Preventing Your Kids From Hijacking Your Travel Plans
It’s only natural to fret about traveling with your children when you feel they have already seized your home…your life…your sanity. How will you ever be able to endure flying across the country with your own band of pirates tagging along? I have done this. With a gradeschooler, a toddler, and a baby. Alone. Twice.
Insane, I know.
My mother-in-law lives in Orlando and had graciously invited us down there for a week and a half of Florida fun, sun, and parks galore. The first time was when my kids were 6 months, 2 1/2 years, and 6 years old. The second time was a year later. It’s doable, right? You don’t let a little thing like flying solo with a rambunctious handful of kids stop you from a glorious vacation do you? You thank your hubby for not getting his crap together with his vacation time-off requests (so he ends up having to take a different flight a couple of days later) and you put your big girl pants on.
On the one hand, I was thinking, I’ve gotta be a supermom. On the other hand, I was freaking out! Vacation or not, I couldn’t deny feeling a bit stressed while preparing for this trip with the flight being the pinnacle stress-point of it all. I wanted to strangle my husband when he told me I was being OCD, I was over-reacting, it’s not that big of a deal, and I could handle it. Was he suggesting it was going to be a piece of cake? Like his piece of cake that involved a solitary nap on the plane with headphones and a neck pillow? I could’ve screamed, but it’s Florida baby, and I had shopping to do.
I realized the only way I could get through this was to take a slight deviation away from motherhood.
Vacationing is like going to grandma’s house, all parenting gets thrown out of the window. You’re not focusing on molding your little humans into perfection, you’re just trying to survive. When you are traveling on an airplane, you do whatever you can to make those kids happy, avoid pissing off other passengers, and hopefully avert dire humiliation. Although you may find yourself threatening to take away Disneyworld (because how do you put your kid in a time-out on a plane?), you can indulge a bit more in the kid-calming tactics that you wouldn’t necessarily use on an everyday basis. That is, assuming that you normally try your hardest not to coddle your children and give in to every demand. A little extra spoiling, a little extra leeway, and little extra vacation excitement will give you a leg up in this race, but it won’t pull you over the finish line.
Start with a List
I make lists for everything. It’s that undiagnosed OCD thing, I think. Shopping lists, cleaning lists, things I need to do/chart for each patient before I leave work lists, honey-do lists, and upcoming things that are already in my planner lists. I can’t help it, I need them. My mom brain feels like there are a thousand gerbils running around on their own wheels in different directions so to alleviate some anxiety, I make lists. When you are the one who is doing all of the researching, planning and packing for your family vacation, don’t underestimate the power of the list.
I will make a checklist of everything that needs to be packed into each suitcase, carry-on, diaper bag, and purse. I do this weeks before in case I need to go shopping for certain things and I always end up updating the list when I remember something I previously left out. I do tend to overpack but I’m always thankful for it. My husband is the opposite. He’ll throw a handful of clothes into a bag the morning we leave for any trip and then we end up spending part of our vacation at Walmart picking up all of the things he forgot. I think he does this on purpose because he’d rather buy new things than do laundry and he’s somewhat of a shop-o-holic. He’ll try to justify it by saying, “It’s just a five dollar T-shirt, blah, blah, blah…” Yes, but you have 300 crappy five dollar T-shirts already!
I get that my hubby might be annoyed at me when he has to haul 49.9 pound suitcases, one right after the other, in and out of the car. He is a strong guy and it’s an easy thing for him to do but he’ll still growl about how I over-packed, again. Satisfaction for me comes in the midst of our vacation when my guy needs tweezers or sunblock and I can toss those babies right at his face. You’re welcome. You’d think my over-packing would solve the shopping thing but when he simply can’t remember to pack the basics, like socks, off to Walmart we go.
Once every bag was loaded into the car with every item checked off of my list, right down to the kids’ pool goggles, we headed to the airport. Upon arriving there, most of the heavy stuff went away. We checked our bags and all three car seats. We wrapped up the car seats in large lawn garbage bags in the hopes that they wouldn’t get too scuffed up. It worked well enough. It’s definitely a bonus that you don’t have to pay extra for car seats or strollers, at least we were never charged all of the times we’ve flown. Of course, because things change, it’s always best to plan well and check with your particular airline first to see if there’s an extra fee. You may not even need a car seat at all if you’re able to just shuttle to and from the resort and never go anywhere else but we will typically rent a car. We have to, for all of those Walmart runs at least. So if you’re like us, you’ll have to bring your car seat(s) along.
If you are a new mom, as in you still have a clean house and can go out on dates with your husband or meet up with friends because you only have one angelic child, the protective hen in you might want use that car seat on the plane. I urge you to reconsider. You do not want to punish yourself like that. I, too, was once a new mom who thought it would be the prudent thing to do to protect my beautiful baby girl from nasty things like turbulence or rough landings. Two things changed mind:
1.) The look of my husband’s angry red, sweaty face the first time he tried to install that car seat on a packed plane with a line of people behind him.
2.) Having a second child.
Anyhow, if you think I’m going to install three car seats on a plane by myself, you are the one who is crazy. I actually don’t know how to put them in my own car to this day. I have a vague idea but you really need a certain amount of muscle and weight for getting them in just right, both of which I’m lacking. How could one person even carry three car seats onto a plane with three kids and several carry-ons anyway? Impossible. Besides, we would still need to get through security first and then down to the gate.
This is the point where we said goodbye to Daddy. Goodbye to the man that gets everything taken care of for us. Goodbye to our “burro” that carries our heavy load. Goodbye to my support, the person I turn to when I am lost in life or defeated by my flock of children.
Without Daddy and in order to manage our way through the airport, I planned on checking my stroller at the gate. As far as I know, most airlines will allow you to roll right up to the door of the plane and someone will grab it and store it for you. It will also be magically waiting outside the door when you arrive at your destination.
The stroller that worked the best for my crew was the Baby Trend Sit N’ Stand stroller. It was great for rolling through the Disney parks, too. At the airport, my eldest walked, my toddler sat on the back seat, and all of our carry-ons were shoved into the front seat and the net underneath. I wore my baby in a Tula baby carrier. It was a lovely little set up…until we had to take everything out to go through the x-ray machines.
Thinking back, this part is a little blurry to me. Must’ve been traumatic. I did everything right with the zip-locked liquids and moved at lightning speed. One kid through, another kid through…now I’m not sure if the baby ended up in the stroller that had to go around the x-ray or if I was carrying him, but I was flagged for some reason. I did ask why but all I can remember is that it was something so stupid that had they told me to walk through a different way, it would’ve been easy enough to do. But no helpful suggestions came from TSA that day, they just let me do whatever I did and then flagged me afterwards. So, off to the side I went where they brushed my hands with something so they could check for chemicals, I suppose. My stroller was being inspected all over and under. I was being inspected all over and under. Meanwhile, I was trying to keep an eye on my bouncing little kids to make sure they didn’t wander off. At the same time, I was watching my life wrapped up in this thing called a purse, along with other semi-important stuff, go down the belt and praying that someone didn’t wander off with those.
Needless to say, I’m not a terrorist and therefore was finally allowed to move beyond the security check-point.
One thing you might want to consider while doing the security screening hokie-pokie is that, though you are allowed to bring breastmilk or formula in larger amounts than the typical 3.4 ounce allowance for liquids, security will need to open them to test them. I had two bottles of Pediasure for my three year old once and TSA cracked the seal on both bottles. It wasn’t an issue for me at the time because it was a 3 1/2 hour flight and my little shrimp was actually able to drink them. But had I brought more, I would’ve had to toss them out since they’re only good for a few hours after being opened.
At the Gate
This is where you need to get your timing right. If you have a while to wait, it’s vital that you nourish and hydrate those tiny creatures. You don’t want the flight attendant’s snack cart to be your only saving grace in case there is a sudden onset of ravenous hunger or thirst. It’s worth it to pay the airport price for a bottle of water if you didn’t bring your own to fill up after you made it through security. More importantly though, take your kids to the bathroom right before you board! I don’t care if there is a bathroom on the plane, that is for emergencies only and you know it. I’ll admit, if you have someone else resembling an adult that can help you and you only need to take one kid to the flying can, it’s manageable. If you’re alone with three kids, it could be a nightmare.
If you can get your kids to go to the bathroom before you board and you can somehow stymie your kids’ curiosity about the plane’s “cool” toilet, there’s a possibility you can escape it altogether. However, you might want to think about how you would do it if, heaven forbid, you end up hearing those cringe-worthy words:
Mommy, I have to go potty.
But we just went to the bathroom before we got on the plane, you say.
I know mommy, but now I have to go poop.
Crap. Pun totally intended. Maybe he can hold it…
Mommy, I need to go poop! I need to go right now! Mommy! I need to go, I need to go, it’s coming out!
I know I’m jumping ahead here but this was actually my reality and it shows that even the best laid plans won’t save you from your kids. I was stuck in the window seat (my little breastfeeding corner) and the color drained from my face at that moment, I’m sure. I was thinking, how can I take my three year-old and my infant son into that tiny bathroom? My headstrong daughter would put up a fight and want to come with us because it’s the awesome airplane bathroom for crying out loud and she needs to check it out, too. Even if she did stay stuck in her seat, I certainly couldn’t leave the baby alone with her while I was gone because he’d likely start crying. My worst fear had come true…and then it came to me. My stubborn daughter’s desire for independence could, for once, be used to my advantage. I convinced that willful child to take her little brother to the bathroom and sent them off into the unknown. I crossed my fingers the whole time and prayed that no one would chastise me for allowing such young children to navigate the airplane lavatory without adult supervision. Thankfully, if people had any such thoughts, they kept them to themselves. The kids came back without any notable issues other than they couldn’t figure out how to lock the door so it flew open a couple of times which embarrassed my little guy. Big deal. It could have been so much worse! All and all, mission accomplished.
So, as I mentioned before, I sat in the window seat with the baby on my lap and the other two kiddos were in the seats beside me. I always hog the window seat and I don’t care. It’s mine. Plus, it is easier to breastfeed when you’re tucked into a corner and you don’t have to worry about drink carts smashing into your infant son’s head. I carried on My Breastfriend pillow which worked great since I could clip it around my back and I also had my Hooter Hider for discretion. That thing also came in handy at the Disney Parks, when I wasn’t able to make it to the nursing rooms they have there. I loved that the Hooter Hider has a wire at the top of it that curves out a bit so you can actually see your baby while breastfeeding. It also ties around your neck so if baby’s arms are flailing about, they’re not going to accidentally pull it down to expose your milk-filled goodies. Hey, no one’s paying me any money for a sneak-peak and I’m not about to give away a strip show for free. You all are welcome to do what you do but my hooters are a hidin’.
I tried wearing my baby in my Tula baby carrier prior to take-off but was told to take him out of it. I couldn’t understand why I, and everyone else, had to wear a seat belt but my baby wasn’t allowed to be snuggled in with me. No one could give me an explanation and I have yet to understand that requirement. I did wear my baby on the way home though, and just hid that sneaky fact under a blanket. Rule-breaker hasn’t been my name for a really long time but just because something isn’t FAA approved doesn’t mean having my baby loosely in my lap is any better. If anyone has a good answer for this guideline, please, I’m all ears. Not that I have any more babies coming down the chute but out of pure curiosity, I’d like to know.
After take-off and during the gradual ascent is a good time to breastfeed or give baby a bottle to help with the ear-popping situation. As for the other kids, lollipops work like a charm. Maybe you don’t like giving your kids processed food or sugar but lollipops are like delicious magic wands and they are absolutely necessary on the plane. You shove one of those cavity-on-a-stick suckers into your kid’s mouth and you might get five whole minutes of peace. If you are health conscious or maybe (like me) you just got done paying $8,000 in dental work for your candy-fiend son’s BABY TEETH, there are organic and sugar-free lollipops these days. Besides, you are on vacation, right? So keep ’em coming.
There are a few things that worked well for me and my kiddos. You may have your own ideas about what to bring on-board for each of your own children but I found these to be helpful for me:
- iPads or similar electronics (all three of my kids had their own LeapFrog LeapPads on our last plane trip). Earbuds or head phones are a plus. It’s always nice if you can fly an airline that has screens on the back of the seats where you can watch movies or play games but let’s face it, you can’t always get that lucky if you’re flying coach. By the way, if your whole family is flying first class then I’m not sure this blog would even apply to you since you would likely have your nanny tag along on your trip, right? If that’s the case, pass this on to her and enjoy your cocktail and peanuts. I’m not hating or anything, I’m just jealous.
- Snacks, snacks, and more snacks. Kids get a thrill off of ordering drinks and snacks from the flight attendants so you may have to give in and get them some cookies or crackers. Once those have been gobbled up, at least you’ll still have your own little stash of snacks to dip into.
- New coloring books, drawing pads, travel activities, and tiny toys that they aren’t allowed to open until they get on the airplane. It’s really a good idea if each kid has their own small carry-on to prevent fighting that inevitably will come with “sharing.”
- Something special for momma because these are trying times. It could be as simple as an indulgent treat or a new book you’ll have a 50/50 chance of reading. Even a new comfy outfit to wear on the plane could elevate your spirits just enough to carry you through this whole ordeal. I’m all about the sweats or the leggings, my friend. I’m the kind of girl that likes doing my hair and make-up but I’m no fashionista at the airport nor am I stupid. This is war. I need to be able to move freely during the battle of “Kids On A Plane.”
- Carry-ons that are small enough to fit under the seat so everything is within reach when you need it.
- A small blanket for each kid to encourage napping. It was a rare occasion for any of my children to take a nap but if it did happen, it would usually be in the car. There were moments where they’d take a brief nap on the plane but at least I had those moments.
- Large Ziploc bags to collect all of the kids’ garbage so they didn’t just end up shoving sticky wrappers and uneaten food into the back pockets of the seats.
Speaking of Ziploc bags, they are also great to keep in the diaper bag should you need to do a quick diaper change in your seat. Hear me out on this because I know it sounds incredibly gross and there are some diaper dilemmas where this would be totally unwarranted. I’m talking about a simple pee diaper here. I’ve already mentioned how the airplane bathroom would be a complicated procedure for someone in my situation so I’m not about to go through hell simply for one soggy pampers. Now, I can change a diaper in a lickety-split second and I was able to do it on my lap while one of my other kids held up a blanket so it could be done fairly covertly. Into the double zip-locked bag it went, a couple of squirts of hand sanitizer, and done. Of course, if your bambino has the smell of death pouring out of his or her bum, do not, I repeat, do not do the lap changing method. Get that kid into the airplane bathroom as quick as you can and well, good luck in there.
You’ve arrived! No, no you haven’t. Now comes the hot and sweaty part of getting all of your things together while your itching-to-get-off-the-plane little monkeys are jumping all over everyone’s seats. Most people start off happy that they have landed but then become irritated that they have to wait for all of the slow-pokes ahead of them to get their bags and actually get moving. I am one of those irritated people. How is it that a mom with two kids plus a baby can manage to get all of her things tucked away and with the bags in position to roll out before the door even opens? Just sayin’…
One way or another, we made it off the plane. We found our way to baggage claim by taking a monorail and I met my reinforcements there. My mother-in-law rounded up her precious grandchildren and my brother-in-law took over the “burro” job and grabbed our heavy luggage off the belt. Finally, I was able to take a sigh of relief and the vacation that followed was awesome! My wonderful mother-in-law spoiled us like rock stars and even though it was tricky getting there, it was well worth it.
At Journey’s End
Whether your flight has taken you to your vacation destination or you’ve landed in your familiar home state, you’ve made it. Perhaps, no matter what you did, it was a rough flight for you and not because it was bumpy and weather-related. Maybe your kids shredded your perfectly good mommy game plan and brought you to near tears. Perhaps it went the other way and your well-stocked mommy arsenal saved you from an in the air catastrophe. Maybe, like me, you ended up somewhere in the middle. Whichever direction your flight took, there’s no doubt in my mind that it was damn hard work getting there!
For those of you who are preparing to fly with young children for the first time, possibly on your own, it can be done but you have my sympathies. For those of you who have already ventured into the realm of insanity, I have three things I’d like to say:
- Mad props to you if it sucked but you didn’t lose it altogether. You can always scream or cry in private later.
- Keep in mind that there is a really slim chance that you’ll ever see anyone from your flight again but feel free to repress any humiliating memories if it makes you feel better.
- Know this, you are a supermom. Own it. (Superdaddies included).
I have a sincere wish for all mommies of old and mommies of new that they’ll find a way to keep their kids content while traversing the airport and while on the plane. I wish that for their sake and for the sake of all other passengers having to travel with them. I have to wonder though, what kind of lady will I be when my kids are grown? Will I be the elderly woman that wrinkles her nose and grumbles under her breath when she sees a bunch of tiny youngsters step aboard the plane? Or will I remember the ordeal I went through traveling with three kids on my own and be filled with compassion? I guess it depends. If it’s a mom that doesn’t seem to give a flying flip about her rowdy offspring’s behavior or if she’s just as obnoxious herself, then I’ll assuredly be giving her my best crusty look. But If I see a mom struggling to regain control of the madness that is her kids, I’d like to think I’d attempt to give her a hand or at the very least, let her know that I was her some 20-30 years ago. Thinking back, there were a few people who lent a little encouragement along the way. A small smile of understanding, a kind flight attendant or just the offer from a stranger to help, whether I needed it or not, made a difference. It may have been the only reason I actually survived those trips mentally. We all need an ally now and then, don’t we? Maybe one day I’ll be able to pay it forward.