Friday, October 1, 2010

My Solo Parenting Journey

I previously wrote that I was doing the solo parenting thing a bit lately. I knew I'd be doing it more and could handle it. But in the second week of being the sole parent, I realized I was going to be taking both kids down to visit my inlaws BY MYSELF! We would meet Londo down there, but the 7 hour trip (5.5 without-kids trip) would be me, a 3 year old and a 1 year old. That was when I really started to feel overwhelmed, both by the solo parenting and by the idea of taking the car trip with the kids on my own.

So I did what any parenting blogger in my position would do: I reached out to another blogger who would have some good advice. In this case, I knew that Kristen wrote a column called The Sometimes Single Mom, so I tweeted her and asked if she had any posts she'd recommend in particular for what I was going through already and any for taking a solo trip with kids.

Not only did Kristen give me links to a few posts to help me in the solo parenting in general, but she even wrote up a post just to answer my question about taking a solo parenting trip! Isn't she awesome? And have I mentioned that I love the internet, especially this online community of parenting bloggers and commenters?

And now, I will share with you all how I did the 7 hour car trip on a holiday weekend with two kids by myself. Feel free to pat me on the back any time you'd like. ;-)

Because we were going down for Labor Day weekend, a major travel holiday at least in my area, I took off Friday and planned to leave early in the morning. Really early. So early that I packed up almost everything the night before and staged it all by the front door so I could load it all in the car first thing in the morning.

Here's what I packed:
  • my bag of clothes
  • my bag of toiletries (last minute items packed in the morning)
  • the kids' bag of clothes
  • the kids' bag of toiletries (toothbrushes, medicines, etc.)
  • a box of diapers and wipes
  • the kiddie potty (for emergencies on the car trip)
  • bag with crib sheets and blankets for the Pookie
  • bag of toys and books for the Pumpkin (she helped me pick them out and pack them)
  • bag of toys and books for the Pookie
  • car bag of quiet toys for the Pumpkin (I packed this as a surprise, and it included a doodle pad, a sticker book and a couple action figures) (the Pookie already has some car toys in the car)
  • my diaper bag
  • a bag with clothes for the day and the kids' toiletries bag (for our breakfast stop)
  • a bag of food for our destination (foods we are sure are peanut-free and made in peanut-free facilities)
  • a bag of food for the car (snack foods for the kids and me)
  • a cooler with cups of milk and baby yogurt
  • the double stroller

    It was a lot of stuff. There was a point in my life when I traveled light (like when I backpacked around Europe). That point is over. I know travel with kids and need to be prepared.

    You may not realize what is missing from that list. The DVD player. That is because it was in Londo's car at our destination. So I had to make the trip without the DVD player to help me through. Luckily, I do have a bunch of kids CDs in my car.

    So almost all the bags are packed and by the front door. I stayed up until 11:30 getting it all packed. I woke up with my alarm at 4:30, quickly got myself ready for the day, fed and let out the dog, packed all the last minute items (my toiletries and the cooler) and then I packed up the car. I finished packing the car, put the dog in her crate (my mom was picking her up later that morning to stay at her house while we were gone), and went up to get the kids by 5:00.

    I had prepped the Pumpkin the day before. She knew it was going to be a "super silly morning!" and what was going to happen, and in what order. First, I got up the very sleepy Pumpkin, put her on the potty with only the nightlight as our light, washed her hands, and carried her out to the car. I strapped her into her car seat, made sure she was safe and sound, and went back in the house. Then, I got the very sleepy Pookie out of his crib, changed his diaper, got the dolphin he sleeps with (or rather, I keep in his crib while he is sleeping), and carried him out to the car, locking the front door as I went. I strapped him into his car seat (still rear-facing, so they can look at each other), made sure he was comfy, got in the drivers seat, and off we went! We were on the road by 5:30!

    My hope was that they would fall back asleep, all snug in their pajamas in the moving car while it was still dark out. That didn't happen. It was too unusual of a situation, I think. There was newness, excitement and general awakeness. BUT they WERE sleepy, so they both just hung out in their carseats for about an hour.

    So they didn't sleep for the first hour. I figured I should stop for gas then just in case they actually did fall asleep after that. We went in for a bathroom break also, and I gave the kids milk and snacks in the car. We got back on the road.

    At about 7:30, they still weren't sleeping, and the snacks weren't enough. It was time to stop for breakfast. We went into a McD's, since I feel comfortable with them being peanut-free. I washed and dressed the kids in the bathroom, and we sat down for breakfast. Me and the two kids. Having breakfast on our road trip. It was actually a lot of fun.

    When we got back in the car, I put on the kids music. The Pumpkin loves music--heck so does the Pookie! So we enjoyed that for a while. Not too long after, the Pookie fell asleep. I pulled out the sticker book and action figures for the Pumpkin to play with quietly while the Pookie slept. I was able to keep her quiet and let the baby sleep for about 45 minutes. But then she was getting frustrated about something and wouldn't stay quiet, and that was it for any sleeping in the car the rest of the trip.

    We did one more bathroom stop, but the rest of the trip was really uneventful. The kids played with car toys, looked out the window, listened to music. The Pumpkin and I also sang, which entertained the Pookie.

    They were really well-behaved in the car. I will never forget the 1.5-2 years of difficult car trips when the Pumpkin was a baby and couldn't stand the carseat. It was so hard to visit relatives or friends or go on vacation, because she was so miserable. But now? She is a champ in the car! And luckily, the Pookie hasn't had a problem with the car.

    When we were driving in the mountains, getting very close to my inlaws' town, I started pointing out the forests, mountains, rocks and valleys. I would call out what I saw and point to it. So then the Pumpkin started doing that for her brother. And then the Pookie starting vocalizing and pointing out his window. I just thought it was so cute!

    I feel like there should be more to this tale, but it went pretty smooth and we had a lot of fun. Our stops went well, and the kids seemed to be entertained and had fun. When we got to my inlaws' house, Londo was there to greet us and help get us and all our stuff into the house. We ate lunch, and then I took a nap.

    So, it turns out: being the the solo parent on a car trip with two kids can go pretty smoothly. I think the keys things are:
  • Plan the timing that will work best for you and your kids. Usually, Londo and I do the trips at least partially at night so the kids will fall asleep in the car (we did this on the way back). But I knew that I'd be too tired to drive at night, so I decided on a morning trip.
  • Pack almost everything in advance. That way you are less likely to forget anything important. And it makes leaving the house more smooth at any time.
  • Pack toys or other entertainment items for the car ride. My girl loved having a special "car bag" next to her.
  • Keep the things you need for yourself and the kids REALLY handy. I was so glad I had the following handy: the snack foods in little bowls with lids, the sippy cups of milk, the car toys, the CDs with kids music and snacks for me.
  • Prepare the kids for the journey. I told my girl ahead of time to make sure she knew what to expect, what may happen, what wasn't going to happen, and the general timing of everything, especially that the trip was going to be LONG. That really helped things to smoothly.

    Now that I've done this once, I find the idea a lot less intimidating. Now I know that just because Londo might not be able to go somewhere, that doesn't have to stop me from going with the kids. I'm already planning lots of beach trips for next summer!
  • Tuesday, September 28, 2010

    Question of the Week - What Can You Do Now?

    Before the 3.5 period of disequilibrium gets any worse, I want to write something good about my girl's age! And also the 15 month age of my son, before any disequilibrium strikes!

    The caramama family had such a great weekend this weekend (for the most part). Saturday was an especially good day. The four of us had a lovely morning, playing around and cleaning up and setting up for a card game. Then some of Londo's college buddies came over, some with wives and kids.

    You see, before kids, we all got together for cards once a month, usually at our house or my husband's BFF's house. We were the first of this group to have a kid, and since the Pumpkin's birth, the regularity of the games had gone way down. But now that other people are having kids, and now that our kids are getting older and a bit more self-sustainable, we are hoping to get back into having regular games.

    Mostly, the wives/girlfriends don't play, and that was true before any had kids. One other female college friend and myself are usually the only women playing. And that's been a struggle for Londo and I over the past few years, because one of us either can't go or we take turns watching the kid(s). More often, it was me not going or not playing cards, because this is Londo's group of college friends, although I knew them at college. I would insist that Londo either play the whole time or at least most of the time, because it's an outlet that he really enjoys. Plus I'd be leaving to nurse the babies and try to get them to nap and whatnot.

    Anyway, my point is that the games were tough to do over the last 3.5 years.

    This past Saturday, we had the game at our house. It is a kid-friendly house, so wives came and a couple other babies came. After everyone got settled in, I put the Pookie down for his nap. At that time, I went with a couple other women on a walk with the Pumpkin and one of the babies. After the walk, it was time for the Pumpkin to have a rest (of course not nap), and so she sat on the couch watching a show while the ladies played with the baby.

    And I went and played cards!

    As the day continued on, both my kids were in and out of the dining room where the game was, often sitting with us, playing or eating. At one point, the Pumpkin went up to her room and brought down her dress up stuff. She and her brother then played with the dresses, shoes, beaded necklaces, feather boas, etc. at the edge of the dining room while Londo and I gave help here and there and continued playing.

    It was really neat! This is how life continues once you are out of the baby stage! This is how you incorporate the kids into your lives as adults! Now that our kids are old enough, we can now get together with our friends and continue to enjoy grown-up activities while they play together and play around us!

    So this week's question of the week is:

    What can you do now that your kids are the age they are now?

    Now that the Pookie is over a year, has been weaned and doesn't even need milk to go to bed, Londo and I take turns putting him to bed. This is such a relief for me. When I put the Pumpkin to bed, I no longer am putting them both to bed (unless Londo is working late or out of town). And a couple of times, Londo has put them both to bed! Not only is this a relief in general, but it also means that I can go away for an upcoming weekend with a girlfriend and possibly my sister!

    As for the Pumpkin, she's just capable of so much now. But my favorite? Over the last few months, I've been able to do an amazing thing: Take a nap while my daughter is with me!

    Now, let me break this down for you all. Let's say it's just me watching the kids, solo parenting. It's the weekend, and I'm tired. I put the Pookie down for his nap, and he's going to be out for 1.5 hours or more. Ideally, this is the time my daughter, who is NOT going to nap, should be resting. So I put on a TV show, something she hasn't seen a million times so it will actually hold her interest. Maybe I also set her down at the table with puzzles or with those markers that only color on the special paper.

    And then? I lie down on the couch and take a little nap! My daughter even pulls up the blanket over me and gives me a kiss. She may wake me up between shows to tell me that one is over or which the next one is, but she generally lets me sleep.

    It. Is. Awesome!

    This is not something I could really do before. But now that she is old enough to understand what's going on, now that she doesn't need constant attention, now that she does fine playing or watching a show on her own, now that she is used to being around a bunch of kids napping while she stays awake, my taking a nap during the day around her is possible!

    What about you guys? What are you able to do now that you couldn't do before? Are you able to do any pre-kid activities? Are your kids a little more self-sufficient? Can you sneak a nap in or hand over a bedtime? What's great about your kids' ages?