When you decide to go and start a family somewhere distant from your own family, you kind of sign on for certain things, one of which is air travel. Harper has been on six plane trips and has always done exceptionally well. She’s the kid everyone in the airport grins at, that the flight attendants fawn over. Whenever she is behaving nicely somewhere, inevitably someone will coo, “Oh, you must be such a good mommy!” which I always swiftly rebut because it seems like such an unfair measure, and the kind of twisted logic you could quickly be at the other end of. I mean, a toddler listens to no reason. It seems to me that you get a mellow one or a lunatic and that most of them are some combination, and there seems to be very little you can do until they are old enough to understand bribery. I mean, discipline and reward. But in the past, yes, she’s excited and engaged by her fellow passengers, nurses at takeoff, snoozes through the air, and everyone’s happy.
Until our last trip, when this quiet and reasonable baby jumped ship and left me to travel with demon-tot.
A dad-friend suggested that maybe it was good to break the seal on travel bug-outs, and in the tranquility of recollection I am able to agree. There’s no more suspense. Now I know the worst-case-scenario, and I know that you survive it and it’s over and then you’re home and it seems mildly funny after about a week of recovery.
To be fair, it really was not Harper’s fault. We were at the end of a longer visit with my parents, and had already been delayed an entire day due to catastrophic wind storms. Yes, very clever, Chicago, windy city, we get it. Harper had had a wonderful time but was just tired out from all the excitement. And then we were delayed. FOR FIVE HOURS.
If you are ever delayed somewhere without a toddler, I am going to go ahead and say you have nothing whatever to complain about. I don’t care how many connecting flights you’re missing. I saw those other people, and they whiled away the hours drinking coffee and reading the paper and eating freaking Cinnabons. Excuse me, but in my world that’s called “fantasy vacation.” So anyway by the time we got on the plane Harper had missed her nap and had been strapped into a stroller and wheeled around O’Hare airport FOR FIVE HOURS. And OBVIOUSLY she spilled a huge amount of milk all over her pants mere moments before boarding, while a Greek chorus of nearby old ladies crooned, “Uh-oh! You need to change her pants! Don’t you have extra pants?” (Now why would I have extra pants in my enormous diaper bag full of god knows what? I thanked them very cordially for their input nonetheless.) Oh, AND this was our first trip without the sweet sweet narcotic of nursing, although I’ll admit I considered trying to spontaneously lactate then and there, five months after weaning. It will come as no surprise that she spent her time in the air screaming at the top of her lungs and kicking everything in sight. And my fellow delayed passengers, who had just enjoyed a spa-like afternoon of repose? They were not that nice to me.
In this case, I don’t think anything would have helped with the possible exception of tranquilizers. But I did have a bag of tricks that sometimes bought me a few moments of nonscreaming.
What worked really well was this: I bought a little backpack that looks like a puppy (two great tastes!) and kept it top secret until the trip.
Harper loved walking around wearing it, like some kind of big grown-up preschooler. I’d definitely get a “pack-pack” just for any traveling tot, particularly if she is of the independent bent.
This backpack contained within it the following winners: lots and lots of lots of stickers, a mini etch-a-sketch, a couple of new books with super-engrossing flaps (she loves the Karen Katz ones ), many compelling (but not too sugary, heaven forbid!) comestibles including those brilliant squeezy juice/fruit/veggie things, snack bars, and the like.
Sadly, the backpack also contained some losers. The block/bead things I’d picked up last minute were roundly dismissed. Too bad since they were sort of cumbersome. And crayons, usually a beloved favorite, didn’t really work without anywhere to spread out. Actual non-snack-form food was smacked away with disgust.
All in all, it was a really fun, relaxing, and very spiritually fulfilling afternoon/evening/eternity. I think the real secret to traveling with a toddler is to keep in one’s mind the same mantra they tell you to remember when you have a screaming newborn: “This too shall pass.” Well, I added an extra mantra, which I directed toward the pucker-faced twenty-year-old sitting next to us and scowling the whole flight: “Someday this will be you, you *insert string of obscenities here*”
Pictured: Greeting Nani, in the one photo that was taken in all the hours of toddler travel. As I were distracted by something.