Traveling half way around the earth generally wreaks havoc on the ol’ circadium rhythm. The beauty of being a brain-washed adult is that we’re able to trick ourselves into believing that we’re tired at 4 o’clock in the morning, when our body is telling us it’s actually time for supper (or a cocktail). The effing hard part about being an adult traveling with toddlers is that for the love of god, their pure minds aren’t so tricky. SO, at 2:45am, after only sleeping for 4 hours, forget trying to negotiate. If you don’t, you’ll end up all shades of irritated (forgive me, I am, begrudgingly, in the middle of the last installment of Fifty Shades of NO PLOT – damn trilogies, I just HAVE to finish them), ready to throw said child off the balcony. Just give up, give em’ your phone and a snack, hell, give em’ the whole bag of cookies, and let them entertain themselves while you get busy tricking your body that it’s actually supposed to be asleep. JET LAG, oh, JET LAG, the trickiest and most important part of this tutorial. Please, read on.
Here goes, my best (albeit a bit sarcastic) attempt at keeping the family sane while skipping over large bodies of water or swaths of land and thus TOTALLY and UTTERLY throwing off any semblage of a routine you had where you came from.
1. Flight Preparation: movies and sugar. It’s quite simple, really. A 14 hour flight can be broken down into 5 movies, 3 packages of Annie’s fruit snacks, a bag of Surf Sweets sour gummy worms, 4 strawberry apple sauce pouches, and all the Knott’s Berry Farm airline cookies you can muster. Forget the carrot sticks and nut pate at home, folks. This is about 14 hours of survival. Don’t feel too guilty, I’m pretty sure that kids can fully survive off of sugar and wheat (sure they may grow up as diabetics with extreme wheat allergies, but who can worry about long term health when momentary survival is of concern?). You know, it’s also worth CONSIDERING procuring a car seat to trap the child in while they feast on said flight prep. I’m ALL about minimal travel gear, seriously you guys. HOWEVER, on our last trip over the pacific, I may have sold myself on the idea of car seat airplane travel for long flights. And if you get the crap seats (ours were EvenFlo – yup, it turns out they make baby bottles AND car seats – Tributes), weighing in at a hefty 9 pounds a piece (and probably super safe), they’re worth lugging through the airport.
2. Don’t allow for too many hours of peaceful airplane sleep. I’ve theorized and analyzed and experimented with exactly how much and at what time is best for the wee ones to sleep in order to best adjust to the time change and I think that the answer is that it doesn’t really matter, so long as they arrive plenty tired. That, AND, the reality is, MOST kids are going to take a few days, if not more, to adjust, no matter how much you try to trick their little brains. For this reason, see #3 and #4.
3. Save the Benadryl/safe non-chemical cocktail alternative, for arrival, 16 time zones later: if you prep smart for the flight (and you have super awesome kids like I do), your biggest concern is honestly the fact that when you arrive, bleary eyed and exhausted, that your toddler(s) will be ready to have a jump fest on the sacred flat surface (bed) you’ve been dreaming of for what’s now nearing 24 hours of travel. You can go about this one of two ways: a) you can dope em up for a local on-time bed-time and HOPE they actually sleep for more than 4 hours OR you can b) save the melatonin/magnesium for 3 o’clock in the morning, when their body is like “hey, SELF, it’s 11am and you should be running like a banche through the park” and you’re like “hey, body of my child, SHUT YOUR BLOODY MOUTH, it’s 3am and you NEED TO BE SLEEPING STILL!”
4. Repeat #2 for as many nights as your little monster requires. For our big little person, this barely necessitates 1 night. For our smaller little person, adjustment takes up to a week (he really commits himself to just about everything, including his circadium rhythm).
5. Keep the important stuff in an intuitive place… one that your sleep deprived, super jet lagged self will be able to place at 4am when your diaper wearing toddler turns up wet or out of nowhere wakes up blazing and needs tylenol/belladonna.
6. Make sure you bring the flavor of the day stuffed friend and a cozy blanket. My four year old has never had a problem adjusting to new sleeping environments; I like to think it’s at least partly due to the fact that we’ve always brought her familiar sleeping sitch with her. The 2 year old on the other hand… well… we kinda screwed up with that one, but I’ll save that for another day.
7. Don’t make plans past 6pm for the first few days. Especially if you’re like us and you run your kids into the ground being out and about ALL day, causing a crap stroller nap and thus, a child who is literally only capable of staring at a television screen past 5pm. I’m no advocate of TV stimulus in small children, but dude, in times such as these, it’s just the most appropriate tool, for the sake of everyone involved.
8. Remember that you AND the kids are feeling the looped up jet lag. So, give little Suzie a break when she whines because the bumps on her socks are just unacceptable. And more than that, give yourself a break when your first reaction is to scream at her. One day at a time, things are going to get better.
Follow these steps and I’m hoping that you’ll be ready to take another long-distance adventure very soon. Though, I make no guarantees. You’ll know you’ve failed when you arrive at 8pm, your kid (in my case, a 2 year old) finally falls asleep at 11:30pm only to wake up 3 hours later, stays awake for the next four hours (causing your head to nearly explode) and ends up locked inside the hotel bathroom (which may or may not have been a result of your frustration – the bathroom part, not the locked door part), where you have to coach him, while he’s belligerently crying, to get it opened again. If you do, and you very well may, don’t be too hard on yourself, you’ll have joined the ranks of myself and millions of other jet-lagged parents. It’s no science, probably not even an art form, but it’s all part of the journey… and it’s worth it.