Saturday, August 12, 2017

Yiayia’s Travel Emergency Kit

Eleni, Amalia and Nico on the roof of their apartment building in Manhattan

Tomorrow  I’m headed to Kennedy airport  to travel with daughter Eleni and the grandkids Amalia (6) and Nicolas (2 ½) on our annual summer trip to Greece—a nine-hour overnight flight. (Eleni’s husband Emilio will be coming later and my husband—Papou Nick-- is already there.) 

Last year’s flight was the worst ever—none of us slept, our fellow passengers hated us and the flight attendants kept asking if there was anything we could do to stop Nico from crying.  That emergency was ended by showing him his favorite TV show-- "Lion Guard"—on my smart phone.

What I didn’t know last year was that both kids were getting over Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (also called Coxsackie Virus).  It hits children, usually under five, and goes away quickly, but in adults it's worse, especially  in older people with a compromised immune system—a good description of me last year by the time we got on the plane. Soon after arriving in Athens, I came down with fever, chills, blisters on hands feet and face, and by the time we left Greece, all my fingernails had come off.  (Eventually they grew back.)

This year’s flight to Athens has got to be better than last year’s, during which Nico, sitting on my lap and on his Mommy’s lap, watched the same Mickey Mouse cartoon five times.  Now that he’s over two, his parents have to pay for a seat for him.  

Amalia will be carrying a very clever travel aid designed for children between 40 and 80 pounds.  It’s called a Boostapak.  It looks like a backpack strapped to Amalia’s back, but turned over, it serves as a booster seat in a plane or car (secured by the vehicle’s seat belt.)  Inside the  Boostapak, Eleni keeps a change of clothes, a neck pillow in case Amalia falls asleep sitting up (Nico has one too), a vomit bag in case she throws up (which often happens on long car rides), a coloring book and some markers. 

Every long trip with little ones is a learning experience for this Yiayia.  Below in italics is an excerpt from a column I wrote in May of 2015, when I traveled with Eleni and the two kids to Florida on the book tour for her novel “The Ladies of Managua”, which she launched while on maternity leave from her job. Back then, Amalia was three and Nico was only seven weeks old.  The things in my emergency travel kit that applied to Amalia then are now more appropriate for Nico, but I’m happy to say that, although he was breastfed until he was two, he never had any interest in a pacifier, so losing the pacifier is no longer a cause for panic. 

(Written in Florida in 2015)
First emergency today: I pulled out a bright red and orange Indian print cotton dress to wear in the Florida heat. On the front was a white spot — the result of bleach or spit-up? From Amalia’s set of mini colored markers, which I carry for drawing pictures on napkins, I matched the color — the spot is gone until the next washing.

Yesterday, I noticed that the toes of my rope-soled espadrilles were starting to flap. Out came my mini-tube of Super Glue gel. I’ve used the stuff for everything from temporarily reattaching an automobile part to re-gluing acrylic fingernails.

Amalia has enjoyed more restaurants at three than I had at 18. She behaves well, aside from bellowing at the waiter, “I want bread and butter and water!” When her restaurant behavior gets too annoying, I hand her my smartphone, which has a series of animal puzzles  which I downloaded for free. She moves pieces with her fingers and is rewarded with electronic balloons to pop. For a real emergency, her mommy has kiddie TV programs downloaded to her phone.  (Update:  Nowadays Nico loves doing the animal puzzles and Endless Alphabet while Amalia has graduated to Berry Rush, Duolingo (for Spanish and English) and Peppa Pig’s Paintbox all loaded onto our phones.

Here are some more emergency tools from my toiletry case:

Band-Aids. Nearly any kind of boo-boo immediately feels better when you apply Band-Aids with a familiar character like Dora the Explorer, Doc McStuffins, those sisters from Frozen.  These character Band-Aids are more expensive, but can provide hours of fun—with kids sticking them on willing family members. Once, in a restaurant, a young mother complimented me on my colorful “bracelets” applied by Amalia, adding that she often wore the same.

Entertainment. Each child has his own favorite shows, whether it’s about trucks and trains, dinosaurs, or the beloved (by me and Amalia) “Doc McStuffins”, a girl who treats ailing toys while giving out health tips. Update:  Amalia now scorns Doc McStuffins as babyish, but longs to watch “P.J. Masks” and “Shimmer and Shine”—both of which her parents don’t allow.  But as I told her the other day, “The reason God invented Grandmas is to let children do things their parents don’t let them do--when the parents are out, or in case of emergency.”  Recently, when I was babysitting the two, I let them watch an episode of a certain taboo cartoon, and when the parents came in, Amalia stayed mum, but Nico, who rarely comes out with a whole sentence, burst out with “I do watch P.J. Masks!”  As his mommy observed, “Loose lips sink ships.”

One TV cartoon show that never fails to absorb both kids and yet has their parents’ approval is “Lion Guard.”  Nico knows the names of all the jungle characters, but I still can’t keep them straight.

Diapers. Most toddlers, at a certain age, become obsessed with the subject of poop. I generally travel with a flat, fold-up plastic potty seat for both sanitary and convenience reasons. But lately, Amalia scorns it, saying she can use a regular-sized toilet seat. When I bought the delightful book “Everyone Poops” by Taro Gomi and Amanda Mayer, she made me read it over and over. As for babies in diapers like Nicolas, there seems to be a growing trend toward cloth diapers and diaper services. Eleni and Emilio used them in both Manhattan and Miami (better for the environment and for the kid, etc). But even the most adamantly environmentalist parents have to use disposable diapers for travel — so eco-friendly parents insist on Naty and/or Seventh Generation organic diapers. 

Snacks. Whether headed to the South Pole or to Grandma’s house, we pack a supply of juice boxes and Amalia’s go-to snacks—Cheerios and Goldfish. She’ll eat strawberry yogurt as long as there aren’t chunks of strawberries(!) and it tastes best if Dora and Boots are on the container. I make sure that her flip-top plastic water cup really is watertight. (General rule for all things plastic—if it doesn’t have “BPA free“ printed on it, avoid it like the plague. )

An extra pacifier. The essential in every Grandma’s travel emergency kit is an extra pacifier. With first grandchild Amalia, I didn’t realize that pacifiers come in different sizes, and a panicked dash to the nearest pharmacy ended in disaster when I bought the wrong size. Wise grandmas know to get one of those straps that attach the pacifier to baby’s clothing and to carry an extra, just in case.  (Update: No more pacifiers, hallelujah!  One clever Mommy had a “farewell party” for the pacifier, tied it to a balloon and let it sail away while everyone waved good-bye.)

We also travel with a small bottle of children’s Tylenol, a thermometer for kids and small packets of hand wipes and baby wipes

And, of course, an iPad that allows us to access programming for kids when needed. Parents inevitably quote the rule about letting toddlers watch no more than one hour of screen time a day or their brain will be destroyed. As soon as you, a grandma,  realize that a TV set or computer screen will turn your granddaughter into a hypnotized zombie and give you some precious quiet time, you’ll start to feel like you’re her drug dealer. But you’ll do it.  

Now if only someone would invent barrettes for toddler girls that actually stay in.

Update: I promise to report on how the nine hours to Athens on an airplane goes this time, and if you have any tips on how to stay calm and in control when traveling with children, please pass them on!

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