Saturday, August 29, 2015

Our #travelingfamilyof7

It has taken me over a week to process the adventure that my tired family survived since mid-July. From road trips to being a part of a family wedding, to the two week work-cation back in Fairbanks, our family has put some miles on our bodies this summer.

The most recent trip to AK was capped off with an overnight set of flights that truly questioned my sanity! I knew it would be tricky, but living a long flight taking off at 11:40pm.. check that 12:40am destination time with 5 kids was almost too much! I've used these days following the trip to reflect on it all, and I've created a list of suggestions for parents that may have to choose a late night flight or are flying with kids at all.

1) Sleep. And I don't mean on the plane.. although if you can manage it, power to you! No, I mean that afternoon or a few hours before leaving for the airport. Find a way to rest up before leaving for the airport. I decided that the time leading up to the flight would be best used backing up the images my wife took during her photo shoots. No. Bad, Ken. That should have been done earlier in the trip! Rest was important. In fact, I would suggest even putting the kids to bed in the normal routine, so that they get a few hours before heading to the airport. We tried a few movies, and hanging out with family. That ended up being too much, as several of them didn't handle the exhaustion too well (my oldest 2 if you can believe it!).

Literally dropped in my lap
by a flight attendant
2) Food. As many snacks as you can bring in fact. We tried to feed the crew a huge meal before we left for the airport, but in true form, all of them were hungry by the time we got to the gate. Thankfully, I packed an assortment of snacks (nuts, pretzels, Goldfish Crackers, and fruit&nut bars). The kids ate pretty much everything. If bringing snacks isn't in your skill set, you can always pick things up at the airport, or on the plane. We typically fly Alaska Airlines, and for flights that are more than 2.5 hours, they offer warm food for purchase. We've tried the Fruit and Cheese Platter as well as the Mediterranean Tapas Pack. We have also found that the flight attendants know this too, and hand out plenty of extra snack packs!

"Is that an old Game Boy?!"
3) Electronics. Yes.. iPods, iPads, laptops, DSs, and old school Game Boys (my childhood Gameboy is brought out only for flights, and my oldest wants nothing more.. it's also a head turner and conversation starter)! Bring them. Be liberal with their usage. Occupied kids on a long trip are kids not ticking off the people around you. That, and when they sit quietly for the entire fight, you look like the most amazing parents! My wife and I hold on to all of the devices, and hand them out only when we are on the plane. We don't want them to lose interest while we are on the plane. If you already know that your kids are over their devices, then some flights have devices you can rent, wifi options, and now even free programming on your own device. Alaska Airlines has the Digi-players that offer a variety of movies, and TV shows. We've rented them before, because nothing is more awesome
than a new/different electronic experience!

Luggage also makes a great pillow!
4) Luggage. One trick that we use with the kids, is to make sure each of them has at least one bag or backpack that they are responsible for while we are walking through the airport. This typically isn't too hard, especially since we ask them to pack that bag themselves, so they take it very seriously. Our oldest packed plenty of his favorite books, while the younger kiddos included a lot of little toys and trinkets that never got a look while we were on the plane. I also through in some activity books and snacks so that each of them had other things to occupy them on the plane. The other luggage suggestion is to check your bags. I know that time is precious, and some of us have trust issues with airlines regarding baggage. But for your sanity, when traveling with small kids, check as much as possible. We fit all of our clothes, shoes, and toiletries for 7 people in 4 suitcases that we checked. Sure that all costs money anymore with airlines charging for bags, but it's worth it when you don't have the stress of additional bags to lug around while safely wrangling kiddos. 

5) Seating. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I've talked with a lot of parents that didn't purchase seats together, or chose to fly stand-by in order to save some money. As a father of 5 kids, I get the need for watching every penny! That said, I've learned that there are some things worth the extra cash. Planning ahead, and having the seats picked with all of us together takes away one of the worries. Now maybe as the kids get older, and don't want to be seen in public with their parents anyway, then maybe we'll put them all in the back of the plane, while my wife and I sit together closer to the front. :)
    It also helps to plan who is sitting where prior to getting on the plane. This prevents fights and arguments from happening between the kids about who is sitting where once you're on the plane. "NO, I want the window!" When there is a line of adults waiting to find their seats as well... that doesn't go over well. So, tell the kids where they are sitting. Line them up that way as you board the plane, and if it helps, have bribes ready to go: "Well, I have a bag of gummies that says you're sitting in the aisle."
    And the last thing about seating, take the early seating if possible. "We are now boarding those that may need extra time getting on the plane, and families with small children." Take that! Get on the plane, get settled, and for your enjoyment, watch the happy faces of the people walking by when they see your wonderful family sitting ready to go!

Alright, those are my top 5 suggestions for airline travel with multiple kiddos, and overnight trips. We have traveled a lot as parents, and have heard over and over how great our family is as we get off the plane. Remember that there is no reason to dread this time. Traveling is an adventure. Some kids totally dig it, while others are going to be more nervous. We have kids that fall into both of those categories. If you stay organized, calm, and loving everyone will have a great trip!

Tell me about a trip you've taken with your family in the comments below. Do you have any suggestions that I missed? Do you have a travel nightmare story? You can also see more images of our trip on Instagram under the hashtag #travelingfamilyof7 or some of the fun tweets with same hashtag on Twitter.

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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Talking about death with my 7yo

"Daddy, my friend's mom died."
This was my oldest daughter's reason for not being able to sleep tonight. She's been having a hard time going to bed a lot lately. Most of her reasons involve her fear of something that to her is very real, and shows her growing feelings of empathy. 

We are currently visiting with my wife's family and staying with her parents. The little girl next door is close in age to our 7 year old, so they have been playing together a lot. Today, the new friend informed my daughter that her mom had died, and that the woman she lives with is actually her grandma. This information rocked our daughter's world. 

She didn't know how to process the idea of her mom and dad being gone. Her mind and heart raced from the feelings of grief and sadness she was imaging would be felt. And then she couldn't let those go, as she tried to fall asleep. 

All of this crescendoed and she melted down in tears. She sobbed as she told me about her friend. I asked her what she was most upset about, and she replied with, "I don't want you or mommy to die."

At 10pm, after an extra long day filled with playground trips, dinner out, and a birthday celebration for her cousin, this wasn't exactly the conversation I was anticipating! But I knew this was an important moment. At 7, she came to me with her fear. She came to me for help, and was able to put it into words. It's that alone that requires my attention. I have to respond showing her that I'm the guy she needs and can trust. I'm dad, and she can talk to me, about anything.

Death is always a tough subject for kids. I asked her what she thought would happen to mom and dad after we died. She told me about heaven and angels. I then asked her to close her eyes and picture my smiling face. As she did that, I took her hand and placed it over her heart. I told her what I know my wife and have already said to our kids, "no matter where you are mom and dad are always with you; our love made you; our love for you will never go away." 

She opened her eyes, smiled, and gave me a hug. I ran my fingers through her hair as she fell asleep. In the end, I can't promise heaven and angels. But I can promise that I'll always love her, and that when I'm gone she'll always have me in her heart. If her strength in religion grows, then her belief in a life after death will just sweeten my promise of always being in her heart. 

How have you dealt with talking with your kids about death? Please share your thoughts or stories in the comments below. Or reach me through Twitter @ken_teacherdad with #teacherdadcomments. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Twists and Turns Can't Break Us

Just over a year ago, my family and I completed our 2400 mile move to Washington. The decision to leave our
home and lives in Alaska was hard to make, but opportunity called me to Washington. The opportunity for professional growth, better cost of living, and a more secure education system for our kids were driving factors.

It was a big decision, and with any decision there will always be factors that come out of nowhere making things a little more... interesting. 

There wasn't a way to foresee the drama coming from the moving company (never again doing that), or the difficulty in selling our house, or the health concerns that my wife would face during the last months of pregnancy, or the many other twists we faced. 

They say nothing strains a marriage as much as money concerns, and moving. My wife and I added to that a career change and a new baby. Put simply, we put ourselves through a lot. Ok, more than a lot. 

We faced our fair share of blaming each other for the different stressors. We argued. We fought. Unfortunately, even in front of our kids. It was hard not to in a 3 bedroom apartment. There are many moments that I'm not proud of for this year, and in many ways I questioned the decision we made in leaving. 

But through the arguing, through the stress, my wife and I always found ways to reconnect around the positives. The 5 healthy kids, the amazing families we come from, the supportive friends we have, our career opportunities, and the fact that we have each other. I couldn't imagine a life without her laugh and smile. A life without her "perfect imperfection" (thanks Mr. Legend ). 

I believe most marriages would have broken having gone through all that we've put ourselves through. But not us. We have eachother. And I know that while we're not perfect, we're perfect for eachother. 

So, to my wife, thank you. With our 14th wedding anniversary just days away, I hope you know that I love you more today than yesterday, and there is no one else in the world I want to grow old with. 
I think you're amazing in so many ways, and I can't wait to finally, FINALLY settle down and create the family life we all are ready to have in our new home. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Two Weddings & My Family

Weddings are the best! Over the past 8 months, our crew has been to 2 wonderful weddings. There is just something so wonderful in having family together to celebrate love. And I've especially enjoyed the fact that my kids have been able to go and be a part of the magic.
Wedding Cake!!

That said, nothing is ever "easy" when it comes to getting a family of 7 ready for a wedding! The first wedding required a weekend trip with a dad (me!), 4 kids, and a prego wife at home. Nothing spells fun like airline travel with 4 kiddos! Thankfully, I had some help from a wonderful sister-in-law, and her boyfriend (the newliest-wedded couple!). The trip was a whirlwind with late nights, treats, food, treats, dancing, treats, swimming, and did I mention treats? The kids were so strung out on lack of sleep, sugar, and jet-lag that it took a good week just to get them back into the groove at home. And then all I heard was, "Do we leave for Auntie's wedding today?" And, "I liked the cake at Auntie's wedding!"

NO! Walk together!..Slow down! :)
Last weekend was wedding number 2! And unlike the first wedding, 6 of the 7 of us were IN the wedding. Ring bearers, flower girls, and a bride's maid! I was support cast in getting everyone where they needed to be - dressed and ready to go! Nothing spells wedding fun like organizing 4 year old twins to walk side-by-side down the aisle holding a sign for everyone to see! Or how about 4 of the 5 kids needing to use the bathroom during the ceremony! One of which was a near baby blow-out!

But through it all, the kids got to spend time with family. We spent nearly 2 weeks living in a house with my wife's parents, her sisters, their husbands, and all of the cousins. We swam, cooked, watched movies, played outside, and did family things. We created memories that will be everlasting for the kids... And of course they loved the wedding cake!

Much like the the first wedding, the transition back into "normal" life was tough. Tough is actually putting it nicely! And it wasn't just the kids! My wife and I still are spent from the festivities! It didn't help transitioning right back into work teaching summer school.

But now, after being home for just about a week, things are getting back to normal. So, what I've learned through this all is that the memories are priceless.. that is, if you can handle the transition back to the normal. For us it takes about a week. I wish that I had planned to not work the week after the wedding. Or it would have been great for the kids to have had a camp or more playdates set for when we returned, so we could have helped to smooth out the transition period. That said, no regrets! We all had so much fun at both weddings, and are so happy to have been there for our kids' beautiful Aunties!! 

Tell me about a wedding experience you had with your kids in the comments below. How was the transition back to normal life? What advice/tips would you give?