The first time I left the home, alone, when our third child was born was terrific- because it was horridly awful, and set the bar low for what a good experience would be.
My beautiful mother in law, who had been SO helpful, boarded a jet plane and left me in the city, two hours from our home. Technically, she was with me for the first part of our excursion, so it was really only the return trip that was done independently. Navigate the stroller through the airport, through the parking garage, load ’em up, and drive two hours home. Sounds pretty simple! And it was. The biggest one held on properly to the stroller, which was carrying the two year old and newborn. We got to the car, I buckled them in (and laughed because now they couldn’t move) and started on the drive. I blared their favourite music, we got on the highway, we can DO THIS! Look at me go!
Until one had to go to the bathroom.
In all fairness, he was three and a half. For SURE he had to go the bathroom, his bladder was the size of a grape on the best of days.
We stopped at a Tim Horton’s, and my whole universe fell apart.
I hefted the car seat in one hand, which is always awkward, and encouraged the two boys to hold each other’s hand, and walk with me inside. Well, of course, the two year old saw the donuts and wanted to choose one. He needed to wait, because his brother REALLY had to go to the bathroom. I raised my voice a little too quick- he could hear my desperation- while I’m trying to balance the carseat, diaper bag and my purse (a combined total of 112 pounds) and he broke. Loudly. Started screaming, laying on the floor. I had no way of picking him, so I tried to pull his hand. This is in the middle of the line, people walking around me to get to the counter. The biggest one, trying to push open the bathroom door, starts crying, “I HAVE TO PEE NOW!!!!” I finally manage to pick up the screamer, the baby in her carseat, the diaper bag and my purse, and rush to the bathroom to help the Clever One.
We went to the bathroom, I changed both of the littles’ diapers. Took a breath. Regained my cool (mostly waited for all the customers that witnessed the spectacle to leave.)
Back into the store, I had to nurse the baby- maybe we could all have a snack together. What a treat!
Well, now a tour bus emptied into the store. The line up was pretty long, and I was caught in the middle. I could no longer carry the baby seat, the purse and the diaper bag. My arms were shaking, my back hurt. I had the boys sit at a table seven feet away, and put the car seat on the table so when I looked back I could see our precious little girl, less than two weeks old, embarking on her first all-Canadian visit to Tim’s. I ordered our snacks, thanked the good Lord I didn’t have to wait in line after all these people, and started walking back.
With the wrong donut.
Well, if I thought the display in line was humiliating, this one was enough to switch provinces. He crashed to the dirty floor, bumping the table. The car seat FELL TO THE GROUND. The whole restaurant collectively gasped/screamed/shouted in a foreign language. There was pointing. There were faces. Thankfully, I had buckled her in, so she was unharmed, but of course, the other people didn’t know this. I grabbed the food, grabbed the kids, and with superhuman strength carried/dragged everything to the safety of our car where I fed the baby and cried. Of course, the car was parked facing the restaurant, so I could still see everyone pointing, and they could see my crying.
How do you leave the house with more than one child?
1. Safety first.
Hands must be held in the parking lot, at all times. If they let go- back to the car to try again. If they won’t stay with you in the mall or at the zoo, they must be in a stroller or grocery cart. I never used the harness type things, but I respect the fact that they can be a necessity at times. Do what you have to do, crying or not. Freedom is earned. If one goes to the bathroom, everyone goes to the bathroom. The car gets parked if seatbelts or car seat buckles are undone. Know that everything will take longer- try not to be in a rush. If you can train your kids at a young age to stay with you, you will save time later. Talk in the car about what happens if you get separated.
2. What does the situation call for? What are the children’s capabilities?
Determine how long the event or outing will be. Will it overlap with a scheduled snack time or meal? Is it a quiet ordeal (like a funeral) or will noise be okay? Plan accordingly:
*I do not bring snacks unless it’s a normal snack time. We eat at home- no spills, no I-want-something-different- and honestly, it’s a pain to have to pack around either a bunch of containers, or a bunch of baggies. I have enough getting out the door without having to pack a variety of snacks I think they will like. Sometimes, we’ll have a snack in the car before we leave, or right before we get there. Unless it’s something over two hours, I don’t pack snacks. It’s more of a pain then it’s worth, in my opinion. And candy doesn’t work. Don’t do it. They’ll just want/cry for more.
*Pack appropriate activities.
Books, dinky cars, Little People (the people and a couple animals), colouring books with special crayons- all of these work well for long things-grads, retreats, ceremonies, etc. Then, give out the activities ONE AT A TIME. Do not give all the books at once. Nor all the toys. Kids are way better occupied when they have one thing to focus on. When they are done, have them pick it up and switch it out- also keeps the mess down.
Make sure they can see what’s going on. Talk to them about it (or whisper, depending).
*Know your children, and what they can do.
Every child is different. If it’s something short, like a wedding, often they will be okay just watching what’s going on, and toys/books will just be a distraction. If it’s something longer, and past their attention levels, give them the activities. Don’t frustrate them by expecting more than they can do.
*Take a walk/bathroom break when needed.
Honestly, probably every thirty minutes, depending on the event or the day. Use these times to talk about what’s going on, how much is left.
3. Take care of necessities first.
Always go to the bathroom before ordering or getting in line, or anything that requires you to stay in one place. And you, too! Be comfortable. Make sure diapers are clean. There is nothing worse than ordering your food, sitting down at a table, and then realizing you have to pack everyone up to go to the bathroom. This will still happen despite your best intentions- but it will happen more if you don’t build in these breaks. Make sure everyone has eaten, babies have been fed. This is important. If you try to brush it off, you will pay. Be willing to take a break from the graduation and take everyone to the bathroom.
4. Tell the children exactly what’s expected.
From the time they are born, they can understand SO much. And if they are still super little and don’t understand, this gives you practice on talking to yourself (a needed Mom skill). Tell them, chronologically, what will happen- which stores you are going to, how they must behave, how long you think it will take. How would you feel if you were tossed in a seat, driven somewhere (rear facing, no less!) and then forced to sit quietly for an hour? We call that kidnapping. Tell them what’s going on, who’s getting married, everything you can think of. Things to look for, symbols they may see. Seriously, tell them bananas are on sale- when they see the sign in the store, they will be excited!
5. Encourage! Don’t Bribe.
Do not point out the negatives. Deal with those things later when you talk about it at home. When you are out, focus on the positive. If they feel like “they can’t get it right,” they will stop trying completely. Don’t bribe. Ever. That’s just manipulation so that you can get what you want. Point out or whisper how proud you are, how thankful you are, how much fun you’re having. Try not to “shhh”, but whisper in their ears and model what’s expected. The only negative things that should be pointed out are safety issues. Make stuff fun! This goes hand in hand with. . . .
6. Never let them see you sweat.
If you are starting to lose your cool, how can you expect your kids to have self control? Try to stay patient, kind and encouraging NO MATTER how they are behaving. You can’t control your kids- you can only control yourself.
7. DO NOT CARE WHAT OTHER PEOPLE SAY/THINK.
Give up. Kids are kids. Adults are adults. Everyone has bad days. It is NOT a reflection on you as a parent. Learn to smile and nod! How else will they learn, but by making mistakes? Always apologize if there’s an issue, but do not take it to heart or take it personally. Kids need to be stretched, they need to learn how to act in everyday situations. They can’t learn it unless they do it. Live life with your children.
I would love to hear your horror stories of when things went wrong! Tell me in the comments.