Momma Chat: On Traveling With a Baby

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetIn the span of one month, we have been on nine flights with Cy, if you’re counting layovers at least–and when you’re traveling with a 9-month old baby, you’re definitely counting layovers. That’s nine times we had to get him through take-off, keep him quiet and entertained while other passengers ate, watched movies, read, and slept around us, and then get through landing, security, transfers, and baggage claim. Seven of those nine flights went really well. One was kind of touch-and-go. One involved nearly 5 hours of crying. We got the gamut of reactions from fellow passengers: glares for daring to bring a child aboard, looks of sympathy or hatred when he was crying, and compliments for what a well-behaved child we had. There’s no anonymity when you’re traveling with a baby. Even the flights that go well are stressful because you’re hyper aware of how quickly it can descend into mayhem.

Cy did amazingly well with adjusting to cabin pressure. Truthfully, the only times he gave us trouble was when he was really tired and couldn’t go to sleep (The one really bad flight happened to be his third flight in the same day…can ya’ really blame a fellow for that? I don’t.)

Still, the hardest part of traveling with an infant wasn’t the flying. It was the adjustment period after. Jet lag affected Cy for at least a week after each haul across time zones, and just as soon as he got adjusted it seemed, we would whisk him away again, from Thailand to California, from California to South Carolina, and back. Each time, his little body clock would take forever to adjust, which meant many nights we were up with him until 3, 4, or even 5 a.m. because he’d be wide awake. As exhausted as we were from the travel, regardless of our own needs, our priority was to help him through it.

All the newness was bewildering to him too. We live a quiet life at home. In the States, suddenly there were so many more people! And noises! And laughter, and attention, and sweets everyone wanted to feed him. He was curious and interested and fascinated by it all, but he was also uncertain and nervous, which made him clingy. For much of the time, he held onto me for dear life, refusing to be held by anyone else, playing for only short spurts before he’d need me to pick him up and carry him around. Let me remind you: this boy weighs 20 pounds. I deserve an award or at least a lot of chocolate for all that heavy lifting.

We learned a lot of tricks for traveling with Cy. For instance, book an aisle and middle seat on one of the sides of the plane rather than taking up the offer for the bassinet. We never used the bassinet, and the flight attendants were all too eager to offer the person sharing the row with us a different seat whenever possible so we often ended up with an extra seat for free. Bringing a pillow for added comfort is key. And plenty of food: cereal, puffed rice, baby food pouches, water bottles…all became key distractors. And major points for baby wearing. The Ergo saved us in the airports (no heavy strollers to lug around), and it saved us many a night when Cy couldn’t sleep and could only be calmed by going on a walk. There were a lot of midnight walks through the neighborhood.

It might sound crazy, but for all that hardship, the trip was totally worth it. Of course, it was worth it for us to see our friends and family again, and for them to get a chance to meet Cy. But I think, more than that, traveling for babies is valuable for the same reasons traveling as adults is worthwhile. Being in a new environment teaches so many things, including about yourself–and in this case, it taught me a lot about Cy too.

Cy blossomed in that month. Aside from discovering the awesomeness of Cheerios and fresh berries, he learned so much about being around other people. Normally, he’s home with just me and Toby and our dog Dot. Visitors come once in a while, for an hour or two. He sees his grandparents about twice a week (but they had been gone for the two months prior), and the rest of the people he meets are just random strangers who say hi for a few minutes and then are never seen again. In the U.S., he was surrounded all day by cousins, aunts, and uncles, friends, and his grandmom, and he soaked it up. He watched the interactions with avid curiosity, and you could see the little wheels whirring away in his head as he tried to make sense of it all, watching others play and talk together. As long as I remained close, a safe harbor for him to venture from, he was delighted to play with the various kids, adults, and dogs in his midst.

It was this way that I learned he just doesn’t like to be held by people he doesn’t really know, but otherwise he really is quite social. As long as people don’t insist on pushing themselves on him, he’ll happily play with them. It was so good and so healthy for him to have so many other people around, of so many different ages. I’m sure if we were there for longer, he would have only opened up more.

As hard as travel is, you learn to cope too, and you get stronger as a parent. It’s the middle of the night, you’re exhausted, and your child is keeping up the whole house (and possibly the neighborhood). You proclaim loudly that you cannot and will not carry your child all damn night. And then you do anyway. You learn your limits. And then you learn how to push past them because you don’t have any other choice. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

Either that, or you find yourself doing things like feeding your child a spoonful of cheesecake at 9 in the morning so you can have 5 blessed minutes to drink your coffee so you can survive the day. (That may or may not have actually happened.)

It’s hard, but like most of the best challenges in life, rewarding in ways you never anticipated.

That said, I’m in no hurry to get on a plane again.

Thing I Love About Cy Today: He has started making funny faces, scrunching up his face and, when he’s really excited (like at bath time), squawking. Did you know there’s actually a term for baby pterodactyls? They’re called flaplings. Cy, bless him, is a flapling.

Scenes From My Week 07.23.14

Life is slowly settling back down to normal again, and we were able to even spend some time this weekend getting out into the city a bit. Sometimes, it’s too easy to get holed up in the house taking care of the basic necessities._1070193 _1070194

And then sometimes getting out into the world for a bit, and shoving the to-do list aside is one of those basic necessities. Fresh air for the soul._1070195 _1070197

In other news, we’ve just had our floors redone. We used to have dark slate tile floors, but whatever kind of sealant they had on there was coming up in sticky pieces that adhered themselves to everything they touched, including Cy’s skin. It would get stuck to his hands while he crawled, getting them covered in sealant and pieces of slate that he would then stick in his mouth. I assumed this was unhealthy. I called our landlord about it, and miraculously, graciously, she put in new floors for us.

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It’s laminate, and it doesn’t match any of the other wood in the house, but I think it’s actually quite pretty. It’s much lighter so it brightens up the house. Plus the laminate is super smooth and soft, making it so much easier to clean, and better for Cy to crawl and tumble around on. So all in all, I call it a win._1070181

I was going to end the post there, but now I want to say there’s actually quite a bit going on over here and I want to tell you all about it, but it won’t all fit in one post. I’ll need to tackle it one piece at a time, in whatever spare moments I can snag when Toby can watch Cy for me: a bit on where I am in the grand scheme of things, on homesickness, the trip home and coming back again and how that’s affected me; a bit of news, and a leap of courage I’m about to make; and thoughts on traveling with a baby, to name a few.

I don’t mean to torture you with such annoyingly oblique details! I just want to say there’s a lot on my mind, and I’m sorry if this space has been spare lately, but lots of new stuff is coming real soon. So please stay tuned!

Little by Little



Little Things Thursday 05.15.14

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Every night, around 11p.m., I extricate myself from under little hands and plod down the white-tiled hallway to get ready for bed. I brush my teeth and then I prepare to wash my face. I pull out this soft, terry, meadow green hair turban, slip it over my head, and push it back, and thus begin the ritual.

The ritual involves washing my face with a gentle soap (Neutrogena, nothing fancy), then following with a toner and moisturizer. I take my time. I breathe slowly and deep. I massage my face gently._1060799

It’s the turban that’s important. I found it in a Muji store for a little over $6, but I love it because it makes me feel glamorous. Like it’s only movie stars and royalty who wear hair turbans.

And I wear one. It’s such a little thing, but it’s the signifier of the beginning of a ritual I perform nightly, almost religiously. It’s one of the very few times I take entirely for myself, in serenity, to do something nice for myself: taking care of my skin.

_1060746With little circular movements, I rub away cares, stress, anxious energy, and all the more difficult moments of the day, to clear my mind before sleep.

It’s quiet, and it’s mine.

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Do you have any little rituals? Or favorite stolen time?

Here’s some other fun I found on the interwebs this week:

Some very intriguing popsicles

A “Mouthful of Stars”….I just want to eat that (photos shot by my friend Leela)!

On what men REALLY want (when it comes to work)…

Linking up with Little Things Thursday!

Are you on Instagram? Join me, I’m @jadekellerLittle by Little

Scenes From My Week 05.14.14

This Mother’s Day I was treated to exactly what I wanted! A quiet hour (almost two, actually) to myself, in which to enjoy a cappuccino, a good book, and some writing.
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I wore my orange pants because it was an orange pants kind of day.

I also got a wallet and coin purse I had been eyeing for months.
walletAnd despite getting schlepped around from pillar to post, the little man was in a great mood all day, we were all in a great mood.

I must say, I’m a pretty lucky mama to have these guys in my life.

_1060581How was your Mother’s Day weekend? Did you spend it with family? I sure enjoyed logging into Facebook on Mother’s Day–my feed was all lit up with expressions of love and appreciation, and photos of happy memories. Such a good feeling to see the love in this world.

Happy Wednesday!

Come join us at Communal Global!
Are you on Instagram? Let’s keep in touch! I’m @jadekeller.



Kids, Tech & Gadgetry

_1060698It might be a bit early to start thinking about our house rules regarding technology for Cy, seeing as how the fancy gadget that’s really blowing his hair back right now is Dot’s clicker—a little plastic button that pushes onto a piece of aluminum and makes a popping sound. He likes to pop it with his gums. On the other hand, maybe it’s never too early, as technology already infuses his life: he sees his parents on their iPhones probably more than he should, kindles are on the family bed, Dad is at work on his iMac most of the day, we Skype with family half the world away, and we have a couple of “emergency” go-to video/flashy things to play for him when we really need to calm him down and nothing else is working (like, say, on a flight). There’s no divorcing technology from his life unless we turn into Luddites ourselves, but as it’s our connection to loved ones and it’s how Toby makes a living and supports the family, the gadgetry is here to stay.

What got me thinking more about this topic was reading this post by Sarah, from Memories on Clover Lane. She’s been in the trenches for twenty years, and I respect her views. She’s probably a bit stricter about technology than I am—I don’t view technology as inherently good or evil; it is we who must be mindful about our use of it—but I do plan to be stricter about Cy’s use of technology than I think might be necessary, at least to start with, because it is always easier to give than to take away.

Toby and I began talking about what goals we’d like to have regarding technology, figuring that’s the best starting point to guide what rules we make. Here’s some of what we came up with:

First, we want Cy to be able to use technology with ease, to be familiar with it, and to be able to navigate his way around the web, software, and devices so he can pursue any interest he might have. Because it is going to be a part of his life (and certainly a part of whatever job he might have), he needs to know how to manipulate it. Cutting it out of his life for fear of the pitfalls, I think, just becomes a wasted opportunity to provide him with proper guidance. Kids today appear to be “digital natives”, but my experience in teaching (from disadvantaged kids in Thailand, to university undergrads in America) tells me that they are in sore need of guidance. For example, they know how to punch in words for a Google search, but they are lost when it comes to keyword search logic, evaluating source credibility and legitimacy, and finding what they’re looking for efficiently. In today’s world, I think what you know is becoming less important than knowing how to find it out. So we want to encourage his use of technology, as well as guide him in how to use it effectively and appropriately.

However, our second goal for Cy is that we want him to be able to exist without technology. We want him to be able to put it aside and enjoy other pursuits where he can be out in nature, play a real musical instrument, or make something with his bare hands. We want him to experience boredom and how it can become the mother of creativity. We want him to be able to just BE, without constant input. We want him to be able to focus without technological distractions. And we don’t want him to hole up in his room, not interacting with his own family, or choosing to socialize with friends digitally instead of in the “real world.”

Here’s some rules I’m toying around with:

–I like the idea of restricting use of gadgetry to communal areas (like a family office, or the living room, for example).

–I also like the idea of keeping ownership communal until certain ages. I haven’t worked this all out yet, and I’m sure the popular gadgetry will have changed by the time this is relevant, but, hypothetically speaking…

–I’ll probably let him have his own kindle once he gets into reading chapter books because we travel a lot and I’m not interested in schlepping a huge library everywhere we go. On the scale of Potential Disaster, I think kindles are probably on the low end.

–The smart phone stays communal maybe until he can drive. I know the current trend is to give them phones quite young, maybe even around the time they’re 10. I just can’t for the life of me come up with a reason he would need his OWN phone that young. A family phone that he can use for whatever apps he might want should cover it until he makes it to high school at least.

–And the computer or laptop stays community property until we give him one as a graduation gift from high school so he has one to use in college).

–I also like the idea of limits being purpose driven. Instead of setting arbitrary time limits on how long he can use the computer, for example, it seems to make sense to set it around the purpose for which it is being used. Once the purpose is met, it’s good to go take a break and do something else.

But it’s not just about setting limits. It’s up to us to create opportunities for better alternatives. A big part of why kids are so “addicted” to their phones today is because they don’t have the same opportunities to be social, exist in public spaces, and explore the world freely with age mates that they once did. (Danah Boyd documents this well in her book, It’s Complicatedwhich is a really great read on teen social media use AND she provides the PDF available for free to download on her website.) So if we want him to “get offline,” we need to allow him time and space to have unstructured interactions with his friends, where he can unwind and play without adults watching his every move, so that he doesn’t have to turn to social media as his only outlet for being social.

That’s something that I think is much easier to accomplish here in Thailand, or in Europe, where there is easy public transportation and teens are welcome in public space, than it is in suburban America, where you need to drive to get anywhere and teens are viewed with suspicion by many. I remember as a teenager in suburban California, I would come straight home after school and spend hours on the phone with my friends because I couldn’t drive to go hang out with them in person, and there wasn’t really any place for us to go even if we could get there. I didn’t want to be on the phone; it was just my only option. I certainly would have done my homework more efficiently if it meant I could have had some time to unwind with my friends too.

And my third goal for Cy is to make him aware of how his actions online affect himself and others. This gets into a sticky issue about kids and privacy. Toby probably guards privacy more fiercely than I do. I believe Cy’s privacy is important, but that I reserve the right to revoke it if I feel Cy is going off track. I feel conflicted about what my responsibility as a parent is—to what extent is it my responsibility to oversee or monitor what he does and how he feels if it could lead to harm to himself or someone else? I want to say that it’s our job to just provide the foundation of good values and moral behavior, but I feel it’s also my job to protect him where I can. Would I second guess myself if something awful happened that I could have stopped? To what extent would his mistakes be mine too?

Boyd’s book offers an important perspective though: that kids need privacy, without the freedom to make their own choices and mistakes, they will be hampered in their moral development and growth as independent human beings. Moreover, they crave privacy, and the more you crowd them, the more they will turn to secretive measures to achieve it. If you don’t extend your children trust, you will undermine the relationship you seek to build with them.

American culture is particularly risk-averse, and as an American, I battle this within myself too. I know from my own experience, how important it is to take risks, how freeing it is and how much growth it engenders. But it’s one thing to know one should let go, and another to face the prospect of risk and danger with one’s child. I think that will be one of the biggest challenges for me as a mother: forever navigating the balance between guiding and letting go.

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How do you see your role as a parent? How do you approach technology with children?

Also: HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY to all my fellow American and Canadian mamas!

Thing I Love About Cy Today: When he’s happy about something, he flaps his arms and grins really wide.

P.S. Sorry this is such a long post! It’s just something I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past week. (And trust me, it could have been soooo much longer!) Also, I’m going to try to participate in Little Things Thursday as regularly as I can, so it’s likely that I’ll shift my Momma Chats over to Tuesdays, starting next week. Thanks for stopping by and hanging out here in this space with me!

Scenes From My Week

We took a trip to Chiang Dao this weekend. It’s a pretty little mountain side town, where we went last year for Toby’s birthday when I was 7 months pregnant. It was fun to go back with our (almost) 6 month old boy!

The retreat where we stayed

The retreat where we stayed

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Fresh passionfruit juice

Fresh passionfruit juice

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Yummy snacks

Yummy snacks

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A gnarly old tree

A gnarly old tree

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Mountainside stroll

Mountainside stroll

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Did you do anything fun? Give us slices of your week at Communal Global!


Momma Chat: On Smoke and Skeeters

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Unlike in the West, Thailand only has three seasons a year: cold (Nov-Feb), hot (March-June), and rainy (July-October. We’re about to enter my least favorite season: hot season. The heat is so strong you actually have to wear long sleeves to protect your skin because if you pull up to a long red light on a motorbike around midday, you will actually feel your skin begin to fry. Under a light jacket, it’ll be stuffy and hot, but you won’t burn. Or get skin cancer. Probably.

I actually don’t mind the heat too much myself–until the boy came along. I was a furnace when I was pregnant, and now I constantly worry about him being too hot, even though I do have A/C in the house. He still sweats, regardless.

But the other reason I grimace and groan this time of year is, in the north of Thailand, where we live, this is when the farmers start burning the forests and fields to prepare for the next year’s crops and to fertilize the soil for a kind of mushroom they harvest that brings them money they need to live on. What it means for the rest of us, though, is horrifically smoky skies and lungs full of yummy carcinogens. The Thai government has an aggressive campaign of billboards telling farmers to stop the burning because “it makes the world hot.” Those ads are really effective. (Not.)

The burning has started, but it’s not so bad just yet, so we’re taking the opportunity to introduce Cy to the outdoors as much as possible. It gets us out of the house for some fresh(ish) air and exercise, and gives us new things to show him.

Like the lake reservoir, where you can sit in huts and have a leisurely lunch.

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{SIGH} Those red dots on his face aren’t the measles. They’re mosquito bites from the night of mosquito hell when Dot kicked open the screen door (instead of using her doggie door which Toby painstakingly made for her so we don’t have to open the door for her ever 3.5 seconds) and let in a hoard of mosquitos. We tried to kill them all, but there were still a few sneaky bastards. Mosquitos can all rot in hell.

We took him to our neighborhood pool for the first time. He was hesitant at first, clinging to me and whining when his feet touched the cool water, but before he realized it, he was chest deep in the pool and splashing around like a fiend. (A really, really cute fiend.) He gets this really serious look on his face when he’s splashing. Like it’s critical business beating that water into submission.

Trying on daddy's hat

Trying on daddy’s hat before our foray out to the lake

I’m going to miss being able to take him out for strolls and play time in the water because, up until now, those were my foolproof tactics for dealing with him when he’s being fussy. And my, has he been fussy lately.

He has recently discovered object permanence: that things remain, even when you can’t see them. This means he screams like a banshee if you take away the napkin he grabbed so he doesn’t eat it, and that he still remembers that potato chip he wanted to eat because he saw you eating it, even when you hide it away because, well, he doesn’t have teeth. Pretty much, he wants to eat anything he shouldn’t.

(Especially plastic bags. Boy seems to have a plastic deficiency he’s trying to alleviate.)

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And when he’s not grumpy about all that, he wants to stand up. All day long. Even when his little legs are too tired to stand anymore. If you make him sit, he cries. If you help him up to stand, he cries. Cue frustration. (His and ours.)

So I need all the tools I can get to distract him and bring back the smiles.

Basically, it’s a roller coaster right now: full of giggles and cuteness when he’s in a good mood, wailing when he’s not. It’s a fun and interesting time because so much more of his personality is showing through, and his curiosity about life is great to see, but it does make for some long days as you try to schlep him from one activity to the next to prevent the fussy.

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But, oh, the cute!! (Am I allowed to say that about my own child, or is that gauche?)

But I know this phase will pass quickly, just like all the others. I already can’t quite remember what the first month was like. Sometimes, I look at him sprawled out asleep in bed and think I see a toddler there, and I wonder when that happened. I never saw how he got so big, and I thought I was looking this whole time.

Thing I Love About Cy Today: When I stick out my tongue, he tries to grab it, but I suck it back in with a quick “slurp!” He giggles every time.

Momma Chat: On the Space Between

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I watch him playing quietly in his crib, tap-tapping at the stars on his glow turtle. He doesn’t seem to notice the bars between us. But I do.

He’s been napping in his crib now so that I can use that time to get more things done. But I watch him sleeping there, and I want to pull him out to cuddle.

On the second night of sleeping without his swaddle, he slept like a baby: he kicked me in the uterus all night long, until I could escape in the morning for an hour of sleep while his dad played with him before work. Being a mama is sometimes like being on touch overload; it’s a relief to not be touched for a solid 5 minutes.

And yet, I missed his little hands when I woke.

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From the early days on, people ask: “Is he sleeping in his crib yet?” Or, if you’re baby wearing, “Can’t you put him down?” and “Won’t he go in the stroller?” I use his readiness, rather than age, as a guideline to determine when to facilitate his independence. I do that partly for him and his sense of security, and partly for me and my need to soak up every day I have with him, knowing I only get just this one chance.

Just one chance to enjoy this day with him.

There will be many more years where he is too curious about the world to hug mama.
And more years when he is too cool to hug mama.
Then years when he is too far away to hug mama.

But maybe if I hug him up good now…maybe someday after I let him go, he’ll think to come back for another hug every now and then…

…because I’ll have held him until he was the one to pull away.

_1060082It’s a work in progress, learning to trust nature, when so much in our culture tells us “follow these 7 steps and train your baby!” like if you just press a cookie cutter to the dough, you’ll get a perfect cookie every single time. Like kids don’t have agency all their own. (Like that even works in baking. Cookies have agency too, dagnabbit.) I want to trust nature. Theoretically, I believe in it. But I’m scared of making the wrong decisions and finding out too late.

I shouldn’t be.

He sits all by himself now, and still loves to stand and to dance. Then, suddenly, after months of me agonizing to myself about whether he would learn, without any prompting, he’s started to enjoy rolling. He goes from back to front and front to back, like it’s no big thing. If I were to do this over again, I wouldn’t force tummy time on him like all the articles said to do. Before, he hated being on his tummy and he would often puke. Now, he rarely spits up…I should have listened to him, rather than the experts. I suspect it’s more comfortable now on his tummy because his stomach and esophageal muscles are stronger, so he doesn’t throw up. After a while, I did stop forcing tummy time on him and we built up his muscles doing “airplane” and carrying him in the sling, which really helped his neck muscles. He never complained at any of that. When he could sit unassisted, I stopped pushing him altogether, and just followed his cues. He did the rest all on his own.

And suddenly he’s ready to learn to sleep without the swaddle. I fretted for ages about how to wean him, but he showed me on his own, with no challenging weaning period. I still use it here and there when I feel it’ll help him sleep better (like during naps when outside noises might startle him awake), but if I wear him down to sleep in the Ergo, then slowly sneak us into bed, he can sleep the rest of the night unswaddled. No 12-step plan. Just following baby. And Nature. She’s smart, that lady.

Now, I just can’t wait until he turns six months old so I can start feeding him solids. I sneak him tiny dots of juice from my papaya salad lunch, a little squeeze of lime, or a smidgen of pad thai sauce just to see how he reacts. Not even enough for him to swallow, just the tiniest amount to explore the taste. Maybe not the prescribed way to introduce solids, but it’s whetting his appetite for real food. He watches us drink coffee in the morning and tries to grab the cup. We thought we’d discourage it by giving him a tiny dab of the bitter coffee to taste. He contemplated it for half a second and then lunged for the cup. Apparently a coffee fan, just like his mom and dad. I’m betting he’ll be a coffee snob by the age of six.

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Thing I Love About Cy Today: He’s a little bit afraid of the dark. When we drive home from some place at night, and we go through a dark patch, he holds my hand a little tighter.

Scenes From My Weekend

We took a road trip to The SOLD Project, where I work in Chiang Rai.

Little man fell asleep holding onto the wing of his favorite owl

Little man fell asleep holding onto the wing of his favorite owl

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Polar Cy -- it was COLD up there!

Polar Cy — it was COLD up there!

Our favorite cafe, tucked in a garden

Our favorite cafe, tucked in a garden

Father-son time

Father-son time

How was your weekend? Join us at Communal Global!



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