Jennie: “I don’t know, Mom. He’s only 3 weeks old. I don’t think he’s supposed to be around that many people yet. Plus, I also have a one year old. I’m not sure I can fly with both of them, by myself.”
Jennie’s Mom: “It can’t be that big of a deal. My cousin flew all the way to France with TWO toddlers and a newborn. Plus, I’ll do all the work once you get here. How hard could it be?”
Narrator: Jennie was about to find out that it was, indeed, going to be very, very hard.
My husband and I moved to Texas when our daughter was 6 months old, and I was newly pregnant with our son. The closest family we had were my in-laws, a 10-hour drive away in Houston. My parents and extended family are all on the East coast. So, we traveled. A lot.
There were long hauls from Odessa to Houston in my husband’s gigantic work truck. We made it to The Outer Banks at Easter, with a layover in LaGuardia (the thought of which still gives me hives). When I was too pregnant to fly, my mom and I took a road trip from Odessa to North Carolina via West Virginia, and back to Odessa.
However, none of these harebrained schemes compare to the time my mother convinced me to fly to Philadelphia just three weeks after my son was born. It was a journey through the circles of Airport Hell that would have left Dante shaking in his boots. I had no training. No wise Virgil to guide me. Armed only with a diaper bag, an infant car seat, and a double stroller I made my way into the unknown.
The First Circle: Security
The journey through Airport Hell is filled with all manner of wiley demons, disguised as helpful employees. I encountered the first of these demons as I approached the TSA desk.
“Excuse me, but I’m traveling alone today with my two kids. Is there any policy in place that could make this a little easier?”
“Of course!” the friendly agent assured me. “You can push your stroller right through,” and she handed back my ID.
How naive I was.
“Ma’am, I’m going to need you to take the children out of the stroller and collapse it for me.”
“But she said–”
“Ma’am, you must carry the children through the metal detector. The stroller must go through the X-Ray.”
“Okay. Then can someone help me? There’s no way I can carry both kids and collapse this stroller.”
“No, we are not authorized to touch your belongings or your children.”
All I can remember is reaching down with a newborn in one arm, lifting my daughter into the air with the other, and charging through the metal detector with the fury of a thousand suns. Somehow, I managed to collapse the stroller, take off my shoes, and make it through to the other side unscathed. I had passed the first test.
The Second Circle: Boarding
This is great. This is fine. I’m traveling with children. I get to board early.
“Sir, I just want to double check. When do I get to board with the kids?”
“With your boarding group.”
“No, I mean when do people traveling with children board? I know it’s early but—”
“We got rid of that policy. You board with your zoning group. Like everyone else.”
As tears welled in my eyes, and my throat started to burn, I hesitated before looking my ticket.
There’s no way.
I rubbed my eyes. Surely, I was seeing things.
It’s not possible.
I glanced around frantically in the hopes of someone waking me from this nightmare.
WHAT DID I DO TO DESERVE THIS?!?!
I was convinced in that moment, that I was destined to perish right there, in George Bush International Airport. There was no way I was going to make it. But I am a mom. So, I did what moms do best. I swallowed my tears, collapsed my stroller (again, alone with no help), and gritted my teeth. I would not allow these Airport Demons to see me sweat. And believe me. I was sweating. A lot.
The Third Circle: The Flight
Newsflash to people who roll their eyes when they see children boarding a plane: We know. We know it’s annoying, we know they’re loud, and we know you’d rather get a root canal than sit next to them. I can guarantee you, any annoyance you feel as my child and I find our way to our seats is magnified in my mind to the power of 400.
As I walked down the aisle of the full plane, all the way to my seat in the second to last row, I could feel the eyes of every single passenger boring holes in me. Mortified, I hunkered down for the 3.5 hour flight, with as many games and snacks I could fit into my daughter’s lap. We took off, and for a brief, fleeting moment I was at peace.
The peace was over. My toddler erupted into a fit of epic proportions. She kicked, she screamed, she threw things. No snack could console her. No movie could calm her. And because I also had a newborn strapped to me, FSA regulations state that I was not allowed to hold her.
I was seriously contemplating asking the flight attendant for a parachute and skydiving to end the misery. I was just about to hit the call button when:
A small voice rose from the shadows. I had been so flustered that I failed to notice the older woman sitting in the window seat of our row.
Silently, she unbuckled my wild child and took her writhing body into her arms. Then, with the force that only a seasoned grandmother can have, she started rocking my daughter. She bounced her, and shushed her, speaking to her in Spanish until she calmed down. We never spoke a word. I never saw her again. All I know is that she was an angel sent to me that day, and I am forever indebted to her.
I don’t remember much about the rest of that flight. Maybe it was wonderful, maybe I’ve blocked it out of my mind. But I changed that day. I got off the plane in Philadelphia a new woman. A woman who had stood in the presence of demons and persevered. I had been challenged with the worst that the airline and my children had to offer, and I lived to tell the tale.
Jennie: “So that’s how the flight went. I’m happy to be here, but man that was really hard.”
Jennie’s Mom: “I can’t believe you did that. What were you thinking? He’s only 3 weeks old!