Thursday, February 25, 2010

It's The Journey

(I wrote this for a web site a year and a half ago when we last traveled to Hawaii, but the same applies as we make our way by airplane today...)

Door to door it was 16 hours. It was me, my four year old son, and 4800 miles of land and ocean to cross

My dad lives on the Big Island of Hawaii, we live in Maryland, and the only way from here to there is strapped inside a small metallic tube dashing across the atmosphere at 550 miles per hour. Though we are a TV-free family in the sense that we do not even own a television, we do allow the occasional family movie night with my son. Many well meaning friends brought over DVD’s and one even loaned us a portable DVD player complete with head phones. I was told with stern looks that this was vital for our journey. So on the night before our flight I sat staring at two piles, trying to decide which one should be put in my carry-on bag. The first pile was my mommy survival pile for a long flight. Sticker books, a toy airplane set, new art supplies and a note pad, stamp ink and some new stamps, a roll up chalk mat and letter dice, an eye spy bag, a dollar store travel game, and a huge pile of new books. Add to that a variety of snacks and two water bottles. The second pile was my life raft, a portable DVD player, a case of videos, and an iPod.

So which one to take? Truth be told I packed them both. I decided to try my hardest to make this trip video free, but I would have the movies on hand just in case. Friends gave me incredulous looks when I told them my plan. Why make it hard on yourself? What’s the big deal if he watches some videos on the airplane? Even grown-ups get stir crazy and bored on long plane trips, so why torture yourselves?

The reason I didn’t want to rely on videos to get us through this plane trip is the same reason I don’t use TV to get us through childhood. I want my son to learn how to be with himself, use his imagination, and pass the time without needing to plug in his brain. I don’t want TV or videos to be the norm or the expectation for long trips or rainy afternoons at home. It should be the exception not the rule. It should be a family treat, an occasional educational tool, not a crutch.

At home it’s a snap. The whole world is at our disposal, why on earth would we want to sit idly by and watch television? But being buckled into a Boeing 777 shoulder to shoulder with 200 strangers is a different story. So I lugged my carry-on, laden with books and videos wondering which would prevail.

Our first leg from Baltimore to Chicago was a snap. We left at the crack of dawn, and Zach was still in his sleepy mode. He was happy to snuggle into a seat, do sticker books, and ask a million and a half 4-year old questions about airplanes for two hours. The next leg was Chicago straight to Kona, Hawaii. Ten and a half hours. Thankfully the first hour or so he slept. If I was a smart mama I would have slept too. But instead I did the plugging in and watched a grown-up movie on my iPod.

When Zach woke up we broke out the crayons and paper. He drew the one and only thing he ever draws these days: pirate ships. More specifically pirate shipping shooting cannons. From there we moved into stamping. I bought a new stamping set for the trip that he’s never used before so he was pretty fired up about that. He stamped words with the new letter stamp set (hey we’re homeschooling at 30-thousand feet, how about that?) And he made some stamp scenes using animals. When the fun wore off we moved to snack time, and then I tried to figure out this crazy, plastic, barrel of monkeys game I got at the dollar store. My boy thought it was pretty funny that mommy couldn’t figure out how to set up the game, and while I was concentrating on the minuscule, made-in-China, plastic molded palm tree leaves, he started sword fighting with the little neon colored plastic sticks. I never really did fully figure that game out, but it bought us some time and we had fun with the monkeys and sticks anyhow.

I made a conscious point not to look at a clock while we were passing the time. I didn’t want to get into the “oy vay we still have 6 and a half hours left to kill” mind game. I wanted to enjoy the uninterrupted, one on one time with my son. No cell phone ringing, no appointments, no errands to run, no emails to answer. We talked, we sang, we told knock-knock jokes. And when things got slow I dipped into my magic mommy bag for my next trick. After the monkey fiasco, I broke out a new sticker book with nothing but truck stickers. This went over very well and my sweet son proceeded to joyfully decorate the entire row with monster trucks and big rigs while I read some magazines. Then we read some books. And next came the obligatory pestering of the people seated behind you routine. Thankfully there was another kid, albeit an older one, back there. So Zach stuck his head between the seats and over the top and did his flirty, peek-a-boo thing for a bit.

Somewhere in the middle of the trip he wised up to the fasten seat belt light. It became his new obsession, and the moment it went off he took it as a sign to wander the airplane. We were in the middle row of a large jet and Zach felt cheated by the lack of window vistas. So we promenaded up and down the rows looking for an open window seat to temporarily take over. At the very back, he got his wish and we spent a good deal of time staring down at he deep, blue Pacific Ocean searching for freighters and staring at clouds.

The only hitch in the flight was me. Zach was a trooper, an angel, an ace traveler with nary a complaint. I was the one who started to lose my mind. I wanted to watch a movie, I wanted to read, I wanted to sleep, I wanted a glass of wine, I wanted to check out. But then where would that leave him? When people say a kid can’t make a long flight without a video, what they really mean is THEY can’t make it. But I did. I took just about everything in my magic mommy bag to do it, but I did it. We walked off the plane into the sunny Kona open air terminal without ever having touched the DVD player, he never knew it was in the bottom of my bag.

The reward was the flight back. I loved how upbeat Zach was about the pending long trip. I loved how relaxed he was. And I loved how when they played the movie “Kung Fu Panda” on the screens strewn all across the airplane, he glanced up and said, “Mama, why would they put a TV in an airplane when there is so much to do?”

I ask myself that very question about life in general.

(here are some photos from our journey out to Hawaii this year...).

Fresh art supplies still do the trick..
Thank you dollar store for these crazy DIY cardboard animals. They were worth every penny and then some.
Burning some energy during an insanely long layover in SFO. They had a decent little play area.
And a nice little book store with a children's section to lounge in.
And a little handwork seems to always help pass the time. Zach was happy using his lucet to make a yard chain and hoping to get to the end of the ball of yard to see the little MamaRoots goody I stashed inside before rolling the yard up into a ball.


Anonymous said...

wow mama! you're my hero! way to go!

BoatMama said...

Funny to read this. After our long trip to Canada, I think 20 hours door to door, people asked how it was, I would tell them the baby was fine, it was Ari and I starting to lose it. She was fine, we played in different places, she sat in our lap, we had toys, she slept fine. It was the two of us who were sleep deprived and going crazy from not enough to entertain us.

Joy said...

Good for you guys! We do have tvs but only watch movies on weekends. One of the exciting things for my kids to look forward to with airplane travel is the videos I will put on their ipods. :) I did find some Bill Nye videos in the Itunes store and some Shaun the Sheep (British cartoon) episodes. That qualifies as moderately educational, right? They'll think it's so cool for about an hour, then they'll be on to the scratch-off Hangman book and the travel checkers, which is how I like it. ;) I'm so glad you posted this list of things you take though! With 4 kids to entertain, I'm always looking for new ideas.

wholarmor said...

That's pretty impressive! I love that SFO has a play area! Very cool! I just made an 18 hour drive with my 2 year old and no DVD player. We did get to get out and stretch every now and again, so I suppose that would be different than a long airplane ride.
You've done very well at helping your son use his imagination to entertain him, and I'm sure that was a big help to you on the trip!

Little Lovables said...

Wonderful post! I am a very envious mom.

I have to ask though, I am a mom with an at home business, which requires me to be on the computer a lot.

My kids are too young (4 and 2) to do anything without me right there craft wise and when I do try and pull out a puzzle, building blocks, stickers, paints... they just end up destroying everything in a matter of seconds. I have given in to the television thing and it makes me sad every day.

If only.

boatbaby said...

Anon- thanks!

Boatmama - exactly!

Joy - there's nothing wrong with that! Esp with 4 kids! I don't think it's BAD to pull out a movie on a flight. It just doesn't HAVE to be the default.

wholarmor- yes, imagination is key!

Lisa- it's the age. I saved all my work for night and nap hours until he was about age 4.5 I'll be when your guys are more like 4 and 6 it'll get much easier. I also use the little spurts of independent play to do my thing. I don't think it's realistic for your little guys to do a craft on their own, but I bet they can stay busy for stretches soon, blocks, cars, whatever their thing is. Good Luck!

Anne Thrall-Nash said...

We had the same well meaning lecture about the neccesity of a DVD player when we took our then 22month old son to England last fall. Two ten hour flights and two 5 hour car rides later, I can tell people it can be done without one! And knowing that we did it has really opened up our thought process about travel with a little one.

Bethany said...

You are SOOO good! I have to admit that the DVD player would have come out for an hour or two when the glass of wine and book was calling me. Maybe that will make me a bad mama, I don't know...

Little Lovables said...

thanks :)
I feel better

Michelle in HI said...

Kudos! We've resorted to videos on plane rides before - my son just turned 3 yo and is going through an especially difficult phase :) but love the idea of not making it the default.

Actually, one of the saddest moments I ever experienced was watching a boy - about 8 years old or so follow his parents on a tour of the Alcazar in Seville, Spain with his head in a video game system the whole time - he was literally tripping on steps because he wouldn't look up. I kept thinking - "My goodness he's a young boy in a CASTLE, isn't that even a little bit exciting."

In contrast while traveling in India years ago we met a Swedish couple going by train with 3 kids under 7, and no DVD players or video games in sight. It's definitely possible, and good to be reminded on occasion.

boatbaby said...

Anne - good for you!

Bethany - that does not make you a bad mama! it would have been easier if I had my husband to tag team with. I was flying solo. Again, dvd players are not evil, they are just not a MUST.

Michelle - 3 is SUCH a hard age. The worst for us. That story of the boy in the castle IS so sad. I have seen similar heart breaking things. And then the Swedish family like the one you saw are the ones that inspire me. Thank you for sharing!!

Alyssa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alyssa said...

I am always impressed by how creative kids are when zoning out on the TV is not an option.

People always ask how I can ever get anything done without sticking my kids in front of the TV (we don't have one, either); they have never known anything different and know how to entertain themselves.

That said, we are considering some travel this summer that involves a 5 hour flight that I may have to solo without my partner. I don't know how to manage my 4 kids (6,4,2, newborn) in a confined space for that long.

Christine said...

oh, you're so right. many years ago, we let our little one watch some movies on a flight to florida, she was like a zombie, not present and not herself. it was sad, i wouldn't be able to do that again to her. i'll definitely have a bag of goodies next time around :)

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