Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Last day of school & vacation planning

Last day of school pics--Luke finished preschool, Nathan wasn't going to be left out, Jules is done with 3rd grade, Isaac is finished with 1st (and on to the high-ability classes with his older sisters, yay! So proud of him for getting in, although I did not doubt it for a second!) and Abigail is headed to middle school--yikes!!

 It's hard to believe that we're already into our third week of summer break! We start school so early in the fall that we really get out crazy early in the spring (plus we only had a couple of snow days this year, instead of extending for another week like we did last year...).

I had been going back and forth for months on our vacation plans this year. Because I'm teaching this summer, we had a very limited window of time (the kids were out of school the week before Memorial Day and I had to be back by June 10 and was committed until the first week in August, and then they start school the week after that). Neil was working so much that he was pretty sure he wouldn't be able to leave, and can I be honest for a sec? I was SO frustrated at the fact that while on paper he has a gazillion vacation days and only gets paid for working 20 hours a week, in actuality he works 80-100 hours a week and feels horrible any time he pleads for a vacation day. And I was just so tired of waiting around for him to be available--I really felt trapped by his research obligations and frustrated that they were dictating my choices. (I know this sounds horribly whiny/entitled, but...that's how I felt. And while I know that this is how it is for anyone with a working spouse, let's be honest, the whole decade of misery in grad school thing is really hard and I had, had, HAD to get away from it for a bit and just do something that I wanted to do.)

So...I decided to just go with the kids. And then after I had decided that, just about all of the equipment in Neil's lab went down at the same time and his advisor told him that if he was planning to take any time off, now would be the time to do it while everything was being fixed. But Neil only wanted to take off 4 days, and I wanted more time than that, so...I drove to Utah with the children the day after school let out and Neil flew out to join us a week later. Best of both worlds!!!



What made all of this super-interesting was the fact that we left on a Saturday and I didn't decide to leave until the Tuesday of that week--just a few days before. This was also the last week of school which--if you do not have school-aged children or you have magically forgotten the crazy that is the last week of school--well, it's an insane time to survive, LET ALONE prep for a cross-country trip with one adult and five children. But somehow we did it.

The girls had a piano recital Saturday morning. I got up early and went for my run, then came home and biked 4 miles with the kids & Neil, then we all got ready for the recital and went off to see the girls perform. Then we ate a quick lunch and hit the road!



A couple of tips if you are thinking about doing this sort of thing yourself:

1) Be as organized as you can

Some things that really helped me:

 a) Each child had their own (labeled) bag hanging on the seat in front of them. This is where all of    their belongings went and it kept all the chaos off the floor/seats. At every stop, the kids had to put    their stuff back in their bag before exiting the car.

 b) Assign jobs! I had each of the three older kids acting as "row captains" for their row. They took this responsibility very seriously. Isaac, in the middle row, was also "trash police," which meant he was in charge of knowing where the trash bag was and making sure everyone handed him their fruit snack wrappers and whatnot. (Note: the popularity of this job really paled by the time we were 20 hours in and we eventually assigned the child who was being most obnoxious about yelling "trash police!" to be the new trash police...but it kept the car clean!) Abigail was an AMAZING helper and pretty much ran things while I drove--I just told her what I needed her to make happen and she did it. She was absolutely phenomenal and I couldn't have done it without her.

c) Pre-pack bulk snacks into smaller sizes. Normally I just bring a plastic bowl per kid because I hate all the waste that comes with individual bags, but...it was pretty darn nice to be able to just toss something back.

d) Pack each outfit in a labeled Ziploc gallon-sized bag. I've done this for years and it is such a lifesaver. No searching! I don't do this for adults, but I LOVE it for kids (I also specify on the label if it's a special outfit, like for church or a wedding or something). I save all the bags and just reuse them for each subsequent trip. This also makes it really easy to pack a "go bag" so you can just have one tiny bag with pajamas and outfits for the next day if you're stopping somewhere overnight.

e) I am a big fan of eating meals in the car (no time wasted in stopping + keeps kids busy in the car, and I just vacuum later), so I think carefully about what things my kids love enough that I won't have to cajole them into eating. This definitely works better for some children than others. :-) In addition to the standard sandwiches, we also do some items that are made in advance at home & then frozen until the trip--nice because you can do this a week or two ahead! (muffins, pizza pockets, oven-baked chimichangas, etc.). We always have lots of fruit & veggies on hand to round things out, and if I'm feeling daring we go for disposable yogurt cups. And thanks to leaving ALL of our food in Denver (along with my pricey ice packs!) I also have another tip: if you leave things in the 'fridge, put something else in there so you remember to get them out...like a sleeping bag stuff sack, because you're definitely not going to forget that. :-)

2) Plan creatively for in-car entertainment 

We watched 3 movies each way, which I think is pretty good for 23-25 hrs in the car (longer on the way back since we detoured a few times). We brought lots of audiobooks, picture books, and a few select small toys. I also ordered a few new items: this Cubebot was a HUGE hit and Luke probably spent at least 15 hours playing with it. I also bought a Water Wow book for each kid, added these bingo cards to our stash of printable/laminated ones, and we were totally fascinated with these atlases targeted for kids. I bought an atlas per kid who can read (3), but in hindsight, I wish I'd bought one atlas and 3 Cubebots. :-)

For past road trips, I made "road trip folders" that included all kinds of printables from Pinterest. Now I just check through these and update as need be depending on what's been used. Nathan isn't really into this sort of thing yet, but he LOVES cutting paper & putting stickers on everything, so I make sure his folder includes scissors and lots of construction paper, plus enough sticker sheets that he can occupy himself for hours by putting stickers on his eyes and things like that. I also have four or five different bingo cards (per kid) that I've laminated and keep with their folders...these are usually good for quite a few hours!

Our favorite audiobooks are the Classical Kids CDs (this 4-disc set has the best ones!) and the Chronicles of Narnia (this one is so so fabulous!!).  We also have this Peter and the Wolf/Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra that is always a huge hit (well, Nathan requested it 11 times so all the rest of us love it a little less now...). And Dick King-Smith's The Water Horse is dearly beloved. We always go to the library and check out a few extras to shake things up--always a Harry Potter or two. :-)

3) Plan stops & routes carefully 

The first day we drove only 6.5 hours and stopped for two nights with dear dear friends in Iowa. It was SUCH a treat to see them and it helped so much in breaking up the drive! Our next day of driving was 10 hours (to Denver) and it was a looong day but I saved all the entertainment goodies for that day, so we were fine. And on our third full day of driving we opted to drive an extra hour so we could take I-70 through the mountains...we were 5 hours into our drive that day before anyone even wanted to look at a book or do anything other than stare out the windows in awe.

Overall, we stopped about every 3 hours. The stops were actually more stressful to me than driving, since I was trying to herd everyone through the bathroom and the boys were kind of like ping-pong balls after being cooped up in the car! We stopped at rest stops rather than gas stations since it meant everyone could go to the bathroom simultaneously rather than waiting in line, AND we usually took 15 minutes or so to run around and get some of the wiggles out. When we stopped for gas, I let the kids each pick out some kind of exciting treat (we get about 500 miles per tank, so this was pretty spread out and extremely exciting!). I think this actually only happened twice since I filled up right before we left and then after we arrived in Utah.

4) Planning for carsickness

I have a few kids who struggle with carsickness--this is what has been a lifesaver for me.

a) Ziploc bag clothes packets--super easy to find a change of clothes + you have something to seal the soiled clothing in without it stinking up the rest of the car.
b) Keep gallon-sized Ziploc bags where you can easily reach them (for me, it's the side pocket in the passenger door). After the kid is done throwing up into them, you can seal them without any leakage until you get to a trash can.
c) Baby wipes! Lots and lots of baby wipes.
d) We have had limited success with Dramamine (works for some kids and not others), but this trip I tried passing out Altoids whenever someone said they were feeling carsick. I'm THRILLED to report that this is the first time I have EVER not had someone throw up, versus the 8 times Luke threw up on our way home from Florida last year (with Dramamine). And we were going through some pretty darn windy roads, so this is huge!


And I think that's enough for today. Lots of vacation posts to come!



1 comment:

Courtney Remmenga said...

Love these ideas! My 2.5-yo gets carsick, too. Started when she was around 1 for any car trip longer than 15 or 20 minutes! I didn't know what to do - I didn't like the idea of giving my 1yo medicine for every car trip, and she was too little to know how to throw up into a bucket. So it was a mess every time we had to go anywhere. Such a pain to clean the car seat. Ugh. BUT... a friend recommended I try Sea-Bands, acupressure bracelets for motion sickness. I was skeptical but desperate. We bought the child size and it has worked amazingly well! She even sings and chats away in her car seat, doesn't act sick at all. The only time she has thrown up while wearing them is when we forgot to put them on until she already felt very sick. They probably don't work for everyone, but they sure did for us. Worth a shot at least! I need to try peppermint, too, now that she likes that flavor. She used to spit them out. :)

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