Tag Archives: flying with toddler

our immigration story

We recently returned from a very un-planned trip to Boston. Essentially, due to some recent immigration policy changes, the UK government required us to submit our visa-renewal application from within the United States. Neither AJ’s company or we were prepared for this; therefore, we basically had a two-day notice to book our flights and get the heck out of the UK.

We’ve travelled quite a bit as a family, but never have we had to prepare in one day for an international, 7 hr flight, 5 hr time change kind of trip. We were all, “Hey kids, wanna go to Boston tomorrow?” and poor Tori thought we were moving there. “Are you going to miss your friends, Mommy?” she asked very quietly. “You know, when we move to America?” <Insert cracked heart here.>

As I printed out over 60 pages of application documents (printer courtesy of a dear London friend), news blurbs kept popping up, and all I could see were the words like “immigrants” and “border control” and “child refugees.” My heart wanted to stop and contemplate all of IT, but my head knew I needed to focus on the job at hand.

We boarded our plane and arrived in the US with no issues, other than that Anders was too short for the automated immigration photo-thingy upon arrival. (BTW, his passport/visa photos are The. Cutest. Ever.) We knew that, worst-case-scenario, our visas would expire while we were there, and the UK, for some reason, would not approve our renewal. And we’d be stuck in Boston indefinitely.

During our entire trip, my heart and head were in turmoil. Yes, we were stressed about the unknown. But in everything I did, my heart was feeling contradictory.

As the kids watched shows on the iPad and I read through Elle Décor on the plane, all I could think of were the thousands of people crammed into teeny boats with nothing but the clothes on their backs, trying to make their way across an ocean.

As we were escorted to the front of the line at the USCIS office, I was so grateful for not having to wait ages with my two young kids in the super-boring office. And my heart tugged as we passed non-American families with young children, waiting, looking as bored and cranky as we would have been.

As we were pulled aside to sit for 20 minutes in a “secure lounge” upon re-entry to the UK, (their systems hadn’t yet fully updated our status), I couldn’t help but think of the millions of families living in refugee camps, sometimes for decades.

And as I lay with my wide-awake, jet-lagged three-year-old son at 3:30am, my brain could not erase images of that tiny three-year-old body, limp and lifeless, washed ashore on a Turkish beach.

Were the last two weeks stressful? Yep, a type of stress we haven’t encountered before. Were the last two weeks exhausting? You bet. Were the last two weeks a strain on our marriage? Of course. But. Were they physically dangerous? Nope. Did they put us into major financial debt? No. Did they ever require that I put my children in a life-threatening situation? Of course not.

We’re back in the UK, after spending almost two weeks with family and friends. We have a five-year visa. And as small and cramped as our flat may have seemed before we left, it now feels quite adequate. We have a “long” walk to school in the morning, but now it doesn’t seem quite that bad, even in the rain.

AJ and I always try to look for God’s purpose in the events of our lives. Sometimes it’s really, really hard to see it. Often we can’t see it until well after the fact. But I do feel that perhaps God wanted to soften my heart toward the plight of others, and he used this “inconvenience” and “stress” as a means to do so. I’m still working through what it all means, and what I need to do next… I’m really not sure. When I figure it out, I’ll let you know. ;-)

12 hours on a plane, 8 hour jet-lag, two small kids…

Many people have been asking me about how the kids handled the long overseas flight, so here you go!

Kids on planesI’ll start with this disclaimer: our flight to London from Tucson, AZ was by no means the first time my children have been on an airplane. They’ve flown to Florida, New Orleans, North Carolina and Boston (many times). Whether this helped them or not, hard to say :-) But it certainly helped us in our planning.

Probably the most unusual element of our flight to London was that we did not know our exact flight date or time until 8 days before. Yes. 8 days. We knew we were going, so I had been able to plan almost everything, but I had no idea WHEN it was going to happen! No clue as to what day of the week, or what time of day, or through which airport, or which airline, or how long a flight.

I think this might be stressful for anyone, but it was especially stressful for me since I was trying to prepare our 2 year old and 4 year old children for this flight, trying to consider meal times, sleep time, potty time, etc.

Needless to say it was a HUGE relief when we finally booked our tickets for a Saturday flight, which left Tucson mid-morning, ~2 hrs to Dallas, then an almost 6 hr layover, then a 9hr flight to London. Total time change: 8hrs ahead.

Here’s another huge disclaimer: my parents-in-law flew with us! Ahhh, such a relief and such a blessing. But to be honest, our kids really were the CHAMPIONS on these flights! I could feel the prayers surrounding us and was constantly amazed at how well my children handled everything.

So below are a few of the things we did to ease our travel. Hope it can help even one other mum or dad in their preparation for even a short flight!

In advance:

  • Talk a lot about going on the airplane. Watch TV shows about airplanes (the airplane episode of Bubble Guppies was one of our favorites). Talk about going to the airport, WAITING at the airport, getting on the plane and SITTING on the plane “for a very long time” and getting off the plane and WAITING in another airport, etc. You get the idea. Keep telling them about it! Even our two year old could understand most of it.
  • Have your child practice using earphones while watching a show or using an iPad. This is really critical, especially if they are young (Anders was 2 years old, and on our flight to Florida a month earlier, didn’t really want to use the headphones, but used them frequently on our flights to London…) We bought them each a set of these headphones and have had no complaints! And consider purchasing a splitter if your device doesn’t have two ports.
  • Buy surprises and treats. I watched the Target $1 section for clearance. Pull aside several books a month in advance so that when you bring them out they are “new,” or buy several used books at a book sale. Buy stickers. Lots of stickers.
  • Perhaps buy a new movie or two (or download a few onto the iPad). Younger kids might need to see a show a couple of times before they are able to sit through the whole thing, so consider watching it once or twice before the flight.
  • Make sure the two or three days prior to departure the kids have as normal a schedule as you can possibly manage. Meaning low-key days, meals at home, baths at night, regular mornings, etc. The worst thing is to have a tired grumpy kid even BEFORE you leave!

During travel:

  • Allow 10-20 extra minutes for going through security. Since I’ve been traveling with children I almost ALWAYS have to have something tested or re-scanned by security. Tell other folks to go on ahead of you. Take your time and smile. Don’t let the rushed grumpiness of other travelers make you feel stressed!
  • Purchase water bottles in the airport once through security. (My kids didn’t need any special food or water, but when I was bottle-feeding, I would ask the cashier in the news store to get me a bottle of room-temperature water, which sometimes was only in the back room. This made mixing the formula much easier than using cold water.)
  • Pre-boarding!

    Pre-boarding!

    Sometimes we take advantage of pre-boarding, sometimes we don’t. If we have a ton of carry-ons or a carseat, then pre-board. If it’s just a bag or two, we prefer waiting to allow our kids more time to run around :-)

  • Once on board and in our seats (after my daughter literally seems to bump into every person in an aisle seat), the first thing I do is give the kids several sanitizing wipes and have them clean their seats! This activity is so great. They literally wipe down everything in sight and love doing it! It’s a great activity to allow you time to get settled.
  • Allow your kids to stand up in the seats (if they’re young) when you first board, and let them give big smiles to the people sitting around you. This (might) promote sympathy instead of anger later when the kids get fussy.
  • Hold off on screen time as long as possible!! Preferably at least until after drinks have been served and consumed. There’s not much worse than having a sticky, orange-juice covered DVD player or iPad… :-)

Sleeping (or should I say, “sleeping”):

  • It’s completely hit-or-miss. There is no way to anticipate if your child will sleep or not. When they are babies, snugglers often sleep better because they love being held. My daughter hated sleeping in our arms and therefore barely slept on a plane until this trip!
  • For shorter flights, if you’re hoping they’ll take a nap, don’t be discouraged if they don’t, and praise Jesus if they do! If they are fighting sleep, put on a show and then try again later.
  • For longer flights when sleep is necessary, both for you, your child, and the people around you, make sure everything you do is intentional:
    • Eat some sort of meal before you want them to sleep, even if it’s just a snack. Don’t rely on the food provided by the airline; it can take a VERY long time for them to get to you, and even if you pre-order a kids’ meal, you might not get it. (This happened to us.)
    • After the food, put their pajamas on! PJs=sleep to them. Brush their teeth. Bring along a couple bed-time books. Try to make some sort of familiar routine. Keep lights low or off. And of course bring each child their own full pillow, blanket and one stuffed animal.
    • If you’re lucky, your daughter will say to you, “Mom, I’m tired, can I sleep now?” and fall asleep. No joke, this is what my 4 year old daughter did!! She then proceeded to sleep for the entire remaining 6 hours of the flight. Probably got better sleep than anyone else on the entire plane!
    • If your child is normal, haha, then he/she might need more coaxing. Anders was pretty restless. I put a show on for him and had him lay his head down. Then I turned the show off, turned all the lights off, and gave him zero stimulation, and eventually he fell asleep. Of course half of the time his sister’s foot was in his face, but oh well!
    • If traveling with someone, take turns sleeping. When it’s your turn, put in earplugs, use an eyemask and forget about your kids :-) For the next couple of hours THEY ARE NOT YOUR PROBLEM!
Waiting... and more waiting...

Waiting…and more waiting…

 After you land:

  • Prepare yourself for the worst-case scenarios: lost luggage, huge line at rental car, zero food stands open, a quarter-mile walk to customs (with no stroller – it happened to us!!), a two-hour line to get through customs, major traffic, etc. Basically lots of waiting around. Consider it a full last leg of your trip, and it can be as critical as any other part. Bring lots of snacks for this specific time! Hungry kids can make waiting MISERABLE. Save a couple of activities or books for while you are waiting after your flight.

Jet Lag:

  • For up to 3 hours of time change, we do our hardest to immediately put the kids on the schedule of wherever we are. It’s kind of rough but seems to be the best bet. It might mean an extra power nap in the late afternoon to keep them awake until bedtime, but it’s worth it. My kids usually adjust to a 3 hr time change quite easily.
  • For longer, (say, 8 hours?) :-) It’s quite another story. The first two nights our kids went to bed at a reasonable hour and slept fairly well through the night. The next four nights were TERRIBLE. Tori woke up at 3 am WIDE AWAKE and ready to play. I sat with her, using my phone as a flashlight, and read books quietly until she went back to sleep, 90 minutes later. Ugh.
  • Have a bottle of wine ready. Or popcorn. Or SOMETHING that you can consume in the bathroom with minimal noise. The next couple of nights the two kids stayed awake until almost midnight, laughing and joking and making fart noises. Nothing I could say or do would make them sleep, so AJ and I poured wine into the hotel coffee mugs and sat in the bathroom and watched a movie on the iPad. Not our best nights.
  • It took a full 7 nights to be completely adjusted. Part of this I believe is because my kids were not used to sleeping in the same room together. If your kids share a room already, they’re better prepared for hotel living :-)

Anyway, sorry this was so wordy! It really is just a brief synopsis of our travel, but I hope it gives some of you an idea of how we handled such a long journey :-) Imagine if we had gone to Australia or Japan!

Thanks for reading! What are some things you do to survive travel with kids?

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