Monday, February 13, 2012

Jet lag

Ahhhh, jet lag. Always "fun" to deal with. Even more "fun" to deal with when you're dealing with your own and that of two small children.

Small time differences (1 to 3 hours)
Since most of our travel has been within the Americas (lower 48 states, Canada, Mexico, Panama, etc.), we're generally dealing with small time differences of 1-3 hours. These aren't too bad.

Back when we lived in California, during Littles' first year, we traveled frequently to Texas (2 hours ahead) and the East Coast (3 hours ahead). We found it was actually good to keep her on roughly the same schedule, i.e. if we started her bedtime routine at 7 PM in California, we started it at 10 PM on the East Coast. Since we were often visiting friends and family, it was nice to be able to, say, go out to dinner at a normal hour and not deal with a cranky, overtired baby. But I don't know how well this strategy would work with an older child, who might naturally start to adjust to the new time.

Now that we live in Texas, we're usually dealing with 1-2 hour shifts. When we travel west, we expect a few mornings of early wake-ups, but the kids usually adjust completely within 2-3 days. When we travel east, we hardly notice a difference.

Medium time difference (6 hours)
We took Littles to England a few months after her second birthday. It's six hours ahead of Texas.

When we arrived, we had a few mornings of really struggling to get her out of bed. Luckily, we were there for a wedding, so we had good motivation to get her up at a reasonable hour, and then there was plenty of activity to keep her up until it was time to sleep again. We were in England for a full week, and while she did tend to sleep a little later than she does back home (waking up between 8-9 AM, rather than 7-8 AM) for the entire time we were there, that still allowed us time to do lots of stuff during the day.

When we returned home, she woke up earlier than usual (about 6 AM) for a full week, but eventually adjusted back to her normal schedule.

Large time difference (14 hours)
China is a full 14 hours ahead of Texas, so jet lag was a big issue on this trip!

We arrived at around dinnertime on Sunday night. The kids had not slept very much on the plane, and conked out pretty quickly that night, so we figured they'd sleep well and be on their way towards adjusting. Wrong! They were both up in the wee hours of the morning on Monday. Then they crashed at around 11 AM, and slept till after 9 PM! (They were just hanging out at the hotel with their Grannie while my husband and I worked, so it was fine for them to sleep most of the day away.)

After that day, we started enforcing a more normal nap/nighttime schedule, waking them up when they slept too long. Still, Noob in particular continued the wee-hours wakeup for a good week after arriving. I was usually the one up with him, and I let him play quietly but kept the room dark. He usually got bored after an hour or so and curled up with me to sleep some more. Both kids also woke up a tad on the early side (around 6 AM) for the first week. By the second week, they were back on a fairly normal schedule.

When we arrived back home, we had originally planned to keep the kids out of school for a day or two to adjust. (Especially Noob, who was starting at preschool for the first time.) But then we figured that school was actually the best place for them to get back on track schedule-wise! So we arrived back home on Tuesday afternoon and they were both in school on Wednesday morning. We warned their teachers that fatigue might lead to cranky/bad behavior, but both kids did well with it. Sleep-wise, Noob adjusted back to a pretty normal schedule within a few days, as did I. Littles woke up earlier than usual for over a week, but my husband was doing the same and so he usually got up with her and they hung out. Within two weeks, both kids were fully adjusted.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Long-haul flights with The World's Worst Flyer

Onboard our flight from Shanghai to Tokyo on the way home from China

He may look cute... because, well, he is. But I've dubbed Noob "The World's Worst Flyer," because, well, he is! So I was truly dreading the long-haul flights to and from China.

The flights weren't the most fun experience ever, but we all survived. And as it turns out, spending the better part of two full days stuck on an airplane with Noob helped me make some surprising discoveries that should make flying a little easier with him in the future. Although still not easy :)

Surprising Discovery #1: A 14-hour flight is really not that much worse than a 4-hour flight, or even a 2-hour flight.
I was really excited for the flight home from China. After all, the longest leg was "only" 10 hours! Compared to 14 hours for the outbound journey.

I was pretty surprised when the time seemed to drag just as much as it had on the first flight. Really, the flights were not much harder to handle than, say, the 3-hour flight from Dallas to Miami that I blogged about previously. I had a few more "toys" at my disposal: Meals (nonexistent on domestic flights) could chew up close to an hour of time. Having two aisles made going for "walks" a little easier. The personal video system provided a few minutes of amusement.

I won't say that the time flew by on either flight, but let's put it this way: They were 4-5 times as long as the Dallas-to-Miami flight, but not 4-5 times harder to get through. Not even close.

Surprising Discovery #2: Noob is not really The World's Worst Flyer. He's just The World's Worst Sleeper-on-Planes.
During our previous flights, I've noticed that Noob had a hard time settling down to sleep, but I was able to make excuses for it: It's not naptime quite yet, or it's past naptime. This is a new and stimulating environment. There are people up and down the aisles at all times to distract him. It's too bright/light. I could probably get him to sleep but the flight is almost over anyway. Etc. etc.

But when you're flying in the middle of the night, you've been in the "new and stimulating" environment for nearly 10 hours (so it's no longer really "new"), everyone else is sleeping... and the kid still takes hours to calm down and fall asleep? That's because he's The World's Worst Sleeper-on-Planes.

Surprising Discovery #3: Naptime (or nighttime) is the worst time for Noob to fly.
We booked our Thanksgiving flights around Noob's naptime, hoping that he'd take a nap and therefore be easier to deal with. But this backfired when he barely slept at all. I was confused at the time, but now I know it's due to Surprising Discovery #2: Noob has a lot of trouble sleeping on planes. Furthermore, when he needs to sleep and doesn't, he gets really cranky and overtired, and then he's even harder to deal with!

As a result, by far our easiest flight on the China trip was our outbound domestic flight, which left at 6:45 AM. Admittedly, it was also the shortest... but I think it helped that Noob (who is a morning person in general) was fresh, rather than being overtired and in need of a nap. As the day went on, he got more tired and harder to deal with.

Surprising Discovery #4: Noob does better without a car seat.
This wasn't a huge surprise, but we opted not to bring Noob's car seat onboard the plane, and he did way better without it. Most notably, when he was tired, he was able to stretch out more and get comfortable. He didn't sleep quite as much as I would have liked (maybe 4 hours on each of the long-haul flights), but it was better than nothing! Not having a car seat also gave him more room to play with his trains, crayons, etc.

So, from here on out... we'll try to book early-morning flights, we'll gate-check the car seat, and we won't be scared of taking long-haul flights!