Christmas Debrief: 10 Lessons I’ve Learned as a Parent of the Under 6s.

Christmas Tree with Presents

10. Don’t feel guilty about perpetuating the Santa Myth. 

We all have them, those kill joy friends who, with slight condescension, explain how they aren’t going to lie to their children about Santa, blah blah blah…implying we are somehow stunting our kids intellectual growth or some other bullocks.

Poopoo to them! Science now says we are actually doing our kids a favor not only in creating joy and excitement, but laying down the pathways for a lifetime of Yuletide happiness.

With this in mind, much of this list is geared towards helping you keep the myth alive. These are some of the very useful lies I’ve used to extricate myself from otherwise myth-busting moments.

9. Santa outsources toy making!

Once upon a time, in a world with far fewer kids, Santa’s team could make toys for everyone but nowadays, he occasionally has to supplement with store bought toys. Of course he gets them at a great discount thanks to bulk buying. This provides the alibi for when they start to recognize labels and packaging from toy stores and brands.

8. The elves shop at Ikea.

Everyone knows the elves make the toys and are responsible for wrapping them too. Nowadays, anyone living within a 50 mile radius of Ikea is probably getting their wrapping goods there. Seriously, the Swedes are genetically engineered to be perfect at making Christmas accoutrements.

Thanks to Ikea rolls, I no longer find myself  at 11pm at night faced with a new roll of wrapping paper, for which I payed through the nose, with a total of  4 centimeters of paper, just enough to cover the cardboard core or 1.75 small presents. Also, any gifts exchanged with friends for our kids are now extremely likely to be wrapped in the same paper scheme as what you already have under the tree.

#8 and #9  will also ensure you don’t start getting some rather perplexed looks from your five-year-old next time you unwittingly take them to Ikea a little too close to Christmas.

7. Santa only handles presents for kids.

It’s better than the ‘only for those who believe‘ for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I believe yet I don’t get any or at least very few gifts under the tree. When disciplining my kids, I don’t need them pointing out, that given the lack of booty with my name on it, I must be very naughty indeed.

Secondly, when rushing to get ready for some Christmas party and wrapping a present for the hostess, your kid will know that we adults exchange presents because Santa already has so many kids to focus on. And this leads us to #6

6. Santa leaves parents any surplus wrapping paper he has.

Santa realizes that mommies and daddies also like to give gifts and generously leaves us any extra wrapping paper he may have.  This ensures no suspicion arises when you are caught wrapping a gift for someone in the same paper used for all the previous year’s gifts.

5. Write gift tags with your other hand.

It’s only a matter of time before your kids learn to recognize your own handwriting. I would suggest getting Santa’s script down now. I once entertained using cut-out letters à la ransom letter but that would take way too long not to mention  be a bit macabre. I may eventually get some a rubber name stamp for everyone –though it strikes me as a touch too retentive, even for me.

4. If you can, wrap presents in advance.

Where do I start….first off I have yet to master this but having found myself acting like the grinch this Christmas morning, not wanting to come and see the magic despite the very reasonable hour at which the kids woke me up, I feel it’s time I get my act together.

It goes without saying –but I’ll say it– one should only do this if you are SURE you have a 100% full-proof hiding place. It is much better to say all those presents are things I’ve been saving for your birthday –albeit with a painful need to buy a whole other set of presents –then admitting defeat. I think the article I linked to earlier mentions claiming Santa had to do some early deliveries due to a bad back and asked parents to store presents in advance. Only you know what will realistically work for you.

3. Plan on buying only three or four toys per kid, less for the under-3s.

When you are in the shop, you will accidentally buy more anyway so if you get your list + the extras, it’s already ample.  Think of this equation: for each extra gift under the tree, other gifts lose their ‘novelty/special’ value exponentially. It’s better to get one or two really special gift they will remember vs tons of tat that will get cast away before you can say: the turkey is done. I often cull last minute and set aside stuff for upcoming birthdays.

Put the rest of the money in a future toy fund. Have you seen the price of Legos? Trust me parents, you will need this christmas nest-egg once they start getting a bit older.

2. Spend Christmas at home. 

This may make me unpopular with grandparents but I am long past caring. If your kids are young and still believe in Christmas, it’s best to spend it at home and persuade others to visit if they really want in on your celebration. If you must, travel for Thanksgiving, but keep things easier for Santa by only having to deliver at home. It’s also a wonderful time to start your own traditions.

1. SLOW DOWN and Don’t make plans on Christmas day.

If there is one thing I regret more than anything, is rushing P through her 2nd and 3rd Christmas. The first few years years of Christmas I made plans.  One year we went to a brunch (popular with us expats who don’t always have access to ingredients we need) to avoid having to slave over a hot stove. Similarly, I also invited people over and realised I needed to speed up the magic so I could go cook a perfect meal because every one feels like they need to create Pinterest-suitable tableaus in their homes. (Piss off Martha & Nigella for starting this trend!)

Young kids open presents SLOWLY and this is a good thing. There is NOTHING worse than rushing your kids through gift opening so you don’t miss the kick off to the free champagne or to get that bird in the oven. Seriously, you only have about 2-3 years where they will savor each gift and give it play-time before moving on to the next one. I rushed my eldest through this twice and by the time I’d learned this valuable lesson, it was too late. And don’t think you can fix it second time around; younger siblings get caught up in the present opening frenzy, carried by the momentum of their older brothers and sisters.

Put your phones and iPads away. Enjoy your kids; let them relish the delicious and magical experience Christmas morning can be.

Happy Belated Christmas,
With love, MM.

Top 10 Musts When Traveling By Plane With Young Children. (In addition to copious booze, which goes without saying)

This summer I survived -among other things- a 23 hour journey alone with a 5-year-old, a 2.5 year old, two planes, and a final long car journey and this is what I learned.

Bad hand-luggage, good outfits. See 4a, 4b,5a. All rights reserved.

Bad hand-luggage, good outfits. See 4a, 4b, & 5b. All rights reserved.

1. Don’t pack too much. You are better off paying a fee to get laundry done somewhere then having to lug endless changes of clothes with you. If staying with friends, I’ve always found access to their washing machine has been no problem.

2. Following on point 1, expect to carry, pull, roll whatever cute case or bag you have purchased for your wee one. Your best bet is to make it small enough you can chuck it into your own hand luggage if necessary. Check to see if your airline still gives out kid-packs. I found that my kids were entertained with their free sponge bob giveaway activity packs and the in-flight entertainment for the 16+  hours of airport travel. Imagine my joy having lugged 8kg of books or about 50% of Usborn’s toddler line.

2a. Leave space in your hand-luggage for kid’s bag.

3. Have them pack their own bag. That way, if they suddenly want a toy they don’t have, they won’t be able to blame you.

by CNdR creativecommons

4. Never, ever, ever bother with hand-luggage that does not have a set of wheels on it. Not a rolling suitcase requiring overhead storage but something that has wheels and can fit under your seat.

4a. If you simply cannot get something small enough that fits in your own luggage for your  kids, best to follow same adult hand luggage rules and acquire a backpack type bag with wheels so it can stay at your feet and get easy access. (Trunki cases, as seen here, were a very bad idea)

4b. Make sure you do the tipping-test with said bags. Nothing is worse – yes nothing– than a 4-year-old with a packed Thomas the train wheely bag that keeps falling forward. Hello Tantrums, I didn’t plan to see you ’til halfway through the flight, not before we’ve even made it through security! (I learnt this on my previous long haul crossing. )

5. Always pack a change of clothes for each child and adult. Pack each one separately in a ziplock bag. It will be easily found and then you already have sealed bag for juice, sauce, vomit encrusted clothes.


5a. Ladies, don’t forget an extra bra. Vomit is far-reaching. I was a 34DD/E when nursing and learned the hard way on a 14 hour flight.

5b. While we are on the topic of clothes, dressing the kids alike is also helpful to spot them in a crowd of if you’ve temporarily misplaced one.

6. Insist on sippy cups. I don’t care how precocious your kid is at drinking with regular cups. They will spill something at some point, most likely on the stranger sitting next to them or your last spare set of clothes.

7. Many planes have headset plugs that only fit their headsets, which do not fit small children. Bring a small beany baby or bean bag to help create a fit that won’t budge. Spongebob giveaway on Qatar was an emergency solution but far from ideal.

By CNdR all rights reserved.

By CNdR all rights reserved.

8. Make sure the airlines/transit airports you are visiting’s planes actually go all the way to the terminal. Having to manage kids & bags down metal stairs in the desert [hello Doha] and on to bus to terminal only to repeat the process to get on the next plane will have you wishing you were never born.

9. Pack plenty of hand sanitizer, kleenex and wipes. Also pack lipbalm and an extra one if you have klepto kids like mine. Finally lollypops for ascents and descents. Caution: give them too early and take off traffic will mean they’ve finished them before the plane has begun to flex its flaps and rev its engines.

10. Pick an Asian or Middle Eastern Airline if you can. Seriously. I’ll take an extra flight and layover anytime with people who appear to adore my kids more than their own flesh and blood relatives than a direct flight with people who look at me with that ‘don’t think I am going to look after your brat while you go to the toilet’ look. Thai Airways, Qatar, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Tiger, Asia, etc… these people understand children, their limitations on flights, and how a welcoming environment makes everyone more relaxed and as a result better behaved than a hostile one.

And for those of you who noticed it is actually more than 10…well has anything ever gone according to plan with kids? My point exactly.

Fast and Furious in Bangkok: Learning to Drive in a Cloud of Complexity

7-bangkok-traffic by  Davy-040

I’ve been told I’d be crazy to drive in Bangkok. Then, when people realise I’ve never even had a driver’s license, they think I’ve totally lost my mind. I’d like to propose that my lack of license or previous driving experience makes me a lot more like the local Thais already on the road, but we will get back to that.

There is such a long story as to why I don’t drive, I can bore myself just thinking about it so I am going to sum it up in a series of words and short phrases: New York City, London and no money, boats, significant others with licenses, and of course, the state that rules my life: procrastination.

How long have I been procrastinating? Well getting my license has been a new year’s resolution of mine since about ’96.  At the stroke of midnight I’ve jumped off a chair  (Danish), eaten 12 grapes (Spain) and banged the walls with bread (Ireland), or down a flute of champers (Various), all to no avail. I’ve owned the rules of the road code books for NYC, Singapore and now Thailand. In London and France, getting a license is so cost-prohibitive, I could never even consider it. When my SO at the time finally gave me birthday card promising lessons I reacted by running off to Turkey leaving him high and dry. The question remains whether I actually left ‘him’ or the idea of finally learning how to drive. Seriously though, I am someone who managed to quit smoking and yet I can’t find the willpower to follow through on this one.

About four years ago, I came really close. I had an eight-month-old baby and my husband and I were traveling to Mexico to introduce our little bundle to his family. The journey consisted of two flights to get there and four 4-hour road trips in a period of two weeks. Those of you with kids will know that entertaining a kid of that age, for that long, in the back of the car, would be the greatest incentive ever. By the end of the trip I vowed I’d get my license within the year. I went so far as to drag myself to the DMV, a feat in and of itself, pass the theory test, get the worst photo ever and receive my learner’s permit! But morning sickness, a miscarriage, and morning sickness again, culminating with a round the world move while 34 weeks pregnant put an end to that attempt.

So why now? Well this summer is a milestone birthday and I’d really like to get it before then. I am also going to be in France for two months with my two under 5s, relying on the generosity of others to put me up. Also, everyone I know lives in the sticks. It’s one thing to be in your late teens and call up your friends’ brothers and cousins to persuade them to drive you around the countryside to various parties. But I am pretty sure that 20 years on, me and two kids would be an exceedingly hard sell. Train travel with children that age, platform changes, steep steps to board, suitcases and just me is definitely one of the circles of Dante’s inferno. If I can drive, the trip could transform from torture to pleasure in one turn of the ignition key.

Tune in next week for part 2: guns, the art of zen, and never parking in Park.

Quick Post: We Will Take a Plane to Monday!

My eldest daughter P loves to fly. (Would’ve fooled me). Still, she is always asking to take a plane. Seriously again and again and again. It gets annoying, mostly because I want to respond:

Yes well if we had more money we would take planes a lot! But we don’t so please stop reminding me.

But I am currently able to refrain from drinking during the day so instead I calmly answer:

Bientot Cherie, bientot on prendra l’avion. Je te le promets.

This means “Soon Darling, soon we will take a plane. I promise”. This borders dangerously on promises I might not be able to keep but I guess I like living on the edge.

I tried changing the conversation by asking her to where we should fly. I expected to hear something along the lines to Yaya’s or to Michel’s château. Instead she responds:

We will take a plane to Monday!

Uhm… Ok. I was stumped there for a second. I quickly realized that I wasn’t able to explain why that wasn’t possible in French or English. So you know what they say: “If you can’t beat them, join them!”

Sweetie, Papa would rather take a plane to Friday.