Friday, August 8, 2014

Last Minute Travel With A Toddler

Are you kidding me?
Late last month we wound up needing to take an impromptu road trip with the baby. There was an unexpected death in the family and we had to be on the other side of California by Friday. It was Wednesday.

Anyone who has children, especially toddlers, know how little long road trips are liked. Road trips with an infant are relatively easy (even easier if aren't breastfeeding or can pump as you don't need to pull over to feed baby). They cannot move on their own yet and generally just stare off into space until they fall asleep and then remain asleep a good deal of the trip.

For a toddler though, or even just a baby who has recently learned to crawl, being restrained in a car seat is like being oppressed and they tend not to enjoy it very much at all. At best they tolerate it. Their understanding is that it'll suck but it'll only be a short trip and then they'll be free again, because that has been their experience. They wind up in the car seat to go to grandma's house, or the pediatrician's office, or the grocery store. All local places. So when you put them into their car seat and drive upwards of an hour, they start to get upset.

They're thoroughly bored, they're restrained, they want to stretch their legs, they want to run, there's nothing they can do but complain. You try to entertain them but in a car there's only so much you can do. So you wind up singing a maddening amount of children's songs, climbing into the back seat to try to feed them or get the juice they've thrown on the floor in protest for the 95th time. You give them books, blocks, rings, musical devices, Sesame Street youtube videos, crackers, cookies, pretty much anything to try to keep them placated for the hours still ahead of you in the vehicle. It's pretty much torture. For everyone.

Lucky parents have toddlers that will still sleep in the car. I am not one of those parents. My child has not slept in the car since he was seven months old. Essentially the moment he was able to move on his own he's done nothing but loathe the car seat. Once grandma became a local person it was a lot better because rather than immediately equate a car ride with the pediatrician and vaccinations or boring grocery shopping, he considered perhaps we'd be headed to grandma's house -- that's fun! However long car rides are still stressful and feats of physical and mental exhaustion.

Our journey would be eight hours minimum, likely ten or more. Thankfully grandma was making the trip down with us, so there was at least an equal distribution of child-distracting, but on the return trip it would just be the three of us and Daddy was driving, so the duty would be all mine.

You can understand then why the thought of finally reaching our destination was such a relief to me. To get out of the car and just let him do whatever he wanted would be such a nice change from the previous ten hours. I knew we had some things to do, make arrangements, attend a family/friends dinner, but I was looking forward to a hotel room like a man lost in the desert looks forward to water.

Finding a hotel room in Los Angeles, so near Hollywood, at 8:00PM on a Friday, however, was almost impossible. Pretty much everywhere was booked solid. Other places had room for one of us but not the rest of us or had rooms for all of us but no cribs for the baby. So when the Extended Stay America said they could get us all in AND had cribs, we booked immediately. Thank goodness!

After a dinner in a not-so-kid-friendly environment with a fussy toddler who had not napped all day nor eaten anything except a handful of cereal and some cookies (read: chasing the toddler around in circles for hours) I was SO ready for bed time. We head to the hotel, the rooms have everything you have in an actual house: full sized refrigerators, stoves, microwaves, cupboards, closets, roomy bathrooms, queen sized beds, very nice. Wait though... no crib?

Yeah, no crib. They had lied to us about that. We'd already prepade for three days though and there was no way to get a refund because as it turns out their website works through so when you call the number on it you don't speak with the hotel itself you . Words cannot do justice just how let down I was. How angry and frustrated this made me. The toddler would have to sleep in the other queen size bed. I knew it would be a problem, and it was.

Normally our night time routine is that Jude gets a change, I brush his teeth, I read him Green Eggs and Ham, then we turn out the lights and marvel at the glow-in-the-dark stars. After this I sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and put him down, awake, in his crib. He plays for 10-30 minutes and then falls asleep.

I could not do this in an adult size bed. There's nothing to keep him in it, first of all. Second if he decides to get down, it's a huge adult sized bed, he might hurt himself. The first night wasn't too much of an issue because he was so exhausted from the trip he fell asleep on the way to the hotel and didn't really stir when I changed him and put him into bed. I didn't sleep at all though. I was up every thirty minutes to check on him. Make sure he wasn't too close to any edges, rearrange him if he was. He climbed out of the bed at 8:00AM, despite having fallen asleep at 12:30AM. I woke up more tired than when I had gone to bed.

After another long, napless day I was physically and emotionally devastated. We got back to the hotel at around 10:30PM and I was hoping for, at least, a repeat of the night before. I didn't get it. He didn't fall asleep on the way back tot he hotel. He didn't want to fall asleep in the hotel either. I tried our 'at home' method and he just hopped out of bed and started running around -- in the pitch dark. I tried rocking him to sleep with a bottle of milk, old school style. He resisted this for hours. Finally, at almost 1:00AM he was asleep. I again slept like crap.

The next day we tried to find a crib or pack n' play for cheap at thrift stores, no luck. We went about our busy day. The service was on this day and while he was well behaved it was still a lot of running around (out door service) and carrying. I'd gotten very little sleep. It was really, really, really difficult for me to keep up. There was no nap this day, either because like all the rest there was no time for one. It took another two hours to get him to sleep that night. I was wrecked. We had the option of renewing our stay at Extended Stay America or trying to find a room elsewhere. I refused to stay there another night. I didn't care where we wound up, so long as it had a crib. I literally could not go fourth night without one. We found a place that, allegedly, had a crib. We booked with them the following night and the night after that.

I woke up at 7:00AM to a room-shaking THUD followed by Jude crying. The worst had happened. Jude rolled out of the bed the very last time he'd ever had to sleep in it. I was immediately awake, I flew out of bed over to him. I checked to make sure he was physically alright: he was. I finally remembered to breathe. Relief. I comforted him, cuddled him close, and laid beside him in the bed. He was still sleepy, scared, and his little noggin undoubtedly hurt despite there being no lump or mark from the fall. We snuggled a while longer until he sat up and wanted breakfast.

We took my mother-in-law to the airport to fly back home. Check-in at our new hotel wasn't until 2:30PM, so we had a lot of time to kill. We drove around a while and then stopped for lunch with family. Afterward we finally got to our new room and the first thing I see is the crib. I have never, ever been happier about a piece of fucking furniture. You don't even understand. I almost wept tears of joy.

For the first time all week, Jude got to take an actual nap. The poor dear. Then we all took one. The remainder of the trip was far, far less stressful and exhausting. Amazing what one simple piece of furniture can do to improve things.

tl;dr: The Three Cardinal Rules for Traveling With Baby
  1. Never ever stay in a hotel with a toddler without a crib. It would have been easier to sleep in the car tbh.
  2. Always bring one bag filled with nothing but your child's favorite toys.
  3. Bring another bag with foods you know your child will for sure eat -- because they will often boycott eating other things in unfamiliar or overly stimulating places.