Life lessons from a broken tooth

IMG_20160623_143119“There are consequences when you don’t listen.”

I tell my girls this simple, non-threatening phrase at least 10 times every day. Most days, it amounts to nothing more than hot air—they’re being idiots, I utter my mantra, they ignore me, and I take away a Shopkin for 24 (or sometimes 72) hours. Some days, however, I utter the phrase and end up looking like the family travel version of Nostradamus.

We had one of those latter experiences last week in New York City. L had been a bit sloppy all day, and by the afternoon, she was having trouble standing on two feet. By the time we returned to our hotel, she was quite literally jumping off the walls. In flip-flops.

I told her about the consequences and asked her to stop. She didn’t. I repeated my line about consequences and asked her to stop again. She grunted at me. When I mentioned the consequences and asked her to stop a third time, I made sure my tone was even kinder and sweeter than before.

That’s when she slipped, fell face-down on the marble floor of the hotel lobby, and broke off a triangular chunk of her left front (grown-up) tooth.

At the moment of impact, everybody froze. Powerwoman was worried L had hit her head. R was worried she was going to get blamed. I was just sort of dumbfounded. Seconds later, L started crying in a way I’m not sure I’ve heard her cry before. My wife and I tried our best to stay calm, comforting our eldest while we waited for the gushing blood, convinced we were going to have to hop in a cab and rush the kid to a pediatric dentist right then and there. But the blood never came.

In fact, after about three minutes, L quieted down, dried her eyes, and said she felt fine. Just like that, the crisis had passed. The only lasting effect: My kid looked (and still looks) like a (very adorable) pirate.

Thankfully, as we found out later, it was a clean crack—though she lost about half of the tooth, somehow the crack missed the pulp chamber (that’s the part where the nerves are; the part that REALLY hurts if you expose it). Yes, she’ll need reconstructive work on the tooth later this summer. She’ll probably also get a crown on that tooth at some point in her 20s and have it for the rest of her life.

Another thing L will take away: A classic example of those consequences when you don’t listen.

Personally, I consider this the ultimate souvenir. My friend (and kick-ass travel guru) Rachel Rudwall has this theory that everything in life is either a great experience or a great story down the road. I’d say my daughter’s tooth adventures in New York check both of those boxes. For all of us involved.

Vacationing with the Spawn of Satan

Calm, after one of the storms.

Calm, after one of the storms.

When everyone in the family is behaving relatively well, family travel can be one of the most fulfilling experiences as a parent. But when one of your children is in perpetual meltdown mode, a family trip can be downright awful.

Powerwoman and I lived this nightmare for the first three days of our current trip to Oahu. From the moment we landed until almost exactly three days into our trip, L’s “spirit of Aloha” included prolonged temper-tantrums, hitting, biting and more hideousness.

In short, my older daughter was a demon.

As you can imagine, managing her during this dark period was challenging to say the least. We had plenty of the typical traveling-with-a-4-year-old negotiations (“If you eat three spoonfuls of corn, you can color in the giant coloring pad”). We also grappled with yelling, mood swings and paranoia. Minding our little spawn of Satan even had physical ramifications; because the child loves to scratch limbs when she’s frustrated, my biceps look like I’ve been attacked by a small mountain lion.

Thankfully, Powerwoman and I persevered through the misery until L’s behavior improved.  Here are some of the secrets to our (recent) success.

  1. Ignore. It’s tempting to be excessively hands-on while traveling, but the best way to handle freak-outs still is to ignore them. Yes, this meant that my child was the one screaming like a banshee outside the Ali’I Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center earlier in the week. It also meant that each of her major tantrums passed quickly, like tropical squalls.
  2. Be stern (when necessary). There’s a time and place for discipline on the road, and that time and place is different for every family. For us, it all came down to being kind; we raised our voices when L was being intentionally hurtful (usually to her sister), but otherwise kept an even-keeled, almost saccharine tone.
  3. Communicate. When one of the kids is having trouble behaving on the road, Powerwoman and I make a concerted effort to talk with each other about parenting strategies. I admit—I tend to analyze stuff too much (um, hello, I’m a blogger). Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to remind your spouse that you two are teammates. Then, of course, you must play like them.
  4. Remember the big picture. There were times in the early part of this week during which I contemplated flying home early with our offending daughter. Then my wife reminded me: We have two kids. From that point on, for R’s sake, I redoubled my commitment to engineering a FUN vacation, knowing that, eventually, L would come around. Sure enough, she did.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t pass along the stuff that *doesn’t* work. No. 1 on my list: Sarcasm. The few times we applied it with L, she neither understood nor appreciated it as a concept. The use of sarcasm also can be debilitating for the grownups. Yes, in the heat of the moment, Powerwoman and I would ask rhetorically, “Is this really happening right now?” Looking back, though, the question itself was just hot air; the truth is that L’s bad behavior was happening, and the only way we could get past those hiccups was just to continue exploring.

Another no-no for me (and I’ve mentioned this before): The screen as a babysitter. In our family, we believe in disconnecting when away, which means minimal screen time of all kinds. Believe it or not, old-school alternatives such as crayons and paper, books and stuffed animals are just as good today as they have been for generations. Even for kids acting like the spawn of Satan himself.

What types of strategies do you implement when our child acts like the spawn of satan on family trips?

Managing Temper Tantrums on the Road

Calm down, honey; look at the trains!

Calm down, honey; look at the trains!

Unless you’re raising V.I.C.I. from “Small Wonder“, temper tantrums likely are a fact of your current life as a parent. And since kids generally aren’t discriminating about where and when they have these meltdowns, I’m guessing you probably have had to deal with a spaz-out or two on a family vacation.

We’ve got a soon-to-be 4-year-old in our midst, which means we certainly have grappled with our fair share. No matter what the circumstances, they’re never fun. For any of us.

I spent the better part of our last trip paying close attention to what triggered L’s tantrums, and how our reactions exacerbated or alleviated the situation overall. Then, when we got home, I phoned a few child psychologists (and our pediatrician) for some insight.

Based upon this research, here are four tips for dealing with tantrums the next time you’re away.

  • Be (as) flexible (as possible). The last thing you want to do in a foreign place is schlep around a child who’s going to kick and scream every step of the way. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to keep the schedule relatively fluid—that way you have the ability to wait out a temper tantrum should one occur.
  • Fend off exhaustion. Many temper tantrums are triggered by tiredness; this means they are more likely to happen toward the end of the day. Pre-empt major meltdowns with family walks and other activities when exhaustion seems imminent. Post-dinner/pre-bed dance parties almost always work. Sunset-watching sessions are good, too.
  • Deflect, deflect, deflect. One of the most classic ways to end a tantrum is to distract your child from the things that have set him or her off. Travel makes this easy, since new sights and sounds and smells abound. Seize upon stuff that’s free and public: Musicians! Flowers! A fountain! This way you’re not going over budget to keep your kids happy.
  • Avoid punishment. While “time-outs” might help your kids calm down at home, on vacation, with unfamiliar surroundings and shared hotel rooms, this form of discipline may not be as effective (and, in public places, can impact other people’s trips, too). Instead, try “time-ins” during which you calmly talk your child back to normalcy.

There probably are six or seven other items I could add to this list, but these should give you enough of a foundation upon which to build.

The most important thing to remember: Be patient. Temper tantrums are inevitable. Just because you’re on a family vacation doesn’t mean your children are going to stop being children. The quicker you move past them, the more willing you are to take these episodes in stride, the more pleasant your overall family travel will be.

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