I would gladly spend an entire day juggling my kids on the sofa watching new releases while somebody brought me snacks and Bloody Marys at regular intervals. So why is it that the idea of flying long haul with my children makes me want to cut off my legs at the knees?
I believe that, ultimately, it's an unfounded fear. That beyond the inconvenience, the schlepping, the stale air and the fact that we may emerge on the other end wearing pasta sauce, ginger ale and possibly pee, what we're really worried about is the unknown. Will our children decide to be cranky that day? Will they fail to sleep? Will we lose something? Will they have an accident? On us? How many days will it take us to adjust on the other end? And after we return home? Is it worth it to spend nearly a month in flux for every 10-day vacation?
The answer is yes. Why lose your sanity over what ifs - particularly what ifs that are no different from those you ask every day? I say this as we prepare for a trip that'll take place on a day when millions of families will be lurching off planes looking like the cast of Night of the Living Dead: the Fourth of July. We may look even worse, but that possibility won't change the fact that we're going.
As our children grow our travel style changes. In the beginning it was all about my baby, my boobs and a bag full of diapers - and trying to grab some shut-eye whenever I wasn't handling one of the above. With two toddlers (and some experience), things are easier. With some strategic planning I can get away with bringing a kid's backpack filled with crayons, paper and mini-dolls (most of which is on its last legs and can be left on the floor after landing); a few pull-ups and a small pack of wipes; an extra-long T-shirt for each of us (who needs pants?); some children's Tylenol; and my smartphone. I buy snacks at the airport but rarely need them: airline hosts are quick with the snacks when they see a restless kid. And on vacation it's always about old clothes destined for the recycling heap. I've never understood the concept of "cruisewear." Who cares what they look like on vacation? Wouldn't you rather throw away your clothes as you wear them and make room in your suitcase for new ones?
Friends always ask if/how/how much I medicate my daughters when we fly. My response is I don't. Drowsy meds don't work. They just get your hopes up, so you spend the first several hours of your flight cursing under your breath at your child, yourself, your husband and the pharmaceutical company that you've got the Tasmanian Devil on your hands. Flying is exciting and your kid will want to soak up some of that excitement - probably until long after his dinner tray is taken away. Go with it. He'll crash eventually. And you'll be five bucks richer.
The worst flight I ever endured came the day after a wedding that was held outdoors in 40-degree heat without shelter. I was pregnant with my second and reeling from some finger food that had clearly gone bad in the sun. I'd rocked the breakfast table, the car to the airport, several airport bathrooms and an airsickness bag or three. I was in no condition to jiggle my daughter on my knee for the afternoon and my daughter was in no condition to watch me toss my crudité for seven hours. So my husband booked us separate seats and took over the parenting at the other end of the plane - a brilliant tradition (the seats, not the food poisoning) we've continued ever since. Sitting apart is fun. The kids don't set each other off, you lose half your workload and you can compete with your spouse to see who can get their kid to sleep the fastest. Oh, and you're more likely to score a bulkhead seat apart than together.
My second worst flight taught me something else: kids couldn't care less about turbulence. Last year we cut short a trip after most of us came down with an evil virus that didn't seem to be letting up. We flew home over a typhoon. I learned about this while in the tiny loo changing the baby. I want to say the s--- literally hit the fan, but there was no fan, only roller-coaster dips and swerves that left me looking like Sigourney Weaver in the last scene of Alien. Eventually we were sent flying out the door and into the narrow aisle, where a pair of flight attendants grabbed us and strapped us into a galley seat. I was in hysterics. My daughter thought she'd died and gone to Disneyland.
That was one flight out of literally dozens with our children, and the worst that came of it was the realization that I was the weak link in our family of frequent flyers. After a psychic reevaluation I reinvented myself as the Doris Day of the skies: Que sera sera!
Sure, I have those moments that have probably got me filed under F for "stay away from that freaking beeatch in 23D" in the flight attendants' log - particularly in that delicate time between turning off the in-flight entertainment and hitting the runway, seemingly hours later. In those times I often remind myself of this little gem from TV writer Johanna Stein.
Happy Independence Day. Here's to never, ever pulling a Johanna.
(Photo: Digital Vision)