This is part 2 in a series of posts about navigating GenCon with geek kids. Part 1 (General Advice) is here.
Infants and Toddlers:
|Big stroller. Tiny baby. Stark casual.|
Practically speaking, small babies are pretty easy to manage in a con environment. You should plan to bring child-wearing gear, or the smallest stroller that you can manage. If you intend to take a stroller into the dealer's hall then please be aware of the footprint -- our jogging stroller is pretty substantial and we definitely found parking it on the edges of booths for browsing purposes problematic at times. Bigger booths with internal space were much less trouble. People are overall very aware of their space and we didn't really run into trouble with tripping or collisions. People are also very polite and did not give us mean looks or snide comments to our faces, and in return we tried to be as polite and careful as we could be.
Toddlers are a full-time job, and you should probably plan to have someone who can devote their attention full-time to child monitoring at all times. You would not believe how quickly a toddler can get lost in a crowded dealer's hall, when you just stopped for a moment to look at that game demo. For your toddler, you will still want to bring a stroller (again, small footprint please) or your child-wearing gear of choice, because you will be doing a lot of carrying. The convention hall is big. Really big. You are going to wish you had a grownup to carry you sometimes.
|Really really busy.|
The convention is busy. It is loud. It is full of sudden colors and intense stimuli. Your primary responsibility is going to have to be to your littles -- be aware of their responses to their environment, especially in the dealer's hall, and be prepared to get out if need be. Pax had no trouble with the noise and chaos of the dealer hall, but Cap'n's first trip was a little more stressful. He got overwhelmed at times and was just at the starting-to-walk phase so he wanted to be down and exploring frequently. We spent quite a bit of time that year at the Family Fun pavilion, which is located at the back of the 100 section of the dealer hall, and the surrounding booths and demos.
|The kids waited in line just for this stuff.|
I'm on my third child and by this point I frankly don't give a hoot about whether people's sensibilities are offended by breastfeeeding in public, but not everyone (or their babies) is at that place. This year Family Fun introduced a crawlers space and a private nursing area, which had two chairs with arms and was a real blessing; additionally one of the convention hall women's bathrooms apparently had their powder room space set up for private nursing space (I never found it but I was told it was quite nice). It's a pretty substantial walk to the back of the dealer's hall (pro tip: they usually have an open entrance along the Capitol Ave hallway that's less crowded and a LOT closer to the Family Fun pavilion) and I'm lazy, so I also took an inflatable My Brest Friend nursing pillow (I saw a lot of travel Boppy pillows too) and a cover and just grabbed whatever space was available in hotel lobbies or the chairs along the concourse to feed Pax. Nobody gave me any trouble, and I had some great conversations as well.
For older infants: Bring baby food or a grinder if you are going to need them -- there is a pretty limited store selection in the near vicinity, and the food trucks do not cater to the bland and mushy palate. If you need a fridge in your hotel room, ask the hotel in advance. Frequently these are provided, but we have had years where there were no fridges or a waiting list 1-2 days long for fridges. If it's extremely important (breast milk supplies, special dietary needs) then you may consider bringing your own cooler for emergencies.
This is covered in more detail in the General Advice post, but if the food trucks are not an option for your toddler, there are some bistro-style cafes in the convention center and Circle Center does have a food court. Most of the restaurants near the convention center also provide a kids' menu, so your picky eater will have eating options. However, lines are long in the surrounding few blocks so you will need to plan your restaurant ahead. Pack snacks.
We have yet to find a bathroom -- men's or women's -- in the Indianapolis Convention Center that has a changing table. Be aware. The surrounding hotels do have some changing tables, including in the men's rooms, but not all hotels and not all bathrooms are so equipped. Bring a changing pad and be ready to do diapers in a down and dirty fashion.
For emergency supply needs you may be able to get some things from your hotel's front desk, but if not then the closest pharmacy is the CVS on Ohio Street, approximately 3/4 of a mile walk away. They carry a sufficient selection of baby and nursing supplies and the staff are very nice. It's not a 24 hour store so check the hours before you go late at night. Circle Center Mall has children's clothing but is pretty upscale so does not carry basic necessities that I'm aware of.
|Family Fun Noodle Fight|
If you do cosplay, we cannot recommend Baby Yoda highly enough. We've done several variants on this costume (this year Etsy provided a crocheted Yoda hat) and it's quick, easy, extremely recognizable, and eminently washable. Also for older babies Luke Skywalker's Dagobah outfit is basically a beat-up white tank top and some cargo pants, and you can carry Baby Yoda in a backpack to complete the set.
If you're a little craftier, I took some pre-con time with my embroidery machine (you could economize and buy patches too) and did some baby costumes based off of a Simplicity baby dress pattern. They were a huge hit and Pax got a lot of compliments. Everyone loves a geek baby.
As far as doing activities, we had good luck with the CCG hall and game demos; parking the stroller next to the game space was no problem for larger booths or playspaces like Iello's demo room. Over-18 and over-21 activities generally will not permit even infants in, which I find to be a point of respect for the other attendees and we did not try to take Pax to see the Glitter Guild. Concerts are often pretty tightly seated but you can put a stroller in the back of the room and sit with it there or lap-sit your baby; we have taken the littles to see Marc Gunn play in previous years (I recommend the Cat Lovers show) and that's gone well when they're not overtired.
As far as playing in scheduled games, most convention games are on a time-restricted schedule and often players are booked back to back. If your baby is going to require attention and take your focus away from the game (hint: most babies will not reliably schedule a two-hour nap during your game slot) then you should have someone who can care for them during the game. If you don't have someone, then ask your GM in advance (if possible) how they feel about having the distraction. Then ask the other players. Be prepared to bow out if your child is going to negatively impact others' con gaming experience. As a GM, I've seen distracted players sometimes pull down the whole run, while other groups are able to work around them much more flexibly. Playing with strangers is an adventure in itself.
Strollers are not welcome in True Dungeon, nor would I recommend trying to bring a carried infant into the space. It's dark, it's loud, things move around and there are lots of surprises. Signing a waiver is probably your cue that this is not a baby-friendly activity, if you make it that far. Get a baby-watcher and have yourself some adult fun, if True Dungeon is your thing.
...next up: Part Three: Big Kid Activities...