are some of the only locations (along with parks, soft play and play groups) where you don’t get judgemental looks and disapproving glances during such moments. Instead, you get average service, average food, no craft beer and sympathetic looks from other former HYPs. They mourn the loss of your coolness with you and that solidarity feels damn good.

So does this mean that you can never be a HYP again? Yes. Mourn your loss. Hold a ceremony and say a few words for your shredded street cred. Welcome to a lower status on the scale. You are now a FHYP, a Former Hip Young Professional and yes, that is way below Poor But Hip Student.

But does this mean that you have say goodbye to those trendy destinations? No. Just save those places for a date with your partner. That way you won’t have to try and save face after your toddler has shouted ‘cock’ at the top of their voice.

I’d love to hear some of your embarrassing parenting stories, why not share them as a comment? We can mourn the death of your coolness together!

Feel Inside

Kids are awesome. These little humans have wonderful imaginations that produce hilarious stuff.

This video is an oldy but a goody. In it Flight of the Conchords (remember them?) ask a bunch of primary school children to help them write the song, and then they actually make a song using the suggested lyrics. You can imagine that the song is quite unique. Enjoy.

Hello Fellow Dads

Welcome to The Good Dad Guide, my blog that aims to be a resource that helps every Father become a Daddy.

Here you’ll find a variety of resources that aim to equip, encourage, inspire, commiserate and entertain you in your journey to Daddyhood.

I’m not a parenting expert or guru, but a fellow dad who’s trying to be the best Dad I can be. I’ve been fortunate enough to have hung out with and received advice from some amazing people, some of whom I’ll interview for the blog, and I want to share what I’ve learned both from those times and from my personal experience. Since being a good Dad is a community project, you’ll also find some content from other Dads that I admire and respect.

So whether you’ve had a crappy day and feel like a failure as a parent, are just looking to further refine your parenting skills or you just want to have a laugh, then come visit my site, there should be something for you.

Happy Daddying!