Tis the season for parties, traditions, and family gatherings near and far—all of which you might be shunning or dreading now that you have a plus one in tow. But fear not! Heeding this advice will have you dashing through the season like you’re on a one-horse open sleigh.
Expect the Worst: My husband Bart is a huge Star Wars fan and is obviously excited about the new movie. But nothing would devastate him more than if the movie is a bomb. To protect himself, he’s going into it with the lowest of expectations. A similar approach is needed for your upcoming toddler travel.
Imagine a bevy of worst case scenarios. Baby hasn’t started teething? Oh they will—right around take-off. Toddler sleeps great in the car seat? Not today. Expect sudden sickness, tantrums, lack of sleep, blow-outs, lost loveys, spilled milk, and unhelpful flight attendants. Multiply that by flight delays, aversion to every snack you packed, cabin fever, travel belly, and lost luggage. Now when you wind up 3,000 miles from home without baby’s beloved Sleep Sheep, but no one has contracted pink eye, things don’t seem so bad. See? It’s all about perspective.
Prep Your Space: Last April, Quinn and I flew to Fort Lauderdale to visit the grandparents. Ten minutes before landing Quinn said his stomach hurt and then BAM! Mount St. Vomitous had erupted. Had my space been properly prepped, I would not have had to use my purse and my seatmate’s newspaper as a barf tarp.
“It’s Spring Break!” I said to the legions of horrified flyers within ear, eye, and olfactory shot. “Who’s ready?”
Well, apparently no one. The flight attendant acted like she had never seen a crying two-year old who looked like he had been dunked in sweat and rolled in crushed Pirate’s Booty. (Sorry for the image, but it’s kind of therapeutic to make you relive it too.)
When a surgeon operates, they don’t flounder about looking for the clamp after they cut an artery. Get in there early and prep your space so your most important supplies are within arms reach. That includes barf bags and the thirteen pounds of Starbucks napkins you have stashed in your diaper bag. If you’re traveling by car, make sure the supplies are behind the driver so the passenger can reach it.
Partner with Other Parents: Anyone who’s ever been responsible for getting a child under the age of five from point A to point B is your ally. We all want you to succeed and will often help you achieve this goal.
Before I had a kid, a baby on my flight was as appealing as the guy who brings an egg salad sandwich on board. Now, I actually hope they’ll sit by me. These are our people, People. We’re all in this together because everyone knows a newborn’s screech is like an audible norovirus.
Uniting with fellow parents means twice the supplies. They have Dum Dum pops, you have Thomas the Tank Engine coloring books. They need to use the restroom, you need an excuse to try out your mad peek-a-boo skills. There is safety in numbers. And the more kids on board means the less likely everyone else will be able to identify who’s kid that is having the meltdown because Mom can’t stream Daniel Tiger fast enough. (Sorry, the puker is pretty easy to identify.)
Over-Pack Your Carry-On: I used to think people who brought In Style magazine on board were over-packing. That thing is what? 400 pages? I’ll take a People magazine, thank you very much. Now, I am the reason seasoned business travelers are forced to gate check their TSA compliant roller bags.
Remember, you’re expecting the worst here and often the worst is accompanied by the need for a costume change. Accidents happen. Pretty much all of the time in cars and airplanes. My incredibly dexterous child suddenly loses the ability to hold a spoon to his mouth whenever he reaches an altitude of sixteen feet and higher. Sippy cups implode. Motion sickness comes out of nowhere. And if you’re within eight inches when any of these things occur, you’re going to need a change of clothes too. Tis better to be over-prepared than running sockless through an airport restroom trying to hose Pirate’s Booty off your child before your next connection.
Under-pack Your Luggage: All those things you’re going to need at your destination like formula, pouches, diapers, ointment, bath soap, favorite books? They are exactly the reason Amazon was invented. Place an order timed to arrive when you do.
Always Time for Screen Time: You might not give in to the tablet temptress at home (it’s too late for us. Save yourself!) but parenting decisions made on the road or in the air won’t present any lasting damage to your child. Desperate times mean taking advantage of all that modern technology has to offer. There are plenty of great games, apps, and television programming that will entertain even the youngest traveler without turning their developing brains to mush. Even just looking at pictures and videos on your phone is usually enough to the do the trick.
Take Advantage of Family. You know who loves babies? People who don’t spend 24/7 with them. Babies are a novelty so you need to capitalize on that. Need someone to hold your baby while you, oh I don’t know, take a shower? Have a nap? Last-minute shopping? You will have an army of willing arms so hand ‘em over.
Keep Your Sense of Humor: I’m not going to lie: Bad things can and will happen when you travel with kids. You’ll miss connections, you’ll forget essentials, your baby will be that kid in the roadside diner. But it’s so much easier with a sense of humor. (I know, easier said that done.)
During a layover in Philadelphia, Quinn insisted a hard-boiled egg was the only life- sustaining nourishment his tiny body would accept and thus our journey of 6,382 steps across three terminals to find one began. What did he do with said very important egg? He proceeded to mash it into the crappy blue carpet Premier Members get to walk upon and then take his egg-smeared fingers and wipe them across every window between Gates B16-B23, before returning to the crappy blue carpet to feast upon the egg chunks left behind.
Yep, at that moment I would have rather have been that hard-boiled egg than this child’s mother, but I sat back, pulled out my People magazine, and snickered, “Watch. I’m going to end up sitting next to that guy.”
Stockings are meant to be hung by the chimney with care— not for getting into a bunch. Relish these horrific moments for retelling them will make you the life of every party. If only you weren’t too tired to go to them.
Keep Your Eye on the Prize: When my friend told me she was taking her five-month old to Israel to visit family my first thought was, She can’t possible like her family that much. How had I not realized such a close friend was clearly off her rocker? Yeah, she agreed it might be a challenge, but she kept reminding herself of one thing to keep her sane: It’s not forever. Travel does come to an end. You will get to your destination.
And like childbirth, eventually enough time passes to make you forget the horrific details until you do it again.
About the Author
Shelly Mazzanoble is an author and playwright who has published essays and short stories with Scary Mommy, In the Powder Room, Blunt Moms, The Seattle Times, Carve, Whetstone, and her essays have been syndicated on BlogHer. She is the mother of a toddler who provides endless fodder she will continue to mine, at least until he’s old enough to understand the word “litigation”. Visit her her blog, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.