I’ve flown solo enough times with one kid; some times were awful, others times were manageable. So after the birth of my second child, I foolishly decided to fly across Canada to visit my family for Christmas.
My fella had to work out of town for the majority of the holidays, and I decided that Christmas alone with two kidlets could be overwhelming and depressing. I found some cheap flights and crossed my fingers. It wasn’t until I was sitting in the dentist chair, when my dental hygienist seemed aghast that I was attempting this journey solo, that I felt less confident with my decision. She decided it was in my best interest to tell me about the time she flew home to Poland with her two sons and how it was one of the worst days of her life. No pressure.
Despite my fears, the flight there was uneventful. My four-year-old watched movies, she sat quietly, she peed and ate when I needed her to, no diaper blowouts for the baby. In fact, not one poopy diaper; I’m actually certain passengers believed my infant had evolved to not poop at all. Every so often a passenger would look at us, smile and give me a thumbs up and I’d smugly feign surprise. If there was a mirror, I would have kissed my reflection.
I walked off that plane feeling like the world’s most accomplished mom. I was riding high, thinking I was Dr. Sears and my kids were solid gold nuggets polished to perfection by my stellar parenting. I figured once this trip was done I would pen my parenting book with my photo on the back cover; a black and white photo with me and my two kids draped around my neck, looking up at me in absolute awe.
But then there was the flight home.
I must’ve pissed off the almighty spirit of mothers past. She saw my self-satisfied grin floating through the airport that day, had a good laugh, and then said, “Hold my mimosa.” Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, with an extra dollop of spicy Armageddon.
If I detailed all of the things that happened during this day, it would read like The Odyssey, without all the fun times. The day started off with a two and a half hour drive to the airport where any and all good travel graces were used up. Mistake #1.
Once at the airport, we found out my flight was delayed two hours. Turns out we would also miss our connecting flight so the airline swiftly arranged for us to get on an earlier flight with a different connection; the only catch was, I had to hustle to make it. Security then picks me as the lucky winner for extra security screening! They tore apart my Marie Kondo-level packing job and swabbed everything, even my baby’s little hands. Which did make me sweat a bit, who knows what he’s packing in that infant death grip?
Turns out I didn’t have to hustle at all. I get to the gate and our flight ends up being delayed for one and a half hours. I try to keep my preschooler occupied with snacks and games while nursing the infant. People are miserable all around us. While waiting for the plane to arrive, my four-year old is already trying to sleep on the airport floor. I ignore this detail and accept the fact that we will all have the plague by the time we get home. No big deal. Problems for a later time.
During this time, I also look at our tickets and realize that my four-year-old and I are not sitting together on the plane (I briefly consider this a win). I wait in a ridiculously long line of angry passengers to tell the agent this detail. The lineup takes 35 minutes. When it’s my turn with the agent, a businessman sneaks in front of me while I bend over to shuffle my comatose kid off the floor. I let it go, but as a Canadian, this is unforgivable. I’ve imprinted him in my brain for life.
My infant is officially pissed at this point and is in the early stages of plotting revenge, and the four-year-old is officially asleep on the airport floor. Everything is still okay. Not to worry. Things can still turn around.
After an hour-and-a-half delay turns into a two-and-a-half-hour delay, irate passengers are told to begin boarding our plane. I peel my girl off the ground while carrying the infant, two bags, the stroller and the car seat. She decides this is the best moment to tell me she has to poo. Crap. No big deal, we can poop on the plane. Nope. Not a chance. She cannot wait and shoots me a look that tells me I have 30 seconds to get to a toilet or risk not making this flight at all. We run to the toilet after I shoot her my best “deranged mom” eyes while using my sing-song voice used only in the company of strangers.
Cut to passengers boarding plane and me yelling “Hurry!” to my pooping daughter like a Canadian Curler in the Olympic gold medal match. After an eternity in the bathroom, I return to the gates and I’ve got so much lip sweat I wipe it across my baby’s head and pass it off as a tender kiss.
So many little awful moments have happened between my folks dropping me off at the airport and boarding the plane, but I consider them run-of-the-mill daily parenting moments. I have a secret for you guys. I know this will come as a surprise but here it is: Most people really dislike children. Like really. Shocking I know.
Even worse, they hate you more for making them. So as you board the plane with two kids, one already screaming, and the other singing “Let it Go” with her newly found second wind, you’ll notice the ninja level skill people adopt in avoiding eye contact with you. You are the fart in an elevator personified. No one wants to acknowledge you exist lest they risk become associated with you…the fart.
So imagine every passenger praying for their souls to be taken by any available demon in exchange for not being seated by us. I find my seat, lock eyes with the passenger seated next to us and shout over the top of my screaming infant “Lucky you!” Not recommended.
Boarding is done, but the plane doesn’t take off for another 30+ minutes because of de-icing. For those who want to know what de-icing on a plane with kids is like: throw yourself and however many kids you have into a dryer and push start. It’s awful, it’s hot and everything is dead quiet. So quiet, in fact, you could hear my infant’s first poop of the flight with impeccable clarity and state of the art surround sound. I say first poop because my beautiful baby boy would poop six more times after that. So seven poops on a six-hour flight. SEVEN. POOPS.
After his first poop, I sat down and he spat up all over my shirt and hair for good measure. Children are gifts. The flight is peppered with annoying moments of mild temper tantrums, lots of visits to the bathroom, and hours of me trying to get my daughter to eat or sleep. I’ll accept either. Being the Pinterest mom that I am, I packed a varied assortment of snacks to feed a rugby team for a week. But my beautiful girl wanted only the single piece of bubblegum I packed for take off and landing. I caved after the first glimpse of a tantrum. This was only hour one of the flight. Pick your battles, right? Wrong. Mistake #346.
Cue hangry, tired four-year-old after only having a crumb from a granola bar and chewing a stale Hubba Bubba for five hours. My sweet girl became possessed by none other than Beelzebub himself in all his glory. The last hour of flight my girl experienced the worst effects of ear popping. She kicked me and everything around her, screamed, foamed, tried to bite me, while trying to escape her seat to try to find the exit of the plane.She was determined to get off the plane … like, find the door and open it up.
This stage lasted almost a full hour. I tried with all my might to harness Brene Brown level patience and understanding to quell my little Cujo.
When we landed, I had soaked through my shirt with sweat trying to wrestle my Herculean preschooler to stay in her seat, all the while holding my infant in my lap who had also been screaming the full hour. Now every passenger was putting on Oscar-worthy performances of pretending they didn’t notice us. By the end of the flight, my daughter was curled up on the floor sleeping. She worked herself up into an epic slumber. I looked like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant after he wrestled that bear. My boy finally stopped crying and then let out a final poop, a crescendo to the shittiest symphony ever performed.
I wrestled to get them both off the plane. Not one passenger made eye contact with me while I juggled the baby in one hand, two bags, and a deep-sleeping 40-pound preschooler on my other hip. The flight attendants had to eventually carry her out with me.
I must say, though, it wasn’t all bad. A beautiful moment was when the pilot ran off the plane after me and reached into her pocket to give my sleeping girl a wing pin. But not just one; she grabbed every wing pin in her deep pilot pocket and gave them all to me. ALL OF THEM. She even saw that my hands were full and put them in my pocket for me and said, “Good job, Mom.” If I’d had a spare hand and any moisture left in my body, I would have hugged her and cried.
The worst part is, I still had one more flight to go. Once I made it through the airport like that little puppet lady in Labyrinth with all her belongings on her back, I arrived at the gate only to find that my next flight was delayed another dreaded one-and-a-half hours. At this point everyone is sleeping. Everything is “peaceful,” but I have to pee and my postpartum bladder just can’t deal. On top of the sweat, and spit up, I know that I’ve now also peed in my pants. Childbirth is beautiful.
The rest of the journey is filled with much of the same, lots of diaper changes, more crying, more sweating, and swearing under my breath so much I’d make Andrew Dice Clay blush. By the end of the 12-hour journey, I’m a dehydrated piece of leather with a beautiful cocktail of smells emanating from my glorious being. As it turns out, I am not Dr. Sears.
Here’s the thing: Flying solo can be a catastrophe, but flying with children is always going to be like walking into a crowded room holding an armful of landmines hoping that someone might offer to hold one for you. Some days you get lucky and other times, despite hours of preparation, you get the Children of the Damned. It’s unpredictable.
If I could offer any advice (not that anyone is asking) to parents flying with kids, my advice would be to embrace the chaos. The day will eventually end, and maybe just maybe you might get lucky and your kids are great and you get some really nice passengers who love children. Give in to the chaos, accept that it might just be a shitshow of epic proportions, but find those little moments of grace if you can.
Oh and if I could offer one real piece of practical advice? Never board a plane early with children. Never.