It’s that time of year again, folks! The sun, the stars, the heat, the sweat, the billions of people milling around on missions to see actors, writers, directors and artists, going crazy with too much stimulus, not enough time and zero social skills. That’s right friends- ComicCon San Diego is next week!
For parents, ComicCon is a bittersweet engagement full of all our favorite things and all our child’s favorite things, PLUS all the things they’re not allowed to touch, see, go anywhere near or break.
For the novice convention goer who is also a parent, the SD ComicCon can be a wild jungle of danger and disaster waiting to happen. For those of you who have never been but will be taking your children for the first time this year, I thought I’d create a little top 10 list for you. Keep in mind, this list is based on what I wish someone had told ME, before we took our baby of 9 months old into one of the most insane places on Earth for 5 days. So here we go…
#1 Babies can’t go in bars
Children are not allowed in bars. Yeah, I know this is a no-brainer in the rest of the world, but when half the activities and attractions outside the convention center are located INSIDE bars, it’s good to get a reminder. No, they do not make allowances for babies under a year old. No, they don’t care if your baby is in a carrier on your chest. A baby is a minor and a minor may not enter a bar. Some places in the Gas Lamp District are considered “pubs” and those places have a grey area that allows babies and children, but only during meal hours. After 10pm, babies and children are no longer welcome in those places. This means any meet-and-greet activity, any celebrity signing, any contest or activity taking place inside any bar will have to be attended without children. To be quite honest, you really don’t want your baby to be there anyway. Hot, small rooms packed full of drunk geeks is likely not the best place to take a baby and the stroller wouldn’t hardly even fit through the door anyway. (Believe me, I tried)
#2 Packing for the day
When you pack for your day at the convention without kids, the idea is to go as light as possible, right? Well, try to plan ahead and do the same with kids. I know that’s a tall order when you’re also trying to pack for the unexpected, but do your best. pack diapers single file along the bottom of a bag rather than stacked. Carry wipes in a soft container that can easily bend. Carry baby’s food and snacks in packages that are flatter rather than bulky. Consider a camel pack for water and a smallish cup or even a flat canteen style sippy you can easily refill rather than big, bulky bottles. Oh, and don’t pack crackers or puffs in plastic baggies or they’ll be baggies full of dust within an hour. Trust me, it’s no fun. Extra clothes can be packed flat in the bag in layers. Be sure to pack for blow-outs, accidents, photo ops and cold. Overall, when you pack, think layers not stacks and it’ll be easier. One more thing – the food there is awful and picky child eaters may not be thrilled with their choices. I know mine weren’t. All they wanted to eat were the french fries and we had to walk outside and go somewhere way more expensive to put any sort of protein in their bodies. So, keep that in mind and maybe pack healthy, protein-powered snacks to get you through that.
- Important note; Don’t plan on being able to pack bigger bags in the stroller because if you’ve got a double wide or tandem stroller of any kind, you will not be permitted in the exhibit hall. Even if you have a single stroller, if you plan to attend panels while baby is sleeping, don’t bother. Strollers of any kind are NOT permitted in programming rooms, so be aware and pack accordingly to carry all necessaries on your person just in case.
If you are still breastfeeding your baby, first of all- ROCK ON, MAMA, well done!! ComicCon has a place for you to go if you need quiet. Toward the front of the exhibit hall near check in, you can go visit a nursing station where you can quietly feed your baby in a cool, softly lit “room” (Okay, it’s more like a stall, but it’s better than nothing, right?) and take all the time you need. If you don’t care about feeding your baby behind a curtain, be sure to bring a baby carrier that allows you to comfortably nurse your baby while you walk around. This is especially important to know because a new policy states they will NOT allow you to sit down in the exhibit hall unless it’s in a specified lounge area. So, no more parking it in a corner someplace while your phone charges on the wall and no more stopping to nurse for a few minutes.
- Pro-tip – if you want to nurse outside the nursing station but you also want to sit down, go out the back doors behind the upstairs cafe. The escalators are located in the back of the building, between B1 and B2. There is also an elevator. The cos-play groups hang out up there, too, and our kids; now three and five, love to interact with them, so it’s a fun place to be. Once you get outside, you are up against the bay and it’s usually pretty quiet if you go at non-meal hours.
Just don’t have any. Easy enough, right? If this is your first time with children, you need to chill out before you get carried away creating schedules and making any solid, set in stone plans. Just as you have already found to be true in parenthood, whatever can happen probably will and it is SO much easier to manage the unexpected when you don’t allow your own bitter disappointment to cloud the moment. Expectations when taking your children to a place like this is asking for trouble from the beginning. Remember, even though this is a place you treasure and love and cannot wait to go to see all the shiny… to your child, this place could be terrifying, miserable, exhausting and disappointing. You have to go with the flow and know that most of the time you will be winging it from one minute to the next. Some specific things to consider on this one…
- Your time in the hall or even walking around town will likely be limited to only what baby can handle, how far your toddler’s feet can carry them, nap time, heat levels, meal time, over stimulation and you’re going to have to be okay with that.
- Remember to factor in extra trips to the restroom. Potty breaks don’t wait for the line to get in to Hall H and it’s not likely people will want to save your spot so you can take the wee one to go wee wee.
- Try to take it all in stride and love your baby and children through their meltdowns, their wanting to touch everything that costs more than a car and be on the look out for that moment when you know they are just … DONE. You know that moment… that last thread of sanity their little minds are clinging to before all hell breaks loose? Yeah- look out for that and don’t push your luck or you’ll be super unhappy, they’ll be super unhappy, and lots of people around you will probably be super unhappy, too.
- It’s best to plan for 3-4 hours on the floor at one time, max. Then, go take a walk, sit down outside, get a cupcake down the road or take a walk through the Hard Rock and when everyone is back to their sane, rested, fed selves again, see how it goes. Maybe you only hit the floor for 4 hours each day or, mom takes baby downtown while you wait in line for that exclusive toy so the toddler doesn’t have to.
- Consider finding fun things to do in your hotel or surrounding areas that will help decompress the anxiety a child may feel in such a big, loud environment so they can have some time to relax and come back to themselves. Find out what those places are and how to get there, so you know where you’re going.
- Don’t feed your child crap food if you don’t want them to crash and meltdown after. Foods high in sugars, artificial sweeteners, colors and flavorings are like adding gasoline to an open flame. If you don’t want your child to flip out and throw fits of rage and exhaustion just as you get to the front of a line, don’t feed them chips, soda and nothing but processed, fatty or sugary foods. Feed them solid protein, complex carbs, make sure their snacks are high in quality elements, not salt, high fructose corn syrup and red 40.
I am taking the time to say all this because in the five years I’ve had children, I have never stopped attending conventions and I see miserable parents dragging their screaming children through lines, exhibit halls, everywhere – yelling and barking at them to behave, stop crying, stop throwing fits, stop throwing “tantrums” and all I can think, is – dude, just take the kid outside. Feed them a sandwich and take away that soda or juice that painted their lips purple. Respect their needs as though they were a friend, not a possession and let them relax. Go back to the hotel, play in the pool or get a treat and go for a trolly ride. If people would be more careful to stop demanding their small children fit into grown up situations and take more time to do what is necessary to accommodate their needs, I am 100% certain these kids would have more fun. It makes me sad when I see this happen and I feel like it’s so easy to fix it if the parents were just more willing to put aside their expectations and put their children’s needs first. I know this one is a bit soap-boxish, but please just consider it. Everyone will have a MUCH better time if you do.
#5 Plan to be loners
If you’re going to a convention as a family and that’s it, this shouldn’t be any problem. The issues tend to arise when you go with larger groups of people, especially when those other people do not have children. They will likely assume that you will still be going out to party at night and they won’t even think about the fact that you have a baby now, so you can’t do that anymore and you’re probably too exhausted to care about free drinks at the Supernatural event in the Analog Bar. (Okay, no, you totally still care but a shower, bed and putting the baby down for longer than five minutes seems like a way better idea) Make sure you tell your friends up front that the traditions have to change because your life has changed. Maybe you can’t go to the fancy bar at the Marriott after preview night anymore – maybe you take the baby and go to the Hard Rock Cafe instead after a trip to Nerd HQ at the Children’s Museum instead! Plan for a great day around what you and your children will love to do and see. Your friends will get over it. If they don’t, they’re not really your friends. Oh, speaking of the Marriott – the hotel lounge is a really nice place to get out of the heat and relax. It’s also a great people-watching spot where you are likely to spot a few celebrities.
#6 Dress everyone for comfort first, fashion second
Everyone wants to dress up their kids and themselves for ComicCon, but if you’re not planning to return to the hotel halfway through your day to change, it could end up a pretty long, miserable day for you and baby and children and friends. There are plenty of ways to dress up your children without making them impossible to carry, hard to hold, frustrated with lack of movement and it may take some creativity, but you can totally find ways to cosplay with your kids without it making the day harder. Think of normal clothing that can allude to a character or choose fabrics when making your clothes that appeal to your theme without having to actually fabricate extra parts that may hinder your or baby’s movement, flexibility and safety. The baby-wearing costumes can be super cool, but at some point you’ll probably want to take it off or let your partner carry the baby for a while, so keep that in mind. Oh, also remember that any props you give your kids to hold to go with their costume will be carried by you, probably within the first 5 minutes after walking in. If you can find a way to fabricate props so they are attached to them rather than held by them, it’ll make everyone’s life easier.
#7 Childcare is available!
There IS childcare at the convention center if you absolutely MUST attend a panel, network without children, attend an adult event or you just need some time. I spoke to the manager of the childcare company ComicCon International uses each year and wrote on this last year. That article can be found HERE. Taken from the FAQ’s of this year’s convention page, here are some brief details:
“Child care is offered by KiddieCorp, a licensed childcare provider. They are located in Room 29CD of the Convention Center and are open Wednesday from 5:30 to 9:30 pm, Thursday through Saturday from 9:00 am to 7:30 pm, and Sunday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Rates are $11 per hour for children 6 months to 2 years old, and $9 per hour for children 3–12 years old.”
#8 Find the Child-friendly places!
There are TONS of child-friendly events going on at the convention both inside and around town. I recommend reviewing the website “Outside Comiccon” at http://www.outsidecomiccon.com/ for details on the events around town. Pay close attention to location and age limits. If age limits are not posted, call the facility and double check before you make plans to attend with your younglings.
#9 Keepsakes are cool
Plan on getting your littles something awesome to remember the event. Not just some random toy you could buy at the Disney store a week after the convention or whatever, but something special to commemorate their experiences. A keepsake may not be a treasure to a child of three, eight or even 14, but to an adult who understands what their parents went through to provide such a one of a kind experience for their child – it can be priceless. Each year, I find them something with the date and the event name on it, something I can put on a shelf or something that can be framed. So, get creative and sentimental about this one and you are sure to create a tradition worth keeping! Hunt down the artist of their favorite show and ask them to write a little message to them to read when they are older. Ask YOUR favorite artist to draw their favorite character in his style. Find the booth for the production company or publishing company of something your child loves and maybe already has and get it signed by someone there. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, it just has to be special to them.
#10 Safety is paramount – Absolutely nothing I have said so far matters more than this
In all things, safety is going to outweigh every other decision, plan, option or activity. Keep hands and eyes on your children at all times. The crowd can be vicious and won’t care if your child suddenly goes out of sight- they’ll only care that you are in the way of where they want to be. ComicCon can be a frightening place for children and parents when proper safety measures are not taken. Here are some things you can do to make sure you don’t lose your children.
- Write your contact number on your child’s arms then cover it with a product called “Skin Shield”. It will stay on through water, sweat and changes of clothing.
- Take a full body photo of your child as you enter the convention. This can be referenced if they become separated.
- Make sure their badge is secured to their person somehow, some way. Bring safety pins for this if needed. The child badges will NOT have their names, but will have vital information accessed by the barcode for safety reasons.
- If the children are old enough, be sure to show them where your family meet-up point will be if they should get lost. Tell them if they are separated from you, first – stand still and wait five minutes. If no one comes for them in five minutes, get to the meet-up point as fast as they can.
- If possible, allow children who are old enough to carry a charged phone only to be used in emergencies. Make sure all phones are set to vibrate AND ring, as it’s darn near impossible to hear a ringtone in that place. -Also, make sure it’s in a place on the body where it can be felt- not in a purse or backpack where calls could be missed.
- When you arrive, find a security guard or a police officer and make sure your child can recognize them if they need to find one again.
- Make sure the children know to be extra polite and also not to trust any overly-friendly costumed characters walking around. This is important if you attend places like Disney or Universal where children are used to trained actors interacting with them , where we know they are perfectly safe. That guy may look like Spiderman, but he’s still a stranger. It’s cool to get a photo or an autograph, but don’t hang all over him and don’t pull on him, climb on his costume and do NOT, under any circumstances, go anywhere with him by yourself. EVER.
- Child leashes are cool. No, really. They are. They’re way cooler than losing your child in a crowd of people because you didn’t have your hands on them. Don’t give a crap about what people might think of you for putting your child in a harness. Care about what your child will think if they’re lost and afraid and can’t find you in a sea of strangers because you didn’t want strangers to think you’re a helicopter parent. If you’re THAT self-conscious about it, dress them up or make them part of a costume. Maybe you can dress your kid up to look like one of the animals in the new “Pets” movie or the kids in Halloween Town in Nightmare Before Christmas. Get creative and figure it out, but don’t NOT do it because you care more about what some random stranger thinks than keeping your kid safe.
- For more safety tips for outings, a great website is “SafeKids International”. Check them out at http://www.safekids.org/
Bonus tip #11 – Don’t forget that the WHOLE POINT of attending this event is to have a great time and to share the experience with your family. Have a great time, take loads of pictures and videos.
Be ready for ANYthing, even random celebrities to walk up and want to take a picture with YOU rather than the other way around! (Yeah, that totally happened)
Bonus Tip #12 Child-haters exist – Screw them, have a good time.
It’s an unfortunate reality of the world we live in and one that we cannot avoid. The best we can do is ignore them and not give them any reason to prove them right. To help prevent our children from having to deal with a mean person who hates kids, is to anticipate your children’s moves and be watchful at all times. Look for the things they’ll want to touch and then make sure you prevent that before it happens, not after. As we all saw recently when a child playing with blocks unknowingly destroyed a $15,000 dollar Lego sculpture of Nick Wilde, it can and does happen. Through meltdowns and missed nap times, just let the snide remarks and irritated glances wash off like water on a duck’s feathers. Stay true to your compassionate, parenting self and do your best to be watchful, diligent and do what you can to ensure everyone has the best time possible. That’s all you can do. If people still look down their noses at you for bringing babies to a convention, just keep walking. They’re probably just jealous that their parents never bothered to take them anywhere that cool.
I hope you found this informative, but if there is anything I did NOT touch on that you think is important, please log in and add it in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you!