Traveling alone with tots: palnning ahead makes the flight easier

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"Readiness is all. "Shakespeare could have been counseling a mother traveling with tots when he wrote those words. As an airline stewardess, I know the difficulty of amusing youngsters on long plane flights. So with my own little ones I have gradually evolved a system that makes flying fun for tots and easier for parents. The key word is readiness -- be prepared!

For food, pack at least half a day's readiness: the meals you will need in the aire and one extra in case of delays. Count on the airlines having only water, even though they usually have milk and a jar of baby food in emergencies. I never count on airplane food for children under two years; you may not get a meal, or it's not what their diet calls fo

For the main meal I like to pack milk, water, instant hot cereal, yogurt, vegetables, and bacon. These can be packed in baby food jyice bottles and jars. If you ask, the flight attendant can warm up the bottle.

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For snakcs I pack cheerios or oyster crackers (less messy than saltines), animal cookies, a small box of raisins, carrots, or celery sticks. Don't forget the special spoon, bib, cup with lid, and moist towelettes.

Reserve your seats as soon as possible (three weeks is usually the earlest). Request a bulkhead seat, as this gives you the most floor space. If you're travelling alone with a child, request the window seat. The middle seat may be empty, and the aisle passenger will keep your child in the row. Traveling alone with two children allows you two paid seats, again window and middle.

If you bring a sheet and slip it over airline pillows or blankets (stored in the overhead compartments), naps can be taken on the floor. Certain airlines have a sky cradle, free of charge, which you can request at the gate. Lined with blankets or pillows, it makes a bassinet-size bed for an infant.

As the plane takes off, hold your little one on your lap and offer water to help his or her ears adjust.

One the plane levels off, your child will be ready for his first activitiy.Manage as much as you can with him on his seat or on your lap until it becomes necessary to play on the floor, sometimes under your propped-up legs.

In pact these activities: one or two new toys (a ring notebook for a two-year-old, a puzzle for 18-months and up), one or two old favorites, one new book, an old favorite, and of course "the purse." This can be an old purse of yours which the child can carry on, large enough for a bagful of trinkets: empty compact, empty lipstic, wallet, key chain, unbreakable mirror, deck of animal rummy cards, handkerchief, comb, silly putty (for a toddler).

Take at least one change of clothing, six diapers, moist towelettes, bed clothing (for easy access in case of a change of plans), the favorite animal they sleep with, a cloth diaper for spills, sweater, and sheet (no need for a blanket).

The following are short descriptions of what to expect of your traveling tot:

The snuggler (O-5 months) will mostly sleep and feed; likes a ribbon dangling from the seat pocket as he kicks and grins on floor. Front carriers are useful for holding baby and for nursing. Don't forget the rattle and water.

The Crawler (6-9 months) is unable to sit for long on lap or seat; plays mostly on floor; can take normal naptimes on floor; loves "purse."

The scrambler (9-18 months) is much better at playing on seat; will listen to books; loves supervised walks down the aisle. This is probably the most challenging age to contain under your feet. Hooray for the purse.

The sitter (18 months and up) will sit for long periods buckled in seat doing lap work or watching out the window; can stand on floor using seat as a table for drawing and games; will probably take nap with pillow propped on fuselage (wall).

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