Practical Dad

Traveling with Aging Kids

It used to all be on the mothers, but even involved fathers are now used to all of the work - preparatory and otherwise - that comes with traveling with kids.  What isn't always obvious is how things change as the kids age and the awareness can creep up on you, smacking you in the head with the figurative lead pipe.  This was the occurrence on a recent Christmas holiday trip to Washington, DC.

Some things are the same and I've adapted them over the years.  First is the purely preparatory logistical work that the little kids will never notice and about which they'll absolutely never care.  But as the kids grow over the years, the preparations are adapted by first involving them - flush all of the toilets and lock all of the windows, empty all of the trash and get it to the garbage cans, find the cats before short trips so that they're not locked in a room for three days - and then asking to be responsible for certain jobs.  It doesn't relieve me of the responsibility to oversee their own tasks, but it does make things easier.  By the afternoon of our departure over the holiday, I made it a point to stand there amidst the kids and orally recite the list of items.  It didn't mean that they'd automatically remember it, but it was one of those osmotic processes that the kids should take in through repetition over the years.  Mail stopped.  Windows locked.  Dog kenneled and cats accounted for.  Trash emptied...and so on.  It's a process that helps me and hopefully teaches the kids that these good things only come with preparation.

Second is the status of the family vehicle.  Are the tires alright and headlights okay, or are we driving a padiddle? It's not something that I generally do with the kids, but the obvious one is whether the gas tank is full.  The working definition of stupid in my wife's family is to run out of gas, especially because there's a gauge to tell you the status.  The kids are involved in cleaning out the vehicle of old debris and stuff so that it's neat, clean and ready for a fully new load of debris and stuff. 

Whether traveling overseas or not, safety issues matter although the presence of cell phones makes things easier.  What's the rally point in the event that everybody's separated?  Have the kids without - and even with - cellphones learned the phone numbers by heart?  Do they remember the name of where we're staying and the area in which it's located?  It matters if you're staying at a hotel chain and there are multiple hotels in the area.  Are you wearing something that's easily identifiable to them, such as a colored cap?  They'll willingly wear identically colored clothing when younger but you're liable to catch some blowback as they age and balk at bilious pink sweatshirts carrying the family reunion announcement. 

What did bother me was that we had to negotiate wake-up times with the teens, whose body clocks are apparently set to Manila time.  We could certainly say that we'd be moving at a particular early time - say 9 AM for them - but the reality is that it's difficult for kids and teens to simply shift their bedtime and rising routines without some consequence; our response is to simply accept that we'll be moving a little later than the earlybirds.  Other parents are free to disagree accordingly.  What wasn't negotiable however, was that once they were moving, they weren't to spend their time tethered to Facebook or the cellphone; if they just want to dither electronically, they can do it at home for free.  The additional factor was that Youngest is still years away from the teen years and still arises earlier.  He consequently got to stroll downtown DC with me and see things that his slumbering siblings missed, such as the construction of Presidential Inaugural Viewing Stand and the National Christmas Tree, albeit in the early morning. 

There's an explicit understanding in our household that traveling means that you're going to not only see the local sites, but also eat the local food.  It seems odd, but America is now so culturally homogenous that many kids think of vacation as an opportunity to eat at Applebees or go to the resident mall to shop and these prospects are everywhere.  My job in preparing for the trip was to handle the itinerary - my wife handled the accomodations - in such a way that everybody got something of value.  The planning was open with the kids and the thought process involved was open as well.  It's Christmas in DC and while we're staying in a hotel, the Smithsonian is a superb range of museums and it's free, so like it.  If you want to go the National Zoo, what's the weather forecast and on what day does that make sense?  What food is endemic to the DC vicinity?  Surprisingly, I opted for Thai on one evening and the next was a visit to Ben's Chili Bowl.  Part of the thought process was to also have some conversation with them about history and culture, and how something as simple as a restaurant could reflect the personality of an area. 

Change happens and I like it, it keeps me fresh.  But change is best when some thought is given to it in advance so that it can be managed.  Things will always go wrong, but you're not as likely to have a tripbuster if you think things through first, and that's the big lesson for the kids as they age. 

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