Traveling With Kids

by Marilynn Halas on May 24th, 2013
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Remember when a vacation meant things like relaxing, enjoying a good book or sight seeing in some exotic locale?  Remember when you could indulge in gourmet food and the ultimate luxury…a good night’s sleep?  Me neither, but I read about it somewhere.

For those of us who travel with kids, vacation is like a cross between a marathon and concert tour without the roadies, or groupies for that matter.  Very few of us arrive where we are going to the adoring looks of our traveling companions.  Take four kids on a plane; I dare you.

The kids will be polite and well behaved, but the pained looks from the other passengers and even some flight attendants will make you cringe.  One man even asked me if I didn’t have a TV?  I’d like to print my reply, but I am trying to be a more positive and forgiving person.  That’s why I forgave him for his adolescent remark about the fact that I have four kids.

It is especially gratifying when these same smart alecks compliment us on the way off the plane saying they had no idea traveling with kids could be so easy.  Easy for them to say.  Traveling with kids is like traveling with anyone, it has its ups and downs, and unpredictability.  Even so, there are some tricks of the trade that really help, so as the summer travel season kicks off I thought I would share a little of what I’ve learned so far.

The single most important thing to bring on any trip is a well-developed sense of humor.  Believe me, you’ll need it before you even get out the door.  Perfection is an illusion so do your best and then accept the inevitable unexpected.  Remind yourself and your kids that traveling is a privilege AND an adventure and no adventure is complete without a little of the unexpected.

Things are forgotten, people get sick and overtired happens.  These things are just as true on vacation as when you are home so remember, like running a marathon, vacation with kids is all about pacing yourself.   If you can pace yourself, manage everyone’s expectations and laugh you will have a great story to tell no matter what.

Some of the tips that really simplify life for us are about organization.  I think if you organize before you go, you can be more flexible when you arrive.  Begin at the beginning.  Make your lists.  One for crucial contact numbers like pediatricians, local pharmacies and prescription refills, not to mention hotel, airline and passport numbers.  We all hope you will never need this list, but if you ever do, believe me you’ll be glad you have it.  Next, make a list for packing.  Bring enough diapers for the first two days, a changing pad, nail clippers and the almighty Q-tips.  Older kids may make their own lists but it’s better to discover someone’s sandals don’t fit before you go than to lose a day shoe shopping on your trip.

Next tip is to ship everything you can.  Ship luggage to the hotel, (most airlines charge you anyway, so why pay and schlep when you can just pay and have it delivered?)  Also try to ship your stuff back home.  Laundry will wait for you, I promise.

Also, make sure your carry-on has a change of clothes for everyone, a toothbrush and entertainment for the trip.  Electronic entertainment is best for these purposes.  There is nothing as delightful as fishing crayons out of the plane crevices, ask me how I know.   Again, no one wants to need the change of clothes, but if you spill, er…something, at 35,000 feet, it’s great to not be sticky the rest of the day.

Lastly, please don’t medicate a healthy child.  I know it’s hard to having a crying baby on a trip.  My 15 month old once cried her way from New York to Dublin, but please don’t take a chance of an unexpected reaction when you are far from help and far from home.  It is an utterly avoidable risk.

Okay, so that’s it, a few ideas and one big suggestion and off you go.  Make some memories, have a great trip and don’t forget your sense of humor is the best thing you can take anywhere.

Be well, be safe and be happy with your face to the sun.


When Your Pet Passes Away

by Marilynn Halas on May 9th, 2013
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Last Sunday was a tough day in our house.  It started out okay, pancakes and sunshine and we were planning to go for a hike after church.   As part of our normal routine our dogs went out, came in and settled down for their mid-morning nap.  I guess I never will understand the expression “working like a dog”.   In fact, I have often thought that if dogs could only read, it looks like a great deal to me.

We were busy cleaning up when we noticed something was missing.  It was quiet, too quiet.  Our dog, Thunder has provided us with a steady rattle and hum for years.  Her snoring suits her name although that’s not how she got it.  Her first name was Kailua, after a favorite place in Hawaii, but we quickly nicknamed her Thunder.  As a pup she would race from one end of the house to the other and anyone who knows about Great Danes will agree that it sounds a lot like rolling thunder.  That’s how Thunder got her name, and she lived up to it all her life.

When we realized that Thunder was silent we sent our kids upstairs and tried to revive her but it was no use.  Thunder was silent and we were heartbroken.  Telling the kids was awful but we made it through.  Unfortunately we have enough experience with loss to understand that it is excruciating at first and that it will ease to a dull ache over time, hopefully.

Step by step and it will ease.  One of the greatest blessings in this is the kindness of our friends and neighbors.  A Great Dane is hard to miss and our dog’s passing has not gone unnoticed.  From flowers to cheer us up, to a delicious lentil casserole to warm us up, we have been supported and lifted up by those around us.  One dear friend even encouraged us bring home another dog someday.  So kind.

There’s a lot we can do to make this kind of loss easier on our kids.  Using our tips to talk to kids in a crisis helps a lot.  Holding onto them and letting them experience the loss in their own ways.  Crying is okay, drawing a picture or talking with friends.  All of these are good signs.  Also remembering the good times shared is key.

Dr. Seuss said “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”   I love that.  Truly gratitude is always the best attitude.  Another friend suggested making a planter from Thunder’s water bowl, using her leash as a border for a collage and suspending the collage with a wire like sculpture growing out of the planter.  I love this idea because I think it really represents growing through a sad time and that’s the lesson in this for all of us.

Thunder was a treasured part of our family and always will be.  It is so like her that even in death she is still teaching us about life and unconditional love.  Thunder’s passing brought our friends and neighbors around us to encircle us in their caring and love and we will honor her memory by passing that love forward to our friends, family and someday, maybe even to a new four-legged furball.

So thank you Thunder for everything, including reminding us to keep facing the sun even in the midst of a storm.



Happy Earth Day

by Marilynn Halas on April 22nd, 2013
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Earth Day is celebrated in almost 200 countries and the list continues to grow.  It is a great day for celebrations and a chance to have meaningful discussions about how we can be good stewards of this magnificent planet.  Even more than that, it is an opportunity to share ideas with our children about how we can all help each other and our planetary home live healthy and happy lives.

I think kids feel empowered when we let them know that they are capable of making a difference in this big world.  Most kids love to help and even older ones want to get involved when we put any project in the right context.  It’s important to do more than just tell our kids what to do, we need to make sure they understand why it matters so much.

I wrote a book for families who want to raise enthusiastic helpers called Fuzzwippers Make Good Helpers and I’d like to share some of the tips with you.   Whether it’s an Earth Day beach cleanup or a spring cleaning in the garage, kids want to feel needed and working together is a great way to bond and build up your family team.

The first thing to do is to be clear.  Most of us aren’t mind readers so whether you are talking to a toddler or a teen, be clear about two things; what you need done AND how much you appreciate the help.  People are motivated best when they know what to do and they feel like their efforts aren’t taken for granted. (This is also a good policy when talking to co-workers, contractors and even spouses!)

The next thing is to make sure your team knows that every job matters and that even though we need to work on different parts of a project, all the parts are important.  Even if you didn’t get the part you wanted, the part you did get is just as needed.

Last, but not least, think sustainability!  No matter what you are doing, it only helps if you stick with it and finish the job.  We want our kids to understand commitment and this is a great way to teach it.  Doing a little of anything and then giving up almost always makes things worse.  There is nothing like knowing you have the ability to stick with something, even when it gets tough. That ability is called character and most of us hope to see it grow in our kids just like the garden we tend and hope will sprout.  Help your kids feel the satisfaction of a job well done.

On Earth Day and everyday we have the chance to help our kids become understanding and strong contributors to the world we share.  Earth Day isn’t only about educating people to care for our planet, it is also the opportunity to empower others to care for our community.  Building a strong family team, community team and even an empowered planetary team.

Happy Earth Day and remember to keep your face to sun, just like your Mother Earth does everyday.


Dialogue Is The Antidote To Disaster

by Marilynn Halas on April 16th, 2013
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What follows is a step-by-step guide that can help families deal with the difficult conversations that need to happen after there has been a crisis or disaster.  Originally complied in the wake of another tragedy, these steps may now be helpful to all of us trying to help our children feel safe in a world that often isn’t.


During times of crisis and violence I believe moms and dads are the first line of defense against the emotional scarring that turn a child’s world upside down.  Moms and dads are the ones who must often break the news, dry the tears and find a way help their children feel safe again and grow a little stronger.


In some cases, professional intervention is the best route, but in many others children can overcome their fears with the consistent support of their families.  So how can we offer that support?  Begin at the beginning.


Breaking the news

When a tragedy occurs and we must tell our children what has happened, there are simple steps that can make a big difference.  It’s not easy to see our kids uncomfortable and no one wants to see them cry, but when you have bad news to deliver we need to look our child in the eye.  Kneel down in front of your little one or sit down next to him or her on the couch.  Put one hand over your child’s and wrap the other arm around him or her.  Communicate the news with gentle words, but communicate your love and support with body language.


When knights of the realm wanted to show their allegiance to the king, they got down on one knee.  There is a reason that we smile when a man proposes to his sweetheart on bended knee.  We are hardwired to understand the messages behind the body language.  Kneeling means I am not leaving you, I don’t have one foot out the door because there is trouble, I am here for the duration.


When you wrap your arms around your child you literally “have his or her back”.   All of this nonverbal communication makes hard news more bearable for your child.


Keep the discussion age appropriate and TRUTHFUL

Only a parent can decide what and how much their child should know.  Speak calmly, clearly and honestly.  This is the information age and media is everywhere.  You don’t have to tell a child every detail, but be sure that the information you choose to share is true.  This is an opportunity to build trust and showing your child that he or she can count on you to be supportive and truthful, goes a long way toward helping a child learn to cope.


Watch, listen and learn

Just as you communicate with words and body language, so do your kids.  Tears or downcast eyes?  Trembling or clenched fists? All of these will show you how your child copes in a crisis.  This is valuable information that will help you support your child over the course of a lifetime.


Use the numbers

Point out that there was one bad person, but there were upwards of one hundred people who rushed to help.  Remind your children that the bad person is gone, but the helpers remain and they are willing and able to support, help and protect the community.  Loan your child your perspective, let them know that there was one terrible day and it is over now and there are many, many more happy days yet to come.


Let your child process the event in his or her own way and at his or her own pace

Older kids may look for logic and grasp for control over a situation that is devoid of both.  That is okay.  Let your teenager process this event in his or her own way.  Exercise, journal, spend time with the family, talk about it or not talk…yet.  All of these are normal and healthy coping mechanisms.  Support you child and remember older children need and want your support as desperately as little ones, but it might be harder for them to let you know. So, stay close and don’t be afraid to reach out.


Remember that expression leads to empowerment

When your child is ready let him or her express their feelings through words, art, music, volunteerism or story.  The magical alchemy of childhood is the ability to transform pain into growth. When your child is ready to express his or her feelings constructively and healthfully, that is progress.


by Marilynn Halas on April 3rd, 2013
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They say that people come into our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime and I agree.  Each of us takes our journey and meets along the way people who accompany us and lighten our load, teach us something, or both.  Life is always changing and that’s a good thing because change is essential for growth.


Kids go through transitions all the time.  One night they sleep in a crib, the next in a bed.  One day they are in Kindergarten, the next they are off to high school, or at least it can feel like that for us moms and dads watching them grow.  I think the ability to live a happy and balanced life depends upon our ability to roll with the changes and embrace the opportunity in every unknown.


The thing is, sometimes we like things just the way they are.  That’s normal; a certain anxiety about the unknown is healthy.  Imagine the first time a caveman discovered a fire.  Caution was definitely appropriate, but so was exploration.  The same is true for any life change at any age.


Teaching our kids that new experiences are a natural part of life at any age is a great gift to them.  It normalizes their concerns and empowers them to look for the opportunities.  Whether it’s trying a new food like sushi or zucchini, or adapting to a new school or neighborhood, graceful transition skills are an important part of the toolbox we need to build a more meaningful life.


Saying hello, or even good-bye to a someone we care about can be difficult, adjusting to a new routine or a new environment is bound to have it’s ups and downs, but how we cope, will teach our kids how it’s done, for better or for worse.  Like so much of parenting, what we do sets the tone for our kids.  Are we teaching them to be open and embrace life?  Most of us certainly hope so.  Are we reminding to be gentle with themselves and pace themselves?  Most of us mean to.  Are we letting them know that no matter what changes around them, there are constants that form the structure they can cling to?  Most of us think so.


Like most journeys, it’s easier to get to your desired location if you actually choose one.  So I think the first step is to decide that teaching your kids and yourself about transitions is important.  Deciding that you value openness more than fear, that you want to embrace life rather than endure it, these are the most important steps in raising kids who can relax into newness rather than resist it.  Reassuring your child and yourself that love doesn’t change.  If unconditional love is your structure then it is strong and can it can move, grow and carry whatever changes come.  Maybe that is a good way to look at changes, maybe transitions really are opportunities to love and be loved in new ways.  That would be an attitude we could all embrace.


No matter what else changes, keep your face to the sun.