Family travel through her eyes

Chilling.

With three kids under the age of 8, it’s easy for Powerwoman and me to get caught up in planning trips around the bigger girls and not the baby.

Earlier this week, however, 15-month-old Baby G made sure I saw a family daytrip to our favorite Sonoma County beach from her point of view. The experience made me a better traveler, a better dad, and a better man. It also made me laugh.

The specifics are almost irrelevant—the big kids had off from school so I took the three of them out to Goat Rock State Beach, our favorite (despite its tendency to receive rogue waves). Because it was windy and the waves were big, I carried Baby G in the backpack while I monitored the whereabouts of her bigger sisters up the beach. After about an hour, however, the baby wanted out.

I obliged at lunch, when we set up a picnic blanket near the dunes and ate while we watched the waves.

That’s when it happened. After lunch, the big kids were clamoring to head down the beach to look for beach glass, but I didn’t want to go. I gave Baby G the option of getting back into the backpack or just hanging with me on the blanket. She very clearly slapped the blanket and grunted. She wanted to stay.

So we stayed. I sat her on my lap. We marveled at waves. We pointed at gulls. We played with sand. All told the two of us probably sat there, just enjoying the beach, for the better part of 45 minutes. She didn’t fuss or whine once. She didn’t complain about the wind. She didn’t even insist on peas, which she usually does at picnic lunches. In short, the baby was completely enraptured. As was I.

I’ve probably written about it 100 times, but this particular experience was yet another in the litany of experiences that taught me to slow down even more and take the time to appreciate life on the road.

Travel isn’t always easy—especially with kids. But I do know that in this case a little bit of extra effort went incredibly far with our baby, which is always a good scenario to cultivate.

Walking like a pro

Conquering the plaza

Conquering the plaza

The big news from our world over the last few weeks is that Powerwoman and I now are the proud parents of three fully ambulatory human beings.

Allow me to translate that for you: Baby G is walking up a storm.

The littlest Villano isn’t just meandering here and there. Instead, girl is marching with purpose, often leaving her sisters and me in the dust. In practice, this can be difficult to manage, as the baby is always a few steps ahead of us old fogies. In theory, however, it’s a harbinger of great times to come, since we clearly have added a third adventuresome daughter to the mix.

Our new status as a family with three ambulating kids means our travel experiences will be completely different from here on out. Less stroller time. Less backpack time. More time with everyone on foot.

So far—thankfully, I might add—the big girls have taken to keeping tabs on their little sister, often holding G’s hands when we’re out and about. When the big sisters aren’t around to hold the baby’s hands, Powerwoman and I happily oblige.

It will be interesting to see how these trends continue on our next big trip: Disneyland. Will L and R take the time to look after their sister at a theme park? Will G be overwhelmed by the rides and crowds and not want to walk around on her own? These all are questions we’ll be able to resolve over the next few weeks.

In the meantime, Powerwoman and I fully intend simply to enjoy the ride.

G is still in that wonderful stage where walking is so new that everything she sees while she’s ambulating is amazing and great and wonderful. She could see the same stuff in a stroller and not care at all. On her own two feet, however, look out!

How did your kids’ ambulation change your family travels?

Three lessons from our first flights with three kids

We got home a few hours ago from our first official airplane trip as a family of five—and all of us lived to talk about it. But because family travel is so organic, because every trip is different, Powerwoman and I learned some new things about flying with our brood. Here are three of the most salient lessons.

You can never be too prepared

This was the third round of the whole flying-with-baby thing, and Powerwoman and I thought we had everything covered with extra diapers, extra wipes, extra outfits, and plenty of pacifiers. What we neglected to remember was that our big girls might need backups, too. Imagine our surprise, then, when L spilled an entire glass of apple juice on her sister at breakfast this morning. Thankfully, we were able to find the ONLY kiosk at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) with kid-sized pants AND kid-sized shirts (the girls opted for bedazzled numbers; they are ridiculous). Still, for about an hour of searching and calming a wet and upset Little R, we were not exactly jazzed about the oversight. The lesson: Always bring a pair of backup clothes for every child, no matter how “big” you think the big ones might be.

Shrieking and crying are two different things

Baby G’s nickname has become The Happiest Baby on Earth. Just because she’s happy, however, doesn’t mean she’s quiet. About a week before we left on our New York adventure, G rolled out a new habit of shrieking. She practiced this shriek again and again over the course of both flights. At first Powerwoman and I were nervous about what fellow passengers would say. It turns out that shrieking bothers other travelers a heck of a lot less than crying. In fact, most of the other passengers (except for one crotchety old man) laughed when she shrieked, even going to far as to comment about how much it seemed she was enjoying the flight. The lesson: Just because your baby is noisy on a flight doesn’t mean it’s going to irritate other people.

In a pinch, airplane food doesn’t suck

Normally I like to bring TONS of food on plane flights to control what the girls eat. This time, however, we were rushing to get out of the house to catch our flight from San Francisco International Airport to EWR and I left most of the best snacks in the refrigerator at home. Of course I didn’t discover my blunder until we were on the actual airplaine. D’oh! Once I stopped berating myself for this mistake, I accepted that the only alternative was airplane food. And it wasn’t bad. We opted for a bunch of cheese plates, which came with grapes and apples. No, the kids weren’t stuffed to the gills, but the food provided ample nutrition until we landed in Newark and were able to get other stuff. The lesson: Sometimes, even with the pickiest eaters, airplane food is enough to sustain you.

I could go on and on about other lessons from the flights but these were the three that stuck out most. For you, dear readers, I hope the general takeaway is that even we “experts” still learn stuff. Nobody’s perfect. That’s one of the things that makes family travel so much fun.

What lessons have you learned about flying as your family has grown?

Embracing the art of surrender

Surrendering to these two and their sister.

Surrendering to these two and their sister.

It’s been about two weeks since Baby G was born, and everyone keeps asking me how Powerwoman and I are adjusting to life as the parents of three. The short answer is: We’re getting there. The long answer is a bit more raw: Holy shit, you guys, this transition is f-ing hard.

How else to explain this crazy phenomenon of now being responsible for THREE little humans instead of two?

First have been the logistical challenges. Another child means a third set of needs we parents need to meet. It also means that Powerwoman and I must establish a brand new rhythm and cadence to parenting; we had become really good at balancing two, now there’s another kid in that mix. (Some people call this “zone defense” instead of “man-to-man defense,” but I find that analogy sexist and downright lame.)

Then there have been the intangible challenges. The typical hormonal stuff (for both mom and dad) that comes with postpartum life. The emotional challenges of two big sisters working out their own feelings about sharing attention.

Finally there have been the work challenges. While Powerwoman is on maternity leave through April 1, I’m essentially back to a full work schedule. Or at least I should be.

(I work at night, so it’s actually been a blessing to have one parent awake to deal with Baby G in the wee hours. That said, it is hard to focus on writing when you’re sharing an 85-square-foot office with an adorable and wide-awake baby.)

I’d describe my state of mind most times as OVERWHELMED. And I’m not ashamed of saying it.

I had spent the better part of this week feeling stressed about the situation. That’s when I ran into a neighbor who doubles as a Zen master (seriously) and is expecting *his* third child next year.

This neighbor shared with me some philosophy one of his friends told him. In a nutshell, the philosophy revolves around the notion of surrendering to the situation and letting go. According to this line of reasoning, there’s no way to change the amount of logistical and emotional demands afoot in our family right now, so instead of fighting them, I simply need to give in to them, to surrender.

Trust me, it’s not easy to do this—especially not when all three kids are crying at once or an editor is harassing me to file that story that was due three days ago. But the philosophy of “surrender” truly works wonders; when I remind myself to let go, I feel less stressed and barely overwhelmed at all.

Sometimes, in very high-pressure situations, I’ll even say it out loud to myself, just as a reminder to chill.

The best thing about the philosophy of “surrender” is that it applies to just about everything in life. Parenthood. Work. Social situations. Everything.

In the world of travel, the lesson is that every family traveler could stand to surrender a little more in his or her adventures on the road. We all get worked up—about delays, cranky kids, hotel sleeping situations. Surrendering to those of these things you can’t control can help make them seem less daunting/irritating/vexing.

I’m still learning how to surrender. But embracing this perspective as I approach my new life as a father of three sure has made it easier. The friend of my friend is totally right: The more we surrender, the better off we’ll all be.

A letter to our daughter

G and me.

G and me.

Dear Baby G:

You’re here! Welcome to the world and, more important, to the all-girl band that is our family, or pod.

Your mother and sisters and I are so delighted you’ve arrived. Technically, Mom and I waited nine months for you. But really, we’ve been anticipating your arrival for almost as long as we’ve been married. Your mom is the youngest of three sisters. It’s a distinction she now shares with you.

People often say they “have no words” at momentous times like this. I’m a writer, so that’s never really the case with me. In the immediate future, I’m overjoyed to get to introduce another little human to this thing called life, to watch you marvel at the murmurations of starlings and pucker with disgust when you try pureed parsnip for the first time. I can’t wait for you to get to know your sisters—those crazy kids who keep poking and prodding at your cheeks and chin. I’m stoked to read to you and inspire in you a love of language and listening and cadence and literacy. Down the road, and really more than anything, Baby G, I’m overjoyed at the thought of showing you all of the varied places and people that live on our planet.

In our family, you see, travel is a way of being. Sure, we have a house and bedrooms and regular routines, but we also make sure that, as a family, we regularly experience life beyond the stuff we know best. Foreign places. Unfamiliar people. Unusual cultures. We’re open to it all. Your mom and I believe the mere act of exploring and learning about things that are different from what we know and love helps broaden our minds, widen our perspectives, and temper our judgment.

With this in mind, we always will strive to teach you girls to consider the larger world around us and lean on lessons from that world to make a difference closer to home.

You’ll hear people sum up this philosophy as, “Think globally; Act locally.” To some degree, that catchphrase is apt. Unfortunately, though, in today’s world, many people have become so obsessed with the big picture that they fail to see the changes they can make on a smaller scale. Just this week, another new dad, Mark Zuckerberg, penned a letter to his new daughter, and the note read more like a treatise on global change. I don’t fault this other dad for the sentiment behind his note—broad-sweeping issues such as advancing human potential and promoting equality are important, this dad has a ton of money, and he’s willing to give a lot of his money to make the world a better place. I just believe the secret to real change is focusing on the simpler stuff first.

And so, G, on the first day of your second week of life, I make of you five requests:

  1. Be present. Physically, mentally, AND emotionally, be in the moment, always. When friends and family need you, be there for them, both with listening ears and warm hugs. As you inevitably incorporate technology into your life, do not allow your Smartphone screen (or any other device, for that matter) come between you and the ones you love. Even if you’re upset or angry about something, never let those feelings prevent you from giving others what they need when they need it most.
  2. Be patient. Not everything in life goes the way you want it to go. In these moments of frustration and disillusionment, instead of losing your temper, instead of raising your voice, breathe deeply, “cool your heat” (as the therapists like to say), and give others another chance. If a friend of family member really screws up, forgive them, again and again and again. Always take the time to try and help others learn from their mistakes.
  3. Be kind. The way we treat others says a lot about how we love ourselves. With this in mind, I ask you to approach all interpersonal interactions with thoughtfulness and respect. When you don’t understand another person’s point of view, seek to discuss it with an open mind. When you meet someone different, do not judge that person on those differences, but instead on how he or she treats you and others. Even in the face of evil, remember that all humans deserve dignity.
  4. Be humble. Your mom and I will tell you a billion times how great we think you are. Don’t let it go to your head. Just because we think you’re amazing doesn’t mean others will feel the same way. Just because we’ll work to give you every opportunity under the sun doesn’t mean you’re entitled to the opportunities you receive. Constantly strive to be a better person. Work hard for everything you want. Take nothing for granted. Appreciate every chance to grow.
  5. Be curious. The world is a wonderfully eclectic place, and the only way you’re going to experience that diversity is if you seek it out. When you meet new people, ask questions. When you see new places, explore. When you have the opportunity dig deeper and learn more information about something—anything, really—read, then read, and read some more. Knowledge is the most precious gift in this life. You can never have too much.

Yes, Sweet Baby, in comparison to those macro issues such as advancing human potential and promoting equality, the concepts of being present, patient, kind, humble, and curious are small potatoes. But IMHO, in today’s world, the micro issues are even MORE important. Do them right and you’ll transform your world by the way you interact with others every day. Do them wrong and you’ll contribute negatively to some of the problems we’ve already got.

Someday, maybe you’ll have the financial resources and individual fortitude to take on some of the global issues like the ones that other dad mentioned in the note to his baby. Until then, this dad encourages you to love, give, tolerate, support, teach, help, nurture, and understand. These are my hopes for you and your generation, Baby G. In an era when parts of our world are brimming with hate, violence, and intolerance, we must start small and go from there. Your mom and I are excited to watch you on this journey, and will support you every step of the way.

Love,
Dad

Introducing the newest member of the pod

L and R meet Baby G.

L and R meet Baby G.

She’s here! She’s here! The newest member of our pod arrived Monday around 7:30 a.m., and we couldn’t be happier to welcome her into the gang. (I’m actually writing this post from the hospital.)

As you know if you’ve read this blog for a while, I don’t believe in publishing any identifying information about my kids on the Internet. I will, however, tell you this, the baby’s first name starts with the letter G, so here on these pages she’ll be known as Baby G.

Big sisters L and R are delighted to have another little human to boss around dote on. As for we grownups, Powerwoman and I are stoked about introducing another little one to the world. We’ve got a few trips on the horizon—some we both have been planning/tossing around for a while, others that will come as a surprise to some (more on that around Christmas time).

In other words, we’re stoked to get this baby home, watch her grow a bit, then get back out on the road.

With that in mind, consider yourselves warned: Over the next year or so I’ll be writing a number of posts that spotlight the challenges and wonders of traveling with a little one again. Some of the perspective will be a fresh take on the same old issues—diapers and swaddling and hotel cribs and lap children. The rest of it will be entirely new; after all, now we’re a Party of Five.

So stay tuned. Hopefully the adjustment period for you, dear readers, is easier than it undoubtedly will be for us. I promise we’ll keep it real.

Growing the pod

Me, with L, six years ago. Ready to do it again!

Me, with L, six years ago. Ready to do it again!

Look up at the masthead of this fair blog and you’ll notice something new: a fifth dorsal fin. This isn’t just an example of artistic expression. Any day now, we’re expecting another daughter.

I’ve made a few subtle references to the new arrival over the last few months, but consider this the first official word. The Wandering Pod is growing. And that’s a wonderful, awesome, exciting, terrifying, crazy, and unbelievable thing. (As we like to tell our friends, we’re either really committed parents, or we’re fucking insane.)

Baby G, as we’ll call her, already has caused quite a stir. As part of an effort to convert my former home office into her room, I hired a crew to build me a new home office in the back corner of our garage. Then we redid floors and carpets, and painted a bunch of stuff (including the baby’s new room; very trippy to see those walls purple). We bought a minivan (more on that later this week). Earlier this week, I fetched the crib and changing table out of storage and put those back together. We even sanitized some pacifiers.

Of course all of these changes pale in comparison to how this little human will transform the way we Villanos travel. For starters, whenever we fly we once again will get to use my least favorite word in the modern English language: LAPCHILD. Next, after two years of traveling diaper-free, we’ll have to schlep diapers and wipes wherever we go. We’ll need to get back in the habit of requesting cribs at hotels. Also, every night around 5 p.m., either Powerwoman or I will disappear from the face of vacation for a while to get the kid to sleep (which means a new travel pre-bed ritual for the bigger girls, who, as of this writing, are 6 and 4).

These changes are only the beginning. Gate-checked strollers. Ergo baby carriers. Breast pumps. We’ll have to whip them all out again and work them all back into the repertoire.

I’d love to stand here and tell you I’m looking forward to most of these changes. The truth, however, is that I’m not—our pod has established some good routines over the last few years, and changing them undoubtedly will be a challenge.

I am interested to see how L and R respond to traveling with a baby. Up until this point, they’ve been the focal points of every trip; how will they fare when they’re sharing our attention with a needy little one? Logistics will be a learning curve, as well—when Baby G wakes up at 2 a.m. in a hotel room in Anaheim (or Kapalua or Seattle or Chicago or Victoria, B.C.) wanting to eat, will L and R wake up, too?

Don’t mistake these doubts and questions as fear; I’m really not worried. Millions of multi-child families have dealt with these issues before us, and millions will deal with them after. Instead, I’d describe my state of mind as curious: In the months following our expansion into an all-girl band, how will our travel style change?

One thing is certain: Whatever happens, you’ll read about it here. So stick around. Stay tuned. And get ready for a bigger, bolder, and better Wandering Pod.

How has a growing family changed your travel style?

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