Yeah, I know–such a narrow focus for my readers, but I have better ideas for my Tuesday Top Ten posts in the future.  We have been very busy at the Disciples General Assembly in Nashville–between meetings and greetings, we just came back from the Country Music Hall of Fame.  I’m not a big country music fan but you cannot appreciate music in general without honoring the greats such as Hank Williams, Buck Owens, Chet Atkins, Jimmie Rodgers, Maybelle Carter, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash and June Carter, and many others.

This is our second major denominational gathering that we have taken AJ to.  He went with us to Pasadena in 2009 for the American Baptist Biennial Gathering when he was just ten months old and now he is just shy of three at the DOC GA.  I met a number of clergy couples and clergy families who did not bring their children, but are thinking about it for the future.  Here are my top ten tips for traveling with a toddler (or really, any child) to a major denominational event:

1. Find out about all childcare options ahead of time and ask questions.  Will meals be served?  Who is watching the children?  What kind of activities are provided for the children?  What times will childcare or programs be available for children?  Will there be nap/quiet time?  What do we need to bring for our child?

2. Schedule in downtime.  Do NOT overschedule yourself at a denominational event (good idea even if you are traveling without children!) but allow for a good 2-3 hour break twice in the day to spend time with your child.  At DOC GA, they have three blocks for childcare but you are only allowed to use two of them–which is good for both the children and the childcare providers.

3. If you travel with a spouse/partner, trade off events.  There will be a few things you can do together but sometimes one of you will miss an event or meeting.  Try to trade off so one person does not feel overwhelmed with child care and lack of adult time.  In our case, because my husband is Disicples and I am not, I have taken on more of the childcare duties but when we went to the ABC biennial two years ago, my husband took on more of those duties–but we still give each other breaks.

4. Try NOT to schedule something for one night late and also for the next morning.  Denominational gatherings are notorious for 9PM receptions and 7AM breakfasts.  If you have to bring your child, try hard not to schedule too many late night/early mornings (we already made this mistake this trip).  You know your child–some children do better with a later night schedule or an early morning schedule.  And sometimes you will have to miss events.

5. Plan fun activities for your child and your family.  Check out children’s museums, botanical gardens, city parks, and hotel pools.  Yesterday AJ and I went to the pool for the morning.  Today, we went as a family to a museum.

6. It is OK to skip some meetings when you have a child.  Sometimes you have to.  Try, of course, not to skip the really important votes, but many business reports can be read later online.  It’s good to do one or two things as a family.

7. Pack simple toys and books for the hotel room.  Washable crayons/markers, especially the kind that can only be used on “magic” paper, are a great purchase for a trip.  Plan to purchase one new toy or book that can be a special reminder of this trip for them.

8. Special tip for parents of toddlers/babies–get a king sized bed.  At the ABC gathering we had the hotel provide a crib for AJ, where he occasionally slept, but most of the times he ended up in bed with us because a strange crib and strange room were just too much.  This time, we brought his toddler nap mat.  He slept on it the first night and last night but the second night he was in with us because he just could not fall asleep on his own.  Unlike at home where we can just close the door, AJ was just too excited.

A secondary tip–if you can, get a suite or make sure you can get a somewhat larger room.  I say this as I type from a cramped corner room with one desk and desk chair and one end table.  We are in a really tight space for three people!  Many hotels do not charge for young children, but then will book the room as if you are a couple only.  And ask questions of the hotel when you book–are there microwaves/refrigerators in the rooms?  If not, plan on bringing a small cooler so you can keep milk or juice cold for your child (unless you have a strange child like ours who will not drink cold drinks and likes his milk after it has been out for hours!)

9. Don’t buy too many meal tickets, because a) often the food is not child friendly if you have a picky eater, b) often there are not booster seats or high chairs, and c) they are often long meetings with speeches or business and I know our child is bouncing off the walls or running all over the place.  We are about to take him to our second meal of this gathering, but our other meals we are either going single while the other has AJ, or we are going out to eat at more kid-friendly establishments.  Knowing that the costs can add up quickly, if you have the ability to store food in your room you can save some money with in-room picnics.

10. Have fun!  Make sure your child has fun at the gathering and let them know they are welcomed and appreciated for their presence.  It will make future gatherings an exciting event to look forward to and prepare them for the future as clergy children (or church kids, if you are a lay leader).  Most denominational gatherings have exhibits and booths with free things such as frisbees and tote bags, magnets and stickers–let them collect the free things as gifts.  Being the child of a carpenter, I still remember going to home shows with my dad and collecting magnets, yardsticks, bags and stickers and having a blast.  I hope AJ will remember his stickers and frisbees and pencils that he has collected and remember what a fun place DOC GA was in Nashville.

Of course, it will be even better next time (DOC GA 2013 is in Orlando!)

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