Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Zen and the art of flying with a pookie

This past week we traveled to Washington, D.C. because J had a conference for work. Evie and I tagged along with him to visit grandma, grandpa and friends in the area. This was Evie's fifth round-trip air experience since her birth. Each of these trips has taught me something.

At 6 months, Evie and I flew to the D.C. area to visit friends. This trip taught me survival skills. It involved a 3-leg flight, meaning 3 takeoffs and 3 landings (but we stayed on the same plane thank goodness). Six opportunities for Evie's ears to pop and for me to feed her a bottle to relieve the pressure. Six times in three hours. Please remember that Evie was a happy spitter. I brought ten bibs and six burp cloths on the plane with me and still ended up with spit up all over myself and Evie by the end. And we survived! After that trip I felt invincible as a mother (briefly). I also discovered that if your baby accidentally teethes on a plane seat belt, the world will not implode.

At 10 months, Evie and I flew to D.C. once again to visit friends and my grandmother in Virginia. This trip taught me the true value of camaraderie. My mother met up with us at our layover in the Detroit airport and flew 1/2 of the way with Evie and me. Her presence transformed the flight from a trial to a pleasure! Two adults are SO much better than one...especially when the other adult is Grandma. This trip also taught me that sometimes there is an excellent reason to let a baby crawl on the floor of an airport, and I shouldn't judge other moms who do the same, as long as they wash the baby's hands afterward. :)

At 15 months, we all flew to San Antonio for Christmas, and I learned that flying with toddlers is totally different from flying with babies. Toddlers can walk, and airplanes have floors. This is stressful for everyone. Also, toddlers aren't necessarily lulled to sleep by engine noise the way babies are. In fact, being confined in parental laps seems to have a stimulant effect. I also learned the value of memorizing your child's favorite songs and finger plays. Singing "The Wheels on the Bus" and "Shake Your Sillies Out" was much more effective than any other distraction on that trip, including books, Baby Einstein on the laptop and even snacks.

At 17 months, we all flew to Florida to see part of J's family. I learned that scheduling a flight for bedtime, thinking that the child will sleep through the entire thing, is an extremely misguided decision. It is a risky gamble, and when the cards don't fall your way, everyone on the plane suffers.

Finally, at 21 months, we flew to Washington D.C. for a third time this past week. Thankfully, Daddy flew with us this time. And we were better educated about our options. We brought along a car seat for Evie to the gate and inquired about any available empty seats on the flight. I recently learned that most airlines will accommodate a baby or toddler this way. Even if you haven't paid for a ticket for a child under age 2, you might be able to install his/her car seat in an empty seat for free. All you need to do is bring the car seat to the gate and ask, nicely. If there aren't any open seats, the gate agents will check the car seat for free. We bought a Cosco Scenera (currently on clearance at Target for only about $35!) just for this purpose, since Evie's Recaro Como is too bulky to cart around the airport and haul on board.

I had heard, and fervently hoped, that buckling Evie into her car seat on the plane would pacify her wanderlust, since she is used to being confine in the harness in the car, and would enable her to sleep on the plane as she can in the car. After some drama over whether or not there were any open seats on our flight, we were finally able to install Evie's seat on our flight to D.C. At first, everything went smoothly. Evie seemed comfortable and content. I read to her and gave her snacks, and we talked about the airplane and the takeoff. We had been reading Airport almost every day for the week before the flight, and Evie seemed delighted by the reality of flying in the airplane. However. Just because it was nap time and Evie was in a car seat (granted, not her cushy regular one) didn't mean she would succumb to the white noise of the engines and drift off to sleep. She didn't sleep a wink. Instead, she decided to seize control of her situation (being strapped in and unable to fiddle with the window, tray table, fan, light and magazines) by kicking the back of the seat in front of her. This was a full flight, and there was a very nice woman reading a book in the seat in front of Evie.

Whoever you are, lady, I am SO SORRY.

I spent the last 3/4 of the flight...a full 1.5 hours in the air...trying to cajole, convince, threaten, bribe, plead and explain to Evie to NOT kick the seat in front of her. At times I would resort to holding her feet still, but then I would foolishly decide to model napping. I would close my eyes and encourage Evie to close hers as well. Instead, she would seize the chance to kick the seat while Mommy's eyes were closed. (Later, my friend Jen said I should have asked the woman in front to turn around and fuss at Evie; that might have actually worked.)

Almost as soon as we began our descent, I realized my mistake. I was attached to the idea of Evie napping on the plane and refused to accept the reality that she wasn't going to sleep. If I had only released control of the situation and stopped trying to get her to sleep, I could have pulled out her books and stickers and played The Wiggles on J's laptop and distracted her from kicking the seat. All that flight needed was a little zen on Mama's part. Sigh.

I redeemed myself on the flight home. We flew in the morning, but Evie was visibly tired from a late bedtime and early reveille that morning. But I did not succumb to the allure of a plane nap, oh no! I cheerfully pulled out the books and snacks and movies and we had a great flight. It also helped that the plane was almost empty, and there wasn't anyone seated in front of Evie this time. When I first plopped Evie into her car seat and began buckling her harness, she gave a hard kick to the seat in front of her and shot me a meaningful look: "See, Mama, I remember last week. What are you going to do about it?" Kick away, child, kick away. Mama learned her lesson.


  1. wooohooo! I am so thankful for this post! We are going on 4.5 hour plane trip with 15 month-old R next week. I feel like I am prepared... we will see! Ipod, laptop, a bag full of books (new and old) and a few other little tricks up my sleeve.... hopefully things will go my way.

    I am glad to hear that the car seat thing worked for you. I am planning to attempt it as well and I am glad to know someone has had previous success with it!

  2. I flew with Leo when he was 19 months old and bought him a seat using miles I had from years before. The same thing happened -- the darn kid kicked and kicked and kicked the seat ahead of him. After takeoff, I took him out and mostly kept him in my lap (we were lucky enough to have a 3-seat row to ourselves -- probably the only extra seat on the plane, but people clear out pretty fast when they see they're seated next to a toddler). On the way home, I checked the car seat and he sat pretty well buckled in next to me.

    I'll be flying with Dan and the baby in October and all the new requirements scare me -- I haven't flown since 2007. We'll only be gone 48 hours, so hopefully we'll be able to bring everything carry-on and gate-check the car seat. I flew with Leo around that age too (2ish months) and that was a heck of a lot easier than a toddler.


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