Jet Lag Exorcism

L and her Legos. Sometime between 4 and 6 a.m.

L and her Legos. Sometime between 4 and 6 a.m.

We contemplated bringing in some priests this week to save our older daughter from the mysterious entity that had possessed her.

Then, after enduring L’s hitting and kicking and scratching and biting and screaming and writhing around like a maniac, Powerwoman and I realized it wasn’t a demon that possessed our girl, but instead just a really horrid case of jet lag.

We should have seen it coming. That first night—Christmas Eve, actually—she woke up for the day at 2 a.m. On the three nights that followed, she woke up at 4 a.m. In between, the child fought naps as if she were an ultimate fighter and they were an opponent in UFC 168. It was a recipe for cataclysmic disaster.

Everyone told us coming home from England was easy. Stay awake until 8 or 9 p.m. the first few nights, they said, and catching up on the eight hour time difference will be a cinch.

For the grownups, this advice rang true. For the kids, however, it was easier said than done.

I mean, really, how does one force a child to “stay awake,” especially when she is falling asleep on her feet, at the dinner table, in the car, and just about everywhere in between? At what point does the whole drive to beat jet lag become inhumane? What’s more, with kids who are so sensitive to subtle changes in the sleep schedule to begin with, to what extent is it worth bending over backward at all?

Thankfully, today, our kind, creative and loving child reclaimed her body and we called off the exorcism. What we learned over the course of this past week: There’s no way to predict how jet lag will affect your children, and there’s no way to minimize the effects of it on your kids.

I guess I could couch this epiphany another way. Last decade, Sportscaster Dan Patrick coined the phrase, “You can’t stop him, you can only try to contain him.” Patrick meant for those words to describe athletes who left their opponents helpless on defense. He could have been talking about jet lag in relation to kids.

Next time we complete an international flight, we’ll just resign ourselves to a few days of parenting hell. At some point, it has to get easier for all of us. Right?

What are your suggestions for minimizing the effects of jet leg on kids?

The Best Family Travel Product Ever

We. Love. This. Game.

We. Love. This. Game.

After four years of searching, I have found the single best family travel product in the history of family travel products: Rory’s Story Cubes.

Yes, the game/activity is something that can fit in your pants pocket or a stocking (HINT, HINT). Yes, it comprises nothing more than nine dice (or, in the app, nine virtual dice). But the “Cubes” rock because 1) they are so simple and 2) they spark endless creativity in both you AND the kids.

Here’s how the Story Cubes work. Every side of each die has an image. When you roll the dice, you get nine different images facing skyward. Then you have to tell a story that incorporates each one.

According to the official game rules, it doesn’t matter which image you choose to begin your story, so long as you touch ‘em all before you’re done. And, of course, the wackier the story, the better (which is particularly why 4-year-old L loves this game so much).

The company behind the product, Belfast-based The Creativity Hub, also regularly publishes suggestions from fans and customers of alternative ways to play.

(Also, for the record, the game comes in two other versions: Actions and Voyages.)

Because the parent company is based in Ireland, it’s fitting that we discovered the game at the cottage we rented last week on the Connemara coast. We had plenty of games from which to choose, including Ker-Plunk, Operation and more. Time and time again, we went for the Cubes.

When we returned to London, I purchased the app (for Android; no Apple products in this family). Since then, none of us has been able to stop playing. (Also, since then, I’ve connected with the game creator, Rory O’Connor, on Twitter.)

Because I’m not a fan of unnecessary screen time for kids, I prefer the dice you can shake in your hand and throw. That said, I admit that the Smartphone and tablet versions are great because you can play them in environments that aren’t exactly conducive to throwing dice (namely, on planes during long flights and in cars on road trips).

Whichever version you choose ($7.65 on Amazon.com; $2.25 for the Android app), consider this sucker a must-buy. And have a blast.

What are your favorite games/products to bring along when you travel with the kids?

Baby Steps with Behavior on Planes

R, during happier times en route.

R, during happier times en route.

The meltdown came with about 75 minutes left in our flight home. Somewhere over the Pacific, thousands of miles east of Honolulu, where the flight began, R, our baby, went berserk.

We weren’t entirely sure what set her off. Perhaps it was exhaustion. Perhaps it was a slight-but-noticeable change in cabin pressure. Perhaps it was the sight of the setting sun from above the clouds, a beautiful-but-blinding spectacle that, to her 20-month-old eyes, must have been bright and shiny and cool and scary all at the same time.

Whatever triggered the freak-out, the poor girl went nuts. I mean, NUTS.

Shrieks. Tears. Kicks. Slaps. At one point, she was crying so hard we thought she might puke. At another point, she “went boneless” in the middle of the aisle like only babies can. (Some of you might call this “pancaking.” If you’re David Stern, perhaps you prefer the term, “flopping.”)

For 15 minutes, we were that family—the one with the wailing kid, the one that family travel-haters love to hate.

In the middle of the insanity, I looked up to count dirty looks. I lost track after 16.

And they were all unjustified. It’s not like we were just sitting there drinking free Mai-Tais, blatantly abrogating our responsibility as parents. I tried shushing R first, and when it became evident she didn’t want Daddy, I handed her to Powerwoman and tended to L (who was having a psychosomatic/jealousy freak-out of her own). My wife took the baby and walked to the rear of the airplane, where she bopped her in the galley until calmness returned.

Yes, my baby was a raving lunatic for 15 minutes during our flight home from Hawaii. You know why? BECAUSE SHE IS A BABY. As I’ve written previously, when you fly with children, it almost a given that, at some point during the flight, they will act like children. This is not a catastrophe. It’s biology. It’s reality.

It’s also a perfect reason to focus on the positives. Little R, the object of 15 minutes of ire, also was a little angel for 4 hours and 15 minutes of that same flight. By my math, this means she cried for 5.5 percent of the trip home.

For any parent, this kind of performance is a resounding success. And until the kiddos are old enough to know better, we’ll take all the forward progress we can get.

Family Travel + Fatherhood = Life as a Sherpa

 

Par for the course.

Par for the course.

Magnus Ver Magnusson has nothing on me. Sure, the dude has won four of those “World’s Strongest Man” competitions. And, yes, he can do crazy-ass stuff like drag a car with his bare hands and lift kegs full of lead (or something like that). I’m sure he could even bench-press all 185 pounds of my Italian-Jewish self, without so much as breaking a sweat.

That said, there is NO WAY the Icelandic He-Man can carry more crap than I carry on Villano family vacations.

Whenever we go away (and despite my steadfast beliefs in equal parenting and obliterating traditional gender roles), I automatically assume the role of Sherpa, schlepping everything from suitcases to diaper bags, car seats to inflatable pools.

Most of the time, I’m also carrying the baby.

Like competing for the title of World’s Strongest Man, these efforts require a number of sophisticated skills. For starters, they require strong fingers, especially when you’re carrying a grocery bag on each one. Second, they require balance; it’s hard work fumbling for keys when you’re lugging a suitcase and a 20-month old with the other hand.

Finally, being the family bellhop requires a good sense of humor, since inevitably you will find yourself pushing a plastic shopping cart of princess dolls through a crowded airport.

For years, I thought this phenomenon was something only I experienced. Then, this past weekend, at a party celebrating L’s fourth birthday, I found myself in a circle with three other dads, talking about family travel. And the truth came out.

One dad talked of a recent trip during which he was tasked with carrying seven suitcases by himself. “I was holding one with my teeth,” he admitted proudly.

Another Dad joked about the ridiculousness that ensues when he and his wife travel with their twins—and the boys’ twin car seats. “We have these special car seat bags you can wear like backpacks,” he said. “I usually wear one on the front and one on the back.”

The more the four of us shared, the more we all realized we were in the same exact boat.

Which, of course, begs the question: Why? Why is it that family travel + fatherhood = life as a Sherpa? Why does a vacation with kids prompt us dudes to do our best Magnus Ver Magnusson impressions? Most important, if we dads always are carrying the majority of gear on family vacations, why aren’t we more ripped?

I’m not suggesting that our wives carry more stuff. I’m also not saying that we all should hire full-time servants like the family on “Downton Abbey.” Really, I think it’s time we dads got our own television show—the modern-day, daddy-centric version of World’s Strongest Man.

The concept is simple: Over the course of a season, the dad who lugs the most stuff through a busy airport—without dropping it—wins a title.

If the show were serialized, I’d watch every week. And with more practice (which, BTW, totally would benefit my family on trips), I might even compete. If I close my eyes, I can almost see the Wikipedia page now: “Matt Villano, World’s Strongest Traveling Dad.” Who needs a Pulitzer with a distinction like that?

Next Stop: Babyland

Long live paper maps.

Long live paper maps.

Call me old-school. Call me a Luddite. Heck, go ahead and call me a loser, I don’t care. I like paper maps. And I plan to share this passion with my travel-loving kids. No matter what.

The maps are sort of everywhere. Each child has one on the wall in her room. We raid the local AAA store and get “research” maps before every big road trip. Occasionally, instead of building with blocks or coloring, we’ll just unfold a map of the U.S. and talk about states.

Our latest endeavor transpired this week. In the first official effort to give the girls a better sense of where on the planet we’ll be when we move to London, I bribed them with mini marshmallows and invited them to join me for an up-close-and-personal session with a world map from Little Passports.

The two of them internalized the session in different ways.

R, who is 20 months at this point and already is learning her colors, pointed to every blue nation and proudly screamed, “Blue!” as loud as she could.

L, who turns 4 on Tuesday, fixated on distances. On one hand, she was fascinated by how far England is from home (here in California), and asked me repeatedly to trace the likely flight arc of our plane. On the other hand, she couldn’t get over how close London is to Paris; when I told her we’d take a train between the two, she reacted as if I told her we’d ride unicorns.

The “lessons” lasted out for about 30 minutes total; after that I had to wash some dishes so I left the girls to play on their own.

That’s when Babyland was born.

For L, this magical place was the perfect destination for little sisters—a place where toddlers would feel at home. It was an island oasis. For babies. In the middle of the Indian Ocean.

Naturally, this was no ordinary island. As L explained it to R, in Babyland, people eat strawberry yogurt with every meal, dance to Bruno Mars at all hours of the day or night, and never leave home without at least two stuffed kittens.

She added that in Babyland, ladybugs can talk. And they all know you by name.

Many of these facts were still making their way into my notepad when I looked up to spot L with a purple crayon, drawing a flight arc that stretched to Babyland from London. She explained to her sister how planes would follow that route, and how, someday, the four of us would take one of those planes and see it all for ourselves.

L kept talking, and R listened quietly, hanging on every word. I put my pen down and listened, too.  After about five minutes, my cheeks hurt from smiling so much. Long live paper maps.

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