Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kid Friendly Organic Life Stuck in the Airport

After 16 hours of travel I arrived home last night exhausted and spent. I don’t mean to sound like a wimp. 16 hours is nothing (just ask my husband who travels over 24 hours to reach Asia on a regular basis). It’s all in the expectations. I expected to leave at 5am and arrive home by 3pm, when the day dragged on until 10:30pm my mood darkened.

Here’s what I can take away and offer as advice for organic kid-friendly life.

Be prepared. Just like a good boy scout. Be prepared for anything – a delayed plane, another delayed plane, a canceled flight, a long line, a lack of ATM machines, a forgotten purse, a lost mood ring, pretty much anything can happen when you travel with children. A few things I wish I’d had that would have made this adventure much less painful – lots of cash, more healthy food (I packed enough for two short flights, not an entire day of travel), cell phone numbers of critical people, and a backup battery for the laptop. Here’s what I wish I’d remembered to do – Call the airline before I left, made a list of what not to forget for my daughter (when you leave before daylight your brain can not be trusted to remember essentials like your purse or MP3 player), warned my child about what could go wrong.

It was quite a day. I am proud to say that I was able to keep a good attitude with my child all day. We looked at it as a survival adventure. We would get home. Somehow. I think it’s key to survival to model a good attitude when things don’t go your way. Our plane is three hours late? Wow – that gives us time for a real sit down breakfast. It’s delayed again? Oh, good – think how much you can get done in Webkinworld while we wait! The flight is canceled? Let’s see how fast we can get through the Chicago Airport so we can beat all the other people to the customer care service! Wow – you’re fast! In between cheerleading for my daughter, I whined to my husband by phone about how close I was to losing it. But hopefully, my daughter comes away with the important skill of making the best of things.

We met lots of interesting people while we waited. We befriended a young teen traveling alone and made sure she found her way when the flight got canceled, which offered comfort to her mother who called incessantly while we waited. I could completely relate – I’m sure I would lose my mind if my 14 year old daughter was stranded in an airport hundreds of miles from home. Hopefully my kindness will come full circle if my own child is ever in the same situation. By the time we finally reached Harrisburg we knew many of the people on our flight and felt a sense of camaraderie. There was an elderly couple trying to get from Minneapolis to DC for a funeral. There was the middle age mom returning from visiting her first grandchild in California (adorable – I saw the pictures), and there was the young professional traveling from Portland to Harrisburg on business as she does every week who knew all the ins and outs of the Chicago airport. I hope something else my daughter learned from our adventure is that we are all in this together and people are kind.

Traveling with kids is a wonderful opportunity to introduce them to new places and to learn lots of things, but it is also an incredible chance to teach them some important life skills like – being a good guest. Making your bed, helping with the dishes, keeping your suitcase contained (at least in the room you’ve been designated, if not within the confines of the suitcase itself), bringing gifts for the hostess, eating what is served with gratitude and not attitude, and buying groceries, tickets, and treats whenever possible are all things that a good guest should do. There were moments when being a good guest required huge reserves of willpower from my child, but for the most part she did it. Probably not staying too long is another important rule. While I could have easily stayed a month with my dear friend that could have done harm to a friendship that has lasted over 40 years.

Although the summer travel season is coming to a close, I’m sure you’ll have other opportunities to travel with your children this year. Be sure to pack lots of healthy food, bring cash and critical phone numbers, and plan for a day instead of a morning of travel. That way you’ll be grateful when your plane operates according to schedule and prepared if it doesn’t. But most importantly, remember that you are being watched at all times. The effort you make now to model and teach good travel etiquette will have an impact on our world. I’m serious about this – you just never know who you might be trapped with in the F11e terminal at the far corner of the Chicago airport for a better part of your day.

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