Our first (and most memorable) flight with the kids

Oh that first flight. It was a doozy, to say the least. Jenna and Mira were 2 ½ and 11 months old at the time and we were flying to Miami, Florida to board our first Disney Cruise the next day. If you read my post titled “Why We Travel With Our Kids” then you know that I was already nervous about flying with them and put it off for as long as I could. 

I spent months and weeks counting down and prepping for it, both physically and mentally. In short, I felt like I was counting down to some dreaded medical procedure or college final exam: necessary but awful. 

I even chose the late evening flight to coincide with their bedtime schedule because I figured they would sleep just like they did at home. Keep reading to find out if they actually did sleep. The flight from Detroit to Miami is only a little over 3 hours, which was purposely chosen on my part: I could “test our wings” (no pun intended), and if it was a failure, well I only had to endure it for 3 hours. Boy was I wrong; just keep reading. 

My biggest fear, besides incessant crying babies on a flight, was not having all the things they needed with me and the logistics of mommying to babies in a small space with strangers watching me: how do I change a diaper in a tiny airplane bathroom? How do I bring milk onboard and past security? How long would it take to collapse the stroller at the security checkpoint while still wrestling two toddlers, their shoes, our electronics, diaper bags, and my short-tempered husband? What happens to their ears during take-off and landing? And what about the fact that she was just recently potty trained—how many times would I be taking her to the bathroom? 

On the organizational side of things I did everything right:Jenna was in pull-ups—just in case. I had tons of toys, coloring books, a stuffed animal for each one, sippy cups, blankets, their tablets even though our flight had individual tv screens onboard, and a small pillow for each because I really did believe they would be sleeping. Wanting to be even more prepared for possible ear pain during take-off and landing, I also went back on my “no sugar in the evenings” rule and ran to Target that morning to buy fruit snacks—just in case. 

This is what I did wrong: I assumed that being well prepared for traveling with young kids (or older ones for that matter) is what guarantees successful trips. In short, I brought way too many things for a 3 hour flight, only adding to my stress by carrying it all. So much stuff, that I couldn’t even bring my diaper bag, I had to use a much bigger duffle bag. I easily had 3 coloring books per child, 4 snacks for each one, 2 extra outfits each, plus toys. 3 coloring books—per child—why I assumed my kids were Picasso and would actually color 120 pages is completely beyond me. My husband jokingly asked if I thought we were flying to Europe instead of within our own country. 

The other mistake I made was expecting in this new situation my children would obliviously act the way they do at home at 8 PM, and just sleep for me (insert obvious-hand-over-face-girl emoji here). 

My kids were way too wired to sleep, and it didn’t help that they thought they were meeting Mickey Mouse at the end of this flight (Jenna was so upset when she realized we were only going to sleep at a hotel that night and, no, Mickey would not be there). Their ears did hurt, never even so much as closed one eyelash (let alone sleep), were nervous about what was going on around them, Mira did cry, and Jenna cried too—but for a different reason; keep on reading. 

My other mistake, and the one that could have saved me the most hassle, was not buying Mira her own seat. Everyone that I’d asked who had already flown with babies told me I didn’t need to buy her one for such a short flight, we could just hold her. What I didn’t count on was my overly-curious-and-nervous toddler wanting to be held too. And screaming and crying about it. And neither one of them was accepting my husband holding them; only Mama (probably because Mama had the mother-of-all-Barney-Bags of stuff they wanted—like fruit snacks). Anytime he tried to hold them they screamed bloody murder, and people stared. So to avoid the stares I held both of them. And Jenna’s plane seat sat empty. It did make a good place for the Barney Bag to sit though. 

Finally we made it to Miami with my poor arms feeling like they were about to fall off, and mine and my husbands emotional sanity at the brink. We had an amazing cruise, and then it was time to go home. I spent the majority of our vacation dreading and counting down to the flight home, just like leading up to the flight there. But I pulled up my mom jeans like a big girl, repacked my Barney Bag, and strapped Jenna in her plane seat hoping for a reprieve—and napping kids—as this afternoon flight was scheduled during their nap time. It looked like all was going well as we taxi’d away from the gate and my kids were already napping, one belted in her chair, and one lovingly in my arms. But, no, Rana was not destined by the sky Gods to fly well with her kids the first time around. 

Just as we were starting to taxi away, an attendant made an announcement (and woke up my napping kids) telling us that there was a technical problem with the plane, and in order to fix it they would need to go back to the gate. And fix it they did. For 3 HOURS. As we sat belted in our seats. And in order to test that it was working they had to keep taxiing in and out of the gate. For 3 HOURS. Now I had taken many flights before this one, and many afterwards, and I can attest that this has never happened before. Airlines don’t usually hold their passengers hostage for that long. But again, the sky Gods wanted to test my limits. 

When we finally did take off and start making our way home everyone onboard was already antsy and cranky from having sat for so long, including my kids. Two hours into the flight, and with a little over an hour of flight time left, my. kids. were. done. They were done with flying, sitting, being asked to stay quiet, and were very cranky from having been woken up from their too-short 7 minute nap. And they wanted nothing from the Barney Bag. They cried the whole rest of the way, and again, Jenna jealous that her sister was being held, wanted to be held as well. But even holding them wasn’t keeping them from shrieking anymore. They were tired from an already-long travel day and just wanted to be napping in their own beds.  

The people around us were cranky too, and started making very rude comments about our kids. To any readers here who don’t have kids, never, ever, stress out already-stressed parents and make comments about their kids on a flight. Never. 

Uncaring whether or not we could hear them, the people sitting in the row behind us started conversating about how they needed to go on a drinking spree after this flight to deal with the stress of listening to my babies cry, to a laughing and agreeing entire row. I’m holding two babies, rocking between aisles trying to calm them, singing, bouncing them, switching them back and forth between me and my husband—and they’re stressed. Yes, please tell us all how you’re stressed, and what we can do to soothe you. Better yet, let me check if I have an extra pacifier in my Barney Bag. 

One of their members mumbled laughingly “there’s something called ‘Benadryl”, suggesting that we should have drugged our babies to sleep so that their row could have a more comfortable flight. Part of me wanted to say something to him, but I was also trying to avoid drawing attention to his comment by my short-tempered husband. Watching the people in that row shaking their heads and laughing as my babies shrieked and cried, fed-up from two bad flights in a row, and my sore arms juggling said babies, I looked blankly ahead as my stress finally gave way to my own tears starting to fall silently down my cheeks.

We left that flight vowing not to fly for at least another year. But that didn’t happen. Because somehow I mustered up the courage to do it again 3 months later. (Read my post “Why We Travel With Our Kids” to find out why). But I did learn some things from this memorable Miami flight which helped greatly on our next ones.

  1. Never hold a baby. Every kid needs their own seat. Whether in a car seat, or in a CARES harness (which is what I did, more on this in another post). The cost of savings on not purchasing a chair for baby is not greater than my sanity and empty untired arms. Enough said. 
  2. You don’t need to bring 10 of all the objects kids might need, so don’t try. In theory, I packed way too many things in my diaper bag. In another post I’ll share how I went from bringing everything but the kitchen sink in my Barney Bag to bringing the items I actually need and use into what became my functional Mary Poppins Bag. 
  3. Even if you panic about how to keep kids entertained and quiet on flights, keep in mind that young kids are entertained by the slightest thing. My kids love to look at the pictures in the safety card (which I do wipe down beforehand. Note to you: wipe down the cards—you’re not the only one touching them.) On one flight Mira sat quietly for 30 minutes playing with the plastic cup the flight attendant handed me Diet Coke in. If you run out of options, you would be surprised what kids will find new and entertaining. 
  4. The biggest lesson I took away and one I say to you now and reutter to myself time and again is this one: Never, ever let any adult stress you out on a flight because of their impatience over your crying baby. Because here’s the deal: babies cry; that’s how they’re wired. Even toddlers and preschoolers understand this fact. So if a grown adult can’t be grown-up enough to look past the crying baby (or keep their comments to themselves), that’s their problem, not yours or mine. More than likely the parents of that baby want them to quiet down more than anyone else, and are probably trying their hardest to do so.

A part of me wishes that I had turned around and told the people sitting in the row behind us that it looked like they needed the Benadryl and a nap to stop being so cranky, but I’m not as rude as they are. I can only hope that they, and anyone else with a similar attitude, reads this and realizes that the comments, stares, eye-rolls, and sighs don’t help. Because, believe me, nobody wishes more than I do that my baby understands my English words when I beg her to stop crying. But she can’t understand me. Because she’s a baby. (Yes, that obvious point had to be made for any rude bystanders wondering why the mother can’t keep the baby quiet. In case this is news to anyone, let it be known: babies can’t understand English. Just ask any toddler and preschooler, they know that too.) 

 And the other reality is this, and this is the one we need to be most mindful of: parenting on land is hard, let alone in a cramped airplane—give parents support and cut them some slack. 

So the next time you see a parent struggling to entertain a cranky and moody child, instead of rolling your eyes and loudly commenting to the person next to you about this terrible ordeal, maybe offer that child your own safety card —even though they have one in the seat pocket in front of them, the fact that it’s from someone new might just entertain them for an extra 30 minutes, which is 30 sound minutes of peace, and 30 minutes for a tired mother or father to regain their strength. Just remember to wipe the card down first though. 

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