Advice from Nicole Keck
Vacay.ca Family Travel Columnist
Three years ago I wanted to travel across country to visit my not-so-little brother who lives in San Diego, California. I was especially excited at the prospect of my mother flying in from Toronto to be with us as well. Being six months pregnant with my third son, I knew it would be quite some time before I had the opportunity to travel again, so my husband encouraged me to go if I was up for it (sadly he could not get time off work to join us). The thought of getting out of town for a few days before life got even busier with the new baby, and to sit at the edge of the Pacific with Ryan and my mother, digging my painted toes into the warm sand, was enticing enough that I was willing to psyche myself up mentally and physically for the task of getting us there. And so I did; I packed up myself, my three-year-old and my 18-month-old, copious amounts of kid gear, and we made the trek. It was a marvelous trip. That is not to say it was stress free; at times it was a bumpy ride (literally) but my little guys and I did it by ourselves, returning refreshed and with safety and sanity intact, and that made it a defining trip as well. If you are contemplating taking your little ones on a plane ride, especially by yourself, I encourage you to relax, summon your moxie and go for it. In my case, it was definitely worth the effort. Read on and see if you agree.
ALL THE THINGS THAT COULD GO WRONG FLYING WITH KIDS
The undertaking began as our trips usually do, with days of planning, list making and packing. (If you read my article “A parent’s guide on what to pack,” you know that, for me, organizing a trip is half the fun). When at last the big day came, my courage was waning and my mind was flooded with visions of the potential disasters that could ensue while carting around my boys and my belly. The thought of a fiery fatal plane crash that left my husband a widower and alone did enter my mind, but I quickly comforted myself with the notion that statistically it’s safer to fly than to drive, and I moved on to scarier matters, like what if one of the boys has a diaper “blow out” while in the air and the three of us, four if you count my belly, are crammed into the minuscule bathroom to clean up the mess, other passengers pounding on the door, “What’s taking so long?! And what is that awful smell? Did something die in there?”
Or what if the pressure hurts their little ears and I’m forced to break the no-gum rule to relieve their pain, only to leave them hopelessly addicted to gum, or worse, they swallow it and it stays in their body for seven years like my grandma threatened …
Worse, what if they simply hate it; what if they are utterly disenchanted by a big, cool airplane and they cry the whole time — will I have to contend with scornful stares from other passengers who are trapped, listening to a cacophony of my children’s wailing and my shushing? Should I go against my better instinct and give them an antihistamine in hopes they will sleep? I know parents who have done this and the plan backfired; these drugs can actually have the unintended effect of actually ramping up kids’ energy. Besides, unnecessarily medicating them just didn’t sit well with me.
So, I decided, all I could do was try to plan for every possible situation, prepare the boys for what to expect, and pray, pray, and pray some more that all would go as planned. And it did.
I made flight reservations that included a layover, figuring we could all stretch our legs, get some fresh air in some fresh surroundings to break up the trip. This turned out to be a great idea and it was worth the extra work of having to lug us all off the plane and reboard another. We had two full hours between flights, which left us plenty of time to walk (well, of course, the boys ran, releasing three hours of pent up energy), leisurely peruse the gift shop and buy snacks. I called my hubby back home and just hearing his voice bolstered my courage for the next leg of the trip.
And so we were on our way, with a whole row to ourselves, my 18-month-old was freshly diapered and happily playing on my lap while my three-year-old sat quietly with his favourite blanket, enthralled with the new puzzle that I had pulled out of my secret stash just for this trip. It was remarkably uneventful and I was feeling downright confident, glad I made the decision to go, and kind of proud of myself for taking it on.
COURAGE TO FLY WITH CHILDREN PAYS OFF
Our time with Ryan and my mom was everything I wanted and needed it to be. We laughed a lot, and we walked the beach each morning while the kids marvelled at the skilled surfers and examined the new treasure trove of shells and seaweed that had washed ashore during the night. We cruised town, meandered outdoor malls, listened to Jack Johnson while the salty ocean breeze blew through our hair and the western sun warmed our winter-pale faces. We savoured what must be the world’s best pretzel dogs, and walked to the end of a long, beautifully weathered pier where we sat at a sea-side cafe to have fresh calamari and Corona (well, just a sip for me.) It was a blissful time, truly, and I hated for it to end, but by day four it seemed the kids were ready to be back in their familiar surroundings at home, and I missed my husband very much. So to the airport we went, hoping against hope it would be as seamless as the trip out.
When we boarded the plane I was disappointed and immediately nervous to see a stern-looking elderly man seated in our row, not a white hair out of place and peering at us over the top of his tortoise-shell reading glasses. I had requested a window seat for each leg of the trip, thinking the boys would love to look our at the sights below, which they did enjoy on the way out, but I had failed to consider this was a late-night flight so there was nothing to see but blackness. This arrangement meant, of course, that if we had to get up, we would need to interrupt this man’s newspaper reading so we could all traipse past him. Thankfully we didn’t need to do that, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. It turned out he was a very sweet man who took sincerely, grandfatherly interest in the boys and quietly assured me everything was okay when the thunder and turbulence became quite unnerving later in the flight.
With no scheduled layovers, the kids slept most of the way. We landed safely and I collapsed into my husband’s waiting arms, thrilled to be together again and with a bolstered sense of confidence in my ability to take care of my children all by myself, and to put my worry on the shelf in order to keep calm even in stressful situations. It may sound like no big deal, taking two kids on a trip … unless you’re a woman who has to do it alone, or while pregnant, or with small, very dependent children in your care.
Anyone who has been through it knows the work and stress involved. In fact, the very notion of having children is fraught with risk, but we do it because it’s worth it. I believe the same holds true for seeking adventure with them. If we are unwilling to make ourselves vulnerable, or if we let fear paralyze us into inactivity, our children will also be afraid to leave their comfort zone and try new things. That would be a disservice to them; and I’m grateful that my own parents didn’t make that mistake. Instead they instilled in my brother and me the sense of wanderlust and adventure that keeps life interesting and keeps the door of opportunity open.
That’s just what my husband and I intend to do for our own boys, and looking back, this trip to California was the first step onto that road.