Solo Parenting Compromises

Rob’s been on the road several weeks in a row. I’ve been trying to find that sweet spot where I’m still the parent I want to be but not making my life harder than it needs to be.

I learned the phrase, “let the Wookiee win” from Parent Hacks.

In the name of Letting the Wookiee win, I’ve recently done the following:

Cut back on the crazy when it comes to feeding my daughter healthy food. I’m giving in to a few convenience options and making super-simple recipes more than I had been.

Let my daughter go without a bath longer than usual.

Romy decided she doesn’t want to sit in a chair for breakfast anymore: she’s recently taken to eating in front of her high chair on the lowest setting. I just put her food on the tray and she mostly stands there to eat.

Cut back on the potty training intensity. She initiated potty training a few weeks ago, but is terrible about getting on the potty in the morning. Our mornings are stressful enough. She can have a diaper or put a pull-up on without sitting on the potty and I’ve had to compromise on this.

Where I won’t compromise:
Early bedtime (6:30-7). I was putting her to bed as late as 7:15 for about a week and that was a disaster. Whatever time it freed up between getting home from work & daycare was not worth the tantrums.

Healthy food eaten together at mealtimes.

Family rules: putting your toys away, saying thank you.

It’s really hard to find a great balance. I have beliefs and values when it comes to discipline, education, child care. I don’t want to look back on my early years of parenting and say, “I wish I hadn’t let her get away with that,” and I worry about developing bad habits. But relieving some of the pressure on the points where it doesn’t matter as much to me is helping me deal better. I realized the other week was just lovely because I didnt’ feel so pressured by my own expectations.

Solo Parenting

Shortly after our daughter’s first birthday, Rob left town for a week. I brought her home from daycare and thought it would be business as usual.

It wasn’t.

I felt really comfortable, although weary, with solo parenting a baby by then. We are lucky to have a good sleeper with a generally good attitude. We are supported with a loving and nearby daycare environment, and my working at home helps me deal with some of the daily grind.

Then Romy got cranky for what felt like the first time. And she noticed Rob was gone for probably the first time. And she was more demanding and impatient, especially as she was aware and comforted by her daily routine. If the daily routine was out of whack, so was she. And I came here to start writing about it, that I was tempted to ease our family rules and let her watch TV or eat whatever she demanded. I called out on Twitter for parents in situations like ours, met with very few helpful answers, even though I know we are not unusual.

I realized pretty quickly, with Rob’s heavy travel, that relaxing the routine and rules wouldn’t help us. It would be the norm for us to be breaking the routine and rules, and that wouldn’t comfort or teach the baby. But it was also such a challenge because at one year, those things mattered so much more suddenly to our new toddler, and I was faced with more work.

So I try to keep a routine for her. We don’t have a schedule, but we do the same things in order every day. It’s been really useful for us to keep these things normal when either of us is away from home. I’m not just thinking about discipline, but I don’t want her to think that Mama is easy to manipulate when Daddy’s not around. I also think that keeping a routine makes breaking it even more fun.

We have only dealt with separation anxiety, in terms of Rob’s business travel, for one week, very recently. I know there will be more times and it will be even more intense. This time was bad enough that I made him rearrange the following week’s work so he wouldn’t be gone two weeks in a row. He had been the baby’s primary helper in her daily routine for most of June during vacation, something he wanted to do to help me relax and feel more connected to her again. It backfired and the first morning Rob wasn’t the one to get her out of bed was horrible. It was so hard.

So now we also work hard on splitting the daily duties when we are together, even if one of us has been solo parenting for a while. We naturally split the fun stuff and the hard stuff, so we each get to be the fun parent sometimes. We enjoy the time we are together and try to keep it as normal as possible. One thing I don’t want is to feel like weekends are either full of catching up on work OR full of all-out entertainment.

Now that Romy is seventeen months old, we are incorporating more Skype chats with her dad into the routine, planning ahead of each trip whether we will Skype in the morning or during her dinner. Even if the call is short, she benefits. She definitely understands the idea of seeing a video and talking to someone. We do use Skype often with our faraway families. I think Skype will be more important as Romy grows to deal with our times apart. I also plan to put up a calendar on her door soon so I can start to illustrate when Rob will return. Rob has also been taking photos with a toy of hers when he’s on the road sometimes. I think that will become an even more important ritual.

I remind myself that I’m not the only sometimes single mom. (And sometimes Rob is the sometimes single dad!) What do you do to make solo parenting work? If you have older children, do you have any advice in hindsight? I want to know more about the long-term issues with separation and anxiety we might be up against, or if I’m worrying for nothing. How do you do this with more than one child? How does discipline work for you? Have you had times where you are not the favorite parent, but you’re the one at home? I would love to hear anything from people in a similar situation.

Traveling with Small Children

A couple weeks ago, I retweeted Kayt Sukel’s post on Travel Savvy Mom, Thank a Traveling Parent, which also links to two other great pieces, Why Travel with Kids? and Chet of Arabia. And then I had to decide whether to put my money where my mouth is.

We have an opportunity to visit one of our favorite cities this summer, while Rob works with a customer there. We loved Copenhagen and have never been in summer. I’ve always said we’d jump at the chance to go, even after Romy was born. I have the time off already because our daycare provider is closed that week. I still haven’t gotten her passport, so I’m not sure whether we’ll be able to expedite it quickly enough, but we’ll still get it done because this is not the first time this kind of opportunity has come up.

We’ve traveled a bit with her this summer and, as I said, I loved sharing the world with her. It is wholly within our plan and our values to raise our child as a traveler. And the objections I do have are soundly refuted by the above articles. Moreover, my worries have their own rebuttals built in.

I was concerned that there wouldn’t be enough child-friendly activity in our destination. Of course, on my first trip to Copenhagen, it was full of children sitting in cafes right along with us. More accurately, I’m not sure there will be enough child-friendly activity for me, meaning space where I can relax and not worry so much that Romy’s flouting a custom or going to break something. (The other thing I loved about Copenhagen was shopping and we actually don’t take her shopping often here at home at all. I think shopping with kids is the worst activity for them. Sure, get them involved in chores, but shopping for leisure promotes consumerism, waste, and reduces activity and enjoyment in other good stuff.)

I was concerned about the time difference. Reading Marc Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child, I know how to cope with this and event hat children Romy’s age can sometimes deal very well with time change. But he also says it usually takes one day for each hour of time change for a child to adjust. So she would adjust on our last day of a week-long trip, and then have to adjust on the way back.

Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to a long flight with a fidgety toddler, nor was I that excited about being gone for yet another summer week at home. (Summer is so fun around here.)

I was dealing with my own crazy issues in this decision when I finally said “let’s go for it!”

The next night I woke in a cold sweat thinking about this trip and finally just put my foot down and said Romy & I will not join Rob after a particularly trying tantrum when I was home alone with her. I couldn’t imagine dealing with that in a foreign country.

I still really believe you should not see the mere existence of a child in your life or the need for children’s routines as a complete barrier to travel. I feel sad for people who won’t take their kids anywhere because it’s too much of a challenge. There aren’t many places that I won’t go just because I have my kid with me. I was ready to meet the challenge – passport, schedule, museums, dinners out, renting an apartment instead of a hotel room.

But this time, my kid and my gut told me we needed to stay home. We’ve been gone quite a bit this summer and will probably take two more (domestic) trips this fall. I saw that tantrum, that terrible week, as a sign that Romy needed to be home.

Toddler Travel Tips Reviewed

As I mentioned, we recently traveled quite a bit with our 16 month-old. Here are the tips I gathered from the internet or came up with myself, what worked, and what didn’t.

What worked, sort of:

1. Timing: The flights that coincided somewhat with her naptime. We would board, play a bit, then get her to nap. This worked on 3/4 flights on the Minnesota trip, but only on 1/2 of the Austin flights, partly because she was so excited.

2. Drinks for takeoff and landing. I let Romy have diluted juice on the first flight because I wanted to encourage her to drink and thought the treat might help. It turns out her ears don’t bother her that much, or else she knows how to pop them. I wouldn’t skip this, though. Also, remember the pressure in the cups can make sippies-with-straws spurt.

What actually worked:

1. Don’t preboard the plane with the child, even if you are the only adult. It works better for us to board near the end of the line. We didn’t carry on much luggage, so we didn’t need to get settled. The time we would have spent watching every one else board would have just been time-in-seat that annoyed the toddler. The one time she pre-boarded she got antsy. When there were two of us, one pre-boarded and prepared the area for the other.

2. By preparing the area, I mean stowing bags, pulling out 2-3 diapers & the wipes to put in a seatback pocket, and pulling out a few toys or books. Especially with an infant-in-lap, it’s hard to reach a bag under the seat in front of you.

3. Find play areas for pre-flight or during layovers. We found a family area in the American Airlines Admiral’s club at O’Hare that has big blocks and is enclosed, safe for her to stretch her legs and act like a kid. Dallas-Fort Worth also had 2-3 designated kids play areas in the regular terminal. Know your options before you get to the airport.

4. Mitten clips: closed the window shades to block out more sun in the hotel, pulled her shorts tighter, and kept her beloved elephant attached to her or us.

5. Stickers. She’s technically too young for stickers. She will play with one sticker for what seems like ages, peeling and re-sticking it to the pages of a coloring book. Excellent for keeping her busy. Use your own best judgment about safety.

What didn’t work or really didn’t matter:
1. Cheerios necklace to unstring: cute idea, didn’t matter. I strung Cheerios on a short piece of yarn. I think she would have cared to pull them off it they were her new favorite candy, Froot Loops. Maybe this will work for your kid.

2. Lots of small, new toys. On the flight to Austin, we did open a new, small box of Duplos. It didn’t matter that they were unopened to her, though. We also received a few toys from McDonald’s Happy Meals from friends and those were interesting because they were novel. Otherwise, her same old finger puppets, crayons, and books were fine. No need to spend money on toys for the flight at this age.

Sanibel Vacation, 2011

In an effort to describe rather than prescribe here for a change, I’m going to do our trip report as a letter to my 16-month old daughter.

Dear Romy,
You are such a wonderful traveler in our family. I don’t mean just that you’re good on the airplanes, which you are, but that you are resilient, patient, curious, and fun to be with. You’re also helpful with ingratiating us to other travelers because you’re just so interesting.

This June, you took 6 flights! That’s a lot for a toddler who is all about moving. Any chance you have to climb, run, jump, you take, so being confined is a challenge we try to prepare for. The logistics are: board the plane at the last possible moment, don’t pre-board because that’s more time confined to the tiny seats, find activities that will keep you entertained, let you get away with stuff that keeps you calm and distracted, and let you walk around in the aisles beauty-pageant style, waving at the other passengers.

We left for Fort Myers, Florida, on a Friday morning. You enjoyed the play area in the Admiral’s Club, then happily rode on your dad’s lap for the 2.5 hour flight. You were entertained by the same old crayons, finger puppets, and 6 Duplos left in your travel bag from the trip to Austin. Landing was tough because, well, you seem to poop on the landings. Your ears don’t seem to bother you. Lucky.

We had to stop on the way to the hotel at Target, where we bought you a ball that you chased around the near-empty store with your dad while I found peanut butter, jelly, and a few other supplies to keep us from spending hundreds on hotel food during the week. (He still had to run back to Target once while in Florida.) It was so hot and I was really worried we’d made a horrible mistake bringing you here just so we could have a relaxing beach vacation. It worked out to our advantage in that department that you still take two naps per day; we were able to avoid the hottest hours mostly because we were back in the hotel napping and relaxing with you.

It was just what we were looking for this time around. I would have preferred a more interesting location. Sure, the island and Ft. Myers are pretty enough, and relaxed, but we wanted to go somewhere neither of us have been. When we looked at the challenges of our other itineraries, though, it was just too much time in the car for you to have any fun and for us to relax. We wanted to enjoy nature, swim, nap, be able to talk to each other.

Most mornings in Sanibel, your dad woke with you. (He kept you on central time, which was perfect because we could sleep in by an hour.) He took care of breakfast and, honestly, almost every single need you had all week because he wanted to be with you after a long bit of travel. I slept and rested and watched you like I normally can’t when I’m caring for you 100%. I’d wake up and maybe we’d get ready for the pool. We’d try to get to the pool before your first nap, then while you napped, we could relax or shower, ready for lunch by the time you woke. Then we’d try lunch or another activity.

We went to a beach on Sanibel Island after that first nap one day, but it was so hot we didn’t even spend an hour out there. It was enough time to introduce you to the ocean (Gulf) and find some beautiful shells Sanibel is known for. From there, we went to the Lighthouse Cafe on the island, where you ate your favorite: scrambled eggs and banana slices.

It’s been my dream to see your face when you first saw the ocean. But I don’t remember what you looked like, if you noticed it. You’re so easygoing that we all just kind of walk along and sometimes I forget that you’re doing something new for the first time. But it doesn’t mean you don’t wonder at the world. Several times this week, I saw a slight look on your face, knowing that you were just coming to see something for the first time, and I was moved.

Also? You relied on your dad’s strength so much this week, taking cues from him to be confident and brave in new situations. You’re pretty brave on your own, but with him, you are a daredevil. I love this and watched you dive into the pool with him countless times because you knew he had your hands. You knew he was watching out for you, which is what I told you when you were born: “That is a good guy to have on your side.”

You aren’t adventurous with food right now, but you ate what we ate all week. You shoveled down breakfasts at the resort, nibbled at fish and quinoa at Doc Ford’s, and asked for more ketchup everywhere. People love to watch you eat, like they’ve never seen a toddler who loves food, enjoys being at a table, and we credit that to realizing that you are best left to your own devices when eating. Whenever there was a “food disaster” it was because we were trying to interfere with your plan. Sorry about that.

We tried to hike at the wildlife preserve on Sanibel during your naptime. Maybe if we’d traveled with a stroller instead of our ubiquitous Ergo carrier, you would have slept. We tried, you tried, but sleep didn’t come and it was too hot to be snuggled against your dad’s body for a 4 mile hike. Sorry about that, but at least we saw some birds and some crabs. After that we went to the Island Cow cafe, where you pointed out all. the. cows.

One night we went to Dairy Queen on the beach in Ft. Myers and you had ice cream for maybe the third time. I made your dad take your top off for this because there was no way a bib would stand in the way of the mess to come. So fun! Thanks for letting me run through the shops in the area, too. I don’t get to putter around like I used to now that you are here, and mostly I’m OK with that. Sometimes, I like to wander and let my fingers graze the shelves of souvenirs, though. Again, though, most of the credit goes to your dad for being the primary parent, on his toes to keep you in check.

You mostly slept well, but I think you naturally wake up just a little bit at about 5:30 usually, and when you realized we were in the same room with you, you wanted to engage with us. We tried to take you into our bed to go back to sleep, but no such luck for a baby who has never co-slept/bedshared in her life.

We spent a half day at the Imaginarium in Ft. Myers. where we let you loose among other toddlers and kids. We stood back so you could interact with other kids playing with a plain old train set, climb stairs, or throw a ball around an exhibit trying to illustrate Newton’s laws of motion. This visit helped you tons. It relaxed you from the stress of trying to behave well at restaurants and in other grownup situations. It was an okay children’s museum, but it was just what our family needed. You checked out real sharks and snakes and alligators. You played with a boy and some trains. There were puzzles and it was all just right for you. Plus, it was air-conditioned for us and a nice drive through Ft. Myers. Next time I am there for work, I will visit the Ford & Edison winter estates for myself and putter around.

Romy and Amanda on the beach

On the last day, we stayed close to home so we could do laundry and pack. We took our shells back down to the beach at the resort so we could return them to the ocean, built a sandcastle, and were ready to leave. It rained for the first time that last night, while we were out to dinner, revisiting Doc Ford’s, where I really liked the food. The next day we left for the next leg of our trip in Minnesota, visiting family for the long weekend.

This whole month of travel with you is something I’ll treasure. First, I felt so empowered by flying to Austin alone with you. Then, I watched you flourish more in new surroundings. The trip to Sanibel made our family closer than we have been in a while. Rob and I complete each other’s sentences again. He let me step back from the stress of sometimes being a single mom. And I watched you just… see.

It’s different, this travel-with-baby. It’s slower, but also we have to be ready to get out the door immediately after you wake from your nap if we want to do something like get to a particular restaurant or go to the beach. We probably missed some cool places. I don’t care. You were there.

Love, Mama

Austin Weekend

I recently took Baby to Austin, Texas, to visit some good friends while Rob was working a two week engagement there. Why Austin in June? When you tag along on business travel, you don’t get to choose! Also I’m apparently a glutton for punishment.

In my mind, I can’t help writing up the weekend away we would have had in Austin before kids. We would have had more continuity in our conversations with friends, instead of all of us being interrupted (happily!) by our babies’ needs. We wouldn’t have had a 6:00 (at the latest!) curfew and could have gone out to dinner to sample more of the local culture and cuisine. I might have had a margarita to help me cope with the heat.

Of course, the heat wouldn’t have been so bothersome, but it’s harder on small children than it is on adults. That alone slowed us down from our normal pace.

Maybe that other post would have been rich with a list of favorites and must-see’s, but the weekend we had in reality was just as wonderful. The fact is, we have a kid, and our friends have kids now, so this new reality is different and richer.

This was my first trip solo with Baby, who behaved like a dream from the second I picked her up from daycare on Friday early afternoon to the second I dropped her back off on Monday morning. I’m so proud we did this together. It’s funny that a mother-daughter trip this early could be a bonding experience, but it was. I felt stronger for getting through the airport and a 2.5 hour flight with a 15 month old. Rob felt refreshed because he could stay in Austin for the weekend but still enjoy seeing his family and showing us around. And we were able to meet our friends’ baby for the first time. It’s great to book a vacation with a built-in play date!

The small treasures from this trip will be: Baby’s first swim since last summer, lunch in someone’s home, tacos from Tacodeli, baby playtime, checking out Austin’s famous Book People, drinking Fireman’s No. 4 local brew on the hotel couch while Rob watched hockey and I read. Before kids, I’m not sure we would have had that time, time that felt very much like we were at home, together doing nothing.

Quick Review: Ergo Backpack

I was recently flying alone with Baby & didn’t want the extra hassle of folding a stroller to go through security.

I planned to use our trusty Ergo Baby Carrier so I could keep my hands free while walking through the airport. Since I was doing both flights solo with Baby, I walked myself through the trip mentally the week before when I had to travel by myself for work. I realized carrying our over-the-shoulder diaper bag, which I also find really heavy normally, would be a pain.

Could I wear a normal backpack and wear Baby in the Ergo carrier? Could I put it on front and her on back? This didn’t seem like it would work, so I found and ordered the Ergo Baby Backpack that attaches to the front of your Ergo carrier or can also be used as a regular backpack.

I packed and practiced with my Ergo & backpack the night before my solo trip. I was able to pack everything, including toys and books for the flight, in the bag and keep it under 7 lb.

Unfortunately, I found that this is a nice, light daypack for carrying on its own, but not for attaching to my Ergo with my baby in it. I felt like it was pulling the carrier structure away from her body, and also dragging my center of gravity with it. If you wear your baby, you know that these two things undermine your sense of security with a carrier. I feel like the baby senses that, too, meaning she’s less likely to relax in that situation.

With practice, I may get used to the sensation, but for this trip I ended up using it as a backpack I carried with one strap over my shoulder and the baby in various carry positions in the Ergo itself. I’m still happy with it as a nice, lightweight backpack. It was a great diaper bag for our trip, with a lot of room and good access to supplies. I just would recommend caution and practice if you want
an all-in-one solution.

To be clear, this is a backpack that attaches to a carrier system; it is not a baby carrier itself, as one of the confused reviewers seems to think. You can see a video here, and read the instruction page on the Ergo site here. Also, my backpack had Velcro straps instead of the straps shown in the video.

What do you think? How do you handle carrying a baby or toddler and all your supplies for a trip?

Parent/Travel Hack: Mitten Clips

Your mitten clips aren’t just seasonal! We successfully used one mitten clip this week to keep our daughter’s lovey safe with us her through airports, parks, and walks this weekend. I attached it to her Ergo carrier or sometimes my own shirt. It was especially great when she was in the Ergo and I would have had to figure out how to bend over to pick up the pink elephant that we really didn’t want to lose.

I was also glad to have an extra, which I could have used to cinch her too-loose waistbands on her shorts.

When it doesn’t work

Sometimes we get this pitying look from new acquaintances who learn that we’re married, but apart from each other so much of the time. “It must be so hard.” Usually I find comfort in the knowledge that we choose this and that it’s way harder for other people in similar situations. (Military deployments are way harder on a family than IT-installing deployments, I’m sure!)

I could list the ways we make this work for us. I could point out the ways we are trying to adjust the amount of time we are trying to spend apart. But sometimes, yes, it’s hard. It doesn’t always work for us. Last Monday, the first day back after the holidays, is the perfect, painful example.

I had spent all weekend in bed with a stomach bug while Rob took care of Baby. He drove to the airport fifteen minutes before I planned to take her to daycare on Monday, half an hour earlier than our old start time. It was a new routine after two weeks without having to go to daycare for Baby. She flipped out at the idea of going in her car seat. I, on less sleep than usual, with an iffy stomach, was proud that I got to the garage in time to get her to daycare at 7:30. I noted happily that there were no issues getting into our garage, since prior to Christmas, the entry door lock froze and I couldn’t get to daycare on time while I figured that out. (WD-40 your locks occasionally!)

But my Prius didn’t make that distinctive keyless entry beep that it does when I entered the garage. I clicked the fob. No beep. Locked out, I realized I had no idea how to even get into the car without the e-key (embarrassing! the physical key hides within the e-key fob, FYI).

Once I finally figured this out, I got into the car to realize the battery was dead. Actually, I had no way to put that into words in my mind, with 20-lb grouchy infant in a heavy car seat carrier, a stuffed diaper bag with a week’s supplies, and a huge bag of milk. All I could think was “car won’t work.”

We have another car, but a main point of contention at our house is that Rob chose a manual transmission, which I still have trouble driving and have never learned how.

“Car won’t work.” Friends, I lost it. I lost my shit.

Luckily, Rob turned around and came home to jump my car. However, it meant he waited in O’Hare all day for the next flight he could take since he missed his morning flight. I needed his help because all I could think was that I’d be stuck all week long without a car.

Alternately, if I could have kept my wits about me, I had two options: call the fleet service in charge of my company car (which I had to do later in the day when the battery died again or call AAA, which I forgot we joined this last year. I really am smart enough to know this.

It was just that all these issues were too much on top of what’s already a stressed load of responsibility, being a solo parent much of the time, planning to be in my office after two weeks off. I’m glad Rob came home instead of telling me to call the fleet service or AAA. What makes it possible for both of us to travel and run a household is a combination of paying people to help us with services like cleaning and gutter-cleaning, minor repairs and relying on the help of friends for company and support, and, frankly, ignoring things that can wait until we have time. Also, there’s just stuff I don’t do or won’t do. I’ve never ever mowed our lawn and don’t plan to, no matter how much Rob is on the road. It’s just not my job. I guess this is all why I flipped out with the car situation – I wasn’t prepared for this.

It just didn’t work for us on that particular Monday morning. If you’re looking, there’s no real moral to the story. It was just a crappy morning and it made me hate how we live on that particular day.

In the meantime, I’m trying to think of how I’d handle other situations where I’d normally rely on him to be the cool head – how would I have handled the flood we had this summer if I’d been alone with the baby? (I have no idea!) Who has our spare keys? Have you been in a situation like this as a solo parent?

Travel with 9 month old: from the road.

Flying to Minnesota to see family for Thanksgiving used to be a luxury. With the baby’s dislike of long car rides, it’s much more likely now.

She’s getting to the age when she can’t sit still in our laps very much, so we used a voucher and purchased tickets for this year’s trip. That meant upgrades were allowed and, thankfully, received. We’re not sure what the rest of the cabin thought when they saw her board, though!

Timing the flight is pretty important when flying with a baby. We prefer that she wake and feed just before we leave, so she can be awake and alert through check-in, security and boarding. If we can time the flight so she’ll sleep through some or all of it in our arms, even better- assuming the airline cooperates with an on-time departure.  We also have moved to nighttime diapers during the flight, so if she goes and we can’t change her immediately, she’s more comfortable.

Next month is Seattle, a 4 hour flight. We have a 3rd seat for her for that one, since it’s always full and upgrades are rare.