My husband and I are finding ourselves in a new position – wanting to attend conventions the way we used to, but also figuring out how to make that work with our beloved little one in tow. (He’s just about to turn one.)
As with most things in life, the lessons come through trial and error, and we decided this year to attempt a gaming convention (Origins Game Fair) with Parker.
If you are also thinking about trying a con with a little one in tow, here are a few tips I’m learning through the process.
1. Have a Plan. Keeping in mind the age of your little one (LO), think about what it is that you and your significant other (SO) would like to participate in. Then make a plan around that for switching off on child-care duties.
If your child is a bit older, say 5 and up, there might be activities you’re interested in that your LO is also willing and able to participate in, such as certain games at a gaming convention like Origins or a panel with a favorite star at a comic con.
However, for the under 5 set (unless you’ve got a very little one who’s happy to sleep through it all), you’re unlikely to get an LO to sit through a five-hour long Pathfinder RPG or even an hour-long panel on how to plot your sci-fi novel.
So, in order to make sure that both you and your SO get the most enjoyment out of the con, you want to sit down with your SO and divide up your time, prioritizing and then negotiating what you each most want to attend, so you can switch off one at a time with child care.
2. Be flexible. That said, as important as it is to have a plan for shared duties, it is just as important with LOs in tow to allow for the fact that things rarely go as planned. Especially if this is your first time bringing along your LO, you really won’t have much idea how they will tolerate a convention until you try it.
This being our first attempt at bringing Parker with us to a con, we had no idea how it would go. So we decided to just wing it and see how things went. “Winging it” is what inspired tip #1, because in retrospect, things would have worked out much better if we’d had a plan of action. I missed a few panels that I probably could have figured out how to attend if my husband and I had worked together to come up with a plan.
On the other hand, you also have to allow for the fact that whatever plan you have must always be flexible when there’s an LO to consider. After all, if you really are excited about sharing your passions with your kids, it’s important to make sure they enjoy them too and aren’t made completely miserable by the process.
And on that note . . .
3. Be sure to take into consideration what your kids would like to do. This really applies more to LOs who are old enough to have developed particular interests (or abilities in the case of gaming conventions). Since Rob and I are toting a 1 year-old, he doesn’t yet have enough comprehension of the world to have developed any particular interests, nor is he old enough to understand even basic games. Although Parker loves to people-watch and was very happy to be pushed around the show floor in a stroller where he could observe (and flirt) with people to his heart’s content, he would be happy to do this anywhere. I could have taken him to the mall and he would have been just as happy.
However, it did occur to me as I was observing others, that there were a lot of families at Origins. Although I can’t say this from experience, I imagine that Origins would be a really great “first con” for a child who is old enough to be interested in games – whether RPGs, board games, card games, or LARPs. Many of the listed activities have a suggested age of 5 and up, and the con in general seems very family friendly.
(Although my one gripe would be that there wasn’t more merchandising. I really wanted to buy a t-shirt for Parker, and none of the booths had any child sizes; everything was adult sized. Now, I wasn’t kidding when I said there were a LOT of kids at Origins, so it seems to me like that’s a real missed marketing opportunity. So listen up, Origins merchants! )
There were, however, booths with kid friendly games, and at a gaming con like Origins, those games are usually available for play and demonstration. I was definitely thinking that if Parker were a bit older, I would be very interested in helping him discover some awesome new games to play.
And, again, being a “geek” means being passionate about our interests. Usually people who are passionate about something are also passionate about sharing it. And the best way to do that when it comes to our kids (or anyone really) is not to push it on them, but to help them discover what they love.
And besides, how proud would you be as a “geek parent” to see your kids get excited discovering a new game or, for the older ones, flipping through the program guide to discover things they want to participate in?
So, be sure to allow room in your plan for your LOs interests and participation as well.
And with that said . . .
4. Look into the child care or “child participation” options offered by the con. Origins has both a child care option – a drop-off for LOs 5 and up – as well as a “family room” specifically designed for families to test out games together. And I know Origins is not alone in this; I’ve heard of other cons who do the same.
A child care drop off might be an idea for those times when both you and your SO want, at the same time, to participate in something that your LO would not enjoy. These child care rooms provide activities for engaging and keeping LOs occupied, and they are run by volunteers who are also parents and donate their time out of shared empathy.
And a “family room” provides a family-friendly environment for LOs to enjoy themselves. Although many of the events list ages at 5 and up, without having tried it myself, it’s hard to say how understanding fellow gamers would be of LOs’ needs, abilities, and thought processes involved in game play. But in a family gaming room, these things are what that room is all about, and hence would allow for your LO’s maximum enjoyment.
5. Lastly, don’t forget to take into consideration your child care “equipment.” And by that, I mostly mean strollers. I mentioned in yesterday’s post what I packed in my day bag for Parker’s care and comfort, but when you have an LO who doesn’t yet get around on their own, there is also the matter of how to carry them to take into consideration.
My husband and I thought a lot about this issue, and, in the end, even after the experience of porting him around the convention, I am still not sure I have a firm preference on this. But there are things to consider whatever you may decide.
For example, you really need to think about the size of your convention. My husband and I both made the assumption, given our experience with various conventions, that our regular, everyday stroller (which is a jogging stroller) would likely be too cumbersome to try and walk the show floor with. Although I love our stroller, I wasn’t looking forward to jostling around crowds of people with it. So we purchased an inexpensive umbrella stroller from Target, and decided to test that out and see how it worked.
(We did briefly consider using our Ergo Carrier, which would have been even easier for navigating crowds. But I thought carrying Parker around like that all day might be “back breaking,” as I was going to be the one carrying him, since Rob was pretty booked with GMing duties. It also would have made it difficult to carry a back pack. Although, if you have a very little one, this might be a good option for you. And you can always have one of you carry your LO and the other of you carry all the stuff.)
In practice, the umbrella stroller worked just fine. It was really easy to navigate the show floor, and Parker had no trouble sitting in it for a good amount of time. However, for as many parents as there were with strollers like ours, there were just as many shuffling their kids around in full-size strollers, with what appeared to be not too much trouble. So here’s where considering the size of your con comes into play. Although I am sure there are thousands of people attending Origins this weekend, it is nothing like the tens of thousands who fill the Javits Center at NYCC. (I once got stuck on the show floor at NYCC for two hours trying to get through the ocean of wall-to-wall people to the bathroom! So, actually, with that in mind, I would probably never even attempt to take an LO to a con of that size at all . . .) But what I’m really trying to say here is: the bigger the con, the smaller your stroller needs to be.
On the other hand, if you do have the great fortune to attend a con where you can push your everyday stroller through the aisles, the benefit over an umbrella stroller is that most full-size strollers are designed to carry cargo. And I don’t just mean your precious cargo. I’m thinking of taking our everyday stroller with me tomorrow, so it (and not Mommy) can carry the backpack! 🙂
Anyway, that’s the list of what we have learned so far. I’m sure I might add to it as time goes on and Parker begins to grow more and more into a person of his own with his own interests (and opinions 🙂 ).
Do you have experience with taking LOs with you to conventions? Anything you would add to this list? Let us know by replying in the comments below. (Please review our Comment Policy before posting. Thanks!)