Once a year, since my twins were three-years-old, I have flown across the country with them by myself to visit their grandmother in North Carolina. That first year I decided to make this trip on my own, I did it as a thrill-seeking, death-defying dare to myself. As a stay at home mom in her mid-30s, I don’t get to test fate/my luck/the cruelty or mercy of the universe very often — traveling by myself with two small children is as dangerous as it gets around here.
Four years into it (and eight cross-country trips), I have learned that when it comes to traveling with small children you can try all you want but you will never be fully prepared.
I know. It’s a total downer.
Here are a few examples of how I have come close to having some perfect flights with my kids but failed in the end. Because when a parent has a perfect flight with a child, they, much like Icarus, have flown too close to the sun. They are doomed to fall to earth in a storm of screams and rainbow-colored Goldfish.
The first time I did the big trip by myself with the kids was when they were three. I was so nervous before we took off that my left leg kept bouncing up and down, and all I could do was look at it because I could not make it stop. Well, much to my amazement that trip was easy as pie. All I had to do was plug in their earphones, put in the Dora the Explorer DVD, and they were good to go. That trip down was so easy that I got kind of cocky before the return trip. I thought, “This is a breeze! What was I worried about?” And the universe said, “Oh, do you not know? Here, let me give you a taste right at the end.” Yes, it wasn’t till the very end when we landed in Seattle that my kids started screaming. SCREAMING. Screaming about things they wanted from their suitcases which were, as I tried to explain, underneath us inside the plane and not accessible by Mommy.
Didn’t care. They. Did. Not. Care.
The whole time getting to the gate, parking at the gate, and waiting to get off the plane (did I mention that we were in row 35?) they screamed. It was the kind of inconsolable crying that was so over the top, that all I could do was become completely calm. There was no hope of saving myself, so I had to surrender. I just sat there in the middle of two screaming toddlers with my head back against the headrest mumbling, “Shhhhh. It’s okay. Or it’s not. Whatever. Doesn’t matter.”
When they were five we had flawless flights, but it was the layovers that were the problem. No matter how many times I pleaded with them to put on their patience pants, these kids were not down with waiting. At all. For any amount of time. There were children lying on the ground in the airport moaning and thrashing around in what they claimed was boredom. I suggested that we trade places because I had some emotions to let out and they certainly wouldn’t be bored watching me, but they dismissed that out of hand.
Waiting to get off the plane was also an ordeal, since we were always in one of the last rows. I pointed to all of the people in front of us who had to get off the plane first and how we had no choice but to wait like everyone else. I talked about futility, ridding oneself of hope, and how the acceptance of pain and disappointment were important life skills. Unfortunately for me and the people around us, my children were unflaggingly optimistic about their chances of getting off the plane before the other 35 rows.
That was a long trip.
This year’s trip took place last month, during the kids’ Spring Break. I thought maybe this year would be better than ever because they are six now, and more responsive to reason and/or threats. And you know what? The trip was practically perfect — it was as though the universe decided to spot me one. The kids watched their movies, ate their snacks, wrote in their activity books, and were remarkably patient.
However, because we talking about me here, there were a couple of stressful moments. The first was when the pilot came on the overhead when we were getting ready to land in Raleigh-Durham with the following announcement:
“Uh, hello ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain. We’ve got a little bit of weather coming into Raleigh-Durham, uhhhhh, the winds right now are at the absolute maximum that we are allowed to land in. If we go one more mile an hour higher we are going to have to divert to Charlotte. But uhhhhh, so far we’re just within the limits so we’re going to proceed as planned, but if anything changes we’ll let you know.”
I’m all for transparancy, but I didn’t need to know this. I don’t want to know that we are right on the edge of being blown off the goddamn runway. If we land smoothly, then all is well. If we crash, let that be a surprise. I’d rather be kept in the dark about the struggle for survival going on up there in the cockpit.
Luckily though, we made it and had a great landing, and I didn’t have to figure out how to get the kids from Charlotte to Raleigh-Durham at 6:00pm.
The other minor hiccup was when one of my children suddenly decided, as we were landing in Seattle — and I mean the wheels were down and we were hurtling toward the earth — that they needed to go to the bathroom, they had to do it now, and they had to do it on the plane because they refused to go to the bathroom in the airport. Why? Who the hell knows. Crazy had entered the building and it brought an overnight bag.
There was much whining and crossing of legs until we got to the gate. Then we rushed to the front of the plane, waited for the co-pilot to finish taking a leak, and jumped into the bathroom. Everyone was thrilled that we made it.
You can never be fully prepared for traveling with kids, because they are insane. It’s like trying to teach a crazy person how to do taxes: “I don’t like red!” “Birds scare me!” “I don’t want pants!” It’s impossible to get anything done. But every time I get to my destination, I feel so proud of myself. It’s like the first time I took the kids out by myself to run errands when they were newborns: it’s conquering a huge fear, knowing that the worst may easily happen, but knowing that I’ll be able to handle it no matter what.
I just need to pack wet wipes and a sense of humor. And my ability to surrender all hope and accept the darkness as it comes to claim the coach section of my Delta flight.