The kids are waiting impatiently at the front door. They've been ready to leave for hours. Suitcases are packed, plane tickets are safely tucked away. The coffeepot is off, the back door is locked. But there's something missing.
We're not talking coloring books and crayons here. We're talking those few extra things that make a trip with children enjoyable, rather than survivable. Here are some suggestions from well-known moms and dads, as well as from experts in the field of education. What shouldn't we leave home without?
"Your imagination," said Fred Rogers of the PBS television show "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood." "It's the perfect plaything. It's free, portable, unbreakable and for children of all ages. But it needs the loving care of grown-ups who value it."
That's why one mother I know always brings a length of rope and a flashlight. The rope is to string up sheets for making a tent--in the hotel room or in grandma's den. The kids can play with the flashlight inside the tent.
Other children to play with are just as essential to the success of any family trip, said travel agent and grandmother Helena Koenig, who owns Grandtravel, a company specializing in tours for grandparents and children. "You can leave the toothpaste as long as they have friends to play with," she said.
A Chicago pediatrician and mother of three, Diane Holmes said no parent ought to leave without his or her doctor's phone number, "if they don't have it committed to memory.
"Juice boxes are great too," she added. "They take the edge off hunger as well as thirst. A juice box can buy you another half-hour of peace and quiet," she said, laughing.
So can something as simple as a sharpened pencil, said Parents magazine editor in chief Annie Pleshette Murphy, the mother of two young children. "They can write on anything as long as they have a pencil," she said.
For younger kids, Murphy would take along a puppet. "So I could do a show for them in the car. But kids really are a lot better travelers than we give them credit for," she said.
That's provided parents pack with their children's special needs in mind. Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, the well-known pediatrician and author whose books have dispensed advice to millions of parents, suggests asking the kids themselves what they absolutely can't live without. "I'd take the most important thing in the child's world at that moment," he said. "Ask him what he wants to have and be sure to pack it." That might mean a special stuffed animal or blanket or collection of Power Rangers.
Candice Bergen and Louis Malle's 8-year-old daughter Chloe, for example, takes her dog Lois along, as well as a stuffed bear named Bob.
An inexpensive camera should come along for the ride, said Meredith Brokaw, co-author of the new "Penny Whistle Traveling With Kids Book" (Simon & Schuster, $13), who is married to anchorman Tom Brokaw. "It really helps the kids focus on the moment--on what they are seeing," said Brokaw, a Manhattan toy store owner and mother of three.
Stan Fridstein wouldn't leave home without what he calls a "dirty duds bag." Fridstein publishes the Los-Angeles based "Right Start" catalogue and, because of this, reviews thousands of child-related products each year. Sometimes the simplest things are the most helpful, he said. "You'd be amazed at the looks you get if you ask to toss out a dirty diaper," said Fridstein, who as the father of a toddler has received those looks himself.
Even with all of these things packed and ready, there's still one more thing that could prove invaluable.
"A good night's sleep," said Jane Pauley of NBC, the mother of three grade-school children.
Taking the Kids appears weekly.