Can you believe that we arrived back in the US over 2.5 months ago?? It has blinked by pretty fast in a lot of ways. (In other ways - like waiting on a SSN for M so we could buy a house...not so fast.) I've been meaning to write a few tips based on our experience of our transatlantic move that might help any parents out there, so without further ado, here are my Top Tips for Moving (Continents) with a Toddler:
1. Don't do it when you're pregnant.
Maybe this is a no brainer for everyone else, and obviously there are times when you can't avoid the timing of a move, but this is just not something I would wish upon anyone. The fatigue and morning sickness alone are enough problems for a regular week, but try packing up your whole life, managing leases and closing all of your bills, selling a lot of property to avoid moving it, transatlantic flights and jet lag with a toddler whilst suffering from the worst exhaustion of your life, and you'll know where I'm coming from. At the very least, avoid the first trimester!
2. Keep as much of the packing craze away from the little one as possible.
Change is unsettling for adults, so just imagine what it does to a little person who can't understand what's going on... Our personal choice was to try and minimize the chaos in Bug's living spaces, to shield her from the weeks and weeks of packing and boxes. We started by filling our guest room with as much stuff as we could, and then moved on to closets and the shed down the back of the garden. We tried to keep the main living spaces box free - until the last minute possible. And once the boxes were visible, we made games out of them and tried to keep it all fun so she'd view things positively!
Now, that being said, we did try to verbally prepare her (as well as you can with an 18 month old) by regularly telling her that we were going to move to a new house, but that we were taking all of her toys and things and she would see them all again. I don't know if she retained or understood any of that, but we didn't want to miss the chance to explain things to her, just in case.
One point that I'm on the fence about, is whether to avoid letting a toddler see the empty house, once things are all packed up. For me, and for many adults and perhaps even bigger children, where you can explain that although their things aren't here anymore they will be in the new place, seeing the empty house / apartment is good closure. However, Bug did end up in our old house in England, after the movers had packed up the freight container, and she was so confused and upset, I'm not sure it was a good idea at her age. (Thoughts??)
For the Flight:
3. Get the bulkhead row.
ALWAYS ask for this row - call the airline after booking and make the request. Until a child is 2 they don't get their own seat - you pay a portion of a ticket price for the luxury of having them sit in YOUR lap. Awesomeness. And whilst the money saved is great, the joys of sharing your already small space with what might as well be an octopus full of elbows and knees are pretty limited. Granted, you won't be able to sit on the sides of the plane with just 2 seats in a row, but getting the bulkhead row provides you with critical extra leg room for all the crap you're dragging with you to try and keep toddler distracted. Plus many airlines have bassinets (for wee babes) and a sort of bouncer-ish seat for older ones, both that attach to the wall and let you strap child in safely for a snooze so your arms aren't dead weight and you're not left trying to hold a child comfortably while simultaneously preventing the drinks trolley from knocking him or her in the head/feet as they go by. Added bonus of being able to eat your meal when it comes - priceless!
4. The toys/distractions you think you need for the flight? DOUBLE it. (At least!)
If you have the space, bring even more. Short attention spans + small spaces + difficulty sleeping = cranky city. So the more things you can bring to occupy those attention spans, the better. Novel things keep attention longer than toys they recognize and have played with loads at home - so pick up a couple of brand new toys and save them specifically for the flight! Some of the best things we packed (thanks to the advice of my travel pro friend Cheryl who has tried and tested everything!):
- Tomy eggs
- Reusable stickers (Melissa & Doug make a great set!)
- Play-doh and some small plastic cookie cutters
- Crayons and coloring books (We brought loads of these and ended up sharing with another little girl whose parents were trying to keep her entertained as well. She was delighted!)
- Books, books, and more books! On the iPad helps save space, plus you have the added interest of interactive reading for many books. But I find actual board books and flip books are fun for Bug to turn the pages as well.
- Child-friendly apps, games, TV shows, short films...load up the iPad / tablet! Disney Baby has a whole slew of free apps and games, if you don't want to break the bank (Peekaboo Barn and Toca Monsters are the top hits for Bug). These will be your emergency distractions and/or something you use to help space out the time between toys.
5. Space out the toys you brought.
Play with one toy until your child is bored with it. Then before you pull out the next distraction/toy, take kiddo for a walk up the aisle to wave at the flight attendants, dance with them by your seat, do ANYthing to stretch their (and your!) legs and change the scenery. Then when you do get back in the seat and take out the next toy it's not so bad. If you're lucky you might give yourself an extra hour or two of your child not getting irritable at being held still in one tiny little square of space. You will spread out the playtime longer as well. (And if you bring enough toys - see point above - you may be able to bring out the first one again once you've gone through them all!)
6. If you're staying in hotels, ask for a real crib / cotbed.
This may not seem important for just one night, but we've found that Bug sleeps *much* better in one of these, rather than a pack-and-play / portacrib. The mattress is so much thicker and more comfortable, and no doubt it's more like being at home. Not all hotels have one on hand, but more do than you'd think - and it doesn't hurt to ask!!
7. Make any temporary housing situation as normal as possible.
Take as many things from home as possible. Make a spot that is just for him/her in the temporary location. We brought all of Bug's stuffed bunnies, her baby doll, lamb, even her giant panda bear and her inflatable easy chair! All were things that she clung to when we got here, amidst all of the wide-eyed and confused looks. They're familiar and part of what she remembers of home. Be sure to explore the new settings together in the first few days so it becomes familiar quickly.
8. Set up 'regular life' for your child as soon as you arrive.
Before setting it up for you and your partner! Get back onto their regular routines as soon as possible - even in dreaded jet lag situations. Find groups to join for playdates if that's what you did back home. Get into the local library's weekly book time. Take your usual daily walks together. Find a pediatrician straight away and set them up with an initial appointment so they meet your child, see what they're like when they're well, and have any 'catch-up' vaccinations done that are needed so they're on the right schedule quickly.
9. If you can, move when your child is very young, rather than a toddler.
I know, this is hardly advice - timing is what it is. But I would say that the younger a child is, the more adaptable they are, and the less attached they are to specific things and places. Before they start crawling they are so much more portable and content to sit and sleep that flying is easy! It was far easier for us to come here last summer when Bug was 5/6 months old, than this time. She didn't nap that well but she was perfectly happy to look around the plane and didn't realize the constraints of the space.
10. Make it fun - and remember why you're doing this.
Don't worry at all about what you may look like - sit on the floor of the plane, run around the play areas and act like a goofball in the airport yourself; keep that toddler entertained! Make the travel an adventure so that they enjoy it more. At every hotel we went to, we took Bug swimming because she ADORES it. This meant we were a bit rushed with other parts of the packing up process, but it was worth it for that 45 minutes of pure laughter and splashing each time. And don't forget why you're making this move. You're doing it for that kiddo, at least partially. You believe that this move will be good for them, will make life better for them somehow. Keep that in mind and focus on that, and don't let the stress of it all get to you.
For this Wednesday's Wishes, I'm hoping and praying that we do not need these top tips again for a long time, and that we get to settle in and enjoy being in one house / one village / one location for a long while...
What's on your wishlist this week??