We Are Both Right

Our Two Cents: When Should a Child Use a Public Restroom Alone?

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Is there a right age for letting a child use a public restroom alone? ©clambert/stock.xchng

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

Last weekend, a friend and I went to the history museum with our kids. We each have a nine-year-old son and she also has a six-year-old daughter.

After lunch the boys both said they had to go to the bathroom and I was shocked when she said she was going to bring her son into the ladies’ room instead of letting him go to the men’s room with my son. Now I’m as cautious as the next mom, but I don’t think a nine-year-old boy belongs in the ladies’ room any more than a little girl belongs in the men’s room. I planned to stand outside the door and give my son the same words of caution I always do when I send him in alone, and even said to her that they would be better off going in together. But she insisted, and took her son in with her instead.

Obviously, she’s entitled to make her own decisions about the safety of her kids, but what’s the right age to expect that your son will have to be responsible for himself in the men’s room when you’re out in public places?

– Bathroom Breaker

Suzanne:

Well thank goodness there are a lot more of those “family restrooms” popping up in public places. It’s so much better when either a mom or dad can bring any or all of the kids into a private bathroom and not have to worry about making these tough choices. But obviously, when that isn’t a option you still have to resign yourself to (a) embarrassing your child and bringing him into a place where he doesn’t quite fit in, or (b) holding your breath and hoping for the best as you send him behind closed doors where you don’t belong.

I’ve been in both camps at one point or another, and as you saw with you and your friend, no mom is going to budge from doing what she feels is right for her child at a specific time and place. Well except maybe the child’s other parent.

My husband was the one to convince me to let our son go to a bathroom in a restaurant by himself for the first time when he was around seven. “We can see him going in and coming out from here,” my husband said attempting to reassure me. “There’s only one way out.” Humph, I thought, my mind overtaken by images of evildoers, small windows and back doors. He was fine. And from then on, my biggest concern is always if he washed his hands and avoided the door handle on the way out.

But if I ever had to travel with my son alone (and he’s almost nine now) I’m not quite sure I still wouldn’t run him into the ladies’ room at an airport. I think this is where the mommy math comes in, a formula only your subconscious can calculate. It’s something along the lines of your child’s age multiplied by the number of bathroom stalls divided by how many times you twitched thinking about your innocent little child going through those doors alone.

So leave it to your friend to find her own comfort zone and be confident in knowing that for you and your son, the time has already come.

Amanda: When I was younger, I would go out alone with my dad somewhat frequently. And, as children are want to do on occasion, I would have to go to the bathroom. So he’d bring me to the entrance of the women’s room and promise he would stand outside and wait until I was done.

“Scream if you need me,” he’d say in a loud, booming voice, making sure that everyone around knew that he was waiting for me.

If I took too long (or maybe he’d do it anyway) he would call inside the door, asking if I was O.K. As a tween, I remember being somewhat embarrassed by his blatant display of fathering, but now as the mother of three, I admire my dad for his boldness and sometimes am tempted to employ his methods. Because this is a question I struggle with myself. Not only with my 10-year-old son who wouldn’t be caught dead with me in a women’s room but with my 8-year-old daughter who would rather I didn’t accompany her either.

My kids do go to public restrooms alone. I allow it because I do feel like they are old enough and I need to start letting go (a little). Still, I’m not happy about it. But this is one of those situations where a parent (and only a parent) has to make this call.

I don’t think there is a set age for allowing a child to use a public restroom alone — my neighbor still brings her 11-year-old son into the ladies room with her, much to his chagrin. I think the key is, to make sure your child is aware of where they are going, what they need to do when they get there and that they need to do it all quickly. They should also be told what to do if something goes wrong.

Whether we like it or not, that’s what parenting is lots of times, isn’t it? Giving your child the proper tools and then letting them use them. Watching them grow up.

(And taking comfort in the knowledge that you can always stand outside the door and shout if you need to.)

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How does it work when you are out with your children? Is there a good age to let a child use a public restroom alone?

If you have a question that needs more than one answer, send us an e-mail at advice@wearebothright.com

Our Two Cents: Is It OK to Skip School for Vacation?

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Maybe a postcard would smooth things over with your child's teacher? ©www.zazzle.co.uk

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

From the looks of things, you are both used to traveling with your children. But I have to ask, do you ever let them miss school to go on a family vacation?

Next week (in 8 days to be exact, but who’s counting?) we are leaving for a cruise with our two children and my parents. For a number of reasons, including the fact that it was less expensive, we chose to do this the week before their school closes for spring break instead of during the actual week they are off.

My husband and I didn’t think it would be a big deal for them to miss five days (at least not in first and third grade). So I was surprised when one of my friends told me that she couldn’t believe I was doing this. She happens to be a teacher and so I guess she has more insight on it than I do. But are they really going to fall that far behind by missing a few days of school? Would you ever pull your kids out of school for a vacation?

–Totally Truant

Suzanne: I’m probably the wrong one to ask, because in my mind an ideal education is the biggest, longest vacation you could imagine. If I had my choice (and the funds to back it up) I would take my two children on a trip around the world, teaching them about history and different cultures first hand. We would learn math in miles and time zones. All that foreign vocabulary would mean something. We might even meet a nice monk who could teach them meditation and then they would become zen little children. But enough about my fantasies.

What you are asking is a valid question, and one which deserves an entirely realistic answer. By taking your children out of school for a few days and bringing them on a family vacation, you are just exposing them to a different type of learning experience. And you shouldn’t feel guilty in the least (even if your vacation is more about portholes than rose windows).

The last time we took a vacation — and took the kids out of school — my son filled 16 pages in his journal without being asked. He wrote furiously as we drove up the southern Californian coast. He sketched his own versions of the 18th century European paintings we saw at the Getty Museum. In the back of the San Diego Mission, the architectural ruins captivated him. We even fit in his first college tour — to USC — as if that wasn’t inspiration enough to keep getting good grades. And in the end, he returned to school with great stories to share with his teacher and the class (but it still didn’t get him out of all of the class work and homework he had missed).

If I were you, I would reassure your teacher friend that of course you have the best interest of your children at heart and that nowhere does it say that the only way a child can learn is within the four walls of a school building. There are endless benefits to a change of scenery, not to mention in spending time with those who are closest to them. Tell her how much you are looking forward to them trying out new things and creating memories with their siblings, parents and grandparents — something that doesn’t get much priority during the school year when there’s homework to do and a full slate of activities. And if she’s still not convinced, you can always invite her to come along.

Amanda: Whatever you do, please don’t pass my contact info on to your friend because she’d probably give me a hard time too — in a few short weeks my family is going on a week-long vacation to DisneyWorld and  like you, we are taking our two older kids out of school for the duration (don’t tell them though — it’s a surprise!).

So obviously I don’t have a problem with it. This upcoming trip is the longest our kids will miss school for reasons other than illness, but we’ve done it before, with little to no repercussions. Maybe their teachers would beg to differ, but my position is, my kids (in the second and fifth grades) are doing just fine in school and although they will miss quite a bit, I’m confident in the abilities of myself and (mostly) my husband to catch them up.

What we’ll do this time (and it’s worked well in the past) is to ask the teachers ahead of time for any missed assignments. We’ll dedicate an hour or so each day to doing what we can to get done — the remainder will be completed on our return. We also try to keep a daily journal and incorporate learning into our activities. For example, the car ride from the airport to the resort may be spent observing and talking about the area we are visiting. Is the city bigger or smaller than where we live? Where do the people work? Where are the schools? What are the similarities and differences between where we currently are and where we come from (things like weather, forms of transportation, etc.)?

Having said all this, in booking our trip we were pretty cognizant of what was going on academically (as it sounds like you were too). The two weeks before we leave my elder boy has standardized tests — I wouldn’t pull him out during that time, nor in the weeks leading up to it. The same would stand if we were looking at a science project that was due or some other important assignment.

What it boils down to for me is knowing what your kids are capable of. If you are comfortable with letting them miss, by all means, sit back in your lounge chair and relax!

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Have you ever had your kids miss school in favor of a vacation? How did the teacher react?

If you’ve got a problem that needs twice the opinion, drop us a line at advice@wearebothright.com

Best Of: Family Vacation Spots

This was our mountain-top paradise for a week. What's your favorite spot for a family vacation? © We Are Both Right

Was it that cabin at the lake? Or the beach in Mexico?

No matter how close or far it may have been from home, every family has a favorite vacation spot. Or two. Or three.

If you could go back every year, you would. But in the meantime, you can recall the sound of the ocean rolling in as the kids played contentedly for hours in the sand. The whole family still laughs at the mention of a mountain goat, because, well you remember that time at the zoo. And still nothing has ever come close to the homemade ice cream you had three years ago in that sleepy little town in Vermont.

Here we share a few of our favorite vacation spots — all five-star family-friendly rated in our book. Add a few of yours, and we’ll be ready with the bags packed.

AMANDA:
Estes Park, Colorado: Our ultimate vacation, the one we judge all others by. Normally our trips are on the shorter side — four or five days max — but for this sojourn to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, we took a full week. We traveled with Suzanne and her family and then met my husband’s brother and his wife and young son (they are lucky enough to live in the Denver area) there. I have so many wonderful memories from that trip — getting caught in a thunderstorm atop the Rocky Mountains; a stumbled upon, amazing meal in a French restaurant on Bastille Day; watching my kids catch their first fish in a stocked pond — I could write pages upon pages of our wonderful time and still have more to add. A perfect mix of relaxation and activity, made even more amazing that we got to spend it with our dear friends and family, we are constantly promising ourselves we will go back soon.

Cruise to Canada: A few years ago, before our third child came along, we took a cruise to two different ports in Canada with our two school-age children and my parents. We had a ball. While we grown-ups enjoyed the scenery, the expeditions and the country and just being on vacation, I don’t think the kids even cared where we were going. They embraced cruise ship life like seasoned travelers, running from buffet to buffet; going for dips in the hot tub (even though we went in late June/early July it was too cold for the pool); dancing till the wee hours of the morning to the various bands on board and laying out on lounge chairs, sipping their mocktails. They cried — sobbed — when it was time to leave, begging us to stay on board just a bit longer. And whenever we start talking about where we’d like to go on our next trip, I swear they both start humming the theme to “The Love Boat.”

Niagra Falls, New York: One of the more visually-stunning trips we have ever been on, Niagra Falls was also incredibly family friendly. We were lucky enough to have a hotel room that overlooked the falls, so we spent plenty of time just gazing out of our window. We went in April so unfortunately, many things were closed, but we made the most of what was open, going on countless hikes near and around the falls and just wandering through the town. I wasn’t sure if our kids would be old enough to grasp the magnitude of what they were seeing, but one “WHOA!” out of my son and I knew they were able to appreciate it as much as I did.

SUZANNE:
San Diego, California: Sandwiched in between a first trip to Disneyland and a few days in Los Angeles, the time we spent in San Diego this past fall was nothing short of perfect. The glorious weather was the ultimate backdrop for splashing in the Pacific, exploring the enormous San Diego Zoo, and eating at sidewalk tacquerias for dinner. We drove the length of Coronado and saw everything from naval ships to birds of paradise in the Hotel del Coronado gardens. Even the kelp on the beach intrigued my son. It was also the first trip to be seared into my daughter’s permanent memory and to hear her talk about it months later, she just might always equate vacation with California.

Estes Park, Colorado: Since Amanda took up her allotted space but could have used more to talk about this awesome vacation spot, I can pick up where she left off. That tri-family trip we took had fun built in from the start. Our kids could have stayed in the cabin-like condo all day and waited for the bears to show up, and still had fun. But the fact that we took long rides through the national park which was literally outside our door made it all the more exciting. They saw moose and elk up close. We rode above the tree line and had snowball fights in July. They ended each evening with a confection or two from the caramel apple/ice cream shop downtown. And we all got our fill of that pure mountain air — just thin enough that they went to sleep by 9 every night.

Acadia National Park, Maine: This was a road trip for us the summer our son turned two. Not knowing just how much he would get out of it, we were pleasantly surprised. The sailboat ride we took found him nestled between two of the captain’s golden retrievers, playing tunes with spoons as he watched his Daddy try his hand at hoisting the sails. The car ride through the national park was one of the more manageable we have taken in any part of the country, since it really only took an hour or two to stop along the way at the scenic overlooks and enjoy a lunchtime picnic of lobster rolls. And since it’s always the unexpected experiences which make a trip for us, we reveled in the freedom to walk through downtown Bar Harbor at night, sampling lobster ice cream and letting off some pre-bedtime steam with the little one at a concert on the lawn.

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What about you and your family? Where is your favorite family vacation spot? Comment below or visit our Facebook page and read where others like to go when they get away.

Our Two Cents: Advice for a Mom Wishing Beggars Could Be Choosy

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Yes, back at home there's a meddling mother-in-law. But take heart -- at least you are here! ©Benjipie/stock.xchng

Dear Suzanne and Amanda:

In two months, my husband and I will be going on a much-needed vacation alone — a cruise to the Bahamas. We have three girls (ages 8, 4 and 2) and my in-laws have agreed to watch them for the week that we are gone.

While I’m so excited to have time alone to relax and reconnect with my spouse, I’m dreading the thought of leaving my kids. First off, just leaving them in general — I’ve never been away from them for that long before and second, with my mother-in-law, with whom I have a rocky relationship. She’s hypercritical of me to begin with, I can’t imagine what she’s going to think or say when she spends a week in my home, living in my house which will undoubtedly be not clean enough, unorganized and not filled with the right foods for her precious granddaughters and even more precious son.

Let me say that I’m grateful to them for doing us this favor. My father-in-law is retired, but my mother-in-law is taking a week off from work. They are coming to us at their own expense (they lives two states away). However, I know things won’t get done my way and it’s likely I’m going to have to undo a lot of my mother-in-law’s handiwork — she’s been known to arrange cabinets and clothing drawers to her standards and likings — when I get back.

This trip is supposed to help me relax but I don’t know if I am going to be able to knowing what will be going on while I’m not there to keep an eye on her.  Any advice?

– Bahama Mama

Amanda:

(Before you read my advice, you should know that I hate confrontation. I hate it more than when my TiFaux isn’t working and I have to watch commercials during my favorite television shows [what am I a barbarian?]. So that’s my bias.)

I think you should let it go.

I know. I hear you protesting. It’s your house and your kids and your way and your mother-in-law needs to deal with the fact that it’s your family not hers. I get it. Really, I do. I promise I’m not being insensitive to your situation and feelings.

But the reality is, given your tenuous past, your mother-in-law isn’t going to listen to you. Or she might say she is going to listen to you and smile and nod her head when you explain that you cut your 4-year-old’s apples into triangles and put the peanut butter on them by flicking your wrist to the left and then she’s going to do things her way anyway.

Let it go. Go on vacation and know that even though your medicine cabinet and your pantry will never look the same again, and your kids are going to stay up later than normal and maybe have an extra dessert after dinner, your little ones will still be well-cared for and kept clean and safe and loved. They will have stories read to them and they will be cuddled and they will have a wonderful time.

Let it go. At this point, there is nothing more you can do. Short of canceling your trip or finding someone else to watch your kids or bringing your little ones with you, this is what you agreed to. You asked her to come despite knowing how she is and how crazy she makes you and she said yes. Now, you protest — “but I didn’t want to ask her, my husband did!” — and that’s unfortunate (and a letter for another time), but still. You asked — or someone asked — and she said yes.

You are going away with your husband and going to have a wonderful time. And yes, you will miss your kids, but I promise, one step onto that boat, one sip of that first drink, one touch of that warm Caribbean breeze on your face and suddenly, your mother-in-law refolding every article of clothing in your house doesn’t seem so bad.

(And honestly, if your closet looks anything like mine, you should welcome the intrusion. Er, help.)

Suzanne:

Like Amanda said, it’s probably best to convince yourself to let it go. No matter how much of a meddler your mother-in-law is, or what her motives are, she is doing you a favor by providing the watchful eye and loving arms that your girls will need while you are away.

But since we’re not in the business of sticking to one side of an issue, and I can’t help but imagine how crazed she must make you when she starts dropping hints about the fact that your daughters head straight to the laundry room to find clean socks instead of looking in their drawers because “that’s where Mommy keeps them,” I’m going to suggest — if you can pull it off without sounding like a bratty, whiny kid — that you say something before you leave.

Now granted, your mother-in-law doesn’t actually need to be sorting through your expired make-up or offering critiques of your pantry, but at the same time you can’t just flat out tell her to stay out of your stuff.

First, she may think that she is being helpful by accomplishing something that you obviously don’t have the time to do, in which case your message would be hurtful to her. Or, worse yet, if her motive is to truly knock you down a notch from your post as Queen, you risk an all-out war that will be brewing the whole time you are gone (and if you like your father-in-law in the least, you’ll probably want to spare him from hearing that all week). (Besides, you risk finding that she *oops* erased the whole season of Mad Men that you were planning to catch up on when you returned.)

That said, if you still think it’s best to speak up, here’s my best advice:

1) Do it up front, and not when you come back. You are hoping for a better outcome — not for it to come across as a complaint after the fact.

2) Word your request with her best interests in mind, like: “It’s not often you get to spend this much time with the girls, just you and them, so I want you to enjoy every minute of it. I’ve done my best to leave you with everything you will need and if there’s anything that’s missing, I apologize because these last few days have been hectic. But do yourself a favor, and don’t worry about the bins of clothes in the laundry room, or making sense of that hall closet. Just enjoy yourselves, play games with them, go for a walk. Make it your week off too. You and Dad deserve it.”

3) Have your husband echo this sincere appeal (within earshot of his father), only with the type of loving, yet heavy-handed approach that only a son can pull off with his mom. You know, something along the lines of: “Ma, I’m 38 and if I find out that you went through my underwear drawer again, we may have to skip Thanksgiving at your house this year.”

4) And when you come home, well-rested, and realize that not only is your underwear color-coded (not his) but that she bought you ten new pairs two-sizes too big, you have to promise that you’ll summon up every bit of inner peace you amassed over the last seven days, as you glance over at your well-kept and happy daughters, and say “thank you” knowing that you just might be in her shoes some day too.

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What do you think? Should Bahama Mama have a chat with her mother-in-law or sail blissfully (and ignorantly) into the sunset? And if you’ve got a relative who brings you down or a child who won’t listen, we can help! Send an e-mail to advice@wearebothright.com.

By the way, this is our 100th post! Thanks to all of you who have helped We Are Both Right get this far. We hope you are having as much fun as we are.

$ave the Disney Trip for Your Preschooler

© We Are Both Right

A family trip to Disney World or Disneyland can be a fairly expensive proposition, with park passes alone costing a few hundred dollars per person.  Add in three meals per day, a swirly lollipop or two, and the requisite embroidered Mickey ears and you’re in deeper than 20,000 leagues under the sea. 

For these reasons, a trip to Disney only happens once in a while for most families, if not once in a lifetime.  And if that’s the way it has to be, you might as well make it count, right? 

My advice is to wait until the children are at the perfect age (and height) to ride the rides and greet the characters and remain standing until the final firework has dissolved into pixie dust.  Otherwise, you might still have to figure out a way to go back when the youngest flat out denies in six years that he was ever there and insists that he’s the only kid in school who hasn’t seen Mickey Mouse.   

So just what is the perfect age?  Well of course it depends upon the individual child and their tolerance for ginormous characters looming overhead and long lines, but I would say anywhere from four years old to seven is the ideal age for fully embracing the magic of Disney. 

And if your child is so lucky to be granted a wish to return again in the future, well then it’s all icing on the cake.  But if not, at least they will remember having been there when it counted.  At the same time, babies get free admission to Disney parks through age 2, so if you have the luxury of returning every few years you might not mind breezing through the park while the little one is still fairly contained. 

We’ve done all of the above, but not because our travel budget is unlimited.  Quite the opposite actually.  Our children’s great-grandparents live in Florida just an hour away from Disney World, so when we take a trip to stay with them, we have the flexibility of popping over to the park of our choice for a day and leaving it at that (which is quite alright with M. and me, since we’ll take mountains in a national park over Splash Mountain any day). 

This freedom to do Disney in bite-sized pieces means that we have visited the parks four times in the last eight years.  L.’s first visit was spent sleeping on a safari in Animal Kingdom when he was five months old.  S. pushed her own stroller through the park during our visit to Epcot she was 16 months old.  Neither of them remembers a thing from their first trip to the Disney parks, but they have each returned since to get the full experience. 

It’s just age three that I might watch out for — also speaking from experience.  A few months ago, when my daughter was on the brink of her third birthday and infatuated with Disney Princesses, we headed out to Disneyland in California for the first time.  

I thought she would be in her glory.  But once the sheen of her visit with the Princesses wore off, there were a lot of tears about ten-foot tall bears and “scary” rides like The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.  I know what you’re thinking: what kind of mother subjects her child to buzzing beehives in the dark?!  I’m sadistic, aren’t I? 

Don’t get me wrong, we had a lot of fun (even after our eight-year-old got his first taste of motion sickness on Space Mountain).  But by 6 p.m. (that’s right — well before the crowds had even begun thinking of lining Main Street for fireworks) we were heading back to the hotel for dinner and a bedtime story on the TV.  They were both Disneyed-out after just ten hours — which is nothing if you read some other moms’ strategies posted online about getting the most Disney for your dollar.

So even though it wasn’t a full day and S. was probably still slightly too young to be completely enchanted, my husband and I knew we’d all be back at some point soon.  

No sooner did we unpack than my sister (quite the Disney expert herself) told me about the newly renovated Fantasyland section at Disney World that will be opening in 2013 when S. is five. 

Sounds like the perfect timing to me.

Amanda has seen Disney World at all ages, and so will her children if she has her way.

Fun at Disney World With Children of All Ages

© We Are Both Right

© We Are Both Right

I have been to Disney World in Florida a lot. As a young child, as a school-age kid, as a teen, on my honeymoon, with my own children. And of course, on each visit I had an amazing time, each experience different as my perspective changed. Seeing the Magic Kingdom for the first time is pretty cool. Seeing your child see it for the first time? Indescribably awesome.

My favorite memory from all of these trips by far, comes from our visit in August of 2003. My daughter A. was nearly nine months old and at that stage where she still had the sweetness of an infant, but starting to show the growing curiosity of a toddler. She wasn’t mobile in terms of walking (although she was a fast crawler) so she spent all of her time in the parks in our arms, the baby carrier or the double stroller we had rented (our son C. was just shy of his third birthday).

C. was at the age where he thought the characters were pretty groovy (especially since we had gotten him an autograph book and pen) and rides were not so much with the grooviness, so we spent a lot of our time hunting down assorted costumed figures. One of our first stops was for a meet and greet with Winnie the Pooh, Tigger and Piglet. I knew C. would be OK but wasn’t sure how A. would react to these huge things who we were enthusiastically and unabashedly handing her off to.

No worries because she loved them. She loved them so much she tried to kiss them, but when she really ended up doing was eating them. We’d hold her up, she’d lean in and she’d just put her open mouth on Pooh’s snout. (OK, it sounds gross, but trust me, it’s adorable.) I laugh now thinking about my little girl in her little pink dress just sopping all over these people. Er, bears. Pigs? What’s a tigger supposed to be again?

Anyway, we all had a great time that afternoon — even baby A.  And that’s the beauty of Disney World, I think. Even the youngest little one can take something from it. She went on rides (in my lap or T.’s), she saw the sites, took in some parades and clearly, as illustrated by my story above, made some friends. She ate just fine, she napped on the go — everything was right in her world, made even more so because he family was with her all the time. Plus, she was free! No charge on the plane as she rode in my lap. No charge at restaurants — she nursed. And no admission charges for Disney as she was under two. Win. Win. Win!

(I love traveling with infants anyway — especially a breastfeeding infant. She was completely portable and at the same time at our mercy because she couldn’t get anywhere on her own. Did we bring a lot of stuff? Please, this me we are talking about, but my husband is still married to me so we did well enough I guess.)

Now granted, she has no recollection of the trip at all. But T. and I do (and so does my sister who came with us) and we have lots of pictures to show her. And in the moment, like the rest of us, A. had a fabulous time. And for me, that’s what Disney World is about.

In fact, I feel kind of bad that S. (currently 21 months) probably won’t make it to visit the main mouse until he’s at least three. Although I suspect Winnie isn’t in a hurry to see A. anytime soon.

Have you brought your kids to Disney World? How old were they?

For Suzanne, a trip to Disney World isn’t as magical unless the kids are a bit older — at least 4.

Wanna Race? Bet My Stroller Can Take Your Pram

© Peg Perego

Traveling light with baby. As far as oxymorons go, that might rank right up there with a little pregnant.

And as silly and impossible as it may sound, I was determined to live by that standard when I was pregnant with my first child. I didn’t want to be weighted down by all the baby accoutrements that seemed to be par for the course.

Travel system strollers included. Not to mention prams, the old-fashioned carriages that look like bassinets with handlebars, which I would have put at the top of my “don’t do” list except that they weren’t yet in vogue when I began my journey into motherhood in 2002.

Maybe in the 1950s, when women rarely drove cars, prams made sense for a walk into town to see the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. But nowadays, when the routine is more about loading and unloading a car, or shlepping baby and stroller on and off the subway, the added bulk would be about as welcome as twenty extra pounds around my midsection.

Lightweight and nimble is more my style. And so when M. and I went to register, we waltzed right past the bulky travel systems, with their dually wheels, and took the city-sized strollers for a spin instead.

Optimal turning radius. One-handed lift. Durable wheels. Good shock absorption.

You would have thought we were shopping for a lawn mower, but once we settled on a navy and yellow Peg Perego Pliko, we were so proud of ourselves for not giving in to the hype of the full-size baby stroller.

Heck, our stroller didn’t even have a tray. Look at us, bucking the trend. We didn’t even buy an infant car seat, opting to use the convertible model that was safe for babies from 5 to 30 lbs.

Oh, the cool, minimalist parents that we thought we were. (In hindsight, our resistance actually paid off, since our son was 20 lbs. at six months and would have outgrown the infant car seat at that point. We did end up buying one for our daughter a few years later. Just not the stroller to go with it.)

The way I saw it, our lightweight stroller granted us access to lands otherwise off limits to parents of infants. Like the clearance aisle in Home Goods. Tableside seating in restaurants. The dollar bin section in Target.

To the envy of moms with dually wheels spinning in opposing directions, we were cutting turns around clothes racks. Daddy was popping wheelies in the supermarket. And when we got back out to the car, I would literally collapse and lift our stroller with one hand and throw it in the trunk (with room to spare for the mega box of diapers).

Sure, I still traveled with a 35-pound diaper bag on my shoulder, and enough bottles to take us across the desert, but I was never faster than when I was zipping along with baby in his lightweight stroller.

I know some moms who made an Olympic sport out of buying new strollers every year or so. I’ve even seen garages half-filled with a variety of strollers for different purposes — jogging, a walk to the park, shopping, etc. But aside from the $19 umbrella stroller we took on the plane with us once, we have always stuck with our one and only all-purpose stroller.

Eight years later, and a little frayed around the edges, it’s still our go-to stroller. It’s been with us as we’ve traipsed through pumpkin fields, navigated around city potholes, and gone in circles at Disney World.

Now maybe I’ve asked Amanda to carry a coat or two of ours on her super-sized stroller, but other than that we seem to have found our perfect fit.

When It Comes to Strollers, Bigger is Better

©ahylton/stock.xchng

©ahylton/stock.xchng

Never, in my whole life, have I ever travelled light. I don’t even really understand what that means or why I would want to.

I can’t go to the grocery store without bringing a diaper bag loaded with at least eight diapers, two changes of clothes, a pair of pajamas, two types of diaper rash cream, nursing pads, about 50 wipes, assorted toys and three burp cloths. Not to mention my wallet, keys, cell phone and whatever C. and A. hand me on the way out the door.

An hour-long trip in the car requires snacks, juice boxes, books and an assortment of video games (but no DVDs of course). And forget it if we have to go on vacation. For my husband, loading up our minivan turns into a life-size game of Tetris and I need him to win.

Seriously, my younger son and I took my elder son to his hour-long basketball game over the weekend. This is what I brought with us into the gym, no exaggerating: 1 bottle of Gatorade, 2 bottles of water, 1 water bottle, 1 juice box, a small sleeve of crackers, a small bag of Sun Chips, a package of cheese and crackers, a bag of Cheez-Its, a granola bar, a banana and a large hot chocolate. This was for me, the 20-month-old and my son, who really just needed his water bottle because he was playing in the game, not noshing on snacks. This list by the way, didn’t include S.’s diaper bag, packed with the aforementioned above items plus three books in case he got bored.

I may have a problem. And a reality tv show in the works.

Anyway, this is my very long-winded way of saying that when it came time for us to pick out strollers for our babies, there was no question. I needed one of those big travel systems. The bigger the better with as many baskets, pockets, hooks, cup holders and places to put things as possible. Sure, the extra protection for baby is helpful, but I really just needed a vehicle for my mobile hoarding problem.

Is it heavy? You better believe it. But for me (and my son), the stroller becomes a home away from home. It carries everything (there’s even room for a kid in there!). And if something is able to rest in or on the stroller, that means one less thing that is strapped to my back or wrapped across my shoulders. We put everything in there  – winter coats, shopping bags — when I push it around fully-loaded, I might look like a crazy bag lady, but if the apocalypse goes down while I’m at the mall, guess who everyone is going to be coming to for supplies?

Is it clunky and awkward? Surprisingly not. When we were testing out models for soon-to-be-born S., T. and I purposely brought C. and A. with us so they could try out everything we registered for. While the stroller is primarily pushed by a grown-up (a good thing, given C.’s affinity to pretend he’s trying out for NASCAR) on occasion, we ask one of S.’s siblings to take the wheel. Despite the stroller’s large size, they do fine with it.

So yes, I’m a big stroller kind of gal. Laugh, poke fun, that’s fine. Just don’t ask me for a ride if we are out together and you get tired.

Do you prefer a big stroller or a little one? For Suzanne, smaller is the way to go. Which is OK, because if she runs out of room I can hold things for her.

If Driving a Minivan is Lame, I Don’t Want to Be Cool

I love being a mom. Even the dorky parts. I embrace them all. The jeans. The hair. The car.

© Volkswagen

© Volkswagen

I drive a minivan, and I’m proud.

I must confess that I am a minivan convert — not because I didn’t like them though. A minivan was never in our vehicular plan because we never we thought we needed one, not when we drove a big SUV.

In fact, with a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old, we thought maybe our days of big, boxy autos were done. Gone were the days of carting around Pack N’ Plays and strollers and booster seats and other assorted baby gear.

Heh.

During the summer of 2008, when gas prices were at their peak (the first time), in the name of being eco- and wallet-friendly, we traded in our gas-guzzling SUV for a smaller sedan. At the time, it was a responsible decision. A family of four did not need a vehicle that could seat eight, tow a small building and transport all of the contents of a mid-sized country around with them. So after ten years of driving a truck, we downsized. And we were happy.

And then we found out we were unexpectedly pregnant. What was I saying about cars and mid-sized countries?

For a while, T. and I were in denial about our car needs. Our car, a mid-sized sedan, would hold all of us just fine, we reasoned. Sure the back seat might be a little cramped with three kids in it and we might have to sit on the trunk to get it to close, but we’d manage.

About two months before S. graced us with his presence, as part of our getting ready for baby undertakings, T. decided to install the car seat in order to a) be prepared and b) make sure we had enough room. At first everything seemed OK. Despite their very close proximity to one another, the kids were getting along just fine. Great!

Then five minutes later the novelty wore off.

“He’s touching me.” “She looked at me.” “His butt is touching my butt.” As the litany of complaints went on and on, T. and I realized we had only a few options:

  1. Ignore them and hope S. could sleep in the car despite the squabbles.
  2. Invest in one of those privacy screens that you find in limos.
  3. Buy a new car.

Option one was incredibly tempting (heck, we started to price out option two), but we realized we probably weren’t being very fair to C. At the time he was eight years old, 4 feet, 8 inches tall (and growing) and weighing in at about 75 pounds (and growing). Tall and lean, with long legs, he was literally folded into his meager space like a Jacob’s Ladder, crushed between two car seats.

Minivan city, here we come.

I loved it the second I sat in one in the showroom. The extra space. The third row seating. All the randomly placed places to put things. Anything — your cup, your change, an industrialized size tub of butter. (The kids were excited too, until they discovered that we in fact, did not order the model with the space-age entertainment system.) I loved it all. And now, nearly two years into driving it, I could care less about the stigma that a minivan carries with it (along with its stow ‘n go seating).

I love that when we go on road trips, I can pack with reckless abandon, bringing whatever it is I think we may need. That I can go to the wholesale club store and not give a second thought to whether or not the ultra-big package of 100 paper towel rolls on sale for $5.99 will fit. That I always have a private place to change S.’s diaper (or get changed myself if need be). Breastfeeding on the go was never a problem, as I positioned myself way in the back, tinted windows working their privacy magic. When it rains at C.’s little league games, the minivan is our (large) refuge, with plenty of space for toddler S. to move around.

(That I can’t hear the children fighting when I’m driving and they are sitting all the way in the back.)

What kind of car do you drive? Suzanne drives a minivan, but she’s less than thrilled — it reminds her a bit too much of her teenage years.

Finally Saying Good Bye to the Minivan?

To borrow a segment from Sesame Street: “One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong. Can you tell which thing is not like the others, by the time I finish my song (blog post)?”

High school senior. New driver’s license. Cruising with friends. Minivan.

Clear as day, huh? So was the oversized windshield on the late model maroon Chrysler minivan my parents let me borrow for my road test and every weekend after I got my driver’s license. I guess I was lucky just to have a car to drive, but a minivan? Way to torture a teenager.

I’m trying to recall if my friends ever insisted on spending their own gas money, just to avoid the humiliation of pulling up in a minivan. Then again, I do remember picking up and dropping off enough extra passengers that I occasionally missed my curfew.

Some good fortune changed the tide though. I got a full scholarship to college and my parents were able to justify buying me my own car because, as my father put it, I wasn’t going to cost them anything more.

Glad to ditch the minivan for a somewhat cooler blue four-door sedan, I never looked back. My new wheels saw me through college and ended up being our ride home the night of our wedding. A few years later, we traded that car in for a used Ford Explorer (my all-time favorite vehicle) just in time for our cross-country road trip. Then came the GMC SUV and a Saturn sedan, which was the car M. drove the day we brought our son home from the hospital.

No sooner was our firstborn walking that my husband decided a minivan was in order. I can’t tell you exactly how he talked me into it, despite my insistence that we didn’t need a large family car, with just one small child and plans to wait at least a few years before trying for a second.

But then I got a call at work, asking what color I wanted our new Toyota Sienna to be. He was standing in the dealership. The next night we picked it up. I didn’t even have time to make peace with my new status — because before I knew it, I was a full-fledged suburban soccer mom. Aggghhhhh.

At least the color was sophisticated — a charcoal grey. But really nothing could disguise the sloped nose and bulk of my automatic-sliding-door-equipped mom-strosity. I was far from sleek or chic, or any other form of hip mama that I strived to be.

I can swear that I got sideways looks at our day care center of all places — the kind that insinuated I was out of my mind to have one child and be driving a seven-passenger car. On the way to work, I would have flashbacks to my high school days and calculate how soon we would be through this phase, only to realize we were in it for the long haul. We had bought, not leased this car — er, minivan.

Seven years later and 134,000 miles in, I am still a mom with a minivan.

© Sean Dreilinger

In hindsight, it wasn’t such a bad call on the part of my husband (who had wanted a minivan ever since we were in college — only because his hockey bag full of equipment was a tight fit in the trunk of his two-door coupe). I’ll give it to him that the minivan did make it easier to travel with our dog in her crate, as well as a car seat, stroller, and all of the other paraphernalia that comes with a baby.

And before we knew it, Baby #2 had arrived. I still remember piling into the car at the hospital, looking back at our two children, and saying to my husband, “We’re finally using this car to its fullest potential.”

But before he could utter an I-told-you-so, I reminded him that he also doesn’t drive it every day. He’s not the professional woman whose first impression screams “mommy” when she picks up a consultant, visits a prospect, or heads out to a tour — all with a portable potty in the back seat. As if the spit-up on the shoulder of my suit didn’t already give me away, the minivan sure did.

And so my love/hate relationship with the minivan is still going strong. There are days when I praise its functionality, like when I can hop into the car during a blowing rainstorm, buckle in the kids, and climb into the driver’s seat without getting drenched. It also holds our groceries snuggly in the well behind the third row of seats, so that I never have to worry about a gallon of milk knocking around and busting open like I do when driving our SUV.

My favorite thing about our minivan is that it’s a room on wheels. We can use the aforementioned potty seat at football games and while out shopping, all in the complete privacy of our folded-down seats turned bathroom. I can also let S. run around and play in the same space when L.’s football practices turn especially cold and she’s had enough of being cooped up in her car seat.

But lately, I find myself cursing its shortcomings. Both passenger doors always freeze in their tracks, conveniently on the way to work when I don’t have time to wait for a car to defrost. It’s not the best ride in the snow, and I can’t continue to justify driving 50 miles a day by myself in a car made for seven.

As much as I’ll hate to give up my fully paid minivan when it bites the dust, I’m thinking along the lines of an all-wheel drive sedan — a Subaru maybe. Not exactly the fast pass to being a cool mom, but at least I’m making progress.

Amanda’s more at peace with the idea of a minivan than I am. At least for now.

Is a minivan your dream ride or more like your worst nightmare?