When I was younger, childless and brimming with naiveté, I had an “I will never” list of things I vowed not to do as a parent.
I will never bribe my child with chocolate to get my way.
I will never allow my child to have a temper tantrum in a public place.
I will never put my child on a leash.
Fast-forward 15 years and I’m racing through the Atlanta airport with two tiny blond whirling dervishes, desperately thrusting a Hershey bar at the one who has collapsed like a screaming wet noodle as her sister sprints as fast as she can in the opposite direction. I glance hopefully at the gift shop to our right. If they sell leashes, I’ll take three: one for each daughter and one for my husband, who already looks like he’s ready to run for the exit.
As a travel editor, I’m on the road and in the skies with my two daughters, 5 and 2, a lot. In my experience, there is nothing more exhausting, more maddening, more expensive, more humbling and yes, more rewarding, than traveling with kids. Here’s how our typical day at the airport goes:
First off, we are running late. We are always running late. Any number of things may have held us up on our way out the door, including but not limited to: a mound of mischievously unraveled toilet paper needing to be re-rolled; a wound deemed in need of a Band-Aid, even if said wound is not actually visible to the naked eye; a drawer full of socks without a single matching pair (resulting in a Minnie Mouse-Curious George sock mash-up on this particular morning).
Once we park at the airport, we can’t walk in, because we’ve got so much stuff that it is physically impossible. (And that’s after we’ve decided not to bring the Pack ‘n Play, because every time we travel we decide we don’t need the Pack ‘n Play, and every time we end up regretting it and buying a new one for $49 at the Walmart in, say, Newnan, Ga.)
We eventually lug our mobile Babies R Us into the airport, check everything with the bewildered ticket agent and head for security, where people break into a sprint to get ahead of us in line because, let’s face it, no one wants to be stuck behind us.
We board — just after the A group, thankyouverymuch, one perk of traveling with kids — and settle into our cramped row of seats.
I hand our 2-year-old my phone, and, because she’s already more technologically advanced than I am, she starts scrolling through my news feed. (Note: She is an indiscriminate “liker.” If we liked your sick cat photo, impassioned political rant or somehow spoiled the ending of “Breaking Bad” for you, I sincerely apologize.)
Next, I set up my in-flight craft corner for our 5-year-old, busting out bags of beads, stamps and pipe cleaners. By the time the flight ends, I’m so covered in glitter and sequins I look like I just got off the stage at the Flamingo.
The flight attendant comes by to take drink orders. Our 5-year-old wants apple juice and peanuts — “What do you mean they don’t have peanuts?” — but I can’t tell what our 2-year-old wants because she refuses to take her pacifier out of her mouth. She says something that sounds like “Appleton.” Apple juice? No. Lemonade? No. I lean really close to her face, trying to understand. The flight attendant starts to release the brake on the drink cart.
Applelemon? Appletini? (Lord, I would kill for an Appletini right now.) I blurt my best guess: “She’ll have apple juice!” Wrong. She is a screaming wet noodle once again.
Finally, after exchanging several “we are never traveling again” glances with my husband, the captain announces that we have started our descent.
A few hours later, we’re in our hotel, enjoying a beer and watching the girls sleep, their curls fluttering up and down against their cheeks with each peaceful breath.
I think back to some of my favorite memories traveling with them: watching them figure out how to play with other kids who didn’t speak their language in Mexico; teaching them how to have a proper snowball fight in Denver; holding their hands as they tested out the waves together — first tentative, then with gusto — in Galveston. I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.
Traveling as a family is a mess, but it is so worth it.
Oh, and the next time you’re on a flight and a couple of pint-sized blondes won’t stop squealing, kicking your seat or squabbling over a package of fruit snacks, please go easy on them. Their disheveled mom is still trying to come to terms with her list of “I will nevers…”