You’ve already read about our road-trip adventure with Elisabeth Lucy. But last month brought on a new travel challenge: Baby’s First Airplane Ride.
Everyone says this age is the best age to travel with kids. Yet the prospect of bringing Baby on an airplane – by myself, mind you – lead to anxiety-induced insomnia. No big deal, it’s not like I’m sleeping much anyway.
Our cab arrived at the lovely hour of 4:15 AM, and though I had all our items waiting by the front door (including the baby already harnessed in her car seat – go me!), it took approximately forever to load everything in the cab. I thought we had a lot of crap on our road trip, but the luggage required for the baby and me (a chronic over-packer) for over a week away was, well, excessive.
Being confined in a small space up in the air constituted a whole separate set of packing needs. The terrifying thought of E. pooping all over herself and me while trapped in the middle seat between two mean baby-haters clouded my packing judgment. I stuffed the diaper bag to capacity with extra diapers, extra wipes, extra outfits, extra blankets, extra burp clothes, and just in case, more extra diapers. In addition to this 1000-lb diaper bag, my carry-ons alone included: a stroller, car seat, purse, sweater, coat, Moby wrap and baby. Yes, I’m counting Elisabeth as a carry-on since I had to haul that chunky monkey around with everything else. Now, what did I forget? Ah, extra clothes for ME! That error did not affect me till our return trip, but it is not a mistake I will make again. More on that later.
Anyway. After exiting the cab and surveying the monstrous amount of luggage I had to get all of 20 feet inside to the ticket counter, I panicked. It is not physically possible for one human with only two hands to handle all this luggage by herself! Not possible, I say! Okay, it is in fact possible, but it is difficult. Here is how it breaks down: Baby in car seat. Car seat in stroller. Diaper bag in stroller storage area. Duffel bag on top of suitcase. Purse on shoulder. Suitcase/duffel in left hand (thank goodness for swivel suitcases!). Stroller/car seat in right hand. Go.
Somehow, I managed to plough into only two or three unsuspecting travelers while maneuvering to the ticket counter. Not too bad, considering. But after checking in, I faced an obstacle even more daunting than before: security checkpoint. I knew this moment was coming. I dreaded this moment. I was going to be that girl who holds up the entire line; it was inevitable. I looked down at my feet and cursed myself for wearing my tall boots. Argh! These boots take FOREVER to take off! My mind raced as I frantically tried to determine the most efficient way to screen my stuff. Diaper bag first? Or stroller? Stroller, definitely stroller. But I need to take the diaper bag out of the storage basket first. And oh yeah, take the car seat off. And take the baby out of the car seat! THE BABY! What am I supposed to do with the baby?! Oh the drama! I felt the eyes of impatient travelers burning into my back as I struggled to fold the stroller with one hand, baby in the other, bags piled across the entire screening table. I glanced timidly behind with a Please Feel Sorry For Me look, when I realized with glee that there was virtually no line behind me! It was a miracle!
A TSA agent kindly assisted me with the stroller-folding struggle (this is the same finicky stroller featured in the Target debacle), but not before commenting, “That baby sure likes to eat!” Thank you, Captain Obvious. Given that I’m the one that feeds her, I was aware of that fact. I brushed his remark aside for the sake of my stroller, and managed to eventually get through security. Another agent began to help gather my things and commented on my delightful sleeping baby. I welled with pride at my perfect child before he asked, “Where are you going?”
“California,” I responded happily.
“Ha. Good luck with that,” he scoffed. My brief moment of happiness vanished as I realized I still had about eight hours of travel time ahead of me, the trauma of the morning only constituting a tiny portion of my day. Shoot.
I had futilely tried to schedule E.’s feedings around when we would get take-off and land, having learned that nursing during those times would help alleviate any ear pain she might suffer from the pressure. Of course E. had other ideas, and woke up fussy and hungry as soon as we got to our gate. No! My schedule! Since I couldn’t very well starve my child, I fed her, my anxiety mounting at the thought of the moment when Elisabeth, unwilling to eat, would burst into screams as soon as the plane took off.
I couldn’t worry too much about that, though, as I had to worry about actually getting onto the plane. Sure, I had gotten through security successfully, but getting onto the plane itself was a different problem entirely, with narrow aisles and passenger elbows to consider. Not to mention I was flying Southwest, with it’s open seating policy. I knew I would waste precious minutes folding the damn stroller at the door, losing my coveted A boarding spot as passengers callously bypassed me into the plane. I was right. Luckily the flight wasn’t full, so I got to bring the car seat on, which was a mixed blessing. I got to stick E. in the seat for the duration of the flight (good), but I had to carry her in it down the plane aisle along with the 1000-1b diaper bag and all the other carry-ons previously mentioned (bad). Newsflash: Babies in car seats are heavy. Especially babies that like to eat a lot.
After doing shoulder presses down the aisle with the car seat, I found a seat and collapsed, with sore arms and defeated spirit – still 7 1/2 hours to go. But E. crashed hard! My fears of traveling with an infant were completely unfounded; she was a complete angel and slept the entire flight.
We did have a plane change in Chicago, where I had to repeat the traumatic boarding process. This time, the flight was full, so I had to check the car seat. While it was lovely losing the extra weight, I had to sit with E. on my lap the whole flight. I chose to sit behind a family with 3 little daughters, reasoning that if E. should scream the whole time, they would at least be sympathetic. Well, she was an angel again. Sure, she was awake a bit more than I would have liked, but she charmed the pants off the other passengers. When a tattooed, beer-bellied older man is making ga-ga faces at your baby, you know you’ve lucked out in the kid department.
So we arrived in San Francisco in tact, if exhausted.
The return flight went almost as seamlessly, except for the luggage situation. I predict that as long as I’m traveling with a baby, the luggage situation will never go seamlessly. Regardless, Elisabeth fell asleep before we left the house for the airport, and just kept on sleeping. On the first flight we shared the row with a woman (a mom) who I am convinced saw the baby and me and asked to sit next to us in a most selfless and kind act. I am 100% certain she thought to herself, “If that baby poops all over the place, I can handle it, but that bachelor/businessman behind me can’t, so I’ll take one for the team.” I will forever be grateful to her, because Elisabeth did in fact poop all over the place. The benevolent lady was unfazed, and even offered to help.
I had thought to bring an extra shirt for myself should this sort of thing happen, but hadn’t considered bringing extra pants. Mom fail. I guess sitting through several hours of flight time in poop-covered jeans is some sort of mom-initiation. Of course this diaper malfunction occurred during a time of turbulence with the fasten seat belt sign oh-so-brightly illuminated. Damn! I couldn’t get up! I didn’t want to be that person who got called out by the flight attendants over the loudspeaker! How mortifying!
Then I remembered that I was sitting in poop-covered jeans, with a poop-covered baby, and decided that the situation was already fairly mortifying. So I bucked the rules, undid my seat belt and brazenly made my way to the bathroom. Who knew motherhood would inspire such rebellion!
We made it through the rest of that flight, and the next, without incident. Without consciousness, in Elisabeth’s case, as she didn’t deign to wake for anything except the feedings I forced on her. Of course, the second we touched down in Norfolk E. woke up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to face the day. Excuse me – ready to face the night. It was 11:45 PM. Note to self: Do not take flights that land at 11:45 PM if traveling with a baby. Not only was I up all day, I was to be up all night as well.
In my haste to get off the plane and home into my bed, I forgot my Moby wrap in the overhead compartment bin. Not the Moby wrap! After changing Elisabeth in the airport bathroom, I realized my mistake and ran (as much as one can run overloaded with a baby and all her gear) back to the gate. It was too late. As we were the last flight in for the night, everything had been shut down and locked up. I had to face it, the Moby wrap was gone. I shed a tear, and then proceeded to get lost on the way to the baggage claim. I somehow ended up in the wrong BUILDING. So there I was, wearied by traveled, encumbered with bags, and lost in a completely empty airport after midnight. Note to pregnant friends: DO NOT BE LIKE ME.
Naturally thoughts of ax-murderers entered my head, but I had to remain calm for the sake of my child. Luckily, I did not get ax-murdered, and managed to make my way to the correct building with the help of an airport employee. At least, I hoped she was an airport employee.
All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better traveling baby, though I will schedule my flight times differently in the future. Our next trip is to Italy next month. I can only hope Elisabeth will hold up as well as she did this trip. If she doesn’t, at least Grandma will be there to take her off my hands!