Little Friend smiled sweetly at the stewardess who brought over a pair of plastic wings. “Say thank you, “ I prompted. Little Friend signed “thank you,” looking like she was blowing a kiss. And that was the last sweet moment of the six-hour flight from Pittsburgh to Phoenix. What followed was kicking the seat in front of her (glares from a matronly hag who peered menacingly back through the crack in the seat), hitting her dad (missing and landing a solid smack on the portly gentleman stuck next to us), screeching at the top of her lusty lungs (eighteen rows of heads ahead of us swiveling back with unrestrained malice), and buckets of hot tears splashing onto my hands which desperately restrained a child who had morphed into a bona fide gremlin as soon as she passed her normal bedtime. As I escaped briefly to the bathroom, I sashayed down the aisle, pretending for all the world that I had nothing to do with the Cirque de Soleil act going on in aisle 19. It wasn’t until I was washing my hands that I noticed the melted clump of chocolate chips emblazoned on my derriere, compliments of Little Friend’s granola bar. So much for a discreet bathroom trip.
This scenario is how I imagine, in my darkest moments, our upcoming trip to Phoenix this week. In my cheeriest moments (which usually jolt my brains a few minutes into my morning cup of coffee), I imagine tenderly cradling a flushed toddler who fell asleep before wheels up in Pittsburgh and didn’t wake up until wheels skidded asphalt in Phoenix. Realistically, I’ll bet our actual experience lies somewhere between the two extremes.
My overactive imagination is somewhat tamed by the more practical concerns of flying with a toddler. How to check the car seat. How many diapers to stow in my carry on. How to erase markers from the seat tray. I’m quickly realizing that the question of “what to read on the plane” only needs to be answered by people flying (luxuriously, I think enviously) without kids.
I love travel. Before Little Friend arrived on the scene, I pursued this love rather assiduously. In utero, Little Friend even winged her way to San Francisco and Provence. So the difficulties of melt-downs, overcrowded seats, and sticky granola bars can’t keep this girl down. Travel I will, one way or another. So here are my top ten reminders to myself on how to make this travel-with-toddler phase doable enough that when the low fare alert shows up in my inbox, I click on it with anticipation rather than trepidation.
- Do be flexible. I realized early on, with a bit of a newbie-mom shock, that it’s not the end of the world if the kiddo misses a nap or is off of a feeding by an hour. I think I probably created stress for myself by worrying about what could happen if (fill in the blank with anything equivalent to a natural disaster). On a travel day, the schedule’s gotta go.
- Do remember to wipe. No, not the mantra from potty-training guides. Anti-bacterial wipes. Stick a travel pack of Big Wipes in your carry on or stash a stack of Lysol wipes in a Ziploc baggie for easy access. Wipe down everything in toddler’s reach around your seat: the seat belt buckle, the trays (tops and bottoms), the arm rests, the window ledges, and even the twirly air nozzles above your head. I also like to carry kid-safe, alcohol free, all-natural Clean Well hand spray to use liberally on Little Friend’s hands throughout our journeys. Clean Well makes a travel size spritzer small enough to pass the scrutiny of the security officials.
- Do buy diapers at your destination. One of the best tips a well-traveled friend passed on to me. Instead of lugging the large box of diapers needed for a week’s vacation through the airport, take enough diapers for the travel days and then buy the rest once you’ve arrived at your destination. If you’re traveling to meet friends or family, have them buy a box ahead of time so you can even eliminate a trip to the store.
- Do pack strategically. I broke down and made a spreadsheet detailing the items absolutely essential for dragging a baby and toddler on long journeys. Turns out, I eliminated a lot of the “Oh no, what did I forget?” stress I normally felt. If you need a guide of what to pack for a 6-12 month baby, feel free to check out my list. For toddlers, a few key items change, but for the most part, you’ll find a list of what you need here.
- Do indulge. This, moms, is the time to break out that secret horde of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. You may even wish to share one or two with hubby and kids. Since travel with kids is all about surviving from moment to moment, the race through the airport (kids, luggage, and souvenirs in tow) is not the time to worry about the state of your family’s diet. Plan a few “treats” to share throughout the journey. If the chocolate chip granola bars buy you a few moments of satisfied silence, kudos to you. So pack the Reese’s (but only if you share one with me first.)
- Don’t schlep the car seat. Have you heard about this? The JL Childress Wheelie Car Seat Travel Bag: A wheeled convertible car seat carrier to safely check that huge toddler car seat. A back saver, for sure. When I rejected Big Friend’s suggestion to stuff our car seat into an old, mildewed, Army duffel bag, I started researching other parent’s solutions to the bulky convertible car seat dilemma. Unless you’ve bought an airplane seat for your toddler and know your car seat will fit (most won’t), check the sucker. Do take a stroller to the gate. The friendly flight attendants will be more than happy to gate check the stroller and have it waiting and (if you’re lucky) set up for you when you disembark.
- Don’t forget the birth certificate. A number of major airlines (most notably Southwest) will ask to see a copy of your children’s birth certificates when you check in. Come prepared. I secret away a copy of Little Friend’s in my wallet at all times.
- Don’t mind the stares. It’s inevitable. You’re going to feel like you’re disturbing everyone’s flight around you. You and your lovely wriggling toddler may indeed be the best birth control on the flight. But chances are good, it’s not that big of a deal to anyone but you. Any glares you receive are probably imagined. Most people are more preoccupied with how late they’ll get home, whether to order Coke or Sprite from the beverage service, and where they parked their car in the long-term lot.
- Don’t neglect the phone. Today’s smart phone apps give travel-weary parents a break from the extra bulk and weight of DVD players, books, and toys. Save some favorite movies on the phone. Download some favorite baby and toddler apps before leaving for the trip and let technology do the babysitting for you. Great apps for babies include “Animal Fun” (basic pictures and sounds from critters A to Z), “Bab Bab Lite” (an addictive, psychedelic rattle that bumps, rattles, rolls, and clacks), ”Baby Soothe” (offering a variety of soothing sounds guaranteed to extinguish nerve-wrenching crying). Some favorite toddler apps are “Baby Sign ASL” (teaching basic sign language to the pre-talking or talking tot), “Drawing Pad” (with multiple drawing utensils and—be still, Little Friend’s heart—stickers!), and “Wheels on the Bus” (putting winsome cartoons in motion with the song’s lyrics).
- Don’t forget to have fun. Travel takes a lot of prayer, zen, and humor. Otherwise, you will say things to your child or spouse that you never thought you’d hear yourself say in a tone of voice that’s reserved exclusively for wicked witches and evil stepmothers. If I forcefully empty my head of all other concerns (Did we miss a nap? Did that lady glare? Did I forget my contact solution?) and just live in the moment, I find my stress level plummets back down to manageable levels.
So a trip to Pittsburgh to Phoenix will be my chance to put my list to the test. Worse case scenario, I’ll spend a few hours looking like I have the worst kid in the world and happen to be the worst mom in the world. But let’s face it: am I ever going to see any of the people around me again? I’m willing to bet the destination on the other side of the temper tantrum (palm trees, sand, spiked drinks with little umbrellas) may be worth that worst-case scenario. Minus the public display of melted chocolate on my bum, of course. Now that’s just unacceptable.
This post has been gladly shared with Works for Me Wednesdays.