The Italy vaccine controversy was gripping the country when I arrived in early summer. Now, the government has made vaccinating your children compulsory.
Parents must have their children vaccinated against 12 diseases, including measles, or face a hefty fine. Children who are not vaccinated up to 6 years old will not be accepted into state-run schools. Parents face fines up to $8,380 for children over 6 who are not vaccinated. And repeat offenders could lose custody of their kids all together, according to NPR.
What Motivated the Decision To Force Vaccinations
I wrote about the debate that was going on earlier in the summer for the Our Paesani column on ItaliansRus. Some of you chimed in with your comments on the Italian Mamma Facebook page. In June 2017, as a measles outbreak plagued the nation, the Italian government was wondering out loud about what to do. More than 3,000 measles cases have been reported in Italy in 2017. At least 35 people have died from the disease across Europe, according to a July 11 story in BBC. In fact, the United States’ Centers for Disease Control issued a travel advisory for Italy as a result of the numerous cases.
Much like Americans, Italians politicized vaccines in recent years. Specifically, the 5-Star Movement, led by comedian Beppe Grillo, suggested vaccines were a prop of the pharmaceutical industry. More recently, this populist political party has taken a page out of the U.S. It has spouted the idea that vaccines lead to autism, which has not been proven. Indeed, in 2014, the political party proposed legislation that linked vaccines to various illnesses, including autism and allergies, as reported by BBC.
The Current Situation
People started to believe the malarkey. Why shouldn’t they? The pharma companies have been pretty greedy. Certainly, vaccines have some side effects. With all the noise, it’s hard for parents to know what to believe. It definitely wouldn’t be the first time doctors were wrong. There was a time when these folks were pushing cigarettes and diet pills. So, the rate of vaccinations for measles dropped to 85 percent, which is well below the threshold of 95 percent. That threshold is what scientists say helps stop the disease from spreading among those in the general public. As long as 95 percent of the population is vaccinated, then the disease is pretty much finished.
Italy has reported more than 3,000 cases of measles in the country in 2017, so far. Making vaccines compulsory is an attempt to address the outbreak. Of course, it also could prevent other illnesses from spreading. The issue has become a cause for parents of children who have weak immune systems. They are pleading with officials to back off trying to appeal or weaken the new law. Still, parents on the other side of the debate continue to protest. They say this law takes away their freedom to choose.
Yesterday my 5-year-old son told Nonna he was asking Jesus to send us a second baby. “He’ll be my friend,” he said. My eyes welled up with tears. At the moment, we’re in Italy. Here, he has much older cousins and is constantly surrounded by teenagers and adults. He’s lonely. It breaks my heart. I can not relate.
When I was his age, I had my brother, who is a year younger than I am. Our baby sister had just arrived. My father is the youngest of nine; my mother is the oldest of six. We were close to all our first cousins – and there are many of them. They were in our house all. the. time. I consider them, in fact, to be just like my siblings. We all lived within a 5-mile radius growing up. To be honest, most of us still live pretty close to one another. That’s probably why my husband and I had nearly 30 people in our American bridal party when my husband and I got married.
Guilt and Sadness Enough to Choke You
In previous posts, I’ve expressed how guilty I feel about failing to produce a sibling for my son. Despite his Italian passport and frequent visits to Italy, he is missing out on being Italian. Our big, intrusive but loving family makes us the most Italian. When he sits in our apartment in Italy or home in the United States all alone in a room, I feel it. I sense the doom. He will never have a constant playmate for make believe or even with whom to argue for attention.
True, in America he has two first cousins who are close in age to him. They are together virtually everyday when we’re in the country. My mother and often I take care of them while their parents work. But with every passing year, their time with us gets shorter. They live in a different town and have more and more responsibilities associated with school. My brother and sister-in-law carve out time to be with them, of course. When their parents are home, they don’t need us, rightfully so. A time will come when they are old enough to stay on their own and won’t need grown ups tending to them all the time. I dread the day.
Where Has the Family Gone?
What gets me to cry is when I think far into the future. What will happen if my son wants to have kids of his own? They will have no first cousins – at least not on his side of the family. Our cousins were our whole world. The biggest sense of belonging my son has had is with his two cousins. I feel responsible for failing to give my future grandchildren cousins of their own.
The broken family – not divorce mind you – is what’s killing us all now. The fact that we’re all disconnected from a community of people is our poison. We’ve lost the chosen family that used to be friends and neighbors. And we’re losing our extended family. We’re far away from those we still have. And we’re not creating more relatives. Yes, there is overpopulation. So, it’s better for the environment. But the heart is still lost.
It’s Economics, Stupid!
These losses stem mainly from economics. Pressures to find jobs, keep jobs, and earn money is one factor. It moves us all over the place, so we’re no longer physically near loved ones. The demands of our jobs force us to spend less and less time with our family anyway. By not being near loved ones, who might be able to tend to children, we have to invest in costly child care. Sometimes, even if we are near family, we have no choice if everyone is working. Now, with all the digital devices keeping us linked to work all day, it’s a wonder we are still having children at all. That is not even to mention the extraordinary costs of health care and higher education in the United States. Who can afford one child, let alone two or more?
So, thinking about having a second child makes me think I’m being greedy. We can’t financially afford another child. Actually, I suppose we could, but it would be hard. It’s hard enough already with one. I feel selfish for wanting to ask a baby, not to mention our first child, to make the necessary sacrifices. For one, they would be foregoing time with us. We’d have to work more to support us all. And they’d be giving up some luxuries for sure. Certainly, some of that would be character building. And a baby to enrich our family would be better than any treats, such as a nice vacation or eating out. But just paying for the necessities could be tough. You never know what could happen down the road. That hardly seems fair to little ones.
How Many Miracles Can One Person Get?
Never did I face the infertility struggles of some of the women of my generation. I was never injecting myself with anything, nor did I have one doctor’s appointment after another. I didn’t even take any medications to get pregnant. But we suffered a heartbreaking miscarriage that turned our world dark for a long while. And I do not ovulate, thanks to polycystic ovaries. So, it’s not easy to get pregnant. It happened twice. The second time, we were blessed with our son.
We had prayed and prayed to Jesus for a child. We lit candles asking St. Gerard to help us. Honestly, we’re not the most religious people in the world. But prayer and a little faith gave us hope. Indeed, our son arrived. Our baby has brought us so much love and joy. We are grateful. Every child is a miracle to his or her parents. It’s overwhelming. To ask for a second baby seems wrong. It seems like we’re asking for too much, more than anyone deserves.
Climate change recently took center stage. President Donald Trump announced the United States would pull out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The U.S. joined Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations not backing the accord. Trump was politically motivated to make this announcement. Staying in the agreement, in fact, would not have changed anything. After all, the agreement is non-binding; therefore, he could have stayed in but changed the commitments to which his predecessor had agreed without actually pulling out.
Nevertheless, the decision to leave has many wondering about what the U.S.’ role will be when it comes to saving our planet. Some people are wondering if any of this matters anyway. Believe me, I understand being more concerned about your own pocketbook. I have a kid. I’m in the same boat. I am up at nights wondering how I’m ever going to afford college and how the price of milk and bread can just keep creeping up, not to mention everything else for which I have to pay. But I also want Mother Earth to survive for my son and my descendants. Discover why parents should care about climate change:
Innovation and the Economy
Problems are solutions waiting to happen. And solutions are opportunities. Already, sustainable businesses, including clean energy, such as solar, wind, and nuclear power, are proving to be the future of business. In addition, the public has been increasingly demanding greener options. This might be why corporate giants, including Walt Disney World, General Electric, and even Exxon Mobil, were in favor of the accord. Parents should be encouraging their children to seek out innovative careers that have a promising future. While new technologies and habits are scary, they can also transform us. Follow the money. Who can argue with that?
The Rest of the World
I know what you’re going to say. America first, right? If all your friends were jumping off a bridge, would you? All kidding aside, jumping ship on the France accord means leaving behind our allies, and even a few of our enemies. For my entire life, the United States has served as the moral authority and leader of the free world. It has been that beacon on the hill. My relatives in Italy spoke of America as if it was everyone’s dream. Moving away from the rest of the world will have repercussions. Some of them we can’t anticipate now. All I know is that I’d much prefer my son live in the nation leading the world rather than the one hiding from it. This is not to mention the fact that if our competitors in other nations are pursuing innovation in the green space that we risk getting left behind of the future economy.
Clean air and water are necessary to our health. Failing to reduce our carbon footprint could have serious ramifications. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) bills climate change as the “biggest global health threat of the 21st century.” Indeed, a WHO slide show describes the traumatic consequences of ignoring global warming.
“Without effective responses, climate change will compromise:
Water quality and quantity: Contributing to a doubling of people living in water-stressed basins by 2050.
Food security: In some African countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture may halve by 2020.
Control of infectious disease: Increasing population at risk of malaria in Africa by 170 million by 2030, and at risk of dengue by 2 billion by 2080s.
Protection from disasters: Increasing exposure to coastal flooding by a factor of 10, and land area in extreme drought by a factor of 10-30.”-WHO, “Climate Change and Human Health”
The report goes on to explain that extreme weather itself can cause injuries and deaths. But it also describes how it could influence food sources, availability of natural resources and food, and the spread of malnutrition and diseases.
You think terrorism is bad now. Just wait until people don’t have enough to eat or drink, no clean water, and only damaged property. Survival of the fittest is a natural human reaction to such dire challenges. You can bet people will begin to fight for their survival and the survival of their children. It could quickly get ugly. Indeed, Trump’s Defense Secretary James Mattis called climate change “a national security threat.” You can learn more about the Defense Department’s position in a recent NPR interview with Brigadier General Gerald Galloway from the Center for Climate and Security. Do you want your children heading off to war? Or, worse, do you want desperation to drive people to attack them on their home soil?
National Geographic provides a great overview of the history of global warming and what it actually means. It lays out just what kind of damage we have done. It also includes information on the reparations we’ve made. That’s right, there are a few. But we can do more. The most important reason parents should care about climate change is because your kids or grandkids or great grandkids could lose Earth all together. If not the entirety of Earth, they could still lose their little piece of it. Caring about climate change is caring about the future of your family. Period.
Innocence is defined as “lack of guile or corruption; purity,” according to Google. As I prepare to send my 5-year-old son off to kindergarten next September, this is the word that is smacking my mind like a hammer. He is sweet and good and kind. He wants to be friends with everyone in his class. He has no airs about him. He doesn’t recognize differences in race or religion or politics. He reminds us that stupid is a bad word. Whenever I say I’m getting old, he says, “No, mamma, you’re beautiful.” And when one of his friends cries, he is willing to hold out his hand or offer a hug. He has not yet realized the world is pummeling him. For this, I’m grateful. And I want it to last.
The First Sign of Trouble
As many readers know, my son had delayed speech. He did not really start talking until a year and half ago. I’m proud to report that he recently tested out of speech. In fact, now, we usually can’t get him to shut up. We get to have full-fledged conversations, not to mention arguments, with him. That’s just fine with us. During testing, the school’s child study team wanted to have him tested for ADD and ADHD, so we headed to a local hospital. It turns out he doesn’t have any attention disorders either. But the doctor did talk to us about getting him kindergarten ready. What she said stunned me.
Now, I must preface this by writing that this doctor was helpful and kind hearted. She worked well with my son. She impressed my husband, mother, and me. She told us that our son seemed kindergarten ready. When I asked what we could do to help him prepare. She said he was immature and that the other kids would probably have more “street smarts.” They’re going to be rougher and might not be as sweet, she explained. He needed to toughen up and get more worldly. At 5. At 5. At 5?
“Hell no,” is what entered my mind. But I just said, “Thanks.”
Confirmation the Doc Was onto Something
My son has only gone to school with other children with speech delays and other challenges. The class is tight like a family. The kids all help each other. They are sympathetic and understanding. They don’t make fun of anyone for the obstacles they have had to overcome. Their teachers are special people, who serve as strong role models. They foster the culture of kindness in the classroom.
My son and 4-year-old nephew are playing on an in-town soccer league with some kids already in kindergarten and first grade. They are not nearly as skilled as their teammates. They are just learning the game. They are smaller. They have to develop their skills and better understand the rules. But they get out there and play. One of the other kids called my son a loser and asked why he couldn’t score a goal. I saw the smiles drain out of my son. He was pale and reluctant to keep participating. Where were the other kids’ parents?
We convinced him to get back on the field. It was not even a game. It was practice, and this was a chance to improve, we explained. I also told him to never listen to anyone who called him names. I was proud he didn’t stoop to the boy’s level. But I know he also would never stand up for himself, which wasn’t good either. Suddenly, it hit me like a soccer ball to the head; the doctor was right.
Meanies All Around
Those mean girls are not just in high school. They are not even just girls. I started looking around. My niece’s class was full of kids calling each other names. She often has stomach aches that disappear when she gets away from her “friends.” Another mom told me about first graders shunning another boy during a play date. We’ve all heard the stories of online bullies and maltreatment on the playground. Some of it is a tale as old as time. Some of it is a new kind of evil, more sinister and grown up.
My first instinct is to teach my son how to pull a good left hook and never let anyone mess with him. But just the thought breaks my heart. Instead, I’ve decided to hang onto that innocence. I want him to have a pure heart, to give everyone a chance. I want him to be kind. I want him to be the kid who goes over to that shunned boy and extend a hand. I have been talking to him about bringing others who are left out into a group.
Indeed, he played with another student who doesn’t yet speak the other day. They didn’t really interact, but they kept each other company in the play area. His teacher tells me he helps another little girl who doesn’t speak at all yet. He will take her by the hand and show her the classroom and what she has to do. “She doesn’t talk yet, but she’s trying,” my son said of this girl. “I can tell she has a lot to tell me.” That’s something. That’s a win for innocence. That means I’m not giving up on this. And I’m not trying to change him. Those “street smarts” and “maturity” will have to wait.
What I Tell My Son
Every day before he goes to school, I tell him to do the following:
Listen to your teachers
If your friends are misbehaving, you should not follow them
Lead your friends into good behavior
If any of your friends are in trouble (crying, upset, not feeling well, etc.), you must help them
Be nice (bears repeating)
No hitting, no kicking, no biting, no pushing or shoving (he’s never done this but I want him to know it’s wrong)
Gomorrah is riveting. It’s not because of the thrilling storyline. That certainly helps. But it’s because of the profound characterizations of each personality in the show. Every viewer naturally gets to be an armchair psychologist. At this – the midway point of season 2 – you start to wonder if all the main characters are really the same person, just at different stages of life. Then, you start to think that the war they’re all having with each other is really just symbolic of the internal struggle we all face as we grow older. Sorry, but I had to wax philosophical. It’s the only way to live with what I’m seeing on screen. Believe me, you have to live with what you see. It’s like a scar on your memory that you can’t scrub away.
Still, watching is holding up a mirror to your face. It’s looking closely at every line and flaw and stray hair. It’s admitting there was a reason so many of our families ran from southern Italy, made lives elsewhere, and never looked back. Every once in a while, that’s important. Episodes 5 and 6 immediately addressed food and family, the driving forces of everything that happens in Italy.
La Fame Is the Plight That Leads to Destruction
“Fame” means “hunger” in Italian. My husband says “la fame” is what hooks even seemingly innocent people into the disgusting life of the Camorra, the mafia in Naples. In the last episode of Gomorrah, which focused on Italy’s obsession with religion, you saw drug dealers smashing statues of the Madonna to get to their stashes. In this one, you see the dealers opening pineapples to get to the drugs. And the old man, Don Aniello, is eating an apple as he oversees them. He talks about how much he likes fruit.
The fruit is highly symbolic and sets the tone for the rest of the episode. The warring families now run by Ciro and Gennaro (and perhaps to some extent his father Pietro Savastano) have to find peace, so money begins to flow into their neighborhood in Naples again. Until then, the people are forced to live with la fame.
In various scenes, throughout both episodes, you see the ups and downs of the drug business symbolized by full dishes of pasta on the table. Don Pietro throws his dish of pasta across the room in an uproar over his son taking over their mafia family. You see Ciro and Rosario (the Dwarf) eating spaghetti with tomato sauce contemplating the future of the “dogs,” old friends of Gennaro’s who are still wet behind the ears and trying to play both sides. These junior mafiosi – Trak, Little Bird, and Bomber – are hungry for money. They live in a shack of an apartment that looks like a jail cell only grimier. They speak of the people starving in light of current events with the mob families.
Let Them Eat Spaghetti
The trio act out by viciously robbing people at different points in the show. They clear out an entire apartment building to claim it as their own place to deal drugs. The bookie is making tomato sauce when Trak comes to shoot him in the head. In the end, the trio betrays their old friend Gennaro, who comes unarmed to woo them back to his side. They shoot and kill Angelino and injure Malamore, confidants of Gennaro’s father. But they refrain from killing Gennaro as per the agreement the two sides made with Don Aniello. At the end of the sixth episode, “the dogs” are still holed up in that prison of an apartment. But with their guns by their side for fear of retribution, they are finally eating. They too have dishes of spaghetti with tomato sauce in front of them.
That dish – spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce – is poignant. After all, that is the most basic of meals for an Italian. It is representative of the bare necessities. Being able to have that is why so many people in Naples and the rest of hungry southern Italy are willing to put up with the atrocities of the Camorra. It feeds them.
Father and Son, Papa’ e Figlio
In the Sopranos, you always had the feeling that Tony wanted a different life for A.J. You got the sense, in fact, that he wished his father had wanted better for him, too. In Gomorrah, on the other hand, you get the feeling that Pietro wants Gennaro to be more like him and that he doesn’t want this criminal life enough. Pietro meets with his son at a store that sells bombonieri, favors for Italian events, such as weddings and baptisms. He explains to Gennaro that he bought 500 statues of the Madonna (of Mount Carmel) as the bombonieri for his son’s baptism. It was what his late wife wanted to thank the Madonna for the miracle she gave to them – a baby boy. Pietro tells Gennaro that his mother wasn’t supposed to be able to have children. And his Nonno wanted Pietro to find another woman because the Savastano crime family needed a male heir. Pietro was in love and insisted on marrying Genny’s mother. That’s why they were rewarded with him.
Of course, then he described how he has let him down. He feels as though Ciro and Co. are attempting to humiliate him, and his son is going along with it. After all, Ciro asked to have a meeting with him about peace, not Don Pietro. By now, Gennaro has abandoned his father to Naples (as his father wished). He is living a new life with his girlfriend, whose father works with Don Aniello in Rome. He has impressed the Romans with the cocaine supply he has coming from Honduras. His reign seems to be apparent.
Raising Children in this Sinister World
At the same time, viewers are seeing Ciro’s 10-year-old daughter for the first time since he killed her mother. She is watching her father pack to leave for this meeting with Gennaro. She tells him that the new house doesn’t feel like home because the old house made it seem as though her mother was still with her. His face looks pained. He hugs her and tells her it will take time to get used to the old place. Once he arrives at the hotel, he speaks with his daughter on the phone and they express how much they miss one another. It’s one of the few times you see a loving side to this cold, calculated murderer.
Not long after that Gennaro sneaks up on Ciro in his hotel room. He seems like he might finally kill him, which is what his father told him to do when he sent a gun made with a 3-D printer. (Oh yeah, technology is revolutionizing crime syndicates, too.) Ciro tells him to shoot already because he’s sick of this life and of himself. He explains that he used his own two hands to kill “Debora mia,” his wife. Gennaro asks how he explained the death of his wife to his daughter. Ciro says that’s his business and to just shoot him. Instead, Gennaro throws the gun at him and says, “Remember this as the day I could have killed you but I didn’t.”
Letting Go of Your Babies
The next day, they sign off on the peace treaty, which includes Ciro’s team buying drugs from Gennaro’s people, in front of Don Aniello. Ciro returns home and spoons his sleeping daughter in one of the few images of love apparent in this series. The agreement also has Don Pietro and his few henchmen imprisoned in one little part of town. This sends Don Pietro into a rage. Gennaro had previously told his father that their real problem was he never trusted him. Now, Gennaro was getting the family business in order – not to mention having saved his father’s life in Germany.
Patrizia, Don Pietro’s messenger, says, “My father always said, ‘Young children need you to give them milk. Grown up children need you to give them trust.'” Don Pietro agrees that he will give Gennaro trust. He tells his men to follow the rules. This works out until Gennaro’s meeting with Trak, Little Bird, and Bomber ends with two of Pietro’s henchmen shot. Then, he says his son’s words don’t mean anything anymore. We’re left to wonder what their divisions will mean for the extended mob family.
Non-school vacations, when parents take their children out of school to go on holiday, are stirring up controversy. The British Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of the school that fined a father in the United Kingdom for taking his then 6-year-old daughter out of school for a trip to Disney World in Orlando, Fla. This case had people online, including the popular podcast Dis Unplugged, buzzing about whether it is all right for parents to take their kids out of school for a vacation.
Non-School Vacations Ruling Speaks to Bigger Problems
Even though the fine was small (about $180), the U.K. father wanted to make a point about the rights he has to parent his kid the way he wants. And ultimately he failed. Find out why you should side with dad in this case:
Parents Know Their Own Kids
This dad clearly felt his daughter could handle a week off from school. Some parents know their kid can’t miss the work and still keep up, so they do not take off unless the school is closed. While schools have good intentions and teachers can get to know their students fairly well, most parents know their own kids better. Ideally, the teachers and the parents are regularly communicating about what’s happening in school and at home, so that everyone can make more informed, customized decisions about each child’s education.
Grown-Ups Can Be Responsible
Unless they are abusing or neglecting their kids or acting immaturely or irresponsibly themselves, parents are adults capable of making responsible decisions. This father had not come up on charges of abuse or neglect. In fact, according to reports, his daughter had a 90+ attendance rate at school before and after the trip. Clearly, she and her parents were showing up, which demonstrates some responsibility.
Micro-Managing Parents Is Uncool
We joke about how in the 1970s our parents let us walk to the park by ourselves when we were in elementary school or how seat belts were optional, and we miraculously survived. Nowadays, we’ve gone to the complete opposite extreme. Now, we reprimand, fine, or even jail parents for allowing their kids an Oreo cookie at lunch, to walk anywhere by themselves until they are well into their teens, or take a vacation when school is open. Some of these changes are positive; seat belts and child safety seats are a great thing. But we’ve gone from one extreme to another. We need to find the sweet spot in the center. Let parents take that stick out of you know where and do their thing. An Oreo now and then won’t kill the kid and a modicum of independence might help us all.
Kids Should Be Kids
A teen who misses a week during junior year of high school, when the pressure is on to prepare for college admissions is one thing. A child in elementary school, especially in kindergarten or first grade, is another. Sure, school is always important. But soon enough kids will be growing up and getting jobs full of responsibility. Let them be kids while they’re kids. Life is too short to be a grown up from the start. Missing first grade should not be a life sentence to mediocrity. It should mean having to catch up on playing house and sounding out words. Of course, the amount of time one is absent should make a difference, too. A week is not three weeks, which is different and could require some sort of repercussions. Still, youth should be on the side of the dad and his daughter in this case.
The Vacation Might Be Better for Development Than School
This idea might be the most controversial opinion I’m sharing here. But I have found that when I can focus my attention solely on my child, he pays more attention, behaves better, and seems to feel more secure. Work and school get in the way of all that. On vacation, I can really place my energy on talking and bonding with my son. We’re both more relaxed than usual. Any chance we get to do that is fine by me. I’m not sure if he’s ever going to remember the algebra he will eventually learn, but I know he’ll remember our times at Disney World and in Italy forever. He is going to be this small for a short time, and it’s already flying by me. Kids who spend real quality time with their parents – eating at the dinner table, going on vacation – are less prone to peer pressure and, I would bet, do better in life.
My Child, My Choice
The bottom line is that this father should have had the right to make decisions about his daughter without interference from the government. While education is of the utmost importance, and I value teachers and all they do for us, in the end, my son is mine. He’s my responsibility. The same is true for this father and his daughter. As a result, we should all be able to make decisions we think are right for our children. Period.
This is the second in a series of lessons I learned traveling with my now 5-year-old son since he was a baby. The lessons are designed to help parents learn from my experiences and mistakes to have a smoother travel experience every time they muster the courage to take baby (or little men and little ladies) on a magnificent journey. You can read the first lesson, How to Pick a Family Friendly Airline.
Lesson No. 2: Pack Up the Goodies
Pack distractions. Distractions can save a mamma’s life. I have firsthand knowledge. Packing the carry-on bags for any journey, but especially a lengthy one, is of the utmost importance. What you need to do is pack a slew of goodies to keep your child distracted in between naps on one of those lengthy flights. I’ve been bringing my son, who is now 5, back and forth between Italy and the United States since he was 6 months old. Pack correctly and ye shall survive such traumas. Discover what’s always in my bag:
Cash – in both the currencies from which and to which you are traveling – is important. You never know when you’ll need it. Of course, you must bring passports and identification for everyone traveling, including the little ones. One item many moms don’t realize they need is their child’s birth certificate. This is especially important if you and your child have different last names. In Germany, while in the airport on a layover, I was almost forced to part with my then 9-month-old son because I had only our passports and no birth certificate; the customs agents feared I was kidnapping my baby. A heated conversation and a phone call to my husband resolved the matter, but they warned that I should never travel without his birth certificate again. Indeed, I now take it with me even to the supermarket in Italy.
Food and Drink
No mamma ever wants a hangry child. A child – like any person – becomes unbearable when hungry. Imagine that kind of crankypants on a six- or ten- or 15-hour flight. Yikes! Always pack snacks. My son prefers pretzels, cheese crackers, or Cheerios. I carry them in resealable bags or little containers, and we’re good to go. Pick up a bottle of water (or a small container of milk for the start of the journey) once you’re in the terminal. Of course, bring whatever you need for younger babies, who require formula or baby food. Security will test any liquid items, and you’ll be on your way. Just don’t pack a lot of junk food, especially if your kid is not used to eating it. On one flight, I gave my son his favorite indulgence – Oreos – and it ended with projectile vomit.
A few weeks before we leave for Italy, I usually go around the house collecting some of his favorite tiny toys. He has a couple of cars, small action figures, and the like that can keep him busy for quite a while. I take them out of the rotation and put them near the luggage, where he can’t easily find them. Then, I pull them out one by one during the course of our flights. (It often requires to flights and a boat ride to get to our second home, Ischia, Italy.) I try to add one to three new toys (usually from the dollar store) to the mix. I pull out those when times get really tough in flight. Nothing like a little surprise – something shiny and new – to distract you from your troubles.
Of course, you don’t want to carry too many books because that can weigh you down, especially if you have to run a marathon to reach a connecting flight in time. But a couple of small books to read and a few activity books and crayons or a pencil have pulled me out of a few ditches. My son particularly likes sticker books that have you finding stickers at the back of the book to place in short stories at the front. He also enjoys activity books that offer opportunities for him to learn to draw something, such as animals, or punch out card stock figures to build or make something. I track this kind of book down on Amazon or at the dollar store. I always look for deals, so I buy them when I find them and not necessarily just before we’re about to travel.Another favorite are the Highlights seek and find books for which he has a subscription. Keep stock and save stuff, so it’s completely new when he sees it on the plane.
My work forces me to carry my laptop with me wherever I go. So, we always have at least one computer. My son also owns a Kindle that is well stocked with his favorite movies, TV shows, and some games. Also, he recently received a LeapPad as a gift. I charge these babies to the max before our flight and bring them everywhere we go. They are not only for the plane. They are perfect for when we force him to spend many hours at dinner with only adults, a common occurrence for the poor little guy in Italy.
No mamma should go home without extra clothes for the kiddies and her (and anyone else who is traveling with her). Don’t forget extra underwear and socks, maybe a clean pair of pajamas in addition to clothes. When that projectile vomit hit, my son and I were covered in toxicity. Those extra clothes came in handy. For my son, even though he’s 5 years old and potty trained, I still bring diapers and wipes. Diapers or pull ups are safer when young kids are planning to sleep in the plane, or at least that’s been my experience. Tissues and children’s Tylenol are among the other must haves to pack.
Mamma’s goal should be to make the flight as comfortable as possible for her child (or children, God bless you). I bring pajamas for my son to change into when he’s ready to sleep. A favorite blankie and stuffed animal always comes along for the ride, too. He has earphones, so he can watch whatever movie the plane offers, and a neck pillow to help him get cozy.
This is the first in a series of lessons I learned traveling with my now 5-year-old son since he was a baby. The lessons are designed to help parents learn from my experiences and mistakes to have a smoother travel experience every time they muster the courage to take baby (or little men and little ladies) on a magnificent journey.
Lesson No. 1 – Find a Family Friendly Airline
Traveling with a baby requires a heart, stomach, and mind of steel. My son was only six months old before he traveled by plane with my husband and me. And it was no simple plane ride. We were heading to Ischia, Italy, which requires two flights (one lengthy flight from New York or Newark to a European capital, one short connecting flight to Naples, Italy, and one 1.5- to 2-hour boat ride to Ischia, Italy). When we set off, we didn’t know what lie ahead, but we had vetted the airline to make sure it was family friendly.
To start our journey, we said tearful good-byes to my parents because we’d be gone for a few months, which is akin to a lifetime with an infant. Then, we rolled through security and boarded the plane with virtually no problem. The little guy was being an angel. Once aboard, we settled in. Lufthansa has carriers that hang on the wall of the first row of the economy class. All the families with infants are seated there, and the plane’s staff checked in with us from the start. We’ve traveled on other airlines, including Jet Blue, Alitalia, and Air France, and none of them were as accommodating to the kids. I kicked back and planned to nap along with my son.
But alas I would never get to dream aboard that flight. Before I could drift off to Dreamland, my son cried in hunger. I had him latch onto my breast and used a blankie to be discreet. He was happily drinking when the child next to us began screaming…loudly…and with oomph. Even though his mother seemed unbothered, I felt for her when the cries became prolonged. I knew what all the other passengers were thinking. I mean if looks could kill, well you know what would have happened. This scenario had been my biggest concern pre-trip, so I was sympathetic.
The airline attendants flocked to the mom, and gave her a hand. Finally, she soothed her son. But mine was already too distracted to breast feed (read more about that in a future post) or go right back to sleep. Still, he was being sweet and not giving anyone a problem. He did eventually go to sleep. Indeed, he mostly slept on that long flight. Of course, he has always been a powerful pooper, so we did have to make a few trips to change diapers in the airplane’s bathroom.
As for as airplane bathrooms go, this was one of the best. The bad news was that I actually had to carry the baby and go down steps to get to the bathrooms. The good news is that they were roomy compared to what we’d later face on other airlines, and there was plenty of room on the baby changing table that was provided.
Questions Parents Should Ask the Airlines
If you’re looking for a family friendly airline, particularly for a baby 2 and under, then you should ask the following questions of the airline beforehand:
Where do babies sit on the plane generally? (Lufthansa, for instance, provides those baby carriers that hook to the wall, and make it easy for baby to get comfortable, stretch out, and sleep.)
What is the general approach if a baby is crying or having a hard time in flight?
How much do they charge for baby? (In general, babies under 2 years old are free.)
What about baby’s stuff? (You are usually allowed to bring a stroller and car seat for free and not as part of your allotted luggage.)
What about baby’s food, formula, milk? (My son is a milkaholic, and we can still bring some milk for him on the plane – not necessarily from the gate – but the airport’s security, depending on the country, has some rules about it. In the United States, the security agents have to pass the milk through a test on a machine before we can bring it on board. There are also limits to how much milk, formula, etc. you can bring but it’s a decent amount and should get you through the flight and beyond.)
Is there anything else the airline would like parents to know before buying a ticket?
One bonus with Lufthansa was that they gave my son and the other children in flight an age appropriate gift. My son received a plush birdie busting out of an egg. It was soft and cuddly and small enough for his tiny hands. He still has it, actually. Yep, Lufthansa is one of the good ones for baby.
A celebration of love is in order, perhaps never more than today. And there are lovely ways to show love to your friends and family. The sign above is one of my favorite Valentine’s Day gifts ever. My son and I made it for my husband. It couldn’t be simpler and you can make one for someone you love in no time at all:
Discover how to make a sign of love with baby’s hand and feet prints:
Frame (Make sure it’s big enough to fit baby’s one handprint and feet prints)
Cardstock (one larger piece that is the size of the frame in a color of your choosing to serve as the background and one smaller piece of white paper for the actual artwork)
Paint (I used watercolors for the letters, but you could use other types of paint to make the letters less faint. It’s entirely up to you.)
More washable paint or washable jumbo stamp pad (for making baby’s handprint and feet print)
Glue or double sided tape
Fine point pen or marker
Make your marks.
Take your piece of white paper. Use one lighter shade (or simply a different color) paint to make the “L.”
Take baby’s hand and either use a brush to paint the darker or different color paint onto baby’s hand before turning it down onto the paper after the “L” to stand in for “O.” I would test the paint or ink pad first to make sure it is truly washable. I used an ink pad that said it was washable but my son’s hand and feet were blue like a Smurf’s for a few days. Hey, it happens!
Do the same with the bottom of both baby’s feet as you did with the one hand. Make sure to place them down on the paper to form the shape of a “V.”
Write the “E” with the paint of your choice. (In my case it was the same color as the “L.”) Don’t feel limited by my choices. Use your own imagination and preferences. By the way, I used blue because I have a boy but also because it is my husband’s favorite color. It also matches much of our house. You can pick whatever colors meet your needs. Some choose to do this in a rainbow, so every letter is a different color. You might also want to add glitz in the form of gem stickers, glitter, or sequins, which is particularly nice for mom if she is the one receiving the gift. You could paint a heart around the word love.
A family vacation to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. is a dream for many people. That’s why parents spend much time and money on the trip. Magic ain’t cheap, people. But there are some add-ons that many get suckered into buying. It’s enough to bring on your worst case of buyer’s remorse, especially if you’re trying to stick to a travel budget. Since I’ve been to the “World” countless times and have some expertise in this area, here are the 7 tourist traps you should avoid like Mickey near a mouse trap:
This one parents should see coming from miles and miles away. Disney is an empire, and they lead the world in marketing. They know that if your kid sees his favorite characters and toys at every turn (and when you get off any ride), he’s going to beg you for something. You’re on vacation, and you don’t want to experience one of those fall-down tantrums. So, you are going to say, “Yes,” at least some of the time. Cha-ching. Of course, similar toys are half the price outside Disney.
Parents and Disney forums often suggest purchasing Disney character toys and souvenirs at the local dollar store or Walmart ahead of your trip. Some of the moms offer up a little surprise each morning of the vacation. They might even wrap them and include notes from Tinker Bell. Much like Santa, they tell kids that if they behave they’ll get something from Tink, who will sneak in and leave it for them while they sleep. Then, they bring the trinket from Tink to the parks and meals and whip it out whenever the temptation for another souvenir pops up. (I can tell you from firsthand experience that this worked well with toddler and pre-K kids.) Another option is to pick up souvenirs at an off-site Disney Store, outlet or discount shop, or mall in the Orlando area. Look for coupons if you go that route.
Back in the day, my parents would take us to Disney and we’d stay off property. We would have a rental car, and we almost always left the parks at meal times. It was cheaper and back then whatever we would get outside of the parks was usually better food. Times have changed. Now, there are many more resorts, and Disney makes it worth your time to stay “on property.” In addition, the food has gotten exponentially better. In fact, my husband and I often plan our travels there around our dining reservations.
Still, the food on property is expensive. They have you in jail, essentially, and they know that you’re not going to want to waste time (and miss out on rides and events, which cost a lot of money, too) by leaving the park. The good news is that there are some really delicious, vacation-worthy options. First step is to educate yourself on what’s worth the money. Disney’s Websites feature lengthy menus, and unaffiliated blogs, such as Disney Food Blog, can provide you with unbiased reviews. More importantly, you should set priorities about where you’d like to put your money, and decide exactly how much you’d like to spend. If you don’t want to go off property to eat, then you should consider staying at a Disney resort and buying into Disney dining, which allows you to pay ahead of time for your meals and snacks. Sometimes, there are even free dining deals, but Disney experts suggest those offers might have come to an end. It will come in handy when your kid sees and smells that Disney popcorn and starts begging.
5. Paying Full Price for the Resorts
Disney resorts are beautifully themed and come at different price points. There are value, moderate, and deluxe resorts. Parents, who want to give their kids the full flavor of the Disney magic, prefer staying on property. As mentioned, there are some perks, such as the ability to participate in the Disney dining plan and extra magic hours at the parks. You have no reason to pay full price for the hotels. At many times during the year, you can find discounts on the resorts. Going in the low season, if you’re willing, is a particularly effective way to stay in budget even if there is no discount. The thing is that there usually are discounts. What most people don’t realize is that even if you booked before the discount was available, if you call Disney reservations when the offer goes public, it will retroactively add the discount. You will get the money back if you had paid already. I’ve done it, and it’s seamless. Another option is to rent DVC points, which I’ve also done. This allows you to stay on property by renting points from a Disney Vacation Club member. The resorts in question are deluxe, and you can often get the price down to value or moderate prices. But you must be smart about it because there are some DVC renting scams out there. You can learn more about renting DVC points (and scoop on the DVC rentals at Polynesian Village Resort and Animal Kingdom Lodge) right on this site.
4. Unnecessarily Buying Park Hopper Tickets
I used to fall for this trick every time. I thought I had to buy park hopper tickets and jump from one park to another in a single day to have fun. The idea is to pack in as much as you can all trip long. Wrong! Parents, especially those with younger children, are usually better off buying a park ticket package that has them traveling to one park per day. For starters, this helps you better plan because you’re forced into one zone of Disney World each day, which can help you decide on fast passes and dining reservations ahead of time. Also, it prevents you from running around, which can make for overtired, cranky children and adults. It’s better for sneaking a nap into your day, too. Of course, the single park tickets are cheaper than park hoppers.
3. Stylists for Your Kids
All over Disney you will see little girls dressed as princesses and, to a lesser extent, little boys dressed as pirates. They will look like those kids whose moms force them into pageant life, replete with make-up and perfectly coiffed hair with a shiny tiara on top. Nine times out of 10 they have been to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique in Cinderella’s Castle. The swashbuckling pirates, replete with painted on beard and sword, have been to the Pirates League, also at Magic Kingdom. Professionals dress them up and make them all fancy at a price. The princess packages start at $60, and the pirates start at $40. No one I know has ever done this, but they have always brought their kids dressed to impress. You can purchase affordable costumes on Amazon, Target or Walmart, or in the Disney Store (when there’s a sale). Then, you can do hair and make-up. I dressed my son as a pirate for a princess breakfast when he was a year old, and we got beautiful pictures that I still cherish. My niece always wears her princess dresses to the parks, and she’s never done the boutique. A little glitter for the eyes is way cheaper than one of those packages. It also takes less time away from the rides and dining reservations.
2. Extra Events (after Park Hours)
Disney has done all it can to monetize its offerings. Why not? There’s certainly demand. Loyal readers of the unaffiliated Disney dining blogs know that in recent years there have been a number of ticketed dessert events and parties. Often, guests end up paying more than $50 per person for these events, on top of their park admission. Again, this is a budget issue. You should decide where you want to put your vacation money. But I would suggest, based on what I’ve seen of these events, that they are not necessary. Avoiding them is a good way to save a buck.
The two exceptions are Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (which actually costs between $72 and $105 per person) and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (which costs between $86 and $100 per person). Both are super expensive, and I’ve never invested in them. But some experts say these are worth it if you can afford them. Additional entertainment and treats create value. Kids really get to feel some of that Disney magic. The costumed characters at the Halloween party and fake falling snow at the Christmas party are among the examples. The smaller, lesser known events, however, are probably less valuable and not worth your time or money.
1. Specially Themed Rooms
Oh, this one in particular gets my goat. A few years back, Disney began theming rooms at the moderate resorts. Mind you, all the Disney resorts are already themed. But there was additional in-room theming designed to lure parents, who want to wow their kids. At Disney’s Port Orleans – Riverside resort, you can opt for a Royal Guest Room with gilded furniture, elaborate headboards, and bedazzled princess images. A late March package for these rooms with a standard view for a 7-day stay cost $326 more than the standard room with a standard view at the same resort. The pirate rooms package with a standard view for the same period at the Caribbean Beach Resort cost $404 more than the standard rooms, and they are located at the most remote part of the resort. They used to be cheaper rooms, according to the Disney Tourist Blog, until Disney added pirate ship beds and related decor.
Now, the Disney Tourist Blog recommends the Royal Guest rooms at Port Orleans over the pirate ones at Caribbean Beach Resort because many of those were cheaper rooms further away from the hotel’s lobby that are now at higher price point. The reason this is the top of the list is that people spend little time in the rooms at Disney World as it is. These were a little trick to charge people more for staying at a moderate resort. I prefer treats and no tricks when vacation planning at the happiest place on Earth.