Friday, June 24, 2011

Traveling With Children: The Ultimate Parental Feat

Guest Writer Sara Shaw shares her experiences on flying with small children:

The heat of our crowded confined space was sweltering. Our tiny beads of perspiration had turned into full blown drippings of sweat. The sheer terror and anxiety that we had experienced from the moment this day had begun had reached its climax and together my husband and I were forced to beg and plead. “Here! Take this! What about this? Please. Stop. Shhhh. No! Stop!” The bribes had not worked; chaos ensued. As I stared out the tiny portal of a window, broken, weary and helpless, I began to wonder why traveling with children always, every time, with no exceptions, left me feeling like a prisoner of war.

While some may feel that my recollection of traveling with children under the age of five is a bit dramatic, I would bet my last candy bribe that those people have never, not once, done it. Or perhaps they are the ones that have those perfect kids...the babies who slept through the night at 6 weeks, the toddlers who potty-trained themselves and the preschoolers who were reading at age three. I myself do not have those kinds of kids. I have the “Mommy I have to go potty as soon as the plane is taking off and if you don’t get me there immediately I will pee all over this floor” kind. And the “No I will not sit in my seat because I’m two and I’m curious and I’ve never seen a window like this before so I think I will stand right here and open and close it.” Loudly, "while squealing with delight" kind.

When people see us boarding the plane the looks on their faces say it all, “Oh, this is just great. There goes my nap. Please dear God, do not let them sit near me!” And quite honestly I don’t blame them. I don’t want to sit near us either. Children can be difficult anywhere but there is something about that airplane that can transform ordinary cranky children into holy terrors.

When Ella was 10 months old we experienced our first traveling-with-children disaster. We flew from Denver to Chicago for my brother’s wedding. I felt strong and confident as I walked down that aisle. We had read up on flying with babies, we had asked our pediatrician questions, we had heeded advice from friends and if all those tips failed, we had a bottle of Benadryl in our carry on and we weren’t afraid to use it. Unfortunately Ella was hungry well before our plane began its ascent and she nursed too early. Her screams began almost immediately as I imagine her poor little ears were in so much pain and those very loud screams didn’t stop until we landed two and a half hours later. During those incredibly long hours I sat on the toilet seat holding my baby attempting to soothe her until I had no shushing left in me. There we sat for the length of the flight; rocking, swaying and sobbing, trapped in one of the germiest places on earth. It was a far cry from my vision of our seatmates cooing at the beautiful, sleeping baby.   
Sara Shaw
Since that first trip we have been extremely fortunate and have had opportunities to travel with both our children at various ages. I think after a few years of this I foolishly believed that it gets easier every time; that flying with kids is a skill and once you perfect it, you are done. Armed with this assuming confidence, I decided it would be just lovely to travel back home to Chicago with both my 3 year old and my one year old alone. And by alone I mean ALL BY MYSELF. When planning this adventure I decided that an evening flight was most ideal as my angels would of course sleep the entire time and I myself would quietly flip through the latest copy of People magazine completely relaxed. Well, as you might have guessed, my children had no intention of sleeping despite the fact that it was hours past their bedtime. Instead they decided to play super fun games like “How many times can I try to get out of your lap and into the aisle before you or I start screaming?” or “What happens if I play drums with my feet and the chair in front of me, even though my mom has repeatedly told me not to?” and lastly, the ultimate crowd pleaser, “How long do I have to sob/yell/scream/and kick until I get to do what I want?” These games and other misbehaviors did not stop until both children finally, finally, fell asleep exactly two minutes before landing.

After reading these horror stories you are probably wondering, what in the world is wrong with those children? Or maybe you are judging my parenting skills and my ability (or lack thereof) to discipline said children. Trust me, when it came time to exit that flight, that long aisle was my ultimate walk of shame. I was embarrassed for myself and my kids, and I too questioned my ability to parent these little monsters or at least to do it in public places. While visiting with family and friends that week I vowed to all that I would NEVER, EVER try to fly with them by myself.

Looking back on these experiences, I have to give myself and my kids a break. It may be nearly impossible to believe but both my children are actually on most days extremely polite and well-behaved. Asking a one year old to sit still in your lap for almost 3 hours when he has just boarded a giant plane filled with endless “no-no’s” : windows to open and close, seat belts to tinker with, buttons to press, seats to climb and aisles to run seems almost mean. How can he not be tempted by all these new delights? And all parents will agree, reasoning with young children in these situations is nearly impossible. Tantrums are just going to happen and, unfortunately, when flying they are going to happen in an enclosed space. The nightmare performances will be played for a captive audience for all to see and not to escape.

What then are we to do? I have friends who have avoided this all and have chosen to wait until their youngest child is old enough to “handle” flying before they embark down the aisle of a plane. But what if that isn’t an option? Family is not always a few hours’ drive away and realistically most of us cannot avoid air travel to see our loved ones. I have two girlfriends whose husbands are from Albania. With most of their families still living there they have both decided to travel the 24 hour flight as often as they can regardless of how hard it will be to fly with their children.

So for the brave or ridiculously optimistic parents who do choose to travel what tools can we use to make the experience manageable? Is there a list out there that once completed will make traveling with young children not only possible but enjoyable? I have not found that list but I do have suggestions: bring new activities and new toys, bring loads of treats and snacks, bring your sense of humor and more patience then you’ve ever had in your life. And when you land in your arrival city whether you’ve had a “crying in the bathroom” flight or a “two kids sleeping peacefully” flight, give yourself a proverbial pat on the back. Reward yourself because you did it. You made it through what is, in my opinion, one of the most challenging parental feats.

Also, let us hold on to the tiny ray of hope that many parents have promised. It does get easier as our little angels get older. The tantrums disappear and the DVD players entertain. Children understand when you say “We are almost there!” Seat belts are only unbuckled when it’s time to land. And someday we may actually find ourselves in a completely manageable situation sipping our drinks and flipping through magazines.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's what im looking for!, Thank you!