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The Moon, The Sun, Little Man, and the Friendly Skies…

Perhaps my first born, my Moon, was such a pro at flying when she was little because she got a few trips under her belt before even making her grand entrance into the world. My husband was an internal medicine resident looking around for a fellowship while I was pregnant… and then really pregnant… with her. So, her plane travel began quite early and continued shortly after birth up until we settled on a program, sealed the deal, and then flew back to look for a place to live when she was around one year old. She was such an easy baby on airplanes (easy enough to deceive me into thinking that I somehow knew what I was doing…a delusion that was remedied shortly after the birth of my second child, my Sun…). My firstborn would fall asleep when the plane took off…and wake up after it landed. Things went so well on trips that we felt secure enough to attempt an overseas flight with her while she was in her terrible twos! I admit that when the day finally arrived, I was a bit nervous and had jam packed a bag full of every possible distraction that I thought could calm her if necessary. I was then terrified to discover that my husband’s seat for the duration of the flight would be an unreachable 5 rows up from ours. The man sitting in the seat next to ours had flat out refused to switch seats even though he was flying alone…so there was a small part of me that was hoping my daughter would pitch a fit just to annoy him, but she was an angel the entire time and my bag of distractions ended up being lent to the desperate woman on the other side of me who was flying alone with her colicky, teething daughter and having an entirely different experience. I kept waiting for the spell to break, but my Moon was either sleeping, eating, or people watching the whole time. I even got to sleep! It was almost too easy…

Ah, yes. I had mastered traveling, first with a baby, AND THEN with a toddler! The gods were definitely smiling down upon me. Little did I know that their smiles would quickly transform into mischievous belly laughs after my second child, my Sun, was born. Contrary to what we had grown accustomed to with her older sister, her modus operandi was to wake-up as the plane took off and to fall asleep right after landing. As clearly as I remember each enchanting moment flying the friendly skies with angelic child number one…my experiences the second time around are a bit of a panicked blur even now. There was one very peaceful flight with her in the beginning, which just so happens to have corresponded to my Moon’s first transatlantic trip…but she was confined to the inside of my belly then, and still a good six months from bursting into the world in her own dramatic fashion (a story for another time…preferably when I am holding a nice full glass of wine), so it doesn’t really count. After that, all bets were off and traveling by plane became a whole new ballgame: one involving hours of lap bouncing, kilometers of aisle walking, and herculean efforts to keep her occupied. She did not cry much, per say…but she was a constant motion kind of kid (one who rarely, if ever, napped). If you didn’t have an acceptable activity to keep her busy…she would come up with her own exciting (if not always…or rarely ever…acceptable) idea. Add in the fact that her sister was a mere few years older and not only a bit jealous of the younger arrival and vying for some attention of her own, but also fascinated by her antics and more than willing to cheer her on… I remember the first time I fitted my Sun with the much criticized harness and leash. It was shortly after the time she suddenly decided to take-off running, darted through security, and began to head down a ramp to a plane going who knows where (security frowns on that, in case you were wondering), and I recall shooting a meek and embarrassed smile at the woman who glared at me when her older sister reached for the leash and asked if she could “take her for a walk”. Then there was the time when she was three years old and I needed to fly alone with the girls for the first time. Her pediatrician had suggested Benadryl…but had failed to mention that a small percentage of children, aka MY CHILD, have the opposite reaction to the medication and, instead of peacefully dozing, become whirling beings of pure energy comparable to Bugs Bunny’s friend, the Tasmanian devil, after even the smallest of doses… We ended up waiting until she was safely out of her toddler years before attempting an overseas flight this time around.

By the time Little Man was born, a new dynamic was at play. The girls, 7 and 4 years old, (who would later be dubbed “The Sisters” by their younger sibling) had begun to entertain themselves while traveling and when (surprise) baby number three hit the scene, they were eager (most of the time) to help keep him happy. It was amazing, and once again we began to feel pretty confident about tackling longer trips. This is not to insinuate that the sailing was always smooth…because it wasn’t. I remember a stand-off with a flight attendant who was convinced that the carseat I had him in was not safe. It was an FAA approved carseat that turned into a stroller and since she had never seen one before, she was not convinced and wanted me to hold him during take-off, instead of having him secured into his seat. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring along the pamphlet for the seat which stated that it was FAA approved (never again)…but I did NOT want to be holding him during take-off. She told me that she would not let the plane depart until I complied because she did not want my baby “to die”. I assured her that I had that very same goal and she stormed off to get the pilot. “Wow…that was a bit harsh,” noted a young man in our row. Fortunately, the pilot agreed that the seat was safe (maybe he had seen one before or maybe he just didn’t want to deal with it?) and we were cleared to fly. Then there was the time when I hurriedly changed him in the tiny airplane bathroom and failed to properly enclose one of the most important parts in the diaper… Ah yes, and there was the stretch of time when Little Man’s legs were just short enough to have to stick straight out when seated on the plane…and just long enough to reach the back of the seat in front of him. Not only did he thoroughly enjoy kicking the seat in front of him, but he also loved a brilliant new game which involved unlatching the tray with his foot. My husband and I promptly regrouped and came up with a new seating strategy involving a two-three formation: one of us (almost always me) seated beside him and desperately attempting to keep his feet down, and the other three seated in front of us. That way the person who had to endure any shenanigans was family.

Now the kids are older (16, 13, and 9) and I feel like I can safely say that we have survived the most difficult years of flying as a family. Looking back, I would have to say that the things that most helped us to get through it all (apart from a healthy sense of humor) were: 1. always buying a separate seat on the plane for the baby/toddler; 2. a carry-on full of distractions (because they frown on you bringing a flask); and 3. learning not to give two hoots about any glares that followed when I pulled out the harness and leash or one of the kids made a noise…because I was trying my damnedest.

And so, with the flying part under control (aside from the occasional sibling spats over who is leaning on whom and who gets the window seat), we just need to work on Little Man…and airport security. This because there are some grown men with actual badges who feel the need to argue with an eight-year-old about his nickname versus his name (and by the way, he has one of those handy nicknames that is actually A PART OF his name…something I was gently trying to point out when I was asked to stay silent)…and because I would rather not get arrested and charged with kidnapping.

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