The Joy of Cousins

The Joy of Cousins

Planning vacations has always been an optimization exercise of some sort: how can you see the most places on a modest budget? Is the extra cost of flying pay worth it for the extra time you might have spent driving? Which route will allow you to see the most National Parks/countries/restaurants with Michelin-stars? Dozens of hours and hundreds of internet searches are devoted to discerning the good from the best.

These days, I have a new criterion in planning holidays: which option will give us the most time with cousins? Because, dear friends, more and more I’m appreciating that cousins can be solid gold in the treasure bank of childhood memories.

Since they share a common ancestor, cousins are close enough to share some common stories, common interests, and (quite possibly) some common eccentricities (You can also curl your tongue? Cool! Your mother also makes you drink kefir? Awesome! You also know the words to going-gang-goolly-goolly-goolly-whatsit-ging-gang-goo? I thought that was my Dad’s own personal cup of crazy.)

But, unlike a sibling who shares all these things, a cousin is also far enough removed to have the thrill of some novelty: know a game you haven’t learned, go to a school you don’t go to, or—in our case—be able to sing Happy Birthday in a different language. Cousins, at their best, are an exquisite blend of both familiar and exotic.

Cousins can be a tribe you belong to without having had to try out.

Cousins nestle in that space where they can be both family and friends.

And cousins come attached to grown-ups: aunts and uncles (or cousins once-removed), who know all about your parents’ crazy quirks, and have a built-in love for you already. Aunts and uncles can often tell you silly story about what your mom or dad were like when they were a kid: blowing holes in that serious-parent guise that moms and dads sometimes like to hide behind. Aunts and uncles remember your parents as children, and tell fantastical stories about that time Daddy got a carrot stuck up his nose, and Mommy went up and down the street selling raffle tickets to the neighbors with her sisters’ birthday gifts as the prizes (true story).

And of course, this mommy has her own set of stories to tell the cousins about their parents as revenge.

Our kids have no cousins nearby: in fact, they have no cousins on the same continent. But every now and then, a family wedding or a big birthday will allow us a couple of days with cousins. The days are hectic and loud and meal times are crazy: too many food preferences and not enough chairs. Travel is exhausting and sleeping arrangements are always cramped. All of this is…. less than optimal.

But, no matter where we are in the world, I need only look up to see a herd of children—a clutch of cousins—running laps in the yard, planning mayhem or trading secrets and finding the best hiding spots, and it is all worth it.

And so we sit, with our calendars open, and dream of vacations in the years to come: places we’d like to go, things we’d like to do. We wonder when we should go, and how we should budget for it. And, as the years go by, we find ourselves asking one extra question: will there be cousins?

 

 

Where The Heart Is

I counted the miles on my way back home:

       Boarding the airplane in Amsterdam (9,000 miles to go) – still not home.

       Touching down in Los Angeles (300 miles to go) – still not home.

       Touching down in Sacramento (15 miles to go) – still not home.

       Stepping off the escalator into the arms of my baby boys – home.

Home, even though I still had 15 miles to go.

Home, even though I was in a dirty airport and was still a car ride away from being able to sink my feet into slippers and raid the snack cupboard without guilt.

I wish my brain had the capacity to remember those 10 seconds forever: the wild, ungainly loping of my 16 month old, moving his stout little legs as quickly as he could across the arrivals hall shouting “Mama! Mama!”  I wish I could freeze-frame the giddy glee of my 3 year old, so overcome with excitement that he lay on the floor spinning in circles. Or the delighted, relieved, shared-joy-smile on my husband’s face.

If home is where the heart is, I was home. Nevermind my stuff, nevermind my geographical coordinates: these were my people, to whom my heart belonged.

In the days that have followed, I keep recalling that scene in the airport, and the intense feeling of home-ness and belonging I felt. If the feeling of being home has to do with our identity-in-relationship, then that makes sense of a few things for me:

  • Why church can feel like “home”, no matter where we are in the world. I find identity in my relationship with God and other believers: He has made His home in us, and we find our rest in Him, together.
  • Why, as a South African living in the States, I find it hard to answer the question “are you going home?” when I travel. There are people I love and belong to on both sides of the Atlantic. In a sense, whenever I travel, I am going “home”. Similarly, with loved ones always separated from where we are in the world – there is always a sense of not being fully “at home”. Something is missing. People are missing.
  • Why, despite strong feelings of attachment and belonging to people in this life, I still long to be Home with God – to find myself in the ultimate place of belonging.

If our feeling of home has to do with identity-in-relationship, that explains why (despite the wonderful relationships I have here), I still long to be home with God and His family. Only then, on that Day, in the new heavens and the new earth, will we-and-all-we-hold-dear be united together. On that Day, we will see Him face to face. On that Day, we will finally belong. On that Day, we will be home.

And until then, we belong to our loved ones with a longing reserved for eternity. We yearn for it in our hearts. And in airport arrivals halls, we can almost touch it. It’s a taste of the homecoming joy to come.

Homecoming - Bronwynphoto credit: wnn.com

It was my great joy to swap guest posts with Kate Motaung yesterday: her “31 Days of Defining Home” series has a lot of cross-over with “31 Days of Belonging”. For a complete list of Kate’s posts, click here. For a list of the Belonging posts, click here.

This one mamas tips on flying with kids

On our last big trip abroad, The Daddy of the family flew back 2 weeks before me – which meant that the final trip home was just me and my two littles aged 1 and 3. This was no joke of a trip: from door to door it was more than 40 hours: 1 hr check in, 2 hr flight, 3 hr international layover (and baggage change and passport control), 16 hour flight, 2 hr international layover (and baggage change and security/passport control), then RUN to make final connection for a 5 hour final flight…. but we missed it… so add another 2 hour delay, 3 hours flight, 2 hour layover, 3 hour flight. With the 1-year old on my lap. And THEN we got home.

And yet, apart from an all-three-of-us disappointment-meltdown when we missed our connection – the kids did not cry on this trip. They were happy, go-with-the-flow dream kids. They even did some sleeping! On the 16 hour flight, a number of the air hostesses complimented my kids on how well they were doing, and suggested jokingly “you should run seminars on traveling with kids!”. I was flattered and encouraged – but for what it’s worth – I also know that the smoothness of the trip did not happen because of my perfectly adjusted, never-whining kids. Ha! The trip went smoothly for two reasons: Firstly – because I had been stressing about it for months before and had asked every praying person I knew to pray for our trip. I fully believe God answered their prayers. But secondly – the trip went smoothly because I had been stressing about it for months before and had planned planned planned and planned some more.

I hope that by writing some of that planning planning planning down, perhaps some of you who may have to travel with littles in the future can save yourselves the months of stressing, and just do the smooth-travel part 🙂

So without further ado, here are some of the globe-trotting tips we put into practice:

littleboy-airport“Let’s pretend“:
In the weeks before the trip, the 3-year old and I played “let’s go on an airplane” trip. We pretended to stand in a long line, we played hopping games to pass the time, we pretended to go through security (climb under a table after removing your backpack), we carried our own backpacks, we got “on board” (the couch) and buckled our pretend buckles. We listened for the “ping” of the fasten seatbelts sign. We talked about how long a trip it would be and we practiced getting out her bear and blanket and taking naps. And waking up. and taking more naps. And having a snack. and taking more naps. (Lather rinse repeat). This may not sound like a fun game for us grownups, but believe me – my preschooler was ALL OVER IT.

“A big kid gets their own suitcase“:
I let my daugher pick out a $7 backpack with rolling wheels at Walmart (forgive me), which she called her “suitcase” for the trip. Together – we packed her bear and blanket, her headphones (more on that later), and her water bottle. She felt very grown-up, and she also had all her security items on her. The rolling backpack also turned out to be a total hit with the 15 month old, who rolled it around every departure lounge we stopped in!

“Mommy’s yummy take-off (and landing) snacks”:
My kids are too little to chew gum or know how to ‘pop’ their ears for pressure changes, so I packed little snacks specifically for take-off and landing so that they would chew/sip throughout the ascent and descent. Think mini bags of goldfish, fruit snacks, raisins, animal crackers etc. Little things with not too much sugar or salt. We had eight ascents and descents on our trip, so I tried to pack a variety. I also asked for a bottle of milk on the plane for my youngest to drink during take-off.

“Mommy’s amazing bag of tricks”
This was, for sure, the piece de resistance of my planning. I put together about 20 small, novel things in one gallon-sized ziploc bag. Each item was wrapped in tissue paper (unwrapping it is a novel activity in itself), and a few were produced on each leg of the trip. I wrote what the item was on the outside of the wrapping – my kids couldn’t read it anyway, and it helped me decide what ‘trick’ to dish out next. My bag of tricks included:
2 small dinosaurs for imaginative play
a little slinky
a truck
a travel sized aquadoodle – a brilliant toy for kids which uses a pen filled with WATER (no mess!) to draw!
a ‘slinky pop tube‘ – this $1-bin toy was definitely my best buy – it made fun sounds, fun shapes, could be used as a microphone or telephone system, a telescope etc…
sticker books
two small new reading books (on trucks and princesses respectively)
a new pack of crayons and coloring book
a mini etch-a-sketch
a cheap wind-up squirrel that spun on the tray table
a hand puppet (this was particularly helpful before take-off when we had about 45 mins to wait as people boarded around us. I sat on the floor under my daughter’s quilt (more about that later too) and played peek-a-boo with a polar bear puppet the whole time.
A squishy ball.
Party-favor sized bubbles (these were marvelous at the airport. I felt like the pied piper as I blew bubbles in the Atlanta airport departure lounge and had about 15 kids joining mine to chase and pop the bubbles)
a small tub of play-doh (in a small zip loc bag)
A $1 pack of “gel stickers” in the shape of airplanes. The kids had great fun sticking them on the airplane windows and “flying” them around.
An “I spy” book- fabulous for take-off and landing too!
There were a couple more things I can’t remember… but I promise, it all fit in a gallon-sized bag! I borrowed a few items, had a few items at home which I hid about a month before the time so they would be “new” again for the trip, and then bought a few. I did not spend more than $25…. dollar store items mostly.

Other nice-to-haves:
* I had one “emergency melt-down” little bag for my 3-year old – for the “extreme situation” when she could not handle the waiting anymore. It was a little silk purse and contained 5 shiny stickers, two chocolate coins, a ring for her finger, and a special ‘color-me-wonder’ painting book with dora-the-explorer. I pulled it out when we missed our flight and I had to stand in the re-booking line for an hour as my kids nearly lost it. Thanks to the emergency melt-down bag, there was no melt-down in that emergency 🙂
* we decided some time ago to invest in kids headphones: they are small and have volume control and fit over their ears (the airline ear buds don’t work for kids – they are too big to fit in their little ears). We use these headphones at home or in the car sometimes with our portable dvd player, and decided to take one pair on the plane. it was a great call – on the long haul of the flight, the 3-yr old could watch in-flight movies with comfortable headphones that she already knew how to control the volume on. I highly recommend it!

Hands-free kit:
What to check? What to carry-on? My rule of thumb was all about having free hands. So I chose NOT to take our car seats, but to borrow/rent at destination – because I didn’t have a free hand to deal with getting a car seat on and off the plane. I chose not to take a stroller for the same reason: I cannot push a stroller and handle our bags simultaneously. So all I took with me on the plane was:
– a back-pack style diaper bag containing 4 changes of clothes for the little, 2 for the big. For some reason, poop blow-outs are almost guaranteed when you fly – so go prepared. I bought compression bags at target and squished the clothes in there to save space.

– diapers, wipes, butt paste, tissues, kids ibuprofen, kids benadryl (I tried drugging them on the way there – it didn’t really work)

– 2 bottles for baby’s milk, assorted snacks, sippy cups.

-my Ergo baby carrier (so I could carry the baby in the front, with the backpack on the back)

-One carry-on suitcase with wheels which contained:

  •  a change of clothes for me,
  •  my amazing bag of tricks,
  • a small ziploc bag with a toothbrush, toothpaste, comb and travel size moisturizer for me,
  • my camera, my cell phone, another small folder with itinerary, passports and pens,
  • and then the other half of the suitcase was filled with my daughter’s quilt. She sleeps with it every night, and it doubles as a tent/puppet show veil, comfort blanket, tug-o-war tool etc. we debated whether it was worth packing such a bulky item – but it was totally worth it.

– the preschooler’s toy rolling suitcase (which was her job to carry).

EVERYTHING else went in one large rolling suitcase which I put in checked baggage, and could attach to my small-carry on suitcase during layovers (so I only had one thing to pull instead of two).

Yep – so go ahead and picture it – tired woman with a backpack on back, a toddler on front, two suitcases being towed in one hand, a tired three-year old held by the other hand who in turn is dragging a bright pink rolling suitcase… RUNNING down the Atlanta concourse trying to make that plane…. and as tears ran down my cheeks my sweet kid was shouting “you can do it mommy! good running! we’ll make it!” Talk about overwhelming…

And yet we made it – and we did more than survive! We had fun 🙂 With a bit of preparation and a lot-of-prayer, this scared-and-usually-unprepared mama traveled 35,000kms with 2 kids 3 and under… with almost no tears. And friends, if I can do it – you SURELY can!

I hope your travels, even with little ones, will be smooth and tear-free this summer.