Have Toddler Will Travel

It’s 5:00 in the morning and I’ve been up for over an hour already. My experiment of early rising that I spoke about in my previous post is well underway. Except, it hasn’t been a conscious decision to be up and at ’em at this ungodly hour. I’m dealing with a massive case of toddler jet-lag over here. My 26-month-old woke me  consistently and hourly from 11:00 pm to 4:00 am, at which point I gave up on sleep and succumbed to the inevitable.

Her little internal clock has been turned on its head, because we’ve just returned from a week spent in Hong Kong, which is 13 hours ahead of EST. In an ideal world, I wouldn’t have attempted a trip of that distance and short length with a toddler in tow, but the stars had aligned to take this journey, so off we went.

I should clarify that this trip was a gift given to our family by the Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada, and has been something that’s been idling on our family back-burner for over five years. I was a wee bit skeptical – and slightly fearful to be honest – when my son informed me that it was his dearest wish to travel to China. After some contemplation, and a little research, I presented Hong Kong to him as an option. He was in. We were in. A few months later we got the green light from Children’s Wish, and we were all systems go.


At this point in his life, the Bean is a seasoned traveller. He’s only eight, but he’s already been to Australia 4 times. He can get on a plane and keep himself entertained for hours – 15, in fact – with movies, video games, books and iPad. I suspected, with a sinking feeling, that it would be a different story with Lark.

When we boarded our Air Canada flight to Hong Kong, we were assigned three seats together and one across the aisle. Guess who got to sit alone with the kids for the whole flight?

Craig was essentially in another country on the other side of the drinks cart, while I grappled with ear-buds popping out of tiny ears, spilled apple juice and pieces of puzzle that’d fallen into the abyss on the floor. Upon sitting down, I’d been horrified to learn that the arm-rests on our row didn’t lift up. Hoping that there was some magic key available to raise them, I called the flight attendant, a sympathetic character with a man-bun. “Sorry,” he said. “They don’t lift up. It’s only this row, for some reason.” Feeling cursed, I gave the arm-rest one more feeble yank, before accepting my fate. “I know it’s really annoying for families,” he added nicely.

It certainly was really annoying for the following 15 hours as my toddler squirmed on top of me, and my son complained about not being able to stretch out his legs and go to sleep. To make matters worse, my Lark decided that sitting with her father was inconceivableand screamed as though being subjected to anaesthesia-less surgery every time I tried to pass her across the aisle. There were tears shed over Russia  that night. Mine, hers, and probably those of all the passengers within a ten-foot radius. On touchdown, I kissed the sweet earth in gratitude.

After staying awake for the entire journey there, she promptly passed out at 6:30 in the evening. Good, I thought. This way she’s already getting on local time. Maybe she’ll even sleep through. Ha. Naive dreams. You know when you’re jet-lagged, and you wake up out of the deepest sleep ever, like, wha-? What time is it? How long have I been sleeping? And it’s been maybe an hour, but you feel completely disoriented? Right. So imagine that feeling, but instead of being able to roll over and go back to sleep, you have tiny hands patting your face in the darkness and a loud, clear voice in your ear, saying, “Mummy. Are you awake? I don’t want to go sleepies. I want to wake up now. Mummy. I need snack. Can I have Larabar? It’s not time for sleep-time.” After hearing my hushed insistence that it was, in fact, time to sleep, she’d respond in her little bugle voice, “NO, it’s not. It’s time to get up. Mummy. Mummy. Mummy?” And then she’d press her small face hard and lovingly onto mine, cutting off my air supply, so that I finally gave in, and took her to the bathroom, to perch on the edge of the tub whilst eating a snack and reading stories.

Usually, at around 4:30 am, either my husband or myself would take her out of the room and try to keep her entertained in the empty hotel lobby until breakfast was served at 6:30.


Sleep issues aside, toddler-travel can prove difficult for other reasons too. Everyone who’s ever cared for a toddler for more than say, 10 minutes, has observed that moving them from point A to point B is challenging. They may object to your proposed mode of travel – stroller, carrier, or feet. They may require many stops to observe and interact with their surroundings. You need them to enter a shop 20 feet away. They need to look at this pile of gravel, or bit of fence, or clump of flowers – apparently for the rest of the day. These conflicting agendas mean that 45 minutes later, you still haven’t bought the bananas you set out to purchase that morning.

So now let’s imagine that you need to move this little person through a busy and unfamiliar transit system in a city of 7.2 million people. And she doesn’t want to ride in the stroller, she wants to walk. No, she wants to run. Actually, she just wants to run away. She wants to get on the escalator by herself and she definitely doesn’t want to hold hands with anyone. Is the train coming? Too bad, she’s busy putting her mouth on this glass partition over here. Which is why we left all of our parenting ideals behind and resorted to outright bribes. If you get in your stroller, you can have a treat when we get there, I said one million times in a week.

Bribes. I mean, treats.
Bribes. I mean, treats.
All the treats

I don’t want to make it sound like caring for her was all on me, and my husband was off drinking margaritas or something. He was trying his best to do his equal share of toddler-time, but my daughter let it be known, in no uncertain terms, that Mummy was the preferred parent, in every conceivable situation. Mummy has to push the stroller, Mummy must carry me, I have to sit on Mummy’s lap, I have to go through the turnstile with Mummy, Mummy has to take me to the lobby at 4:45 am. “It’s like she’s addicted to you,” said my husband bitterly. I have never heard the mother-child bond referred to as addiction before, but if the shoe fits. If you let Daddy carry you, you can have a piece of chocolate, I said to my daughter.

Joined at the hip
Joined at the hip

Of course, please don’t think that the trip was all ruinous. Actually, it was amazing. We let Bean call the shots and saw all the things that he wanted to. My kids were treated so well by the locals. We were offered seats every ride on the busy MTR, and if people were often startled by a little girl darting amongst their legs on the sidewalk, they took it in stride and were unfailingly polite and helpful to us. Certain experiences would also just never have been had, as when Lark and I made friends with a bunch of old ladies in a playground at 7:00 am, who were there doing their morning calisthenics.


I’m led to conclude that while not without its challenges, this epic trip was worth it. My son got his dream trip, and my husband and I proved to ourselves that if we could survive this with her at this age, any future travel will seem like cake, right? Which has me dreaming of far-off destinations on this dark and chilly January morning in 2017.

We did it.
We did it.

Before any new planning begins, must sleep, though.

Getting the Worm

The early bird gets the wormTime-honoured cliché

I am not an early bird. For the majority of my life, I’ve most definitely been in the night owl camp. People who claim to love the mornings have always filled me with vague suspicion. Surely they don’t naturally spring out of bed in the morning, full of zip, like that guy from Jerry Maguire? Aren’t their duvets snuggly and comfortable? Don’t they have alarm clocks which somehow fail to go off or mysteriously get snoozed?

Anyway, night owls are more fun, right? What would the party be like without us! Everyone would go home at 9:00 to get their precious beauty sleep and there would be no epic things happening at 2:00 am.

Except that, amazingly, this owl seems to be moulting or something. My new feathers poking through are positively robin-like. For the last year, I’ve been getting up earlier and earlier, until suddenly being up at 6:00 doesn’t seem like such an incredible stretch. I admit that I haven’t had too much choice in the matter, as my daughter, the aptly-nicknamed Lark, is ready to rock at 5:30 a.m. every single day. Some mornings, I’ve been sitting downstairs with her at 4:45, cradling a coffee, playing toys and waiting for the sun to come up. Other days, we get a bit of a reprieve and she slumbers until 6:00, which now seems like a sinful hour to sleep in to.

This is old hat for the husband. He’s always been pretty bouncy in the mornings. In fact, if memory serves me correctly, he used to bound in and yank the covers off of me in an effort to rouse me out of bed. (Partners, take note. Don’t do this.) He learned to let sleeping bears lie in time, but a couple of years back, began to set his alarm for 5ish in order to make it the gym three times a week at opening. Apparently, there are even other people there. His rationale was that this was probably the best time of day for him to fit in exercise, assuming that I would appreciate his presence during dinner and at bedtime. Which is true. Gym visits at 5:30 a.m. don’t really effect me if I’m still sleeping. I think he enjoys having the house to himself for a couple of hours, before his family wakes up and starts annoying him.

Recently, though, when he’s disappeared to the gym at the crack of black, I’ve been up anyway, as it’s pretty hard to ignore the tenacious, metronome-call emanating from my daughter’s bedroom:

“Mama. Mama. Mummy. Mama. All Done. All done. Up. Up. Mama. Mama? All Done. Up.”

So whether I liked it or not, I was awake. But sitting around in my jammies in a sleep-deprived stupour could hardly be called getting the worm. On non-gym days, I could sleep in and Craig would get up with Lark. Until she suddenly began to insist that be the one to get up with her every single day. If Craig tries to take her downstairs without me, she shrieks like a wild thing and yells at the top of her little lungs, “No, Mummy take it. No Daddy! No Daddy downstairs. Mummy take it!” Over and over and over until I’m fully in the land of the conscious and also have to grudgingly stumble down the steps.

Then, back at the beginning of June, I started this 28-day program with a local trainer by the name of Oonagh Duncan. It was mostly an effort to stop fuelling myself with copious amounts of caffeine and sugar, maybe shed a couple of pounds and see where it took me. Exercise was part of the equation, but for some reason I didn’t think about the reality of actually exercising for the first time in a few years. Suddenly, I had a directive to exercise 3 times a week. The workouts were sent to me to do at home with helpful instructional videos attached. As it turns out, I like extrinsic motivation, because I had to report back to Oonagh about how I’d done on each day, and didn’t want to be negligent about my homework. God, I love a gold star.

I quickly realized though, that putting exercise off to the evening was not going to work in any way. The dinner/bedtime routine is a veritable gong show at our house just now. The kids are never both in bed before 9:00. Who wants to lace up their gym shoes and get their sweat on after 9:00 pm? Not me.

I had to find some time in the day to get those workouts in. Hmmm – but when? It finally dawned on me  that the only time I had in the day was in the early morning. I was just loafing around. Theoretically, my husband could even keep my daughter away from me for the 20-45 minutes I need to get ‘er done. (That hasn’t happened) Presently, I found myself doing (my own special version of) burpees in the living room at 6:00.

The morning thing is a bit of a revelation to me. You know how you feel when you’re jetlagged, and you keep waking up super-early and feeling totally rested, and you think, Oh, I’ll just do this for the rest of my life, this is so easy. Eventually, your body adjusts and mornings start to feel onerous again. I’ve got that morning-energy-feeling most of the time now. I am now one of those ultra-productive members of society who makes everyone else sick talking about how serene their sunrise run was down by the lake today.

The only difficult piece here is that I still need to kick some of my more owlish tendencies. If I’m getting up at 5:30, I’d better be in bed by 10:00. However, those episodes of Orange is the New Black aren’t going to watch themselves. Many nights, the clock abruptly says 11:30 and I rush to bed in a panic, suddenly realizing that I’m exhausted and leaving myself sleep-stinted.

It’s a work in progress. I never thought this would be me. Neither did Craig, for that matter. Will it last? When the dark days of winter are upon us, will this early-birdy’s worm still feel so satisfying? Remind me of this post in December.



In Defence of Sleep

I am good at sleeping.

I rarely have insomnia, but when I do, I really suffer from the loss of my 8 hours. And I mean, tearfully, woefully suffer. Others around me suffer too.

The majority of the time, I strive to make those 8 or 9 hours happen. If I’m feeling unwell, I take to my bed for a solid 12-hour-marathon. I generally get up from these sleep-a-thons amazed at how restorative they’ve been. Well, duh.

Here’s a bit of info that might have escaped your attention: Sleep is good for you! It’s necessary for healing!

In most urban areas of the West, we view sleep-deprivation as a badge of honour. As though getting by on as little sleep as you can as is some sort of accomplishment for which we should be commended. There are countless industries and businesses which expect their employees to work their 40 hours and then some, and to still be “on call” in their off hours. Technology has not been our friend in preserving our sleep.

I am constantly astounded that doctors in hospitals are still expected to be alert and make sound decisions while on-call for 24-hour periods during residency. You would think that people with medical degrees would be very familiar with the essential nature of sleep. But this tradition is a cultural rite of passage, long-established and hard to eliminate.

This “sleep is for wimps” attitude that permeates the industrialized world is not doing us any favours. At no other point in history have people got less sleep than we do right now. We are all just so busy. We have work and deadlines and kids and social plans and endless hours of PVR’d TV to watch. We have gadgets that bong at us for attention day and night, and endless to-do lists that startle us awake at 3:00 am when we realize we forgot to respond to that timely email, and crap, that other errand just didn’t get done.

The question is, how can we get more sleep? Naps? I am a big fan of those. Unfortunately, for most of us above the age of 2, fitting an afternoon sleep in during a busy work-week is just completely impossible. And yet, there are times that getting a 30-minute sleep would be incredibly beneficial, as when we are caught doing the nod-and-jerk during that long and incredibly boring meeting, or find ourselves guzzling vast amounts of coffee to simply stay awake.

The National Sleep Foundation has this to say on the topic of naps:

More than 85% of mammalian species are polyphasic sleepers, meaning that they sleep for short periods throughout the day. Humans are part of the minority of monophasic sleepers, meaning that our days are divided into two distinct periods, one for sleep and one for wakefulness. It is not clear that this is the natural sleep pattern of humans. Young children and elderly persons nap, for example, and napping is a very important aspect of many cultures.

We tend to safeguard the sleep of our children. Every parent knows the special hell of dealing with a nap-deprived child. Non-parents are not aware of the non-negotiable nature of the nap. I remember thinking, in pre-kid days, that friends were being nit-picky about refusing to meet up during “nap time.” Couldn’t your kid just… miss a day? The answer, obviously, is no. No, he can’t. Ever. Unless you want to pay dearly for your mistake.

This morning my son didn’t wake up on time for school. He’s been ill lately, so I let him sleep until he woke up. There will be times in his life when he will have to be woken up, times when he can’t miss that test or that job interview. But for now, in kindergarten, I think it’s okay to allow a lie-in every now and again.

So why not allow yourself a little snooze of a weekend? Try turning off the telly and heading to bed an hour earlier. Protect your own sleep as you would the sleep of your child.

Your body will thank you for it.

(For an interesting read on sleep-deprivation click here.)

(Photo credit: Jessica Shyba)