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welcome to hell

No one likes to fly with kids. But most parents do it anyway, to teach their kids how to travel and in order to travel themselves. Tom and I are not those parents. We used to travel, to interesting places. No longer. Now, there is almost nowhere I need to be so badly that I am willing to fly with my kids to get there. At this point, I won’t even drive anywhere further than two hours away with my kids, because two hours is exactly how long a 90 minute DVD lasts after you’ve kept your hounds at bay for the first 30 minutes of your car trip using fruit leather and window stickers.

Finn, my older kid, has been interfering with our travel plans since he was in utero. A long-planned fifth anniversary trip to India coincided with Finn’s 12th gestational week. I ignored my doctor’s advice and got on the plane for the Subcontinent, where I experienced a sustained bout of nausea and vomiting the likes of which, I am convinced, have yet to be experienced by any other human. Not to get too graphic about it, but if one vomits too forcefully, they will break blood vessels in their face. That’s the kind of vomiting I’m talking about. I vomited that way for four weeks.

India is an amazing country, but it’s not the country you want to visit if you are in the throes of morning sickness. We had scrimped and saved to spend two weeks in a series of Oberoi hotels; I made it to Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur before Tom put me on a plane for home halfway through our trip. I recall almost nothing about the trip except the Taj Mahal and the fact that each hotel had lovely and intricate tilework surrounding the base of the toilets. Because Tom was flying on to Kazakhstan for work at the end of the trip, he got to spend a romantic five nights in Mumbai, by himself.

Just as Finn started to reach an age where the prospect of flying did not make me want to gouge my eyes out, things got exponentially harder, because Tate came along. I say exponentially, because Tate, unlike Finn, is a bolter.

Here he is in his launch pose. Most of our other photos of Tate are blurry, or only include one foot in the frame. Combine Tate’s bolting with Tom’s generally distracted nature, and you have a situation ripe for traveling disaster. It’s not just Tom–I once turned my head at an airport and found Tate riding the baggage carousel by the time I turned it back.

But, I can’t avoid flying with my kids forever. Tom’s family has been kind enough to come out to Oregon for the last couple Christmases, and now it’s our turn. So, here I am, packing for North Carolina. And the dread I feel for tomorrow’s flight is palpable. The packing itself is stressful, as we have to make certain that we have packed each of the 39 codependency objects my kids require when they leave home. Like the sound machine. That’s right, a sound machine. You snicker, but try getting your kid to sleep without a sound machine when his cousins are out in the living room playing video games. Also essential: carseats, for the rental car that you’ll be driving when you land. Our carseats weigh approximately 80 pounds apiece, and were designed specifically to frustrate parents who have to lug them from the car to the terminal, as they have no handholds or grips. For those who have not had the pleasure, carrying such a carseat is comparable to carrying an 80-pound metal safe covered in Crisco that you can’t quite get your arms around.

Speaking of portability, don’t forget the ratty yet voluminous blankets your kids need in order to fall asleep, because sleep is the holy grail when flying with kids. My kids’ blankets trail behind them on the airport floor, picking up SARS and Ebola virus on the way. And it’s all for naught, because it turns out those blankets don’t work their magic on the plane. Your kids will be awake for the entire flight. If you’re tempted to try Benadryl to get them to doze off, don’t bother. God laughs at you. I tried it with Finn once and his system reacted like I’d given him speed. So why bother with the blankets, right? Right. Try leaving the blankets at home and see how your kids handle it. Just try. I dare you.

Once you’re on the plane, the fun really starts. If you don’t have kids, I’m going to explain something right now that may blow your mind. And that is this: there is no possible way to prevent a child from kicking the back of the seat in front of him. There just isn’t. It’s a bodily impulse for a kid that cannot be stopped. Before I had kids, I was the asshole who would recline their seat all the way back and then bitch loudly about the kid behind me kicking my seat. As a parent sitting next to such a kid, the best you can do is continually hound them to stop, even though you know he’s as powerless to stop as you are powerless to fly the plane. The hounding is not for you, or for your kid. It’s for your audience–the people around you–to indicate that you really are trying to stop your kid, even when you know you can’t.

So many other pleasures to discuss, but my packing awaits. I will end by saying that if you have a baby and the baby is flying in your lap, I have special sympathy for you. I flew to Cabo once with Tate on my lap, and he was a leggy one year old at the time with elbows like Bill Laimbeer. He kicked and screamed the entire way, much to the delight of the entire cabin. At one point I just let him walk up and down the aisle unattended, because I had no other recourse. None of my efforts to get him to sleep worked–until, that is, we landed in Mexico. Upon deplaning, Tate promptly fell into the deep, silent slumber that I would have given my left kidney for during the flight.

If you’re traveling with kids this holiday season, best of luck. I sympathize with you, and hope you will sympathize with me if I happen to be on your flight.

35 Comments Post a comment
  1. themominblack #

    I hear that. We recently moved about 30 minutes out of town. It takes me a good 3 days worth of amping to get myself ready to drive the boys in for a doctor appointment. Then it takes a solid 7 to recover.

    July 16, 2013
  2. Carrie North #

    Hi Yoona
    Meredith forwarded me your blog and I am hooked!

    January 20, 2012
    • hey carrie! i love hooking people. 🙂 thanks for reading, and hello to meredith.

      January 20, 2012
  3. LMAO @ the SARS & ebola virus statement! Unfortunately, I know 1st hand that it IS impossible to stop a child from kicking the seat in front of them…

    January 8, 2012
    • i hope you know that as a parent, and not as the person being kicked. or maybe not…which has it worse?

      January 8, 2012
  4. Great title! Kids rock, don’t they?

    January 8, 2012
  5. Vic #

    I have always thought than airplane is the worst place for anyone to spend time in – let alone a child. It really is hell & thankfully we are down to flying once a year with our boys – we moved to a different state just so we could DRIVE after we had our first child, that’s how much I hate flying with kids. OK – family being closer helped as well, but still – the flying really did factor into the decision!! Great blog. I cried tears of laughter through this post!!

    January 5, 2012
    • ah, another avoider. the airlines should thank us. thanks for reading, vic!

      January 8, 2012
  6. Our 5 year old son travels pretty well. We’ve been to Mexico, Paris, London, and Israel with him… but nap time can be an issue. The worst thing he’s done is fall asleep 30 min before landing then meltdown when it was time to get off the plane because he’s mid-REM.

    We fly out of PDX so we almost always have a layover no matter where we go. We try to book the short leg first because he’s always too excited to sleep. That way, he naps on the second leg.

    Other strategies/tips:
    -Get to PDX early. There is a nice play area so kids can run around before having to sit through a flight.
    -Check websites for the layover airport and see if they have play areas. MSP has an awesome play area. ATL is terrible. Check for smartphone apps like Gate Guru that help you find play areas, browsing galleries, and family restrooms easily.
    -Let him pick snacks to pack on the plane and bring a water bottle to fill once past security.
    -He carries his own backpack. Only what can fit in the pack goes on the plane with him, so he has to prioritize.
    -Travel size bath toys… those tiny wind up ones are great.
    -Pack gum (or that great gummy bear tip–nice!)
    -Find a car seat cover with wheels. I got a great cheap one at Marshall’s for $15 that has survived a few trips. You can also throw last minute items in there with the seat and the airline is none the wiser. If the seat is the only thing you are checking and you are carrying on the rest, toss all of your liquids and your jackets in with the seat to speed you through security.

    December 30, 2011
    • thank you so much for these tips!! i like the idea of making the kid take ownership of what is carried on, so that he is forced to prioritize. and he can’t blame you for leaving something at home! love it.

      January 4, 2012
  7. David #

    The key when they get older is iPhone games. I subscribe to free app a day and the kids actually look forward to the plane ride. Our older one asked how long the flight was. When I said 6 hours, he said “yes!” electronic anesthesia FTW.

    December 24, 2011
  8. Israel #

    We leave 7:45am with two little ones headed for Oregon. I fully understand the dread

    December 23, 2011
    • i’ve been considering whether it is better to dread, or not to dread. tom tried a different tactic this time–telling himself the trip would be “fun.” i don’t think it went any better for him

      December 30, 2011
  9. Doug Wells #

    On more than one occasion, we used miles to upgrade one of us and our daughter to first class. For one, you get lots more attention and drinks and food (and more drinks). The better part is that there is enough leg room that it’s much harder for them to kick the seat, and there is even room for them to play on the ground (along with someone’s SARS Kleenex) and not bother anyone. An excellent use of miles.

    December 23, 2011
    • i haven’t flown enough in the past five years to accumulate any miles. but good tip for future travel…

      December 30, 2011
  10. Jeanne #

    Very timely post– Rob and I are taking Henry on his first flight across the country tomorrow. Departs 7:27 a.m. God help us. Very interesting about the Benedryl– glad I read this. Rob wanted me to ask the doctor last week whether drugging H would be advisable (he is very against it– I’m pro) but of course I couldn’t bring myself to ask her. Think I’ll take my chances without it. Also think that car rental agencies should also have rental carseats (obviously the lawyers would never allow it– but wouldn’t it be nice?). We can still use the infant one– can’t imagine lugging around the britax (much less two britaxs). good luck to you!

    December 23, 2011
    • did you benadryl, or no??

      December 30, 2011
    • Suzanne #

      Car rental agencies do have car seats. I’ve never used them, but I’ve seen them there… I’d have to check my facts in the USA, but in Canada you can absolutely rent car seats.

      January 26, 2012
  11. Erik Eklund #

    I appreciated the reference to Bill Laimbeer’s elbows.

    December 23, 2011
  12. Meredith J #

    Yoona, this blog is now tied for my #1 guilty pleasure – next to some form of sugar. We, too, have travelled with the girls. On one trip by myself with Terra, by mid flight I had pulled out every trick in my bag including lollipops but she still rolled around on the floor screaming. Next boarding: Spring Break!

    December 23, 2011
    • I cannot picture Miss Terra in her dress rolling around on the floor, but flying brings out the worst in all of us. Spring break seems so close, doesn’t it ?

      December 23, 2011
  13. Emily Jones #

    Yoona – I’m laughing but with a little lump of dread in my stomach too. We are taking our 6-month old twins and our two-year old to Arizona on Saturday. So we have not one but two lap children, and we can’t all sit in one row together. It’s not allowed, because there are only 4 oxygen masks in a row, and 3 passengers plus 2 lap children is too many. I already feel bad for the poor person who is going to get sandwiched between me and two kids on one side and my husband and the other baby on the other. By the way, you didn’t even mention getting through security, which is one of my least favorite parts of air travel with kids. People see us coming with our toddler and our double stroller and they switch lines. Good luck to you.

    December 22, 2011
    • Emily, any time I am dwelling on how bad I have it, I will now officially think about you. I can’t even comprehend flying with twins AND a two year old. Surely you can be forgiven if you leash Campbell to you?? Best of luck on Saturday!

      December 23, 2011
  14. Mandy #

    That brings back some vivid memories! I can tell you that it will get better. But for now, liberal use of the credit card to buy your neighbors drinks is another good strategy. Good luck!!

    December 22, 2011
    • Mandy that’s a pretty damn classy strategy. I will try it.

      December 23, 2011
  15. So true. This is why we go an adults only trip every spring. A friend commented, Amsterdam is such a long flight. To which I replied, “absolutely, a long flight by myself with movies, books and wine – BLISS.” The only thing I can say with traveling with kids is make sure you book the whole row (rather than two and two), so you don’t have passenger sitting next to you as well as in front, be liberal with movies, and carry something chewy like gummy bears for ascent/descent. Someone once told us they offer ear plugs to those seated around them – no one ever took them up on it, but it provided some humor and goodwill. GOOD LUCK!

    December 22, 2011
    • Whitney, the gummy bears!! Why have I not heard that before? There was a kid next to us screaming his ears out from the air pressure. Thanks for the tips…

      December 23, 2011
  16. Grayson Dempsey #

    Awesome, and all true. Jack and I had not flown anywhere in over two years until Florida this September, and even a week on the beach paled in comparison to the misery of the plane ride. Now there’s this big occasion called “Jack’s parents 50th wedding anniversary” that we have to fly to Nebraska for in April and I am already complaining about it. Godspeed to you and your family. Just remember to order a Bloody Mary as soon as you board and think about how funny these stories will be when you are at their college graduation party. Love.

    December 22, 2011
    • 50th anniversary hardly seems like that big a deal. Can you skype your way into the party from home?

      December 23, 2011
  17. admirer #

    Yoona – I travelded with my kids this holiday (and every christmas for as long as I can remember since 14 years of age) and landed again yesterday with 2 kids. My highlight, threatening to pull his pants down on the plane and spank him in front of everyone (it’s abusive I know but it’s all I could think of) if he didn’t stop kicking the seat in front of him while grabbing his arm so tightly it would have concerned social services. Your blog: funny. Keep it up. We all look forward to it. You say what we all go through. Love it.

    December 22, 2011
    • Oh Teal…the firm arm grab is a key piece in my arsenal of useless tools. Needs to be firm enough to transmit the message that Mom is NOT MESSING AROUND, but not so firm that the kid yells, “OW you’re hurting me, Mama!” So melodramatic. Good luck on way home!

      December 23, 2011

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