I’m talking about moving our whole family across the country, for the second time in just over a year. And we don’t actually love it (I’m not THAT crazy!) but I think we have become pretty good at it.
A year ago, we moved from New Jersey/NYC to Miami with three under three (big brother was barely 2 years old and the twins were 4 months old) and two fur babies. That move seems like an age ago and like a total BREEZE compared to our most recent move from Miami to Texas! (That’s right, y’all! We’re back home!)
We are happily settling in to Amarillo, Texas. We hadn’t made the news very public, because, honestly, we’ve just been a little busy trying to keep our 3 children and 1 pup happy. Hubby started his new job almost immediately, and life is simply a constant whirlwind. I’ll share more on the wonders of Amarillo later, but we are very happy and feel at home. There’s no shortage of people genuinely wanting to help out, and that’s been a welcome change after living in two big, busy, go-go-go cities (although admittedly, NJ was the worst of the two in that regard.)
For now, I was simply reminiscing on the adventures of moving with our little ones across country. This post is as much about chronicling our memories of moving with our littles (for ours and our families’/friends’ sakes) and for your entertainment as it is a helpful guide to others flying with small children, especially more than one. I’ve noted some helpful flying tips in PINK.
NJ to Miami (June 2017)
We hired professional movers that promised our truck delivery within 3-4 days from leaving NJ, because when you have three little ones, you need their stuff to help them feel settled and happy. (Interstate moves typically require more days than that, because your items are on a freight truck with sections for other families, and you may not be the first drop off or the last pick-up.) I started packing, on average, a box a day after I started my maternity leave for the twins in January. Of course I took a break when the babies were born, but I jumped right back in after 6 weeks. The movers packed furniture (which they disassembled), electronics, and miscellaneous items that didn’t really fit in a box well, like a nursery rocker and baskets/totes.
We shipped one vehicle professionally. Hubby and our awesome brother-in-law Bobby drove our other vehicle with our two pups and some clutch items for our arrival in Miami: basic tools, some cleaning supplies, paper plates, big boys’ most preferred toys, a Twin-size Pack ‘n Play, a standard-size Pack ‘n Play, sheets for two blow-up mattresses (which we’d shipped to our new house already), a few pillows, our valuables and important documents, and most importantly a YETI cooler full of breastmilk! (It was a full car indeed!)
Moving Day (aka The Emotionally and Physically Draining Part)
Our first vehicle had been picked up the night before, which is also when we packed up most of the things in our second vehicle. Hubby and Bobby left just before the movers got to our apartment, and they made the drive in two days. We planned it that way so that they would be in Miami with house keys in hand by the time the kids and I arrived the next day by air.
While big boy was in school that day, I kept the babies with me and supervised the movers. With our dining room chair cushions which we later tossed (you have to leave some stuff out to use, which means you just can’t take it no matter how wasteful it may seem), their baby blankets, minimal baby toys and soft books, I kept the babies to the farthest end of the apartment. They weren’t crawling or scooting yet, so thankfully they required very little to be happy: me for food and their cute little toes and fingers for entertainment. As the day progressed, they played, nursed, and napped in a very small space while the boxes and furniture around us slowly disappeared. I had help for a few hours from one of the lovely girls from Aman’s daycare. (We seriously owe so much of our survival as parents of 3 under 2 (plus 2 dogs!) to the relationships we made there!)
As it approached evening and the movers were STILL working, my best friend arrived, providing me a car with which to fetch my two-year-old from down the road. After tearful goodbyes at the best preschool we could have ever asked for, I brought him back to an almost empty apartment. This is always the worst part of moving: seeing emptiness where once there was so much activity, fond memories, and even the simplest of every-day-life moments.
Once the movers were done, I was left standing in our first home as a family, missing my husband, our dogs, and choking up because this was our FIRST home, the place our three babies first knew once we brought them home from the hospital. And it was empty now, but for a stroller, two infant car seats, two suitcases, one diaper bag, one toddler sized backpack, three beautiful children, two supportive friends, and myself.
I hugged Aman as we said goodbye to each room. Then we left. Goodbye Montclair, NJ: the city in which my husband and I finally were able to call the same place home, where we did our first 5K together (MBC Donut Run!), where we learned the ins and outs of training a smart but stubborn puppy, where I found out I was pregnant for the first time, the city I walked and walked and walked through (as my first born’s due date approached and nothing but walking felt good), the place my babies all called home first.
The kids and I spent the night at my adopted Jersey family’s home with my bestie who would be flying with me and my three the next day. It was wonderful to sleep in comfy beds surrounded by family, with a warm cooked meal, a warm shower/bath for all of us, and a chance to relax a little before more stress. Sidenote: because the movers accidentally grabbed from the pile of stuff they weren’t supposed to, my bestie had to run to Target that night to buy a cooler bag for breastmilk and a baby carrier. I had set aside both Ergobaby carriers, but had to settle for using an Infantino carrier and my soft wrap. I still prefer the Ergobaby carriers, because they keep baby so secure and give you an extra pocket much needed when traveling with children, but sometimes you just make do.
Flying Day (aka the Real Adventure!)
We had booked a flight that left around midday, so that we wouldn’t be super rushed in the morning, but we could make it to Miami with time to see lots of daylight and settle in. It also ensured that the guys would have made it to Miami after staying the night “somewhere in North Carolina” as hubby now recalls. A midday flight also works great for NAPS! My bestie’s parents dropped us at the airport in both their vehicles. You could practically hear tires squealing as NJ Dad, who hates goodbyes, made his escape once we were unloaded successfully. NJ Momma Bear stayed for all the sad goodbyes and to help us check our bags of course. (She had the miserable job of snuggling babies.)
Once our bags were checked, here was the set up: Each adult wearing a baby, plus me pulling along my totally chill 2-year-old in his car seat, safely mounted on wheels (Thanks Britax!). We have flown like this since then because it went so well. His carseat is a familiar, cozy place where he often takes naps when riding in the car. Thankfully, this holds true during air travel and leaves adult hands free to tend to babies.
I think he also enjoyed the view while wheeling through the airport. If your toddler is flying as a lap infant (because you don’t have a million children), then you don’t have to worry about stuff like this. Since our two adult laps are spoken for now, the toddler must fly as a ticketed passenger. FYI: if you travel with a carseat, your little one is required to sit in the window seat so that passengers can exit quickly in case of emergency. The only exception is if you fly in a plane with a middle row of seats. Then, they are allowed to sit in one of the inner seats of that row. I don’t really know airplanes, but I think the bigger Airbus and Boeing planes allow for that, per hubby. Another good tidbit, if you are traveling with two lap infants, they will need to be split across an aisle or row. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be enough oxygen masks if the cabin were to lose pressure.
Security with 3 Little Ones
To get through security with a baby, you can keep your baby strapped on and walk through the more old-school detector. Then, they’ll swab your hands and test for explosives. It takes a bit longer, but it’s painless, and people are usually really nice when you have a cute baby.
Our toddler was required to get out of his carseat, so that it could swabbed and tested. He walked through the detectors holding my hand. Waiting for the carseat to be tested takes longer than you realize, but is still worth it. (In case you haven’t figured out, you’ll need to give yourself extra time when flying with small children.)
Another time waster, but required by FAA, is the breastmilk check. I have flown with breastmilk a lot, domestically and even internationally, so if you want to pick my brain, please shoot me a message through the Maestra Momma Instagram or Facebook page. The quickest way to get through security is to fly with FROZEN milk because no additional testing will be done. But if your milk (or pre-made formula) is in liquid form, it will undergo additional testing. They’ll open the milk and wave some testy strip around the opening to make sure your breastmilk is explosive-free. (This really is insane if you think about it, what kind of world do we live in, but whatever.)
Maximizing Time inside the Airport (to ensure for a comfy flight)
If you are left with time to waste before your flight boards, let those babies out. Make sure they wiggle their legs and arms and take in all the wonderful stimulating sights and sounds of the terminal. Let the toddler run safely, perhaps at a nearby empty gate. If you’re lucky enough to be flying through a super nice/thoughtful airport, they might have a family area or breastfeeding suite with space to play for a bit. If your child stays in their baby carrier or carseat for too long, those useful tools will lose their magic. You want to save the magic for your flight. NOTE: sometime in the past 5-10 years, airlines did away with the policy of letting families with small children board first. But you can always try befriending the gate agent. Sometimes they’ll make exceptions. Never hurts to ask.
We were not left with time to waste, in fact, we were the last to board our flight, probably because we stopped to pee. This was a must because big boy was potty training, and we would probably be stuck with sleeping infants on our full bladders otherwise.
Boarding and Take-Off
Getting on the plane… this reminds me, check everything that is not essential for the flight, because you’ll want your hands as free as possible. Carry-on items that can be worn as backpacks help. Boarding the plane is the only time when rolling your toddler in his carseat can be a pain in the butt (and other passengers’ shins). If your carseat is narrow enough and depending on the aircraft, you might just be able to wheel your child all the way down the aisle to your seats. But, we have a monster Chicco Nextfit, so bestie and I had to lift up the carseat to get it down the aisle. We literally just lifted it up with my child buckled in the seat. CAUTION: My beautiful bestie is a BEAST and when you are tight on time, you somehow muster extra-human strength, agility, and speed. In all seriousness, I wouldn’t recommend this for child safety reasons. Since then, we’ve typically let little man out at the gate and had him walk between us until we get his carseat situated in his airplane seat. Sometimes, a friendly passenger or flight attendant takes the carseat for us. IT’S OKAY TO ACCEPT HELP! Make friends with the passengers around you. Don’t be above letting a flight attendant or neighboring passenger hold one baby (maybe not a newborn) for a second to make sure your children are situated. There’s hand sanitizer for that.
If your child is awake during takeoff, you’ll want to offer some milk, water, or at least a pacifier for sucking to help pop baby’s ears. Eating a snack will do the trick, too.
For the flight, we brought each child their most preferred blanket and a stuffed animal. For our toddler (2 years old, at the time), we had small snacks and toys in a toddler backpack with some wipes, a pull-up, and an extra outfit. For the babies (4 months), we had enough breastmilk and bottles for one feeding, a small bottle of water for each, a Medela hand pump, diapers, wipes, extra clothes, extra socks (airplanes are so cold!), and a few teething toys.
Our babies have always slept through flights, but they will cry for a few minutes while they settle down. Sometimes, we’ve had to walk up and down the aisle a bit or at least stand up to better rock them in order to get them settled. But once they’re asleep, they’re out. So, get ready for your arm to fall asleep and to contort your body awkwardly anytime you need to reach into the seatback or your carry on. That reminds me, at the beginning of the flight, it helps to put anything you expect to need within quick reach.
In case you need to diaper during the flight, have your changing pad ready with wipes, diaper, and diaper cream folded in it. There is a fold down changing table above the toilets. It’s small and you’ll be tight for space, but it works.
If your children DON’T sleep during the flight, I recommend living my favorite mantra of “fake it ’til you make it”. You’ll have to be the happiest, silliest, and most fun parent to survive. It will be exhausting but afterwards, you can enjoy a well-deserved cold one or glass of wine.
Once You’ve Landed (Hallelujah!)
Resign yourself to being the last ones off the plane. It’ll take a while to get all your things ready to wheel/carry back down the aisle. Plus this way, you can have the help of a flight attendant or two. Nothing makes babies cry more than when adults around them feel rushed and stressed. If you gate-checked a stroller (which we didn’t on this trip, as you can gather), don’t forget it as you exit the plane!
Hopefully, you have help on the other side, because those babies will need diapering/toileting and some freedom to move their little limbs. We usually assign one adult to baggage claim duties and let the other adult supervise children. If we have extra hands, we basically throw babies at them and say “Here, enjoy!”, breathe a sigh of relief, and stretch out our own limbs/joints for a quick second of bliss. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles are all cool with that.
When hubby excitedly picked us up in Miami, we had to take two cars. In order to make room for our baggage, we had to put the back seat down in our car. This meant one baby and Bestie/Auntie rode in an Uber while the rest of us rode in our car. Other times when flying, we’ve had to get two Ubers in order to accommodate us and all of our stuff when we don’t have our own car or family picking us up. We’ve also jumped into the Taxi-vans before and found that was cheaper than doing two Ubers. Typically, we just decide in the moment what is best for us based on wait times and the kids.
To sum up, there is obviously a LOT of planning that goes into making moving and traveling with three little ones a success. Ultimately you’ve got to just breathe and be flexible, knowing that not everything is going to go perfectly. But, at least your family is all together. So SMILE and fake it ’til you make it!
Coming soon: Details of how we survived moving from Miami to Amarillo with three very active toddlers, two cars, one pup (sadly), practically NO help in Miami, a flight delay, a longer wait time for our moving truck, some bouncing around of cities, and so on. Flying looked totally different this last time, but our past experiences definitely helped make it a success. The kids totally rocked it! So, stay tuned for some more helpful flying tips!
But before that, I’ll probably revisit my last post, Preschoolers: To Enroll or Not To Enroll, and further explore the History of Preschool as promised.
And yes, we have sung Amarillo by Morning by King George (Strait, that is) a million times since we decided to make this move.