One of the best decisions I ever made after giving birth to my first child was to begin flying with her almost immediately. My husband and I made a trip to Florida when she was just a few months old. I was so unbelievably stressed out by the whole episode — and shocked at how much more planning went into it than flying alone. We continued to fly with our daughter throughout that year. My husband is a political reporter and we covered the presidential campaigns as they carried on across the country. My first flight alone with our first child wasn’t until she was a year old, though. It was a short hop to Minneapolis from D.C. but it was a challenge. Still, we did well.
One particularly memorable flight was when we flew from Hawaii to Chicago (10-hour flight) with a 15-month-old who would not stop screaming. I freak out about causing other travelers any distress and we happened to be sitting next to the most hostile woman I’ve ever encountered. So I was not at my most relaxed and I’m sure our daughter — already at the worst possible age for flying — picked up on that. My 6-foot, 5-inches tall husband and I were crammed into middle seats with a lap child. Just awful. The Benadryl didn’t kick in for four hours.
I always figured that would be my worst flight ever. I was wrong.
I had a week and a half’s worth of business in Houston last summer and the easiest way to handle child care was to drop my kids off in Denver. I thought I was prepared. I was such a sight to see — pushing the 2-year-old in an umbrella stroller weighed down with the diaper bag, my purse, my computer bag and a bag of goodies and toys while the 1-year-old was in the Ergo. I dragged tons of luggage, 2 car seats, you get the idea. So we took an early morning flight out of Baltimore. The big girl was sitting in her car seat and the little girl was in my lap. Within minutes, my 2-year-old — still in diapers — somehow soiled her car seat beyond recognition.
She was just at that stage where a bladder evacuation could do that, I guess. It was a jam-packed flight which meant that all of a sudden I had two lap children instead of one. I couldn’t even put that nasty car seat anywhere. After having made dozens of flights without ever needing a change of clothes, and this being a direct flight, I hadn’t packed a change of clothes for the big girl. NEVER MAKE THIS MISTAKE, FRIENDS. The 1-year-old couldn’t walk yet and the 2-year-old was crying and deeply uncomfortable. I somehow managed to take them both to the bathroom, remove the surprisingly roomy pink pants from the baby (Yay Tea Collection!) and put them on the big girl, change the baby while I was at it and get back to the seat.
The girls had “only” gotten about 9 hours of sleep the previous night so when we got back to our one seat, they proceeded to melt down. They just lost their everliving minds, kicking the seats in front of them. I tried every trick in the book and nothing was working. I even slid them another pill of dramamine. (Why yes, I do drug my children on flights!) And because I hadn’t gotten any sleep, I was not at my best either. In fact, I ended up just completely sobbing. It was the absolute worst travel experience of my life. And humiliating. I pride myself on being a parent who doesn’t let my children disrupt the air travel of others. I frequently receive compliments about my girls’ behavior. This, though, was utterly humiliating. I was the bad lady on the plane who every one was fantasizing about killing.
Thankfully, the people in front of me were great — passing back pens and magazines and anything to sort of distract the big girl. But it wasn’t working. The man next to me spoke no English but got up and went for a walk.
At that point, an angel appeared. She was sitting across from us and up a few rows and she asked me, “May I take your baby?” I practically threw the baby at her. She went and sat down in her seat and the baby began to sleep. My 2-year-old also began to sleep, having enough room to sit comfortably in my lap. The angel ended up switching seats with my original seatmate and we flew the rest of the way to Denver in complete peace.
And it remains to this day the worst flight of my life. Even my most recent trip alone with the girls — where my seat-mate’s quick moves kept him from getting vomited on by my lap child — wasn’t as embarrassing. And I hope it stays that way.