Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Flying Solo With a Toddler

Last weekend, E and I flew to my hometown for the weekend to attend my best friend's bridal shower.  Due to A-100 obligations, S didn't join us on the trip, so I got E to myself for three whole days. Since my family lives there, E's Nana and Aunt were more than willing to babysit while I attended a dinner on Friday night and the shower on Saturday.  It was a fun weekend full of girl chatter and margaritas, and I was really happy we went.  E even got to spend some time petting goats on his grandad's farm.

The bride-to-be in the middle surrounded by four of her bridesmaids.

Feeding the goats

Staring down the goat
The weekend was great.  E was great.  Until he wasn't... 

Getting there wasn't the problem.  Despite having to wake at the ungodly hour of 4:30am, he was a trooper.  He didn't make a peep during the drive to the airport or when we went through security, even when the TSA agent confiscated his sippy cup so it could be swabbed for explosives.  Once on the plane, the first leg of the flight was a breeze.  E sat on my lap and happily ate grapes and Cheerios while he watched Yo Gabba Gabba and thumbed through the pages of his new favorite books.  During the layover, he gladly let me change his diaper before boarding the next plane and even giggled when I let him run about for a few minutes before re-boarding.  During the second leg of the trip he napped for 45 minutes of a one and a half hour flight, then awoke to eat some airplane cookies biscotti and stare out the window.  In short, he was a perfect little angel.  At the time, I convinced myself E was the ideal travel child because why wouldn't he be?  The kid has flown quite a bit and we have never had a problem with him. 

But then there was the return flight.  First let me state that I am a horrible mother for even booking a late evening flight with a toddler, but I had to cash in a nearly expired voucher before it was too late, and that evening flight was the only one that would get me back on the day I needed.  So, I booked it and crossed my fingers.  The first leg wasn't so bad.  I was beginning to think the travel gods has blessed me with this angel baby, until we reached the layover.  Then, his halo tilted and continued to tilt until it crashed to the floor during a fit of exhaustion and toddlerness.  We nearly missed our connecting flight and we had to run through the airport to get to the gate.  E screamed and cried the whole way.  I must have looked like a lunatic as I bobbed and weaved between slow walking people on cell phones and elderly folks getting carted around in wheelchairs.  We were like a fire truck headed in the direction of a four alarm fire; me speeding down the walkway pushing the stroller while E wailed to announce our impending arrival.  Once we got to the gate, it was after 9pm (an hour past E's bedtime) and we had 4 minutes to board.  We were the last ones, and as I walked down the aisle of the plane my heart dropped as I spotted our seat--dead center between an extra large man and a slightly larger young woman.  Up until this point we had lucked up with window seats, so to see this middle seat before us was disheartening to say the least.  "This is going to be fun," I thought.

I wedged my way into the seat and propped E on my lap.  He had ceased screaming at this point and had simmered down to a low whine.  "Great," I thought.  "He's whining himself to sleep.  Maybe he'll curl up and sleep the whole way."  A girl can dream, can't she?

First E wanted to look out the window, so he began to reach across the male passenger seated there.  I quickly grabbed him and told him "no no" as I tried to explain exactly why he couldn't look out the window during this particular flight.  That of course sent him into a meltdown as he continued to try to reach the window, fighting and crying and kicking his legs for what felt like an eternity, but was only 3 minutes in reality.  Still, it was 3 minutes I'm sure our lovely seatmate would love to erase from his memory. 

Then I tried to get E to take his "baba" hoping that would settle him down and he would fall asleep.  It was after 9:30 at this point and I knew he was going on fumes.  Apparently, he wasn't going down.  He hit and threw the sippy cup away every time I tried to give it to him.  He tried to reach for the window again as I awkwardly tried to wrestle him back into the seat. 

Then he saw the light. And by light, I mean the overhead reading light that the aisle seat passenger had just turned on so she could read her book.  And it was so bright.  And E let me know it too.

E became obsessed with pointing to the light and saying "hot mama, hot."  He says all lights are hot, so I knew he was talking about the dang light.  I tried to reposition it so it wasn't in his face, but to no avail.  I tried turning my shoulder to it and positioning E closer to the window seat passenger, but the fact that he was extra large meant that there was no room.  Then I tried to shield E's eyes with the scarf I was wearing, which of course he thought was a game of peek-a-boo that he was in no mood to play. 

We were trapped on the plane for two hours in the most uncomfortable seats imaginable and a bright light shining in E's face.  He cried.  He screamed.  He flailed.  He threw his sippy cup and kicked the back of the seat as I desperately tried to reign him in.  All the while that light shone brightly in our faces as the aisle passenger "read" her book. I was utterly hopeless.  I had become that mom and I was ashamed.  I was totally embarrassed, but there was nothing I could do.  I wanted so badly to get up and walk the aisle with him, but of course we were flying through a lightening storm and the seat belt light never went off.  And neither did that dang overhead light.  The flight was, in a word, miserable.  The only saving grace was that it was just  a two hour flight and not, say, cross country or trans-Atlantic. 

Still, I felt defeated.  My child that I love beat me down on that flight.  I lost the battle and I waved the white flag of surrender.  Yo Gabba Gabba managed to calm him for the last 20 minutes or so, but at that point I think delirium had set in.  We were both exhausted, but obviously we survived.  And so did the other passengers.

So to all those unknown people who shared my flight last Sunday night, I am sorry.  But as a favor to moms everywhere, please, please please, for the love of all things holy, when you see a toddler flipping out because the overhead light is shining directly in his face ("hot!"), can you turn it off?  I know you paid good money to fly in comfort, and I know I have no right to ask you to turn it off (which is why I didn't) but would it be so bad to forgo your book for two hours so my kid can get to sleep?  I promise, if you had turned out that light, he would have been asleep in 10 minutes and you would have had a peaceful, toddler-tantrum-free experience.  And to other passengers who kept giving me the evil eye, I promise your stares didn't do any good.  I understand your annoyance, but there is nothing I can do.  A little look of compassion or some helpful words of advice would have been better received than your glares.  Keep them to yourselves.

When we landed I discovered the airline had lost my luggage (of course) so I had S take E home to bed while I waited to see if my luggage was on a later flight.  It wasn't.  But S texted at midnight to say E was finally in his crib fast asleep.  That was the best news.  And my luggage arrived in good condition the next day, so all was good.  And E awoke in a good mood the next morning despite his horrible experience from the night before. 

With a life in the Foreign Service ahead of us, that means flying, flying and more flying.  We said we were ready for adventure. For some reason, I don't think flying with a cranky toddler is exactly what we had in mind ;-).


  1. Oh man! That totally stinks. I hope it is the worst (and last) of this type of experience for you.

  2. Thanks! I hope so too :-) Btw, I love your blogs--been reading for quite some time. Thanks for popping over here!

  3. Oh man, can I relate. Jack was an awesome traveler for the first year, but it's been fairly hellacious since then. We had a similar experience where I was trapped in a middle seat with Jack on my lap. The worst of it was, my husband was in the middle seat behind me. If someone would have swapped with one of us, EVERYONE would have had a more pleasant flight. :P I guess we're just going to have to learn to not let it get to us so much, since we'll be doing so much flying in the coming years. And I will say, it does help a little one you start paying for the extra seat. At least it means there's only one stranger in the row with you!