10 Essentials for parents of tots

January 9, 2011 

Hikers, climbers and other outdoor enthusiasts often talk about the "10 Essentials" for safe travel in the backcountry.

The list of must-have equipment was developed by the Mountaineers Club so folks would be prepared to respond to an emergency, or safely spend a night or two outdoors, if needed.

I present the “Ten Essentials for Parents with Small Children,” a list of everyday survival gear developed specifically for families. It’s a list of things that my husband and I always try to keep nearby – in the car, diaper bag or my purse – when we’re out and about with our kiddos.

Oh sure, several of the items aren’t technically “life saving” like a pocket knife and matches (which you probably should keep away from small children, anyway). But they’ve certainly saved us from plenty of nasty germs, unwanted drama and meltdowns by cranky children over the years.

And much like a hiker who forgets a compass, we’ve regretted the times that we were in a hurry and didn’t bring the items that we need to help our family function while away from home.

If you have more “essentials” to add, please go to www.theolympian.com/busymama and post your ideas as a comment with this story.

1. Hand sanitizer: OK, don’t worry, yes, our kids wash their hands plenty of times throughout the day. But let’s face it: sometimes a squirt of hand sanitizer is so much quicker, easier and more convenient than soap and water. Have you ever let little tykes loose in a restroom, and told them to just wash their hands? My kids are especially talented at touching every single disgusting germ-filled surface before and after they wash their hands.

Public bathrooms, particularly, seem to trigger some type of switch in our 3-year-old that forces him to immediately begin crawling and rolling around on the floor. I don’t get it; sometimes I wonder if he just knows it will get a horrified reaction from us.

That’s why several of my friends and I refer to hand sanitizer as “liquid gold.” Not only does it put a germaphobe’s mind at ease, it also comes in an array of scents and colors. I’ve even seen it with glitter.

2. Sharpie markers: Permanent ink, thin-tipped markers – which I’ve learned can be removed from certain surfaces like our hallway wall with a Magic Eraser – are one of the best inventions for families. I like to carry one in my purse. They’re handy for writing your children’s names on bottles of water, birthday party cups and just about anything else you want to make sure isn’t shared with other kids. I’ve even used them to label my kids’ Happy Meal toys so that I wouldn’t have to hear anybody fighting over them.

I credit Sharpies for helping my kids recognize their names much earlier than many of their peers. They’ve seen their names scribbled on almost everything, including their disposable diapers and baby bottles at child care, since they were infants.

That said, kids seem to love using them, too, so if those Sharpie markers aren’t locked up like medication when not in use, there can be trouble. I should know; my oldest son once covered his face and arms with “tiger stripes” that lasted for several days, and my youngest son recently scribbled with a Sharpie on our leather ottoman. We’re still trying to figure out how to remove the markings from the ottoman, but in the meantime, I finally have an excuse to buy one of those fancy serving trays that I’ve always wanted for the living room.

3. Wet wipes: Once all of the kids were potty trained, I thought we’d be finished with buying diaper wipes. But now I can’t imagine getting through life without them. I like to keep a small package of alcohol-free, perfume-free diaper wipes handy to wipe dirt and grime from my kids’ faces after they play at the park or get done with sports.

They’re also useful when you’re dropping your kids off at school, and you realize they didn’t wash their faces that morning.

4. Crayons/colored pencils/washable markers: When you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic or a doctor’s waiting room for an hour or two, a plastic school supply box stocked with crayons, washable markers and a tiny notepad can help keep youngsters occupied for some of that time. My mom used to give us ball point pens and old receipts to doodle on when we were waiting for long periods of time, and those still work in a pinch, too.

5. Quarters: Why do my kids usually behave so well in the grocery store? I wish it was because they are angels and they love to sit nicely and pretend to drive the grocery store’s car-shaped cart. But the more accurate answer is because they’re probably getting bribed – I mean “rewarded” – for outstanding behavior. My kids recently discovered the row of little vending machines of bubble gum, stickers and temporary tattoos in the front of our grocery store. So now I try to keep a few quarters in my purse for those treats, because in my kids’ eyes, they are way better than a regular candy bar.

6. Game applications for the cell phone: We don’t have a DVD player for our car, and we often take lengthy drives, so sometimes we let the bigger kids play video games on our cell phones.

The games never rate as high as the ones on our computer or the Wii, but they were particularly popular as we drove across North Dakota last summer, with three kids who were grating on each other’s nerves.

7. A first aid kit: My kids call it “Mom’s Doctor Kit” but it’s really a Red Cross-approved first aid kit with gauze, an ice pack and all of the other “I hope I never have to use this” items like a tourniquet and a CPR mask. I keep it in the trunk and restock it occasionally with Band-Aids, which we use quite often.

8. Food: One of our kids tends to get pretty ornery if his blood sugar drops, so if we’re heading out for the day, I usually try to pack an assortment of munchies. Fruit snacks aren’t the most healthful food, but they store easily and won’t make a huge mess like crackers. Dried fruit and pepperoni slices are great portable snacks, too.

9. Water bottles or juice boxes: It’s amazing how kids always decide they’re thirsty when we drive by a fast-food restaurant. And it’s equally amazing how much money we’ve saved by keeping a case of bottled water in the trunk of our car for road trips.

10. Blankets: Old baby blankets don’t take up a lot of space, and they’re the perfect size for kids to use in the car. Sometimes, after a few games of peek-a-boo – which never gets old, apparently – my kids get cozy with their favorite blankets and settle down for a nice little nap.

Lisa Pemberton is busier than ever taking care of her three children and writing for The Olympian. She blames her near obsession with the 10 Essentials for all of those food crumbs in her car and a cluttered purse that’s filled with old receipts and Sharpies. Reach her at lpemberton@theolympian.com or 360-754-5433.

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