Archives for posts with tag: children

Apparently, on the day that your firstborn turns fourteen, amidst a week of back-to-back high school tours, you march into a salon and insist on having all ten inches of your hair chopped off. Once home, realizing your cute Greta Gerwig style was not achieved, you take scissors to yourself and begin cutting… but consumed by panic stop mid way. You have removed clumps of hair (trying to achieve “wisp”) and added 1/2 bangs to your $45 salon style.

“I can fix this,” you think and dig out big earrings and dark eyeliner, trying to re-create that semi-Goth look you rocked in the 90’s. You manage to achieve a Courtney Love look, but less “Nirvana days” Courtney and more like “heading to a rehab retirement home” Courtney.

“Music will make this better,” you decide and start scrolling through Spotify, where you stumble upon the first Cranberries album you ever owned and turn it up full tilt. Whirling about in your living room, close to tears, you are wailing the lyrics to “Zombie” to two guinea pigs who clearly don’t know what’s in your head.

Sinead, Garbage, Ani, Tori… it’s a dark and slippery slope, one you haven’t been on since before you had kids, and it makes you feel powerful and sad and angry and young. For an instant, you wonder why you never smoked clove cigarettes. It isn’t until you Google “Piercing Parlors”, that the rush begins to fade and you remember you have kids to pick up from school with a sink full of dishes and yard full of dog poop. You throw on the Cowboy Junkies for one last song before you get back to listening to, “Being Mortal” this month’s book club selection.

Grocery list in hand, baseball cap on, you climb into your van, early enough to make a stop before you hit the car line up. At the last second, you glide past the Shop and Save and pull into Paul’s Piercing Pagoda.

Happy birthday my sweet child. In just a few more years, you and I will be the same age.

(Parts of this essay may or may not be true.)

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The first time that our family was invaded by lice, I discovered it after finishing our cross country road trip to see my in-laws. My kid kept complaining about an itchy head, but kids complain about EVERYTHING when they’re in a car for 8 hours a day, so it didn’t stop me from letting them try on every single cowboy hat across the southwest prairie. (Sorry about that, Oklahoma.)

There is nothing that sends me over the edge faster and with more force than lice. After that particular trip, when I had figured out that I had it too (there might have been some crying in a shower), I made my husband (Think: advertising executive, not hair stylist) cut my hair. Hearing somewhere that lice hate processed hair, I then dyed it purple. Picture it: I was a crying, neurotic 41 year old woman that looked like she had gone to the Hair School for the Blind for a makeover. Now, three years and several more lice invasions later, you can see why telling my lice story to anyone who will listen is not such an insane concept.

Our daughter Merry (grade 3) will receive her 6th lice treatment of this school year today. (Sounds like quite the accomplishment—like getting a black belt or 1st chair in the orchestra—but we Cooks are achievers of a different nature.) After finding lice on her on last week

, I had a new nervous breakdown of a supernatural kind. In addition to treating us all AGAIN, and washing everything that was ever touched by human hands in my house AGAIN, and sending Mr. Snuggles and friends to go live in solitary confinement in the garage with the termites and black widows AGAIN, and then texting every girl mom that I had a phone number for in the 3rd grade AGAIN… I then made some phone calls and had some meetings. I have met with our principal and our school nurse. I spoke on the phone with the Director of Health Services for our school district, and the nurse for communicable diseases at the Department of Public Health. (Ok, so maybe I was a little more than just crazed. Perhaps neurotic to the point of menta

l illness might be more accurate. But a GOOD mental illness, right?)

Here is what I have learned…

WHAT ARE LICE:

Lice are insects that live in human hair (head, pubic region and… hold on to your lunch… even eyebrows) and are considered a transmittable parasite, but lice do not classify as a disease since they do not spread illness. A child can get an infection from scratching, but lice do not carry bacteria or viruses (like how ticks carry lyme disease) and are therefore not prioritized as dangerous by either the school district or the Dept. of Public Health. As I was told, “It is just the creep factor.”

how to get rid of head lice?

Live juvenile and adult lice cannot live without food (human blood) for more than two days. If a live louse leaves the host, it will die in that time frame without food. 

Nits are the eggs of lice. A live adult can produce as many as 10 nits a day. Nits take one week to hatch. These nits are stuck with the equivalent of lice superglue to individual hair shafts. They are about the size of a strawberry seed, are wheat colored and are located on the shaft somewhat close to the scalp. Yes, they do look exactly like the pounds of sand already found in our children’s hair, but if you poke it with your finger or blow on it, it will not move. The only way to get a nit off of a hair is to scrape it between your fingernails, comb with the metal lice comb or use a special chemical. Truly gross.

Lice do not jump, run or fly (so I’m told, though I’m pretty sure no one is holding an Olympics of Lice) so the only way that they can get from one person to another is through contact. That’s right, all of that hugging, cuddling, sharing (brushes, hats, hair bands, helmets, pillows, stuffed animals, blankets, shirts, jackets, etc.) are how our children spread their love and bug infestation! (And don’t forget selfies!)

Lice can hold their breath for an insanely long period of time. They don’t care if your child spends hours in the ocean, they will find a way to make it work. You cannot drown lice. Period. They love clean hair, but they are bugs and not really all that choosy, so if you think that your little sand crab is safe, you are mistaken.

HOW TO FIND THE BUGGERS

terminator

Itching always seems to be the big indicator, but my niece had a full blown infestation and she never had one itch. If your kid isn’t scratching, they could just be numb in the head. (Totally kidding. Fairly sure your kid can feel things. You’ll quickly see when you use the lice comb!) However, if you have a kid who won’t leave his head alone… start looking.

Look for redness on the scalp in the hairline at the base of the neck and behind the ears. Again, some kids have eczema or bad dry scalp, so this might not be a definitive answer. And, if your kid does have a super dry scalp or eczema, they can still have lice. So sorry for that kid.

The best way I’ve found to see if your kid has lice is in the shower. Once they have showered and theoretically washed their hair with shampoo, pour in a TON of conditioner in and lather it generously about. Then take a comb with the smallest teeth possible (lice combs are best) and start combing out the conditioner. Start at the base of the neck and behind the ears. As globs of conditioner gather on the comb, spread them out onto a tissue or paper towel. Only the lice comb will produce nits, but a comb with small tines can generally pull out the live lice as they get stuck in the conditioner. And use your reading glasses! Live lice are about the size of sesame seeds. No one has arms long enough to see that.

Once you find them you must dispose of them carefully. Put the paper towels into a bag, tie it and dispose of it. Soak that comb in bleach and hot water (after you’re done using it on the kid, of course). And keep washing your hands. Lice are a live, moving target and the nits are a bomb waiting to go off in a week! This takes some special tactical maneuvers and even, yes, a bit of neurosis.

HOW TO GET RID OF THEM:

(Ok, so you are trying to hold down your last meal because you’ve found an insect walking around in your child’s hair. Breathe. It is going to be ok. Take a sip of something calming. I like to lock myself in the bathroom for a tick or two. Once you’ve called forth your strength and put on your Thunderwear, it is time to get to work.)

The Host: Sadly, your child’s world is about to rain down with everything a kid can’t stand—hygiene. Even sadder is that you must now treat everyone in the home. Don’t think so? I have a friend whose kids had lice treatments three times over the course of four months. They just couldn’t get rid of it. Then the mom figured out that SHE WAS THE ONE THAT KEPT GIVING EVERYONE LICE.

TREATMENTS THAT WORKED FOR ME:

DIY 

Cetaphil treatment – This treatment is exhausting but works and way less expensive in money, but high cost in time. You put Cetaphil in dry hair (combing out nits and lice as you go) and then blow the hair completely dry. This takes close to an hour on short hair. The idea is that the Cetaphil dries and shrink wraps the live lice suffocating them. This does not kill the nits, so you have to do the entire treatment over again in a week. And, you get to walk around with hair that looks like you’ve used salad dressing to wash it. Bonus.

Quit Nits – This is a homeopathic treatment that does not use harsh chemicals. You put the solution into dry hair and let it sit for 4-8 hours, then wash it out. The idea is that it dehydrates the critters. This treatment does claim to kill the nits. (I think this is true.) It also claims that no combing is necessary. (I think this is stupid.) You can get Quit Nits from Whole Foods and generally any other natural grocery store as well as the Internet. A kit costs around $17 and comes with a bottle of cream solution (one bottle will get you two treatments for short hair, one treatment for thick long hair), a plastic comb (doesn’t work) and a small bottle of preventative spray (maybe works). You should know that most places sell out quickly.

**UPDATE: Two VERY important things to note. I wrote this piece two years ago so pricing has changed. Today a complete Quit Nits lice kit costs $69.95 on Amazon. Second, after about the 9th treatment on Merry that year (there were 10 in all), I realized that Quit Nits no longer worked. Seems the lice strain at our school had evolved beyond. See “Lice Whisperers” paragraph below for the actual result producing effort.

Rid – This is the old school, buy it at Walgreen’s treatment. Rid has one of the best lice combs: red handle, metal teeth. The comb used to come with the kit, but I don’t think that it does anymore. The Rid solution goes into dry hair (see the pattern forming?) for 10 minutes, and as the box says “no longer”. (Of course, I was busy washing every sheet in the house so my girls may have had it on for a little longer… like half an hour. They seem normal enough now though, right?) You then rinse it out in the shower. It lists itself as a “shampoo and conditioner”. Shockingly good curl enhancer.

**THE TREATMENT I USE TODAY – OIL AND COMB

 combLice Comb – I cannot stress enough how important this comb is. If you were Luke Skywalker this would be your lightsaber. If you were Indiana Jones, this is your whip. 

The best and only surefire way to get rid of lice is to remove them personally with that comb. Yes, it takes hours. Yes, the comb hurts (especially on old lady hair), but it works and they are gone. Even after you treat the hair, there is no guarantee that you covered every single egg, every single bug with the treatment. If even only ONE egg or bug is still alive, you will have another infestation sometime around the end of next week. The only way to get rid of lice from a person completely is to comb and then comb again. 

My recommendation for the BEST is the Nit Free Terminator lice comb. It is stainless steel (yup, you can boil and bleach the bejesus out of it) and has tiny grooves in the super tight tines. Available on Amazon for $10.30 (not inc. shipping, 2017 prices.) 

Again, there are other metal lice combs that are out there (like the metal comb in the Rid kit), but this is the one that has worked best for me. A lot of the kits come with a small tined plastic comb. These can help you search the hair for live lice when you use conditioner, but don’t bother trying to clear the nits out. Useless.

Herbal Oil –  I now create my own proprietary blend of herbal oils after experiencing years of chemical testing. Don’t get me wrong, the chemicals can work (and I’d venture to guess more so in geographical locations that have cold seasons than in places like Southern California where all our critters are bionic), but if you’re ready to put in the time with that comb, this is the tried and true method. In addition to combing through the head meticulously, I wrap the head in a bandana and leave the oil on overnight. If the bugs can’t grab onto the hair, the eggs have no hope.

OIL: (A spray bottle works best.) Blend with almond oil any combination of the following: clove, rosemary, eucalyptus, frankincense, cedarwood, cinnamon. I like to make two different versions so my kids experience the illusion of choice.

METHOD – If you love to Zentangle, this might be your new jam. Prep your kid with the most engrossing, stay-in-your-seat activity you can find. This is NOT the time to make them do homework or read. This is the good side of digital devices.

You’ll Need: a bowl of water, paper towels, lice comb, lice oil, hair clips

Section off all the hair so that you’re only working in 1” sections. 

Spray the oil into the hair at the scalp for the first section only.

Insert the tines of the comb where the 1” section meets the scalp and draw the comb slowly out of the hair. Expect the comb to move jaggedly and catch on the hairs a bit because the tines are so tight. Buckle in for LOTS of shouting.

After you’ve pulled the comb through, dip it in water and then wipe across the paper towel. You are looking for adult lice (the biggest and easiest to see), juveniles (smaller) and nits (tiny strawberry seed-sized spots). 

Now comb through the same section from underneath. Do it again from the side. Do it again from the other side. Think of this as a “Lice Doe-See-Doe”. Do it all again until that comb comes out clean.

Take that method, do the entire head and kiss goodbye to the next two hours of your life.

Do this treatment again in 7-10 days if you want to guarantee the infected is absolutely clean.

CALLING IN BACK UP

The Lice Whisperers – (UPDATED VERSION) At the time of the writing of this doc, Merry was still infested. It actually took 10 treatments to rid our house of lice. The final treatment was professional help to the tune of $265, one hour of my child sobbing in a chair in front of a stranger and $35 for a good bottle of red wine for myself. These organizations are a franchise that hire contractors to come to your house and comb your kid’s hair out while you pretend you can’t hear the screaming from the other room. So fun. They use a ‘proprietary blend’ oil in the hair and the Terminator comb. They also recommend a return visit in 7-10 days to guarantee their work. 

TREATMENTS THAT DIDN’T WORK FOR ME:

Nix – Nix is another one of the buy-at-any-grocery-store toxic kits. This stuff is crap. My first clue was that you could put the solution onto damp hair. Warning. The second was that after washing it out (10 minutes later?) and combing through Merry’s hair there were still live lice walking around. If you find anything alive after a treatment IT DID NOT WORK. Of course at this point, she had already had enough toxicity on her head to melt crayons, so I couldn’t exactly make her sit through another treatment… which meant she and all of us went to bed knowing we still had lice… in the house… until the next day. That doesn’t screw with your sleep at all.

I have heard of many other treatments (the Vinegar/Oil Treatment, Something from Somewhere in Mexico Treatment) but I haven’t tried them. I’m not saying that there aren’t others that are effective out there, I’m sure there are. The good news is, that if this problem keeps up, we’ll get our chance to try all of them!

Speaking of which, here is the #1 way to get rid of lice at school. Ready? Really easy and extremely important…

Tell the school. What I learned from our principal, from the nurse, from Health Services and from Public Health is that because no one is telling the school that they have a confirmed case of lice, the school doesn’t realize that there is a problem and can’t deal with it. If the school doesn’t know, then parents don’t know and no one is looking for it. As soon as you find it, call your school nurse and tell him/her. Every school has a different policy on lice when it comes to when kids are allowed in school (A ‘no lice’ policy means a kid can return when no live lice are found in the hair. A ‘no nit’ policy means a kid can return when nothing is found in the hair.) and how many reported infestations it takes before a notice is sent home. Be clear and ask what your school’s policies are. If you don’t like them, work to change them. 

Tell everyone. I don’t mean call up your husband’s boss and set her ear on fire, but do send a lovely little note to everyone who’s house your kid visited in the last two weeks, the babysitter that snuggled on the couch with her, the mom of the kid that is her seat partner, the coach at the gymnastics facility… anyone who could help stop the spread of this infernal annoyance. Even the families of your child’s sibling friends. No one will think less of you and actually will most likely want to help you. You have no idea the amount of wine I’ve been offered when people find out we have lice.

Ok, so about now your kid is doused in some form of poison solution and eating up battery life on a digital device while waiting for the bugs to cook. Time to hit your house.

LICE REMOVAL IN THE HOME:

This is actually the part of lice removal that snaps the even-keeled, totally chill me into a raging psycho banshee from hell. It cannot be stated enough: Lice are a time bomb waiting to go off over and over again. In order to completely eradicate them, you must clean/dry/disinfect EVERYTHING.

The Bedding: All sheets, blankets, and comforters need to be washed in hot water and dried on high heat. When you take them off of the bed, fold them carefully and place them into a garbage bag for transport. (These little stinkers can’t fly, but they can fall. You lose a few live ones onto the carpet and your kid lays on their bedroom floor… boom. You’ve got lice again.) Pillows that can’t be washed can be thrown into the dryer on high heat for 40 minutes. And guess what? You have to do this to EVERY BED IN THE HOUSE. I like to do the big wash the first day, then just toss the child in quarantine’s bed things into the dryer on high every day for the next week.

The Toys: Mr. Snuggles has two choices: into the dryer on high for 40 minutes or into the garage in a plastic bag for two weeks. And all of his friends go with him. My girls love to keep mountains of stuffed animals on their beds. I cringe every time they get another one for the collection, because guess what—that fennec fox is awfully soft and cuddly when he comes home from the store, but one tour in the dryer and Foxy looks like she has the mange. Don’t let stuffed animals out of the house… don’t let other kids’ animals into the house. And those cute little ones hanging off of backpacks? Lice hand grenades.

The Carpets: Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum. Every day. Period. Once you vacuum, get rid of the bag. You can either dispose of it or you can spray inside with an insecticide—but I totally don’t recommend that because then you are just filtering toxic chemicals throughout the house every time you turn the thing on. Get those filthy buggers off of the floor.

The Furniture: Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum. The couch, the chairs, anything with fabric upholstery. If you can wash pillow covers, now is a great time to do so. If not, into the dryer with them. We’ve done this so much, I have the pattern from the inside of our dryer burned onto the surface of one of my couch cushions.

The Linens: Bath towels, bath mats, washcloths, hand towels, dish towels… toss all of it into the wash. Bath towel hanging on the wall next to the other towels? Wash them all. That towel that your infected kid just used after getting the treatment? Wash it. That hoodie that your infected kid just dropped onto the vacuumed couch… then walked off with and dropped into that clean basket of laundry you just folded? WASH IT. WASH AND VACUUM ALL OF IT AGAIN. 

(Incidentally, this is the part where my husband takes me by the arm and marches me into the bedroom, closes the door and speaks to me in hushed tones. All of my friends who’ve had lice get this little quiet talking to from their husbands. It will happen to you too. Welcome to our club. Just listen to what he says, nod in solemn agreement, then go disinfect his pillow when he isn’t looking.)

The Clothes and Accessories: Any article of clothing that your child has been wearing or anything that has been touched by something that he/she has been wearing needs to be washed and/or thrown into the dryer on high. (Think: hoodie hanging with the other coats on the coat rack—everything into the laundry). This includes (but is not limited to): jackets, pajamas, hats, scarves, backpacks, bandanas, headbands, hair ribbons, hair clips… the list is endless. I take a pillowcase and dump every hair accessory into it that could have possibly touched their head or touched something that touched their head and run it through the dryer. Lost an entire package of headbands that way. Try to remember that plastic melts at high heat.

Brushes and Combs: Anything you use to comb hair (yours and theirs) soak in boiling water and/or bleach. Before that lice comb touches another head in the house, bleach it and/or toss in boiling water and do it again in between each combing. (In my earlier days I was so wary of chemicals that I would boil water and pour it over the combs and brushes. Cracked my porcelain bathroom sink that way. Bleach works, just remember that it also corrodes. So I like to alternate between the two. And I use a metal bowl for the boiling treatments.)

The Car: If you have fabric upholstery (and yes, fabric on carseats most definitely counts) you are driving around in a lice mobile. Great news! If you live in cold weather, you’re probably safe and don’t need to do more than a quick vacuum of your seats. If like me your temperature rarely drops below 65 degrees, you’ve got some work to do. Vacuum everything and either wrap your newly treated kid’s head before getting back into the car or vacuum again tomorrow and the next day and the next day…. ad infinitum.

If your head isn’t spinning by now, you really aren’t taking this seriously enough. Sure you can get away with just treating your kid and washing a pillowcase or two, but sit with the idea for a moment that after taking those limited steps, that sometime later next week… right between the soccer tournament and the birthday party… you’re going to figure out that your kid still has lice… and so does his or her brother or sister. And so do you. Is it worth that risk?

KEEPING THEM OUT: 

Ok, so now your children are treated, you are treated, and maybe you’re still trying to convince your husband that he needs to be treated, but anyhow it is time to lock down your squeaky clean house (it never looked so good!) and try your hardest not to let them back in.

Here’s how:

Comb daily. Before this year, I rarely did lice checks on my kids. Then it hit school and just kept making the rounds through the classrooms and on my kids’ head. I started checking every week and am now going to do it daily. I’m sure that once the amounts of cases reported drops I can go back to once a week and maybe even fewer in the summer, but for now, the sooner you catch the problem, the easier it is to deal with. 

Vacuum daily. If you have carpets, you need to vacuum. And if you don’t have a vacuum, borrow one. (Incidentally, how do you have carpets and no vacuum?)

Preventative lice shampoo: Some people swear by the stuff. Since September my kids have been using a rosemary and tea tree oil shampoo. When Merry started bringing home lice, I upped my arsenal to Fairy Tales Lice Shampoo. She still gets lice. 

Preventative lice conditioning spray: For a while I was using a leave-in conditioning spray in their hair that I got from our natural food store. It sort of worked. While one kid had lice the other didn’t seem to have it so maybe that was why it didn’t spread… that time anyway. Once this year got really bad, I invested (oh it ain’t cheap!) in the Fairy Tales Lice Conditioning Spray and threatened my kids with making them drink it if they didn’t use it every day. They do. And they still get lice.

Everyone in the house gets their own hair brush: This also has the added benefit of you being able to check who actually is brushing their hair (brush with lots of hair) and who does not (other brush hidden under the bathroom sink behind the toilet bowl cleaner.)

Ponytails, Pigtails, Braids and Hats: If you have a sweet little girl with long blond hair (Hello California!) then now is the time to master that Elsa from Frozen hairstyle. Spray it down and then tie it up. Lice are less likely to enter into a locked down situation. If you have boys, and you are positive they don’t have lice, send them to school with a hat they won’t take off. The school nurse is very wary of hats and rightfully so. She is concerned that if your kid has lice, wears a hat and then removes hat or shares hat it is a spreading situation. True. But if your kid is lice-free then throw the equivalent of the Great Wall of China on their head.

Take a break from play dates and sleepovers: Totally sounds harsh and it kind of is, but your kid is a gift that keeps on giving, in all of the good ways and one very very bad way. Just until the kid is absolutely all clear (no nits or lice), how about avoiding play dates and sleepovers. What a great time for you to bond with your kid and to brush up on those Minecraft skills you’ve always wanted to master?

ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY DO NOT DO THIS:

Panic. You are not alone. Much like jury duty and termites, almost everyone has experienced this and if they haven’t then just wait. Lice does not mean you are a bad parent. Lice does not mean that you have dirty children. Lice happens. I’m surprised that hasn’t been made into a bumper sticker already.

Hide. Please, please, please do not hide the fact that your kid has lice. Call school and tell them. Call other parents and tell them. I have heard horror stories about people anonymously calling a school to tell them that their kid has lice but refusing to tell them who their kid is. That is so not helpful. We won’t lock you up in stocks we set up in the courtyard or mock you behind your back if your kid has lice. Promise. However if we DO find out that you hid the fact that your kid has lice, we will find you and we will be sure the punishment is swift, severe and appropriate. Like giving you bed bugs!

Blame. Clearly your kid got lice from someone else’s kid. And your kid most likely gave lice to another kid (and his sister and his brother and you, etc. etc.). When it comes to transmission this is no different than a cold or a stomach bug. You aren’t about to punch out the person that gave your kid a cold, so it is best to be equally as calm about this. And just think… their house is in as much chaos as yours is right now. The one truism of lice: We’re all in this together!

Punish Your Kid: Not their fault. Even if they tried on every hat at school, they really have no idea. After our first bout, my kids became so afraid of my wrath that THEY ACTUALLY LIED ABOUT NOT HAVING IT AGAIN. And to this day, as soon as Merry knows I’ve found lice, she slumps down into the shower and sobs because of how crazy I can be. Worst parent fail ever. Learn from my parenting mistakes. Make my insanity your Mother/Father-of-the-Year moment.

ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY DO THIS:

Laugh: Sounds insane, but this is your only saving grace. YouTube the South Park episode on lice. Call a girlfriend who’s been there/done that. There really is something magically surreal about this experience, so rather than let it bring you down, try to step aside and find the hilarity in the insane.

Let It Go: Fingers crossed you won’t get it again… but you might. Try not to obsess over who your kid is hanging out with, staring at them when they scratch their head, interrogating them about their seat partner. Yes, I’ve done all of these things and it doesn’t help. When asked what’s Mom’s signature saying, my kids respond, “Does your head itch?” not “I love you so much.” I know. Gross.

Best of luck. Know that you are in a special club now, and we’ve been waiting for you. Before you pick up that comb, give us a call. We’ve got some stories and a special etched wine glass just for you.

 

fiercetrilove

As my daughter and I got ready for the swim around the pier, the final test prior to graduation from the Junior Lifeguard program, she confessed to me that she was terrified. “Please Mom, don’t leave me,” she begged as we walked with 50 others into the shore break. I promised that I would not, that I would never.

As we crossed the surf and started kicking through our first 100 yards, she started shouting encouragement.

“Come on, Mom! You can do this! Just imagine we’re dolphins and this is where we live.”

I’ve never smiled through a swim workout, but I did that day.

Afterwards, I thanked her for her inspiration and told her it was the best part of the entire experience. I then asked her why she decided to cheer me on for the entire swim.

“Did it help you feel less afraid if you concentrated on cheering me on?”

“No, I just wanted to help you make it through to the end.”

“But I was fine. I wasn’t in trouble, that’s just how I swim”

“Sorry Mom, but you swim like you’re in trouble.”

Three weeks later, and a week after the triathlon, I was in the emergency room waiting for the results from the first of two chest xrays. Seems eating garlic, breathing in the equivalent of an entire eucalyptus tree and imbibing in every other natural remedy under the sun will never prevent what is meant to be. The day of the tri, I had a full blown chest cold where I sounded like someone unwrapping candy from a cellophane wrapper every time I breathed in. But I had come too far and tried too hard. I was fine, it was all fine, I could do this.

My daughter came to me the night before the race, and declared herself able and ready to participate. Despite the fact that I was fully prepared to race solo, she felt compelled to be by my side, to not let me go it alone. She wanted to take care of me. I was so proud.

The only reason that I finished is because my daughter helped me to do so. During the swim, the fluid in my chest overcame me and it was all I could do to take a single breath. My confident and incredibly brave 10 year old talked me through all 500 yards, shouting encouragement and guiding me when I was swimming off course, since I had to resort to swimming on my back. Her spirit buoyed me physically as well as mentally.

The rest of the race was a celebration of us. We sang as we biked up hills, high-fived the traffic cops and shouted, “We’re doing a triathlon!” as we zipped past racing down the other side. We talked about life as we walked the final two miles, even though I kept secretly trying to get us into a jog, because yes, I’m just that insane. And we sprinted across the finish line, crossing it together.

I have learned so much from this experience of pushing myself beyond my boundaries and trying to take my child along on my journey with me. I learned that I should always examine my motives and then let it all go and just do what is right for me… maybe others will follow suit, maybe they won’t, but in the end if I do it for myself then I will never be disappointed. I learned that maybe we just look like we’re struggling, but really that is how we get ourselves to the next point, and rather than needing someone to swoop in and save us, all we need is a little encouragement.

I was sick with a respiratory infection for four weeks after the triathlon that kept me from taking even as much as a long walk. The first day I was able to exercise I tried to take a little jog, just one mile. I couldn’t even make a half mile, gasping for breath with aching legs, it was as if the four months of training never existed. I was back to square one. I was overcome with disappointment but I kept at it, and over the next several weeks I was back to running two miles again, shopping for a real road bike and researching upcoming sprint triathlons. You know that indelible spirit of my daughter’s? I think I know where she gets it.

photo

I had it all figured out. Add the fun into the training and she wouldn’t even know that we were working out. I could even incorporate the 7 year old and by the end of the run, we’d all be laughing, holding hands, eating ice cream and planning our outfits for our first Ironman.

I am a dumbass.

My first attempt to try to get us out training for the run part of the triathlon was disguised as a quick explore around the neighborhood. The littlest one took her scooter, and me and the 10 YO would just walk… maybe even do a little warm up jog. I figured we could try some chasing/racing games that would get us running but not Running… you know? The 10 YO was skeptical, as she usually is, but the 7 YO was totally on board. As we headed out, I even tried to inspire us with Pharrell William’s song “Happy”… but that was about the last time we heard the word that day.

Immediately, there was pouting, stomping and whining. The 7 YO, finally feeling faster, shot off like a rocket. I tried to increase our pace to keep up. The 10 YO decided to teach me a lesson, and also in a fit of pre-adolescent rebellion, ran off as fast as she could. “Great! I can use this!” I thought. Except she got about 3 car lengths before she stopped, defeated and even more angry. I tried to coach her into pacing herself, how to slow her breathing down, how to make her steps count… blah, blah, blah. “Why can’t I ride the scooter?” she whined. I was frustrated, tired of the whining, feeling like I was pushing a broken school bus with flat tires up a hill, and all of it vaguely familiar. “Fine!” I shouted and made the 7 YO hop off of the scooter and handed it over. We hadn’t gone one driveway length before the 7 YO, in a text book little sister move, sidled up  next to me and started to jog. And then I did the second most idiotic thing since signing us up for the triathlon. I fell, deep and instantaneously, into the trap that is my ego and crushed my daughter in the process.

So happy to finally have someone eager to participate and actually listening to me, I said these horrible words,

“Great job, Dew! Maybe you will want to do this triathlon instead.”

You know that moment, right after you’ve climbed the biggest hill on a roller coaster, just as you hit the peak and you’re done looking at how wonderful the scenery is, and my aren’t all those people so tiny down there, and you eventually realize how horrifying the drop is and that there is no other way down? That same moment when your stomach is clenching so hard because it knows it is about to end up in your shoes? Yup, that moment.

And… cue the 10 YO tears. Many, many tears. So many tears in fact that we had to sit down curbside because she could no longer see to scooter. She didn’t want to run, and she certainly didn’t want to do this triathlon, but most of all, she didn’t want to disappoint me. She was devastated that I would so easily toss her aside for her little sister. She was trying, but she just didn’t like this at all. How could I have said such a thing? And who was this evil little creature that would just throw her under the bus like that and push herself into my good graces?

I sat there feeling like Benedict Arnold, Judas Iscariot, Lando Calrissian and every horrible traitor in history. How could I have just committed the crime that I found most vile and had raged a war against FOR MY ENTIRE LIFE?!?  I wanted to crumble into ash and be blown away with the wind.

And then, the 7YO started to cry.

“Wait! Why are YOU crying?!?”

I just sat on the curb, a girl sobbing on each side, and took it all in. What happened? How did I get us all here? I knew that this was another one of those AFGO (another fucking growth opportunity) moments that The Universe loved to shove at me… and, admittedly, I actually ask for from time to time, in order to better myself and the world around me, but COME ON! Why can’t I just be handed with misplacing a winning lottery ticket? Why must I foul up so badly that I scar my children for life?

I took a deep breath and grounded myself. Again. I released a lot of energy that I had been holding onto around wanting this to work, my relationship to being fit, my needing a fit daughter, my issues with my own childhood… as much as I could figure out to release. Then I asked to release that which I wasn’t even consciously aware of, but was holding me back. I took a couple more breaths, then moved on.

“Alright, everyone up. If we’re all going to cry, we might as well walk while we do it.”

Together, we cried and walked. I apologized to both of them for trying to force my version of this experience on them, rather then let them participate. I apologized for making the 10 YO feel inadequate and less than her sister. I apologized to the 7 YO for putting her in that position. Both said that they accepted my apology, but were still shooting anger arrows at each other… which really were meant for me. I made them walk together to work it out, holding hands. They still had a lot of anger that they didn’t know how to get rid of, so they just kept fueling each other’s fire. I walked ahead telling them to work it out, not wanting to sit in their stew (because it hurt more knowing I caused it).

Listening to them still stabbing at each other with their words, I stopped, turned myself to face a field of flowers and closed my eyes. I breathed in deeply again, feeling sadness and helplessness. I could hear the girls watching me. I opened my eyes and started picking flowers.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m picking flowers.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t know what else to do.”

So we started off training for a triathlon, and ended up crying and picking flowers. They stopped hurting each other, and the tears stopped too, until the littlest one got bitten by ants…  but up until that point, it finally became a lovely, if not difficult, experience.

I know that I’m training. I just think that the triathlon is the least of my worries.

****POSTSCRIPT****

You might have noticed that this post initially started out “My first attempt…”. Yeah, you would have thought that I would have learned my lesson… but I didn’t. If incorporating games and a little sister with a scooter didn’t work SURELY adding in a public run with an outfit theme and cousins would certainly work this time! Rather than drag you through our pain let me sum up:

1. Outfits matter enough to get us into trouble, but not enough to get us out of it. The “fun run” invited everyone to wear neon. The 7 YO, so obsessed with matching, insisted on wearing a pair of neon running shoes that were a size too big. At the start of the race, she almost took a header and ended up crying and walking the entire run.

2. No matter how much “fun” they promise, no amount of music, balloons, costumes and kid’s snacks turn uninterested kids into running fanatics. The amount of whining increased (although it was slightly less pronounced since neither kid wanted anyone to notice them) and the amount of “I hate this” only diminished because they were busy shoveling tiny Cliff bars into their mouths.

3. Apparently it takes a public shaming event to get it through my thick skull that this isn’t happening. Both girls ended up crying and walking over the finish line. Ok, I get it, we’re done. A few days later, my sad and apprehensive 10 YO came to me and hesitantly told me that she didn’t want to do the triathlon. She confessed that she was scared to tell me because she didn’t want to let me down or have to do it alone. I promised her that I was ok with whatever she decided, and that she didn’t even have to decide now if she didn’t want to (she still had 3 weeks of Jr. Lifeguard training to endure and I was hoping (Really? Still?) that she would change her mind). She looked as if I had dug a mountain off of her back.

Perhaps now would be a good time to take a long look at why I REALLY want her to do this triathlon. You think?

Thanks to SunshineMomma for the pic.

Thanks to SunshineMomma for the pic.

“So, why are you doing this? I mean, what is the reason you have decided to train for this triathlon with me? I have a bunch of different reasons why I am, and I’m happy to share them with you, but why are you doing this?” I was eager for my 10 year old to tell me how excited she was to have some one-on-one time with me, to share in a crazy new adventure together, and to learn how to become a team.

“Because you are making me,” she shot back.

I burst out laughing. Here I was, due to some rip in the space time continuum, talking to my own 10 year old self, and she was annoyed and sarcastically funny. My daughter smiled in spite of herself and immediately tried not to. Memories of summers spent hauled off to aerobics classes, herded on bike trips, thrown into tennis camps flashed through my mind; I had injected into my daughter everything I once upon a time hated about my own childhood. In the best trick the Universe every played upon me, I was my parents and my daughter was me.

That was the moment I understood why I swallowed a heaping dose of insanity and signed us both up for a triathlon.

“You don’t have to do this with me,” I countered. “You are welcome to stop at any time. I want you to know that this isn’t about competing, this is about just being together as we make a journey. If we walked, floated and coasted the whole time, I would be ok with that.”

But I knew that deep down, this wasn’t necessarily true. I wanted her to love exercising so that she would never be overweight. I wanted her to lose the weight that her already pudgy pre-teen self was starting to gain. Deep down, I wanted to protect her from becoming me.

As we jogged along together, my mind spun trying to sort out if I was giving us a memorable experience, or condemning my daughter to relive the frustration and failure that I grew up with, as adult after adult forced me into exercise programs trying to help me lose weight.

“Mom, did you do this as a kid?”

“Yes. When I was a kid, my dad would get me up at 5:30 every morning to run with him. I hated it,” as the words came out of my mouth, it was as if I was standing on the sidelines watching both of our reactions simultaneously. I knew that what I was telling her was what could very well be happening in this moment. But I could change that.

“He would yell at me whenever I wanted to walk. And when I couldn’t run anymore, he would run off and leave me to walk by myself.” The words sounded harsh coming out of my mouth, but they weren’t emotional, they were simply true.

“Why did he make you run?”

Somehow I never saw this question coming. I paused, wondering if I should protect all three of us and create some trumped up reason about his love for the activity, but ultimately I decided that this very same truth about how my father felt about me, was an evil reality about what I feared for my daughter.

“Because he thought I was fat,” I explained.

“Sometimes Nonno can be mean,” she replied.

My father has a passion for teasing, and not always in the most gentle and loving way. This was a truth that even she had experienced as a very small child, so she immediately accepted that this is how he would treat his young daughter.  But for me, in that moment, I knew better. He wasn’t mean. He was scared. He was terrified, in fact, of his daughter growing up heavy and struggling to be loved and accepted, as he once had in his teens. My father was doing everything that he could, as were all of those pushy adults in my life, to protect me from the cruelty that gets handed to you when you aren’t perfect in the eyes of society. They didn’t realize that the damage that they were inflicting, as I continued to fail and feel conditionally loved, was worse than what they were trying to prevent. I knew this about them in my head, but in that moment I fully understood this with my heart; and for the first time in 30 years, I loved them all for it.

I made the commitment then and there to have fun on this triathlon adventure, no matter what. I am working on letting go of my unrealistic standards for myself as I train, and all I need to do is to look to my daughter and determine if our goal of having fun is being met. Once again, she is leading me rather than the other way around. Already, I have gained so much from this experience, that if we never run a single step, I would still be so much better for having started. Once again, it is not about the destination, but all about our journey.

SkycoasterThat is the crazy thing about letting go of the side of the pool. You become enamored by, even addicted to, the freedom. (Wow! Look at me! I can swim on my back! I can float while looking at the sky! I can somersault in the water! I can… cough, hack, choke… get water up my nose.) There is a feeling of empowerment that comes with an almost unrealistic edge of invincibility. Almost.

When my now ten year old was seven, we took her to a Six Flags amusement park. Tall for her age, she was able to ride all of the adult rides, but I never thought that she actually would. To be honest, I never even gave it much thought since I was terrified (and could still be classified as ‘deeply concerned’) when it came to anything higher or faster than a tea cup. So when she decided that she needed to ride The Skycoaster, I wasn’t too happy about it.

The Skycoaster is a new and interesting way to test your ability to not wet your pants in public. Up to three people are strapped together into a harness and hooked to extreme bungee cords, then they are slowly pulleyed to the top of a 175 foot steel arch (15 stories into the air). Once at the top, they dangle precariously until given the go ahead via bullhorn, at which time one of the individuals releases the securing line and the three bodies, like eggs knocked off of the refrigerator shelf, drop straight downward at 60 mph until the line catches, somewhere around 150 feet, and the remaining guide lines swing the cascading bodies (possibly in cardiac arrest at this point) up between the arches into the sky. Free falling. And flying. At a seasonal amusement park. With my seven year old baby. And we pay extra.

My daughter was instantly hooked the moment she saw people whizzing above our heads. “Come on!” my husband pleaded. “You go with her and your brother because you’re all about the same size! It was fun! She’ll love it!” I had never suspected that my husband had taken out an insurance policy on me, but now…

As my brother, myself and my daughter were slowly being pulled to the top of the arch, I could taste the nacho and snow cone flavored panic rising up into my throat. What if she loses her mind? What if we need to stop and get down? What if I throw up on those heads in the bumper cars? What if this all goes very, very wrong?

“I realize I only have a broken truck and a dog, but I don’t have all of my affairs in order,” my brother whispered, not really joking. My daughter looked up at me with question in her eyes. In that moment I realized, we were the adults. It was our reaction that would set the precedent as to whether this was going to be a thrilling adventure, or an event that would cost my daughter years in adult therapy.

“Fairies,” I blurted out, as we climbed high enough that the peaks of Vermont looked like hilltops we could run down not far in the distance. “We could turn into fairies. I bet, if we think hard enough, wish for it with all our might, once that cable lets go, we can really fly. Come on, say it with me, ‘Fly. Fly. Fly’.”

Our arms linked together, for the last remaining feet of climb, the three of us — me, my brave seven year old daughter and my terrified 34 year old brother chanted, “Fly. Fly. Fly,” as we were pulled to the top of the world. We were given the signal, my brother pulled the pin, and we dropped, head first, towards the ground. As the cables caught us and we swung past the arches, I was still chanting in my head as we let go of each other, spread our arms and flew.

This week, I have let go of the side of the pool again. I realize now that leaving my life in NY and moving to California was a huge step, but still the first of many others. In August, I will compete in my first triathlon — a mini — and I will have the bravest person in my life, my daughter, by my side. Together we will conquer our hatred of running, overcome our fear of ocean swimming and learn what it is to be a team. And in October, I am leaving my brave girl and our family to take a spiritual trek into the Himalayas, an incredible experience that will change me and return me to those that I love who have also changed in my absence. Like falling out of the sky, I know that I lead the way in terms of expectations and reactions, so I take these new adventures not only as challenges that will elevate me as a person, but also as a mother, my highest honor. I am excited, nervous, happy, terrified and blessed.

Time to start swimming.

elfsam
Perhaps it is because I’m the farthest from home I’ve ever been at Christmastime, or because I’m still trying to wrap my head around decorating a palm tree, but all of the Facebook back and forth over why we should continue to propagate the myth of a mischievous little creature in our homes has left me pensive and nostalgic. And frankly, a little bit freaked out.

First the nostalgic. Don’t you remember when you were a kid, how you would just fill up like a water balloon, in the days following Thanksgiving, with the excitement of the holidays? Whether it was driving around looking at lights, or the anticipation of what treasures were held in the brightly colored packages, everything around us as kids screams wonder and happiness. Then, on Christmas Eve, we would practically pass out (literally, I remember trying to hold my breath in the back seat of our car to make myself go to sleep faster so Santa wouldn’t catch me awake on the ride home from my grandmother’s house) from anticipation that almost reached anxiety levels, just waiting to see what Santa was going to accomplish that year.

The Elf on the Shelf simply brings Christmas magic, the possibility of catching a glimpse of the extraordinary, into a kid’s home nightly. For the parents out there that are exhausted and frustrated with having to perpetuate this myth, particularly for their older kids, I beg you to keep going. This isn’t about them wanting to force you out of bed in the night, give you one more thing to add to your already overloaded and toppling list of things to do or challenge your abilities as a creative and caring parent. This is about them just wanting proof that there is magic still in the world. This is about them holding onto the innocence of childhood for just one more year. This is about keeping our jaded, meat and potatoes world at bay with just one more season of cupcakes for dinner. And for us parents, this is truly a moment when the lists and the ‘I wants’ are erased from the holiday equation, and what we are left with is children that are filled with wonder and joy.

Now the freaked out part. Our elf Sam has been visiting us for the last week, and it has taught me many things about my children (ages 6 and 9) but mostly how trusting they are in us and the world. There is no hesitation, there is no questioning, there is just acceptance that intentions are pure and actions are good. As a parent, this scares the crap out of me because I know, and have experienced, different. But I also know that those experiences, are my experiences, and coloring their world with my experiences removes entire spectrums of possibility for them. So, as a parent, how do I foster this beautiful innocence and wonder, while teaching them to be safe and discerning? The best I can come up with is to just enjoy each moment as much as they do, like playing the Elf on the Shelf game as long as they’ll have it, and take each life event for what it is while giving relevant instruction along the way. And, most importantly, to be inspired to reclaim my own wonder and joy around the season, so that I may see the world as that child once again (although I now know I’ll always breathe in before passing out). Sampling some of that magic will help me to understand and therefore communicate better as a parent.

A friend recently commented that the Elf on the Shelf was “a daily opportunity to fail as a parent,” which made me laugh out loud. Rather, I would like to propose that in addition to stealing from our candy stashes and tipping over Christmas trees, our elves are giving us a glimpse of being a kid at Christmas and an opportunity to connect with our kids in a way that is lost most of the rest of the year. I would even go as far as to say, our elves are helping us to be better parents.

rockclimbing

Do you remember a time in your life when fear just never entered into the picture? The summer I turned five years old, we visited a friend’s pond; a murky hole in the ground that was teeming with soupy rich greenness. Being upstate NY in July, it was beastly hot and humid, so submersing in more moisture was surely the best answer for finding relief. We were told that the only way we could enter the water was on a float, because it was home to several snapping turtles. (Yeah, looking back upon that concept really colors my childhood in a whole new questionable hue.) Not really understanding what a snapping turtle was, or how that possibly could be a bad thing, I eagerly accepted a ride sitting upon my teenage friend’s back, on the float. (I’m not talking the sturdy water crafts of today that are tied off to docks and boats across upstate NY. This was 1977. Half deflated and covered with Pabst Blue Ribbon emblems, this raft was less floatation device and more flagship for a drunkard’s folly.)

We paddled out towards the middle, leaving behind the oppressive climate of the shore, and the casual concern of our parents.

About 10 feet offshore, the raft tipped over. Looking back upon it now, I’m not sure what is more surprising, the fact that no one anticipated this or that I was in the middle of a snapping turtle infested swamp, practicing Cirque du Soleil-like feats and did not know how to swim.

(Seriously, I need to take a minute here. This is the first real good think I’ve donated towards this memory. Where in the Hell were my parents? I know it is the 70’s and all, and surely I don’t expect a helmet or safety harness, but my God!  Would it have killed them to strap one of those inadequate styrofoam eggs to my back at least?)

As I sank to the bottom, I remember feeling only one thing. The sounds around me went silent and as I looked up towards the green dappled surface, and felt the sweet coolness of the water around me, I felt completely at peace. I wanted to stay there below the surface, bubbled in this womb of nature, but before I knew what was happening, I was being yanked to the surface where heat, blindingly bright light, and shrieks of terror reclaimed me.

As children, our innocence prevents us from being swallowed by our fears. Often times we aren’t afraid because we don’t know any better. Then as we walk through the world, we encounter obstacles that tend to come with the stories, anxieties and failures of others, which then become fears of our own. If only we can remain in that innocence, and simply view each experience, each obstacle, as new and separate from every other moment, fear wouldn’t stand a chance.

Yesterday, I brought the nine year old and the six year old to an indoor rock climbing gym for the first time. Imagine a warehouse sized space with multiple two and a half story high walls built out in various gravity taunting formations, dotted with a series of shaped holds that appear to be made from Play Doh. In the middle of the gym was a structure meant to resemble a boulder, standing 15 feet tall.

As we entered the space, the palms of my hands instantaneously began to perspire. Despite having spent time in the quarries of Massachusetts and the rock formations of New Hampshire climbing in my youth, I could feel my pulse quicken and my breathing shorten.

My daughters, who had never seen such a spectacle, were mesmerized. To them, I couldn’t sign the documents declaring them able to throw themselves to the wolves of gravity fast enough.

Within minutes of donning the equipment, the nine year old had bouldered her way (read: climbing guide rope free and thereby giving her mother another reason to drink on a Thursday afternoon) to the top of the 15 foot structure. The six year old was complaining that she wanted to remove her safety guide line (the belay) because the tension of the automated rope was competing with her tiny sparrow-like frame, and preventing her from being able to get close to the wall.

For them, there was no hesitation, only excitement. For me, there was a litany of emergency room menu items scrolling through my head. I tried my best to keep my anxieties to myself, and gently guide as opposed to aggressively scream. I did see my six year old pause once, as I reminded her when she had bouldered her way three feet above my head, that there was no guide rope and I couldn’t come get her down. She retreated down the wall, only to chalk up her hands, immediately remount and make her way the full five feet above my head so that she could loudly declare me wrong from her perch.

Recently, The Universe was kind enough to call me out on my nightly prayer of wanting to be shown my path. Apparently there is this notion that I should be writing a book. To further back up this cosmic plan, a famous and well documented journalist has been placed in my circle, near enough for me to reach out to, ask for assistance, and firmly solidify this next evolution of Mikko Cook.

My palms are sweating, my pulse is racing and I’m finding it difficult to breathe.

Thanks to the lesson of living in oblivion from my children and my own youth, instead of hitting ‘ignore’ when I see The Universe pop up on my caller id, I’m going to set aside all of my ‘what ifs’ and my ‘remember THATs’ and take the call. I’m going to take this new experience for what it is… new and to be experienced. Sure there is so much that can go horribly wrong (don’t think I haven’t been calculating it all out since I took that initial call), but now what if I pretend that I don’t know otherwise, that humiliation and rejection are like snapping turtles to a 5 year old… something that exists, nothing more.

Guess it is time to dig out my chalk bag and begin my ascent.

medianplay

“Ok children we are at DEFCON 3! This means you will wash your hands – WITH SOAP! – not only every time before you eat, but everytime you touch anything in the classroom. You will not put your hands near your face, stay away from the water fountains and if you suspect any child of being sick, you go to the opposite side of the room from them! For the next month there will be no ice skating and you will stay off of the monkey bars. It is my job to keep you healthy and out of the emergency room. If you fail to follow instructions and end up sick or hurt – you will be left behind!”

I know what you’re thinking. It is a rather harsh mandate for children, and to be totally honest, rather dramatic on my part. Let me explain myself. Before halfway through January of last year, I had already visited the ER twice and had 2 kids in casts. In 2012 alone, we battled lice, Coxsackie Virus, the flu and chronic athlete’s foot, not to mention countless colds and stomach viruses. Not again and especially not this year. Particularly this year! Because in one month we are flying to Guam.

Again, I know what you’re thinking. You are first wondering if we’ve lost our minds taking a 9 year old and a 6 year old on a trip of such magnitude. Then you’re thinking, “Wait. Where in the Hell IS Guam?”

Guam is a United States territory, a Micronesian island, on the other side of the international date line. It is 3,957.12 miles from Hawaii and 1,550.40 miles from the Phillippines. Guam is not in the forefront of global thinking and often overlooked by many geography classes. Which explains why my friend thought it was an imaginary island made up by Rainbow Brite until she was 16 years old.

To break it down in parenting terms, it will take us 23 hours to get there – and that only allots for 2 hours of layover. Washington D.C. to Tokyo is a 15 hour flight with a 45 minute turnaround to the final flight to Guam – another 4.5 hours.

When I mention it to other parents, their eyes glaze over as they calculate the travel hours [multiplied by] children’s ages [divided by] trips to the bathroom [subtract] the large amounts of sanity. Inevitably their jaw drops, and a slight trickle of drool forms, as they politely as possible ask if I’ve lost my mind. I don’t think so and here’s why…

My children love to travel. I attribute this to how driven my husband can be with his military precision organization, as well as the fact that my oldest daughter was a completely exhausting baby. When she was born we were living in a four room Brooklyn apartment. She cried every hour of every day for the first four months of her life. So I took her out constantly, we went anywhere and everywhere because sitting still meant crying, usually for both of us.

Now she is 9 years old and after next month, she will have traveled to 3 continents, 4 countries and 4 islands, not to mention road tripping across half of the United States. My kids are not only veterans at traveling, they are battle scarred. When the oldest was 5 and the youngest 2, we were in a wedding in the southeast region of France. After a three hour car ride, we embarked on a six hour overnight flight, followed by two hours stuck in Paris traffic and then a ten hour drive to our final destination. Due to some technical difficulties we only had two 30 minute children’s videos and four coloring books as entertainment. Twenty-one straight hours of travel and not one meltdown. (Well, maybe I might have lost it in a rest area bathroom or two.)

Last year we drove to Oklahoma to visit my in-laws and became trapped on a highway in Indiana for four hours due to an oil spill. No big deal, my girls dragged their Playmobiles out into the median to play, and we found a lovely tractor trailer driver who was kind enough to let my little one pee behind his tires. (I could not be so bold and therefore suffered worse than the children.)

I have found that the key to traveling with kids – and really this applies to adults too – is preparation. I just don’t mean packing tons of toys and clothing and trying to concieve of every last hiccup, I mean mental preparations. Yes, there needs to be accoutrements to make any journey easier, but ultimately it is our perception of our comfort and journey that will make or break it for us. This is why getting to the destination is so much more exciting then leaving it.

So, starting this week we start talking about how far away Guam is, what the island is like, what things we will do when we get there. We call our family who lives there to get excited about the trip. We talk about activities we can do on the flights and start looking for projects we want to embark upon. And we start measuring time in travel hours. “This is how long it takes to fly to D.C.” or “When you wake up, it wouldn’t be until after breakfast and onto lunch that we’d be in Tokyo.” I believe that traveling is all about letting go of our expectations and attachments. Expectation is married to disappointment, so if we rigidly hold onto what we believe is going to happen, we are destined to get smacked upside the head with the reality of the situation, and ultimately miss the glory in the journey itself. While it is ideal for adults to be able to grasp the concept of freedom from attachment, though terrifically difficult, I believe that children need context in order to feel safe. Or at least they need to feel like those caring for them understand and are able to navigate within the context of the situation. Therefore I try to spend time not only giving them some idea of what will be happening when we travel, but also helping them to be able to picture how they fit in, by explaining what will be expected of them.

And to help us all get better adjusted, my husband and myself need to be sure that what we expect of them is realistic. For the next few weeks I’ll be paying closer attention to see how they are sleeping and eating to make sure they are getting all that they need for the marathon flights, time change and climate adjustment that we’ll all need to go through. I’ll be sure to notice what they are currently into so that I can incorporate some relevant surprises for our flight to engage their attention and alleviate boredom. And, most importantly, we will start spending more up close and personal time with each of them so that we will have some special things to share on our trip together, rather that me just being the adult that leads them around their adventure.

For myself, I will practice being more aware and flexible. These are the two biggest tools in my belt. I want to be able to adjust on the fly – whether it is delays in flights or loss of a toy – so that I can bounce back and stabilize within the moment. This will help my kids feel safe and that all is okay, no matter the crisis at hand. Not only does letting go of my expectations and readjusting in the moment allow all of us to be free from the endless worry that can bog down and ruin a trip, but also it will open me up to the wonder and joy that comes by the truckload when experiencing new lands and ideas with children.

Is it possible that my children will come home sick with the latest virus right before we are boarding the plane to this adventure of a lifetime? Oh it isn’t possible, it is probable. But if I work within a setting that has malleable walls and surrender to what will be, then trip or not, it will make walking through our lives that much easier.