Kids never fly free.
2 hours 20 minutes take off to landing. Cake, right? These tiny, angry elves are in your care 24/7 so taking a nice easy flight on your own will be nothing. There are movies, right?
You’ve boarded, checked the stroller, whipped up a bottle and pulled out an arsenal of activities for your toddler before the plane has even finished boarding. You’re a champion! An organized, well-prepared mother of 2 doing it all! Why do people say this is so hard? But, wait. What’s this? A blow-out? Don’t panic. You’ve got the supplies and there are no rules for naked babies on flights as far as you know.
As the man across from you takes his seat your now diaper-clad baby wants down and you are squirming in your seat trying to keep her still. And now toddler-pants to the right of you is having a meltdown because the black crayon broke. Deep breaths. Ignore man to the left who has started muttering under his breath. Keep calm. Rifling through your bag you come up victorious, fruit snacks! Your toddler seems satisfied for the moment. The pilot comes over the system to announce that the 2 hours and 20 minutes begins now and you suddenly realize in horror that your toddler has used up half of the packed activities. Mayhem ensues and the clock has only just begun.
You can hear the rumble of the snack cart barreling down the aisle. Flight Tracker says there is now 1 hour 38 minutes to your destination. Time for strategy. Should you absorb the blow from the cart against your shoulder so your baby can keep sleeping or should you risk moving out of the way, waking her to avoid a broken elbow. You can see the passenger across the aisle side-eying you with a don’t-you-even-think-about-it kind of look. He was the one you were annoying when your child was screaming over the sound of his movie. Like a lineman, you brace for impact and take one for the entire flight deck as the cart plows into your shoulder, but success! Baby is still asleep and you live another 5 minutes. You give the flight attendant a teary, but smiley thumbs up as she mouths, “sorry” to you.
54 minutes to destination. The cart is rolling back your way and you’re thinking you could really go for a Coke. On second thought, is there Xanax on that cart? Your baby is now awake and slapping your tray table. Anything you plan to set on it is going to end up splattered across the plane like a carbonated crime scene. So you look at the stewardess with puppy eyes wondering if she’ll pop a can open and pour it in your mouth for you. Sadly, she’s not reading your mind and she asks you what you’ll have. You opt for water. The least sticky. It’s a battle gulping it down without your baby prying it from your hands. The toddler has found your cookies and is whining for you to open them. You do so with a hint of desperation thinking about how that was going to be your lunch. But, anything to keep him happy. Last swallow of water down. You win and baby now has a new toy, a cup. This should entertain them more than anything else you packed for the flight.
Suddenly, your toddler has decided to practice his donkey kicks on the seat in front of you. While the person in front of you keeps glaring through the crack, the person sharing the row with you giggles nervously only coming up with, “he’s so cute.” Yeah. Nope. Eventually, your thigh is across your toddlers lap using all of that handy baby weight to secure your child’s legs to the seat while your arms are doing an epic barre workout bouncing baby up and down to keep her from disturbing the young professional in front of you with the airpods in. 26 minutes to go.
You come screeching onto the runway looking something like a crazed Disney villain. You suddenly want to be one of those people who claps and cheers, high fiving passengers because you made it without throwing yourself out the emergency exit. As fellow passengers stretch their legs and arms, coming back to the real world after what looked like a 24k nap, you are airing out the underarm of your t-shirt hoping it doesn’t smell as bad as it looks. Scattered across your row are the remains of smashed Goldfish, dented Delta cups, and small plastic dinosaurs-stickier than a peanut butter sandwich. No one seems to notice as you gather your items in zombie-like exhaustion. A woman taps your shoulder as she passes you getting off of the plane. “You’re doin’ good mama,” is all she says and smiles. And really that’s all you needed to hear to make those last steps off the plane. The simple knowledge that someone else, even if it’s just one solitary human, on the plane knows what you are going through and feels for you is as good as getting a middle seat open on your row (okay, not quite- but pretty darn close!).
Flying with babies can be one of the loneliest times in motherhood. It has been for me. Being surrounded, no suffocated, by a plane-full of people who seem annoyed with your kids makes it all feel so personal like you did something wrong by boarding the flight. If this is you, don’t let that stop you from traveling and doing everything you dream of doing with your kids. Everyone was once a baby and a toddler and gave their parents hell too. And finally, be that woman on the plane someday that pays it forward to those god-forsaken, lonely, tired, baggy-eyed mothers. It might just make the whole flight worth it to them!
Written By: Emily Owen
Emily became an instant mother to 2 babies in 2018. One arrived by airplane and paperwork, the other by sheer surprise-the good old fashioned way even though years of infertility treatments had failed before. Both came with tears, joy, and laughter, and more diaper changes than she knew was possible.