Sunday, May 15, 2011

Learning to Fly: The joys of air travel with small children

With the summer travel season approaching, and our plans materializing for a marathon road-trip to Florida to visit my in-laws, I thought I’d share a piece I wrote for my Travel Writing class last year about the joys of air travel with small children. Enjoy!

9:30 AM
Takeoff in 9 hours and 27 minutes
On my bureau sit two piles of clothes: one for my 6-year-old daughter Olivia consisting of mostly pink and blue, and the other for 2-year-old Josh consisting of twice as many clothes as his sister because he tends to soil himself multiple times per day on vacation. Dave’s clothes sit in a tidy pile on the floor, ready to be transferred to a suitcase at a moment’s notice. My clothes are all still in the closet because I spent all morning getting the kids’ stuff together.

We’re determined not to check bags as a protest to the extra fees. So we need to fit six days’ worth of clothing and supplies into carry-ons. Not a problem if we just packed clothes and toiletries; but we also need favorite stuffed animals, blankets, storybooks, a laptop, two ipods loaded with movies and lullabies, coloring books and crayons – all essentials if we want happy children.

And trust me, we want happy children.

Takeoff in 6 hours, 57 minutes
Spent the last two hours gathering all the kids’ miscellaneous stuff, during which time Olivia switched outfits approximately twelve times and changed her mind about her storybook selections at least four times. Thankfully Josh isn’t saying much beyond “milk” and “oh no,” so he can’t share his opinions. I cross-check all Josh’s toiletries with my list from our last trip when I had to buy emergency diaper rash cream at the hotel for $15.95. I have dye-free fragrance-free soap for his sensitive skin, petroleum jelly for his sensitive behind, and extra pacifiers for our fellow travelers when things don’t go his way.

Dave enters the room briefly, stacks his clothes into a bag, throws in his deodorant and toothbrush, and announces he's finished packing. He asks what’s taking me so long.

My clothes are still in the closet.

3:30 PM
Takeoff in 3 hours, 27 minutes
Packed. My dad should arrive in 33 minutes. We don’t want to pay for parking, either.

4:50 PM
Takeoff in 2 hours, 7 minutes
We tumble out of the car at Departures. As my dad pulls away, we assess our pile: two pullmans, one shoulder suitcase, one tote bag, one diaper bag, Olivia’s Dora the Explorer backpack, a stroller and a car seat. After a bit of whining, Olivia consents to carry her Dora backpack. We consider strapping some bags onto Josh, but decide it’s easier to have him sit in the stroller than wander the airport like a pinball. So we stuff the diaper bag under his seat, hang as many bags on ourselves as we can, and pull the rest. For the record, pushing a stroller through an airport with one hand is akin to trying to steer a cat. But twice as dangerous.

5:17 PM
Takeoff in 1 hour, 40 minutes
The kind security agent tells us to take our time and not let anyone rush us. I wish he would pass this message on to the guy behind us, who rolls his eyes as we unload our shoes, jackets, bags and children at the checkpoint. Our stuff stretches the entire length of the conveyor. We stand shoeless on the other side waiting for our belongings. The guy behind us gives us the stink eye as the conveyor stops. Two security personnel study the screen. They call for backup.

I know I didn’t pack anything illegal. I triple-checked the TSA website. I even remembered to pull out both quart-size zip-top bags of toiletries.

More security personnel show up. An older mustached gentleman in a snazzy blue uniform takes something from one of the bags. He approaches us with a smirk.

He is holding Josh’s blue sippy cup. “We’re going to have to test this, ma’am.”   

5:40 PM
Takeoff in 1 hour, 17 minutes
Dave and I drop our bags and collapse into seats at the gate. We’re too exhausted to stop the children from spreading their chicken nuggets on the floor in front of the picture window like a picnic. Josh regularly stands to look out, leaving perfect, greasy handprints on the window. I’m sure the window washers will appreciate having something tangible to wipe away in the morning. 

6:30 PM
akeoff in 27 minutes
They announce boarding for our flight. They start with group one. We are group five. Olivia asks approximately twenty-seven times when it will be our turn.
When they finally announce us, Dave and I hoist our bags. It takes a certain level of skill to collapse a stroller while holding a diaper bag, a thirty-pound tote bag and a squirming 2-year-old who would sprint given the opportunity. But at least we didn’t have to check anything. Take that, airline industry!

6:57 PM
The kids are strapped in. We are seated in pairs across the aisle from each other, Dave with Olivia and me with Josh. Two lucky souls separate us. As we taxi, Josh begins looking for Daddy.

7:16 PM
Josh continues his search for Daddy, escalating to a screaming fit while Dave and Olivia calmly watch a movie on their iPod across the aisle. Josh has no interest in his pacifier, his stuffed bear, his fuzzy blanket, the in-flight magazine, or the window. I am out of ideas.

7:20 PM
The flight attendant passes out pretzels. Salvation! Josh loves pretzels. He quietly munches for about ten minutes while I try to pull up anything of interest to a 2-year-old on my obsolete laptop.

7:30 PM
More screaming, now accompanied by seat kicking. The woman in front of Josh drops her wine bottle. It rolls under our seats. I hand it back to her. “You may need this,” I say.

The gentleman next to me put in his ear buds a half hour ago. I’ve noticed him raise the volume on his iPod several times.

I make a mental note never to fly at bedtime again.

9:20 PM 
Josh finally cries himself to sleep.

9:30 PM
We land. I wonder if they’ll let us leave Josh until morning. It seems a shame to wake him.

9:40 PM
I drag Olivia to the bathroom despite her protests and force her to sit on the toilet, explaining that the hour-long ride to Nana and PopPop’s is too long to hold the five cups of apple juice the attendant gave her on the flight. She pees while still insisting she doesn’t have to go.

9:55 PM
We step off the tram. Olivia runs into her grandmother’s arms. Josh struggles to get out of his stroller for a hug. I wonder where these happy children were fifteen minutes ago.

10:10 PM
Bags loaded, car seat installed, children strapped in, I sink into the seat of my in-law’s minivan and say a silent prayer that the vacation will be more relaxing than the journey.

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