Keeping Your Toddler Busy When Traveling

Last week I hopped on a plane with my very active 13-month-old baby/toddler. Desmond and I took a 4.5 hour flight from San Francisco to Atlanta, just the two of us (well, and everyone else on the plane). We flew back home yesterday.

I will come out and say this for all to read – I was terrified to take this trip on my own. But that’s how most adventures in parenting start, right?

Airport baby wearing

Babywearing at the airport

To prepare, I scoured the internet for ideas for keeping small children occupied on airplanes. I found a lot of suggestions that work for kids over the age of 2 years – those kids that are less likely to eat the crayons or throw the blocks at other passengers. Dez is still not 100% accurate with putting food in his mouth – there is no way he would have luck drawing on a magnedoodle!

Having very little luck with my search on the internet, I proceeded to tear through my house looking for items that I wouldn’t normally let Dez play with but that also aren’t dangerous while supervised. I came up with quite a few things to put in my “forbidden items grab bag.” I then hit up my Facebook parenting groups to gather more ideas before heading to Target. (I came out spending way too much, but it was less than $100, which is kind of amazing for a trip to Target!)

In the end, I collected quite the mishmash of items to entertain my toddler on the plane. And thus I bring you tips for flying with a toddler (without losing your mind).

Ewokmama tips for flying with toddler

Ideas for Fun and/or “Forbidden” Items to Bring on the Plane:

  • a fun keychain with spare keys and a large paperclip attached
  • various expired membership cards
  • a bracelet
  • post-it notes
  • small, portable toys that are new to your toddler – we had Little People figurines, My Little Pony minis, a Little People clown car
  • a pill organizer filled with snacks
  • stickers
  • interactive books (i.e. a “slide & seek” book and Pat the Bunny)
  • a pack of playing cards from the $1 bin

My cell phone is the ultimate forbidden item, of course…so I also looked around the app store to find things that might appeal to a toddler. [Note: If your kiddo is closer to 2 years and above, Toca Boca makes some awesome apps.] The best app I found is called “Animal and Tool Picture Flashcards for Babies” by Open Solutions. It’s free and contains a mixture of animal photos and clip art pictures; when you tap on a picture, the app states the name of the animal and then plays a clip of the sound that animal makes.

That app was the best money I never spent! Dez LOVED it. Even aside from the animal pictures and sounds, he really enjoyed dancing to the background music. It came in handy in the hotel room later, as well.

A word of warning, though. Now that I’ve let Dez play with my cell phone, he is more demanding about it than ever. Still, it was worth it for peace of mind on the plane!

If I were to pick one item from the above list to suggest above all others (aside from the animal flashcards app), it would be the pill organizer filled with snacks. Dez thought it was great to point to the container he wanted me to pop open – over and over. The snacks were key! A well-fed kid is a happy kid!

Aside from items to schlep along with you onto a plane, here are a few more tips for flying with toddlers:

  • Opt for the window seat. Not only will your kid like the view, but you can use stranger anxiety to keep him from trying to make a run for it.
  • If you are flying with your child on your lap, upgrade to get extra legroom. You can let your kid stand up a bit or maybe even play on the floor (depending on how MUCH leg room there is). And in case of tantrums, flailing limbs are less likely to hit the seat in front of you.
  • Babywear through security.
  • Ask for an empty cup and/or water bottle for your kid to play with.
  • Make sure to nurse or give your child something to drink during take off and landing to help with eardrum pressure.

Hopefully these things will help you get through your trip without any meltdowns from your toddler OR YOU. If not and your kid has a tantrum, hang in there! And maybe buy your neighbor – and yourself – a drink to cope.

Moms and dads, what did I forget? What are your tricks for traveling with toddlers?

A Wish Come True in Time and Space

After waiting nearly two years, Jack’s wish finally came true.

Initially he’d told Make-a-Wish he wanted to meet Lady Gaga. He made a dance video to the tune of Monster (which was the first time I’d ever seen him dance!) to send to her and he waited patiently for his turn. But he kept slipping further down the list due to kids in more urgent health situations and then Lady Gaga got injured on the road and canceled all her shows in order to get surgery.

In the mean time, Jack’s interests evolved and he became obsessed with Dr. Who. He will debate with you about the scariest aliens in the series and has strong opinions about which doctor is the best (the 11th Doctor, played by Matt Smith, is #1! Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor is #2 and David Tennant comes in at #3). Jack has watched Dr. Who almost every day for the past two years or so. He rarely watches anything else.

JackAge8

Doesn’t he look like a mini Matt Smith??

Last year we decided to give his room a little makeover since we wanted to build him a loft bed anyway. We did our best to turn his room into our (weak) interpretation of the TARDIS. We had limited money, but Jack was happy with the results. He’s got a good imagination, after all, and was able to fill in the blanks.

Not soon after, we talked about his wish and he decided he wanted to change it. He wasn’t very interested in Lady Gaga anymore. Instead, he wanted to meet the aliens from Dr. Who. Unfortunately, Make-a-Wish has a rule that the kids can’t switch from one celebrity wish to another (due to the long wait lists), so Jack settled on a more extensive room makeover that would add a console to his room and really make it into a TARDIS.

He submitted his new wish back in November and then we waited. During the wait, Jack made a lot of comments about how he wished he really had a TARDIS so that he could bypass the waiting altogether. Since the project was so unique, it took some time to find the right designer to work on it. Eventually they found Julie Giampaoli from Showcase Your Place, an interior designer in the area who was up for the challenge despite not knowing about Dr. Who!

She knows now!

Julie and Make-a-Wish pooled together some awesome resources and on July 22nd, the team arrived to get to work. I’ll admit it – I was more than a little nervous when they started drilling into my ceiling. But this was Jack’s wish and I just had to trust the process.

We were not disappointed. This video of the room reveal shows Jack’s stunned reaction pretty well:

 

And here are more extensive pictures of the process:

Jack LOVES his bedroom. He says it’s “too awesome!”

We are all so very thankful to the Make-a-Wish Foundation, their volunteers, and supporters for helping bring Jack’s wish to fruition and put some magic back into his life. We will treasure this experience for the rest of our lives!

Lions and Tigers and Auras, Oh My!

A few months ago Jack started seeing an intern therapist, D, who is supervised by a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MR.  MR was recommended to us by a friend and has a ton of experience working with kids. We see her intern because she operates on a sliding scale and is much more affordable (since this is not covered by insurance – our HMO insurance has very limited mental health services).

So Jack meets with D every week, who then discusses his case with MR and gets signed off for her internship hours. Jack loves D and it seems like therapy in general has been really helpful to him. He told me just this week that when he got in trouble at school recently, he decided he wouldn’t punish himself and instead would sit with his feelings about it! This is HUGE.

Anyway, David took Jack to his regularly scheduled therapy appointment this week. When they got there, MR was in the waiting room and she asked, “Jack, can you see colors around me?” Jack said yes and identified two colors. MR looked at David and said she would explain more after Jack left the room. So Jack went into the office with D for his therapy session, and MR proceeded to tell David that Jack is a very special kid, has a rare ability to see auras/chakras, and that he was put on this earth for a purpose. She said she could refer us to an Intuitive who could teach Jack how to handle these abilities.

AURAS? An Intuitive? Whaaaaa? *blink blink*

What is your reaction? Ours was utter shock. We aren’t spiritual in the least and this is way out of our comfort zone!

Later that night, I casually asked Jack a bit about it (I didn’t want to make him feel weird about it OR steer the conversation) and he said he does see colors around people – but not all people. He said he didn’t know what it meant, although he said that he saw blue and green around me and that he thought that green probably meant I was interested in what other people are interested in. I asked if he’d ever talked to anybody about this before and he said no – not until yesterday when he talked to D about it. I don’t know if she brought it up or if it was on his mind because MR had asked that question.

David and I are struggling with this whole thing and are VERY skeptical. I personally don’t like the idea of taking Jack to see an Intuitive – that doesn’t seem right at 7 years old! Even if I didn’t doubt that it would be helpful, it’s definitely a spiritual approach and I want him to be old enough to think critically about these matters before he receives any sort of instruction on them. We treat religion in the same manner – beliefs are very personal and I’d like Jack to develop those on his own (as much as possible) when he is more mature and not as susceptible to suggestion.

We don’t necessarily think we should just change therapists, though – he is helped quite a bit by D and after seeing her for two months or so now, he’s developed trust and is opening up to her more. If we changed therapists that process would need to be restarted. Plus, we don’t even know if D shares this line of thinking or if it’s something she would discuss in her therapy sessions with Jack.

ne thought David and I had is that if, in fact, Jack DOES see colors, there is another possible explanation (a scientific explanation) that makes more sense to us. Jack is clearly an emotional and sensitive kid, and there is no doubt he is intuitive, as well. There is something called Emotional Synesthesia, where a person’s neurological system is wired so that their senses are crossed – and that causes a person to perceive colors when they have an emotional response to something or someone. The research on synesthesia, especially on that specific type, is still very new, and from what I can see there aren’t resources for it as of yet – just studies to validate that it’s real and trying to figure out what it means and why it occurs.

I also don’t know that it matters whether he has this or not! It doesn’t seem to be a problem for him (unless that is why he has such a difficult time dealing with other kids at school getting in trouble and his teacher being in a bad mood). There doesn’t seem to be anything we can do about it other than to be accepting. And maybe nothing needs to be done – maybe this is just a special ability that makes Jack extra awesome. ‘Cause we all know Jack is awesome!

Regardless of her years of experience in therapy, MR could be completely full of crap. Or she could be interpreting something that is actually a neurological condition in a spiritual way, rather than a scientific one. Maybe (BIG MAYBE), auras exist and Jack can see them and an Intuitive can help him leverage that ability. I really don’t know.

This is such a strange situation for us and we still haven’t gotten over the initial “Whaaaaa?” reaction. I mean, is this real life? As much as we love science fiction and fantasy, this feels a little too surreal for us.

I would love, love, love to hear additional perspectives on this! What would YOU do if your child’s therapist told you that he/she has a special ability and recommended a completely foreign path to explore it? Especially if your child says he has this ability, as well? Would you explore a spiritual situation for your child that differs wildly from your own?

Halloween and the Alien Astronaut

Yesterday was Halloween and as any special needs parent knows, holidays can be totally unpredictable. I wasn’t sure Jack was going to make it to school; similarly to how other recent mornings have gone, he woke up slowly and complained of chest pain. But I just kept on hoping anyway, and he totally rallied!

Since Jack hadn’t been to school much lately, we only just found out on Wednesday about the dress up parade they were going to have Halloween morning. Jack’s dad was in charge of his costume and Trick or Treating this year, but they wouldn’t see each other until after school, so Jack had to improvise and come up with something for the parade – something that included no weapons or masks.

Of course, he chose something from Dr. Who.

He still has a toy chest full of costumes (from his daycare days when he could dress up every day) and luckily, the astronaut costume still fits (I don’t know how!). Jack decided he could wear that and be an astronaut like in Season Six of Dr. Who. Since he couldn’t wear a mask, he wanted face paint so he’d look like an “alien astronaut.”

He sketched out how he wanted his make up to look:

Self portrait by Jack

Self portrait by Jack

After clarifying that he didn’t just want to look like his usual self (“No, Mom, I want a white face with black around my eyes!”), I set to work. I have to say, it felt very strange to apply make up to my son. He did surprisingly well when I put eyeliner around his eyes, too!

spaceface

So serious…

We rushed out the door and got to school in time for Jack to join in the parade. I couldn’t find parking so I did something new – I pulled up to the drop-off curb and let Jack out on his own.

For the first time ever, I let Jack walk up the stairs by himself and I drove away without walking him to class!

It felt weird but Jack was totally fine (of course). *sob* Later in the evening David told me he was proud of Jack, but more proud of me!

I ended up heading back home after realizing the headache from the previous night had turned into a migraine, but I felt proud of myself and my boy. Then I started mentally kicking myself for not getting a picture or staying to watch the parade (thankfully, his other parents got pics of him later in the day) before deciding not to worry about it and going back to bed.

Jack ended up wearing two other costumes for Halloween. He was a “scary scarecrow” for Trick-or-Treating and then some sort of death metal musician with a red cloak. The astronaut was my favorite, though. Somehow that costume felt perfectly appropriate for the milestone of going off to class by himself!

One small step for Jack, one giant leap for mom (or something)…

alienastronaut

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Hey, look! I’m participating in NaBloPoMo! You can, too!

Getting Jack Back

“Mom, I’m starting to get used to myself in the mirror,” Jack told me recently. He further explained that he was feeling better about how he looks with short hair. I told him that’s great! He is a handsome kid no matter what his hair looks like and I’m very happy he can see it.

His appearance is worlds better than it was nine months ago. He’s put a few pounds on since he was first diagnosed (he’s gone from 42lbs to about 45) and his hair is growing back fairly quickly with mostly the same consistency and color as before he lost it. His eyes aren’t as sunken and the circles are there less frequently.

He runs, he climbs, he is mostly back to his old self. He has fewer aches and pains, more energy, and expresses less fear. This was readily apparent on our recent trip to the zoo with some neighbor boys – Jack challenged them to races and climbed a tree with them, too! We were there for four hours and he didn’t even say once that he was tired. *I* was the one who had to nap when we got home.

The Child Life Specialist mentioned that the fact that he is feeling so good is likely part of the reason Jack’s been having difficulty taking his medicines since maintenance began. He LOOKS healthy, he FEELS healthy, so it’s hard for him to feel motivated to take something that tastes terrible and doesn’t make him feel any better. Not to mention the fact that he’s just plain sick of being a cancer crusader – he’s gone back to school and just wants to be a regular kid.

We have a lot of cancer treatments to get through still – two years more – but I’m happy to see that we don’t have to wait that long to have our boy back. We missed him.