Are We There Yet??


As summer approaches we start fantasizing about hitting the road, but the reality of traveling with little kids brings our revelry to a screeching halt. So many of us are intimidated by the idea of making a long trip with very young children, but doing so is not only great fun, it lays the groundwork for a future of traveling undaunted by mere distance. 


Given that we have family in New England and California, our kids became accustomed to entrapment in their car seats for many hours on end, and to this day we all love long road trips. That is not to say that we didn’t learn many lessons the hard way. I am here today to spare you some of these headaches.


First of all, make a comprehensive list of the things you will be needing to bring along. When you are finished with it, put it someplace (e.g., your underwear drawer) where you can find it for future reference. Likewise, keep a copy of house notes left for the person caring for pets and plants, etc. so you don’t have to write new ones each time you go away. Changes can be made as necessary before the next trip, without having to create the whole thing from scratch.


Bring along lots of nutritious snacks and drinks. Stopping in parks or playgrounds for snack or lunch, and runaround time will make the next stretch of travel much easier. You can spend an hour having a picnic and getting the wiggles out instead of having to further restrain the children in a diner. If you plan to go the restaurant route for meals, go on-line and map out the locations of some acceptable choices. Having to search high and low for someplace to eat with a car full of hungry, cranky kids is not fun! (Remember to do a headcount when leaving a pit stop. Driving off without one of the children happens far more often than one would expect!) 


Packing a bag of “stuff” (notebook, crayons or colored pencils, small toys, books, a deck of cards, a ball or Frisbee for pit stops) for each child to keep themselves entertained is most useful. Or, you may want to dole these playthings out one at a time every hour or so.


Never travel without a large box of Ziplocs and a couple of bath towels kept within easy reach in case of a sudden onset of carsickness. The bags don’t leak and the smell is contained until you are able to dispose of it. 


Perhaps most critical is lots of kid-friendly music that parents can fall in love with and tolerate listening to hundreds of times because this is what kids do. It doesn’t have to be “kid’s music”- so much of that becomes terribly annoying in short order. But there are a few gems out there. Our very favorite children’s artist is Tom Chapin. He is a singer storyteller and in my opinion a talented genius who either knows kids extremely well or has a vivid recollection of childhood. 


Exposing children to a wide variety of music is a gift that lasts a lifetime. You can’t go wrong with the Putamayoseries of world music, Benny Goodman(big band/jazz), folk music (Peter, Paul, and Mary; the Weavers), or classical music that tells a story (Carnival of the Animals, Fantasia


While you may be tempted by the possibility of keeping the kids occupied through the use of a DVD player, keep in mind that when children are watching TV, they are missing a world of first-hand experience. Children become so excited when they see a herd of cattle, or the huge sculpture of a dinosaur, or various other landmarks. 


Numerous travel games keep the whole family entertained. Have everyone in the car pick a color and count cars. See how many different states can be identified on license plates. Play word games. (I learned how to read playing the alphabet game using the signs we passed).


You may be surprised to remember the large repertoire of songs you learned as a youngster in school or in scouts. Even if you can only remember part of a song, it is very easy to find the lyrics on-line. Kids love learning the silly songs we learned as children.


Of course, long road trips with little (and not so little) ones are not all fun and games. There are the inevitable spats that have a way of escalating to unacceptable proportions. Pulling over to the side of the road, turning the ignition off and sitting quietly (without letting yourself get sucked into the fray) until they decide it’s time to move on is most effective in restoring the peace. In extreme situations, removing a child from the car (regardless of weather, and always with close parental supervision) provides a clear message that the behavior will not be tolerated.


When planning a road trip, including all family members creates a team spirit. Discuss beforehand the expectations, limits, and consequences of certain behaviors. When children are equipped with this information ahead of time, they are eager to cooperate; and if it becomes necessary to enforce disciplinary measures, it is by choice of the person misbehaving .- RDW (5-13-10)

Tooth Fairy

I lost my first tooth the summer before I started kindergarten, while spending two weeks with my cousins. The moment every child eagerly awaits arrived as I bit into the first ear of corn I ever rolled in a stick of butter, as taught by my uncouth cousins. As my teeth grazed along the cob I felt the grinding tear that initiates the first wiggle. 

There should be a name for the dance that is universal among children upon making the thrilling discovery that you have just been added to the list of pending visits by the tooth fairy. I imagined a huge pearly mound of teeth to be used for the little bracelets given newborns as a welcome to this world. I felt pride that one of my very own teeth would soon grace a tiny baby’s wrist. I could imagine the tooth fairy’s golden waves of hair shimmering in the breeze, as she was delighted by the discovery of the especially lovely pearl that was my tooth.

During my visit, I became obsessed with that tooth. I accompanied my elder cousin Roger on his paper route, chasing down the ice cream truck and feeling the jolt as the blue Popsicle I savored made contact with a nerve. As we played in one of the numerous forts around the property, I pinched my tongue on the rough edge of tooth at gum level. I wiggled and prodded that tooth as I watched in horror the tiny “robots” attacking the old lady on the Twilight Zone, tasting the first salty sour gush of blood. I was sure that it was the tooth fairy responsible for making it pour rain on our side of the street even as the sun shined in the front yard on the other side. When we went to the penny candy store, my aunt suggested that rather than something hard or chewy, I get the wax “bottles” filled with sweet liquid goo. I shadowed my cousins in their mischievous shenanigans as we trespassed in Mr. Spinney’s cornfield only to be chased away in the manner of Peter Rabbit by Mr. MacGreggor, my tooth swinging by that last thread of flesh, refusing to let go. My uncle suggested tying tooth to string to doorknob and slamming the door in order to yank the thing out once and for all.

As I lay awake in the middle of the night, flinging it around inside my mouth with my tongue, the tooth let go. I placed it under my pillow certain that the tooth fairy would at last make an appearance. Hardly able to sleep the rest of the night, my tongue incessantly poked around in the slimy, metallic-tasting hole that remained. 

To my great dismay, when I checked under the pillow the next morning, there lay the tooth, and I was none the richer. Upon entering the kitchen close to tears, I was greeted with the news that my mother had been in a car accident and I would be leaving that morning as soon as we could get ready. I cried. Not for my mother. Not for the fact that I had to go home early. I cried because the tooth fairy had not seen fit to collect my tooth and leave the long anticipated coin. 

A short while later, as we were preparing to leave, my aunt came rushing down the stairs to show me the quarter that she had found on the floor while making the bed. It took a fair number of years to figure out why that was the only time I ever got a quarter instead of a dime! – RDW (11-2-07)

Easing the transition when your child starts school

One of the most important rites of passage for both parents and children happens when we send our little darlings off to school for the first time. What an exciting, scary, bittersweet time for parent and child.
Some children march off to school and have no trouble whatsoever settling in. For others, it can be more traumatic. And there is nothing worse than leaving your child in the throes of separation and stranger anxiety when you want so desperately to relieve them of this despair.
My son happily went off to school for the first three days of kindergarten. But the following Monday he decided he had had enough. When we started out to meet the bus, he ran around the house and in through the back door sobbing that he wanted to stay home. My neighbor stepped in, bless her heart, walking and cajoling him to the bus stop. That was the day I cried.
If your child’s anxiety gets the better of them, you will be faced with the agony of tearing yourself away as s/he is begging you not to leave. Their apprehension is so understandable when you consider that this is a whole new experience and your child has no idea what to expect.
Following are some ideas that may help in the transition for you and your child.
Before the first day, plan to visit the school with your little person during a day when the teacher is in the classroom. A Visitors Week or some other event is sometimes set up for this purpose. Otherwise, call the school and leave a message for the teacher to call and arrange a convenient time to visit.
There are numerous story books about starting school. Helping a child to visualize beforehand what will occur, is very beneficial. The Kissing Hand, a lovely story by Audrey Penn, is especially helpful in dealing with separation anxiety, and worth reading with your child before school starts.
Finding a small token for your child to keep in their pocket to remind them that you love them and will be back soon can be a great comfort.
Make a special day of your child’s first day in school. Start the day with a nutritious breakfast of eggs or fruit and toast or whole grain cereal. A breakfast loaded with sugar merely aggravates the emotional upheaval your little one experiences and will make things more difficult for your child, yourself, and the teacher.
If your child wants to bring their favorite doll or stuffed animal to keep them company, let them. Explain that if this little “friend” is too disruptive, the doll or teddy may have to wait in their backpack until it is time to go home.
The first day of preschool or kindergarten is often shortened to allow the children to gradually become accustomed to this new environment. Tell your child that you will be back when it’s time to go home. Give them a frame of reference as to how long that will be (e.g., if it is going to be an hour, say, “That’s how long Sesame Street is on.”)
Plan with your child that when you come back, you will have a special date and go out for lunch or to the playground.
Talk about your child’s feelings. (“It’s a little bit scary when…” or “ I feel that way sometimes too, but you know what? It always, always gets better.”) When I tell young children that I always feel shy on the first day, it validates their feelings and empowers them to feel braver.
Tell your child that some kids become upset when their parents leave, and suggest that if that happens, they can make a special effort to make friends with that child.
Even if a child is distraught, it is much easier for all of you if you just leave (although sneaking out is usually not a good idea). Your hesitation just proves that there is reason to be afraid!
Do not let your child see you cry in this situation.
A child’s distress passes much more quickly if you make a clean break. Once when my husband and I were leaving one of the kids with a sitter, when we left them in his room he was crying- until we reached the first landing.
When you bring your child in the morning, explain that when it’s time for you (the parent) to leave, you will leave, but will be back when it’s time to go home. Then leave! More often than not, a child is distracted enough within the first five minutes to enjoy the day so much that he doesn’t want to leave when it is time to go.
In the parking lot after they have deposited their children, parents sometimes organize meeting for coffee. What better time to support one another in a time of doubt, and start meeting the parents of your child’s new friends?
-RDW (2005, revised 2010)

Coping with the loss of a pet

Many people with children recognize the value of including pets in the family constellation. Pets provide remarkable lessons in friendship and love, responsibility, and the circle of life. They are unabashedly thrilled to see us at the end of a tough day, a comfort to us when we are sad, and love us when we feel unlovable. Before long, they have become an integral part of the family.
It is not unusual then, for children to be faced with saying goodbye when a pet dies. How parents respond to such a significant event as the death of a loved one determines how a child is able to understand and to cope with the loss.
We must always remember that young children tend to take the things we say literally:
I have known parents to explain Grandfather’s death in such a way that during the next encounter with an elderly woman in her church, one little girl blurts out, “I hope you die.” She is completely baffled by the reaction her innocent remark elicits from her elders, and has no idea what she has done to upset everyone.
A cherished pet bunny dies while a little boy is out playing. The corpse is whisked into the backyard for burial by well-meaning parents trying to spare the child “unnecessary” pain. Without having had the opportunity to say a proper goodbye, this boy carries the unresolved anger and grief for years.
What happens in a child’s imagination when they are “protected” from the experience of death can be more traumatic than the occurrence of the emotional pain necessary to lead to acceptance. Telling him or her that Grandma has gone to sleep forever is a terrifying analogy: we all go to sleep. “Does that mean that each time someone I love goes to sleep they may really be dead? If I go to sleep, will I be dead too?”
When children are allowed to experience death as a part of life, to see and touch and talk about the body of a pet who has been found dead in it’s cage, to bury a goldfish rather than flushing it down the toilet, is far less traumatizing than what they are capable of conjuring in their imaginations. They are able to see that the the only difference is that the spirit which has made their friend who they were, has left the body.
It is okay for children to observe your grief in the face of death, as long as it is not an overly dramatic display.
It is a mistake to run out and get an immediate replacement for the absent pet, for there can be no replacement. Time is necessary to work through our loss.
This is a good time of year to talk about the circle of life. Children are able to begin to understand that death leads to rebirth when as a flower dies, it creates seeds for new flowers; the leaves on the trees die to make room for new growth. Taking advantage of the teachable moments we encounter in our days becomes invaluable as we point out that a bird lying on the ground no longer contains the life which allowed it to build a nest and lay eggs and sing and fly. 
Children are able accept that death is a part of life, to learn that it needs to occur to create room for new life. Talking about death openly allows children to feel sad, while coming to a certain understanding which replaces fear of the unknown.
Leaving for college August 2008

Throughout the years my children have wrapped their mice, rats, birds and hedgehog in soft bedding, dug holes and created monuments to their beloved little friends. But following is a blueprint of a blessed farewell experience that I would wish for any family suffering the loss of a furry, scaly, spiked or feathered companion.


Our cat Acorn had been with us for 14 years and watching her rapid decline was devastating. She disappeared and was found in her severely weakened state in the creek after she had presumably gone off to die. 

Not knowing whose kitty it was, this kind neighbor made the decision to have her cared for, not realizing that the situation was hopeless. Animal Rescue came, the woman agreed to pay all bills incurred. She also made a donation to the rescue facility for coming to retrieve the cat. Then she started calling neighbors in attempt to locate its owner. Another neighbor told me our beloved pet had been found. She had been taken to emergency at an animal care facility.

When I was apprised of the situation I had to make the decision to euthanize her. Another friend arranged her following day to allow for me to be with our kitty while she was being euthanized, I held her in my arms, looking into her eyes while the vet administered the injection. 
I was given some time alone with her to say goodbye. As I stepped out of the procedure room with her tucked away in a little coffin-like box, a song played on the radio that was a perfect tribute to her and the connection we shared, especially at the end of her life. 
For weeks after she died we still expected her to come running between the bushes at the end of the driveway when we got home, or to scold us for not being around when we open the door to come in.


R.I.P. Acorn (May 1994-Sept 2008)

Our sons came home for her burial on a cold and rainy weekend. We stood in the rain for a good half hour, sharing our memories of her, laughing about our lives together, quiet with our thoughts as we listened to the rain falling through the leaves in the trees while twittering birds flocked in apparent celebration of her dear soul. It was a wonderful, magical sending off which was deeply comforting, and it was with reluctance that we pulled ourselves away from her graveside to enter our warm dry home. -RDW (10-23-09)

There’s nothing to do…

      There is utter stillness in the heat of this steamy day. The cooling breeze of flight through the air, on a swing that burns my butt when I sit on it, refreshes me… I’m making a potion with cut grass, bits of leaves, rose petals and smooshed berries that will probably kill me if I eat them. The heady fragrance of wet earth and the icky granular feel of muck makes a squishing sound and oozes through my fingers as I create mud pies for the main course of this feast… I walk barefoot over the hot prickly grass of a field, the scent of clover, hum of cicadas, and warble of birdsong following me as we take a shortcut to the pond for a swim; the release of caked on mud as I tentatively enter the water feels so good; the cool astringent smell of green dripping from my hiding place under the the raft soothes me.
      Our most vivid memories are deeply sensual. Within the domain of electronics something is lost in our experience of the world. It’s so sad that so many children don’t know how to keep themselves occupied without a TV or computer or some other digital device.
      The beginning of summer is very much like the start of a new year- filled with possibility and promise. Don’t let it slip by without making the most of it. Call a family meeting and make an exhaustive list of everything you and the kids might do this summer.
This area offers so much in the way of it’s parks and festivals; out door concerts and theater groups. There are playgrounds and sporting events at any park or school yard, bicycle paths, streams to explore, hiking trails and nature preserves.
       But perhaps the best fun of all is within our own back yard and neighborhood. The the spontaneous games of hide and go seek, kickball, tag, and capture the flag; pitching a tent (or throwing a blanket over the clothes line) and toasting marshmallows, stargazing and catching fireflies; building forts and making secret hideouts. These are the things we remember from our childhood.
      Don’t let your kids become junior couch potatoes. There is so much more to life than remaining practically comatose for hours on end in front of a screen. Set a daily limit on computer and TV time and then enforce it, despite the fact that at times it doesn’t seem worth the struggle. It is our job as parents to teach kids how to make their own fun. This requires effort on our part.
      Get your children into gardening. Even if you don’t have a plot of land at your disposal, try container gardening or look into renting a spot at a community garden. Peas, carrots, beans and salad greens are easy to grow and harvest without having to wait for months to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Kids who might have turned their noses up at these things are more willing to eat vegetables if they have had a hand in growing them.
      So often when you ask a child where something comes from (milk, fruits and vegetables, strawberry jam, apple sauce), they respond, based on their limited experience: “the store”. Get a few families together and go to a pick-your-own fruit farm , or a dairy or sheep farm. Children are fascinated to see beyond the obvious and start looking at the world in a whole new way.
      Get the kids involved with making fresh squeezed lemonade, ice cream, jams and pies, or otherwise preparing local harvest for future use. Letting kids participate in the production of the food they eat is a tremendous learning experience, provides a healthy alternative to processed foods, aids the local economy, and helps our planet in so many ways.
      Get out the sidewalk chalk; play hopscotch or hangman, jacks, jump rope, charades.
    Have a neighborhood carnival with bike decorating and face painting; bean bag toss, drop the clothes pin into the milk bottle, and penny pitch; three-legged and sack races, hula hoop contests, scavenger hunt, wheel barrow rides, water balloons and lemonade stand.
     Find a thicket of bushes and play jungle. Press flowers and make butterfly nets and daisy chains and crowns of leaves. Play in the rain. Make mud pies.
      Kids growing up in this day and age are not necessarily aware of the great fun to be had away from the TV and computer. We can’t just tell them to go play and assume they know what that means. We have to show them how it’s done. This takes time, but it is time so well spent. And your children will thank you for it.- RDW (6-21-10)

Booking the lives of children

     When my children were young they played Little League baseball and attended scouts. Many of our friends’ children did as well, in addition to their piano lessons, dance, karate, and church school. 
     It seemed as I spoke with other parents that this level of involvement with extra curricular activities was the norm and I began to question my own instincts to let the kids have the time I thought was necessary for creative play, for discovering who they are without being bombarded with scheduled activities. In a moment of self-doubt, I asked my sons if they felt gypped because their friends got to do all of these things and they didn’t. “No! I like to play!” 
     And play they did. They built forts and went in search of stream critters and made treasure maps and played Hide and Seek and Capture the Flag. They had neighborhood Olympics and read great books, created masterpieces with sidewalk chalk, made potions, climbed trees, kept detailed notes as they spied on one another, had back yard carnivals, and played kick ball. 
     It was a rare occurrence to hear them complain that they were bored. TV time, including video, was limited to an hour per day. Computer time was limited to 30 minutes per day, or an hour after they turned ten to accommodate more sophisticated activities.
     So many kids today have little time just to be. There is so much pressure on us as parents to live up to the standards of the people around us. I want to laugh and cry when I see the Baby Einstein and educational materials designed to create little geniuses and when the children can’t live up to being the best, most brilliant, most athletic, most fashionable kid on the block, excelling at each thing put before them, then clearly they (or their parents) are a failure. What pressure they endure from the most well meaning of loved ones!  
     I have come to believe that the thing that matters most is that they are fully aware of their own inner light, that they are able to call on their inner resources: creativity, courage, contentedness, acceptance, forgiveness, and happiness. Allowing the time to discover who they are in this world without the constant intervention on the part of the adults in their lives. Guidance yes. Loving support and encouragement, by all means. But trying to mold them into the some preconceived notion of perfection, or into the person we wish we had become can only be detrimental to their well-being.- RDW (6-26-07)

A rhythm to our days

     Rhythms are a constant throughout our lives.  We start life hearing mother’s heart beat.  The rhythm of mother’s body brings us into this world.  We breathe, our hearts beat.  Night brings day brings night… the moon cycles, the seasons change, the waves crash upon the shore eternally, and we listen to the clock ticking in sleepless night.  

     Rhythm is the heart of life.  It makes perfect sense then that children need a predictable routine to their lives.
     As the summer starts to wind down, it is our job to help children  begin to get into their fall routine a couple of weeks before school begins.  The lazy days of summer have  swept us away in a different whirlwind of activity, and most of us are quite exhausted from the frantic pace we have managed to keep despite every intention to relax a bit.  We tend to forget that recovering from the “jet lag” of this transition does not happen overnight. 
     Back in the days when I was home with my toddlers, we settled into a routine.  Out of the house by 9:30 (rain or shine which took some doing with four kids!),  an almost daily walk downtown took an hour and a half in the cold months, three hours in the warm weather to allow for inspection of anthills and spiders weaving their webs, watching caterpillars munch, and dropping leaves and sticks into the stream.  Not to mention sitting on every rock and stump we encountered, and climbing through the cluster of bushes we called the “jungle” on the corner.  On the days we went to the playground, we stopped to wade in the creek in search of crawdads and other critters.  
     Regardless of what we were doing, my full intent for the morning was to wear those kids out so they would take a good long nap!  Timing was everything.  We had to get back home for lunch without the babies falling asleep on the last leg of our journey, for even a ten minute snooze would not only blow the luxury of peace and quiet;  they would awaken the moment the stroller rolled to a stop, and be rested enough that they would instead nap from 4:30-7:30 and be awake half the night.  
So much for early to bed!

     Likewise, if they didn’t go down for nap before 12:45 pm at the latest, they would get their second wind only to crash in the late afternoon.   This was to be avoided at all costs.  

     After nap: snack, another walk around the block,  and then Mr. Rogers and Disney while dinner was being prepared.  Dinner, baths, story time, bedtime.  Our house ran like clockwork as I realized that really, children do need rhythm to their day.
     Rhythms are at the very core of our existence.  While a certain amount of flexibility is necessary and desirable, having a routine helps us to feel grounded and in control of our lives.  It takes so much of the struggle out of our days when the children know when it is time to get dressed and why, when they can expect snack or lunch, and when it is time to go to sleep.  
     We all want to know what to expect.  It is a consolation to parents as well, allowing us to anticipate a break from the wonderful mayhem that is childhood!
RDW 8-8-09