Here we are in Miami on the third leg of my daughter Eleni's book tour for her new novel, Ladies of Managua, which she's launching while on maternity leave. From Manhattan to Boston, then New Orleans and Coral Gables, FL, her entourage consists of me, (Yiayia), her 3-year-old daughter, Amalia, and infant Nicolas -- 7 weeks old today. There are also guest appearances from Daddy (Papi) and Grandpa Nick (Papou).
Some say Eleni is foolhardy trying to combine a book tour with round-the-clock breastfeeding and a super-dramatic threenager. I say it's a good opportunity for me to have fun, refine my Grandma emergency kit and dredge up old college drinking songs to sing to Nicolas while carrying him around at midnight, trying to get him to sleep.
(The best emergency tool so far was an unbent wire hanger used to fish a bag of garbage out of the bottom of a dumpster when we began to suspect, correctly, that a sleep-deprived Eleni had thrown away her wedding and engagement rings along with a poopy diaper the night before.)
First emergency today: I pulled out a bright red and orange Indian print cotton dress to wear in the Florida heat. On the front was a white spot -- the result of bleach or spit-up? From Amalia's set of mini colored markers, which I carry for drawing pictures on napkins, I matched the color -- the spot gone until the next washing.
Yesterday, I noticed that the toes of my navy rope-soled espadrilles were starting to flap. Out came my mini-tube of Super Glue gel. I've used the stuff for everything from temporarily reattaching an automobile part to re-gluing acrylic fingernails.
Amalia has enjoyed more restaurants at 3 than I had at 18. She behaves well, aside from bellowing at the waiter, "I want bread and butter and water!" When her restaurant behavior gets too annoying, I hand her my smartphone, which has a series of animal puzzles. She moves pieces with her fingers and is rewarded with electronic balloons to pop. For a real emergency, her mommy has kiddy TV programs downloaded to her phone.
Here are some more emergency tools from my toiletry case:
Band-Aids. Nearly any kind of boo-boo immediately feels better when you apply Band-Aids with a familiar character like Dora the Explorer, Doc McStuffins, those sisters from Frozen... you get the idea. These character Band-Aids are more expensive, but can provide hours of fun. Once, in a restaurant, a young mother complimented me on my colorful "bracelets" applied by Amalia, adding that she often wore the same.
Entertainment. Each child will find his own favorite shows, whether it's about trucks and trains, dinosaurs, or the beloved (by me and Amalia) Doc McStuffins, a girl who treats ailing toys while giving out health tips. And every parent will warn the grandparents against exposing their children to certain TV shows. At our house, Disney princesses top that list, but Amalia has never been interested in them, and she is also the first 3-year-old girl in history who doesn't like Frozen. It's too scary for her.
Diapers. Most toddlers, at a certain age, become obsessed with the subject of poop. I generally travel with a flat, fold-up plastic potty seat for both sanitary and convenience reasons. But lately, Amalia scorns it, saying she can use a regular-sized toilet seat. When I bought the delightful book Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi and Amanda Mayer, she made me read it over and over. As for babies in diapers like Nicolas, there seems to be a growing trend toward cloth diapers and diaper services. Eleni and Emilio used them in both Manhattan and Miami (better for the environment and for the kid, etc). But even the most adamantly environmentalist parents have to use disposable diapers for travel -- so eco-friendly parents insist on Naty and/or Seventh Generation organic diapers.
Snacks. Whether headed to the South Pole or to Grandma's house, we pack a supply of juice boxes and Amalia's go-to snacks--Cheerios and Goldfish. She'll eat strawberry yogurt as long as there aren't chunks of strawberries(!) and it tastes best if Dora and Boots are on the container. I make sure that her flip-top plastic water cup really is watertight. (General rule for all things plastic--if it doesn't have "BPA free" printed on it, avoid it like the plague. )
An extra pacifier. The essential in every Grandma's travel emergency kit is an extra pacifier. With first grandchild Amalia, I didn't realize that pacifiers come in different sizes, and a panicked dash to the nearest pharmacy ended in disaster when I bought the wrong size. Now that I've graduated to grandchild number two, Nicolas's pacifier is attached to his clothing by a strap with a clamp on one end. But I still have an extra pacifier in the right size, just in case.
We also travel with a small bottle of children's Tylenol, a thermometer for kids and hand sanitizers. And, of course, an iPad that allows us to access programming for kids when needed. Parents (like my daughter and her husband) inevitably quote the rule about letting toddlers watch no more than one hour of screen time a day or their brain will be destroyed. As soon as you realize that a TV set or computer screen will turn your granddaughter into a hypnotized zombie and give yourself some precious quiet time, you'll start to feel like you're her drug dealer. But you'll do it.
Now if only someone would invent barrettes for toddler girls that actually stay in.