Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Reward: Lost Dog...please call!

Attention shoppers, there is a small boy who has lost his stuffed puppy. If you see this small, light brown dog, can you please advise a clerk immediately,” blasted the announcement on the store’s loud speakers.

When did I become this woman? I am frantically and meticulously retracing every step I took through a huge warehouse store searching for my son’s favorite toy, Coco. Alex doesn’t even realize Coco is missing – yet. But, he will later tonight when he tries to fall asleep, and this little ragged animal is no where to be found. Given the possibility of even more lost sleep on my end as I worry about how I’ll try to explain to Alex that Coco “went away to some place safe,” I think I’d rather lose my wallet. Credit cards are replaceable. Coco is not. You can negotiate with the bank. You cannot with your kid.

Traveling with children means lugging half the toy box too, keeping a careful inventory of what’s they’ve stocked for the trip, and most importantly, never, ever losing sight of that special toy. A few holidays back, before I had my own kid, my nephew’s favorite GI Joe was chewed to pieces by a family dog. It totally ruined the day. I didn’t quite “get” how devastating it was to lose an $8 toy, but today as I raced up-and-down the aisles all I could think about was putting a dog tag on that little puppy with a plea to be called if found. Big Reward!

What to do if you see a Grizzly Bear...

Denali National Park in Alaska is an area as large as the state of Massachusetts. It has one road leading 89 miles into the park, and the same road leads you back out. There are only two real choices to visit the park – hike it or bus it. We took the bus. But, before you sign up for the 6, 8 or 11 hour tour, make sure you know your child’s breaking point. We took the 8 hour tour. Alex had enough of the moose, caribou, Dall sheep, red fox, hares and one lone wolf we saw at about 6 hours. Some people think it’s brave to take your child to the edge of no where and then back. I’m tending to believe it’s a bit crazy.

The road into Denali starts out paved and two way, but by mile 64, at the Fish Creek Turnaround, you will have been weaved on a refurbished, painted green school bus up, down and around a steep, gravel, windy, one-lane path that looks like rock is added annually to replace what was washed away during the 9 month winter. If you don’t look down, or think too hard about it – it’s awesome. I guess that’s why they tell you to bring the car seat.

Alaska is stunning, and Denali, meaning 'tall one,' boasts North America’s highest mountain at 20,320 feet. It is one of the most magnificent places on earth. There are about 300 grizzly bears in the park, and signs posted to remind you to be alert. Here are the rules if you see a grizzly bear:

* Don’t run.
* Back away slowly.
* Should the bear approach or charge you – do not run.
* If a grizzly makes contact with you, play dead.
* If the attack is prolonged, fight back vigorously.

It doesn’t say what to do with your child. I’d recommend you just stay on the bus.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

3-2-1 Blast-Off

If you ever want to know what it feels like to launch into outer space, then you’ll have to take your aspiring astronaut to Kennedy Space Center (KSC), and ride the new Shuttle Launch Experience that will lean you back, blast you off and make you feel like you are traveling at 4g’s into the Milky Way. Since I tend to get freaked-out by something as tame as a tilt-a-whirl, I used my “get-out-of-the-activity-because-I-have-to-take-care-of-the-baby” card and Alex & skipped it altogether. But, the rest of the family said it was totally cool.

Alex’s dad is a genuine NASA rocket scientist, so a family trip to check out the rockets was almost inevitable. Almost forty years ago, Kennedy Space Center was the place where humans lifted off the Earth to travel to the Moon. And, today it is the place where astronauts launch aboard the Space Shuttle and travel to space.

In our visit there, we barely scratched the surface of everything there is to see and do. Alex cruised through the Rocket Garden in the stroller, got his photo snapped in front of the Vehicle Assembly Building where they put the shuttles together before placing them on crawlers that go at super-slow speeds to carry them to the launch pads, and ran laps below the Apollo / Saturn V Rocket, the most complex machine ever built. Where else on the planet can your toddler do that?

I can’t wait to go back when Alex is a little bit older. But, who knows, maybe someday he’ll actually fly into outer space!?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Bye, bye plane

It happened again. Another mother was thrown off of another plane with her baby by an intolerant flight attendant who thinks she's got superpowers. Alex and I haven't been thrown off of any planes ...yet. But, I'm convinced its just a matter of time. A child can fly on your lap until he's 2-years-old. You haven't really experienced plane travel until you've tried to confine your 18-month-old to an area that's about 18" x 18". It's hard to know what's more exciting -- banging on the seat in front of you, trying to grab the laptop on your left, or spilling the orange juice on your right.

People stare at you when you have a baby. Some of them smile in admiration for the cutsy with you, but others glare in disdain for whatever your kid is doing. As more and more airlines continue to lose their cool, the only thing we moms can do is try to ignore the stares and glares, and do what we can to keep our little ones happy. Here's the stories so you know what you are dealing with:

Mom Says She, Toddler Kicked Off Plane
A woman said she and her toddler son were kicked off a plane after she refused a flight attendant's request to medicate her son to get him to quiet down and stop saying "Bye bye, plane."
Kate Penland, of suburban Atlanta, said she and her 19-month-old son, Garren, were flying from Atlanta to Oklahoma last month on a Continental Express flight that made a stop in Houston. As the plane was taxiing in Houston en route to Oklahoma, "he started saying 'Bye, bye plane,' Penland told WSB-TV in Atlanta. The flight attendant objected, she said.
"At the end of her speech, she leaned over the gentleman beside me and said, 'It's not funny anymore. You need to shut your baby up,'" Penland told WSB-TV in Atlanta.
When Penland asked the woman if she was joking, she said the stewardess replied, "You know, it's called baby Benadryl."
"And I said, 'Well, I'm not going to drug my child so you have a pleasant flight,'" Penland told the TV station.

Crying Child and Parents Removed From Flight
AirTran Ejected 3-Year-Old and Her Parents After Tantrum
Every parent has dealt with a child having a tantrum and causing embarrassment at the worst times -- in a grocery store, in a restaurant, and at weddings.
For a Massachusetts mom and dad, however, their toddler's tantrum cost them their flight home
On Jan. 14, 3-year-old Elly Kulesza and her parents, Julie and Gerald, were kicked off an AirTran Airways flight from Florida to their Worcester, Mass., home because Elly would not stop crying.
Elly, who had been a model passenger on the flight to Florida four days earlier, began to cry uncontrollably once she got on the plane, throwing a temper tantrum on the floor.
AirTran employees demanded that the Kuleszas calm down their child. When Elly didn't stop crying, the crew banned the Kuleszas from flying for 24 hours. Later, AirTran offered an apology to the family along with a refund on their tickets.

Nine months pregnant woman turned off bus because of a toddler tantrum
Joanne Uzzell was not having a good day. Nine months pregnant and on the point of giving birth – she had been to the shops with her two year old daughter Molly. The journey home was just half a mile, but hugely pregnant and with two bags of shopping and a petulant toddler, Joanne took the sensible decision to take a bus home.
But when daughter Molly threw a toddler tantrum on the bus, Joanne was told to either calm her daughter down or get off the bus. 'Molly had a temper tantrum and I could not make her stop — but the driver went potty and told me to shut her up,' Joanne told The Sun. 'I was trying my best to calm her down but the driver started tutting and huffing and puffing.
'Molly is two years old — what did he expect. I was nine months pregnant and had a crying child, but to contend with that sort of treatment was the last thing I needed.'
“He then pulled over and said that he couldn’t drive as he couldn’t concentrate. I asked him if he expected me to get off and he smirked and nodded. I felt like I had no choice.” The Wilts and Dorset bus company have since apologised to Joanne saying; 'We expect our drivers to behave courteously to all customers. We will try to ensure this does not happen again.'

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Don't Let Your Kid Get Eaten by an Alligator!

When families visit Orlando, Florida, most kids go to Disneyland, Epcot Center, Universal Studios or SeaWorld. Alex got to go to Gatorland for some “swamp stompin’ adventure!” Gatorland is the alligator capital of the world. Visitors can catch the Gator Jumparoo Show where alligators jump several feet vertically out of the water to compete for lunch. Or, you can get your photo snapped on the back of an eight-footer at the Gator Wrestlin’ Show. Alex and I decided to hand-feed a pack of ‘em. It was awesome! You can buy raw wieners and drop them into the big pond where gators line up along the edges waiting for you. Or, you can sign up for the VIP feeding and get right up close to them without any fences between you. (I recommend keeping your toddler held tightly in your arms for this tour.)

So what's the difference between an alligator and a crocodile? It’s mostly the snout. What’s the difference between Gatorland and one of those giant theme parks? Not having to keep your kid on a leash. Alex ran around the park carefree with happy giggles. He splashed at Gator Gully, rode the Gatorland Express and had up-close-encounters with alligators, crocodiles, emus, turtles, goats, llamas, parrots and more. We weren’t rushed, didn’t have to stand in line, spent way less money and could see it all. Only along the adventure walk around the gator-packed lake did I have to make sure he kept his hands and toes inside the fences.

For the jet set mom, it’s tempting to seek the big adventure. For baby, everything is a big adventure. So, if you are dying to take your child – alone – to one of those big theme parks, make sure she/he can handle the heat, the people and the time it will take to drive, park and explore. Otherwise, for the little guys and gals, try something more their size. For us – a visit with giant alligators was the perfect stop. Mickey & Minnie and the Magic Castle will be there for the next trip.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Singapore Bling

At the Southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore is just 85 miles north of the equator. It takes about 19 hours to fly from Los Angeles to Singapore. If you have a 6-month-old baby on your lap, that’s 1140 minutes or 68,400 seconds. You’ll start counting the time somewhere over Hawaii, but you still won’t be half-way there. Singapore Airlines gave Alex a welcome bag filled with diapers, wet wipes and an adorable little toy, and once we arrived at the Changai Airport, we found private changing rooms for moms with babes. So, it’s worth the trip.

And, once you get there, you can have breakfast with Orang utans, howl with hyenas, kiss a rare pink dolphin or dive with dugongs like Gracie. From insects and butterflies, bird parks, night safaris and underwater worlds, the various zoos and botanical gardens of Singapore are simply not to be missed even if you are not an animal or nature fanatic. (We are wildlife warriors, so it was like paradise!)

Alex gives Singapore two thumbs-up for being stroller friendly. Alone we cruised the downtown, scouted across the bridges along the river walk, got up-close to the Merlion on the waterfront, and even kicked back for a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel. But, while the ‘sling’ will set you back a good $20, the ‘bling’ will set you back much more. Shopping is not for the novice. Raid the saving account before the trip, bring extra bags, and plan nap times carefully. (Note: If you are seeking souvenirs, get to the airport early – the best shop with everything you need is there!)

Singapore was one of the first international trips with Alex. For me, it proved that I could still do it all – be a mom and see the world. I was excited to see everything, but didn’t know how travel would be with a toddler in tow. I learned to balance what I wanted to see and do with Alex's needs too. So, what’s the best advice? The official website for what to do and see in Singapore gives great information about a great many things to do. But if you asked Alex for his best bets he’ll recommend you stand lobby of the Pan Pacific Hotel watching the six glass-lit elevators race up-and-down. Mommy and baby both found their bling.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

China's 'Forbidden City' forbids Babies?

The Forbidden City was the Chinese Imperial Palace from the mid-Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It is located in the center of Beijing, China. The complex is comprised of 9,999 rooms -- and, what feels like that many tourists. But, there are no babies allowed inside the Forbidden City. (OK, that is absolutely not true. But, I didn't see any. In fact, I didn't see any babies in China at all.)

When Alex was 6-months-old, he visited Beijing in intense summer heat. At every step, we were followed, photographed, and stopped by throngs of Chinese excited to see our little boy. If you ever want to know what it feels like to be stalked by paparazzi, then take your baby to China. With over 1.31 billion people, China has the largest population of any country in the world. The crunch of people on the roads and sidewalks is felt as you ping-pong your way down any street. Even the tourist spots are shoulder-to-shoulder with Chinese teens and adults snapping pictures. But there were no babies, toddlers or small children to be seen. The Chinese prefer to keep their children at home. And, that made us a big hit!

At Tian'anmen Square we were followed by excited teenagers. Navigating the stroller through the main gates for the Forbidden City became a bigger challenge as everyone tried to sneek a peek inside. On the exquisite grounds of the Summer Palace a police officer actually had to break up the crowd gathered around us. At the panda exhibit at the zoo, there were more people taking pictures of us then taking pictures of the near extinct pandas. And even on the hottest of days, as we made the ultimate climb up a very small portion of the 4,000 mile-long Great Wall of China, heads turned and cameras from all directions were pointed at little Alex.

I can't help but wonder how many Chinese scrapbooks, camera phones and even blogs my son is posted on. The chance to visit China was a trip that I'll cherish a lifetime. But more than the Ming Tombs, beautiful jade factories or the anticipation of the 2008 Olympics slated for Beijing, what I'll remember most is the thousands of smiles Alex brought to the faces of China!