The long return from our vacation required us to cross the continent, and like the return leg of a boomerang’s flight, we were losing energy and altitude fast. Since Child Harbat is staying an extra two weeks with grandparents on the East Coast, that left my wife and I to travel just with Number Two, a boy of 21 months and the near-limitless energy found at the core of stars. It would be easier, we thought, to have fewer bags and one less child to manage. Honestly, with two adults and a non-stop five-hour flight, how hard could it be?
We started at BWI Airport and Number Two had taken a decent 1.5-hour nap earlier in the day. A late afternoon flight meant we had plenty of time to get to the airport, wrestle with bags, car seat, stroller, and the de- and re-shoeing at TSA accompanied by the sudden stab of worry in your gut that you’ve left your phone or wallet in one of those gray plastic bins or it fell off the belt and was being shredded into confetti in the gears of the x-ray machine. We decided, since the flight would span dinnertime and beyond, to get Number Two some dinner. The healthiest thing we could find, amid options like a yard of beer or a thirty-dollar steak, was a fruit/veggie smoothie. [Alert! Alert!] Mistake number one. Packed with berry and beet juice this “healthy” smoothie was like mainlining pure sugar. Just before it kicked in we had some time to sit and watch the planes, luggage trolleys, plane tugs, fuel trucks, and a hundred other vehicles buzz like worker bees around the tarmac. It was Richard Scarry’s A Day at the Airport come to life!
After a pause on the sloped jetway where everyone experienced the definition of interstitial space, we boarded the plane. Somehow my wife ended up with Number Two and I had the car seat and three shoulder bags. Then I began a game of vertical limbo, trying not to smash people in the face as I held the car seat above and ahead of me like a shield and the bags bounced off the seats like a pachinko balls. Then followed a panicked moment of kicking the bags under seats and trying to belt in a car seat while Number Two wriggled and people piled up in the aisle behind us, sighing theatrically. Soon everyone was seated, belted in, and ready to go. Before we even began to roll back, Number Two was squirmy. Take-off provided a short interlude of window-rapt attention followed by an intense dislike for everything. Snacks were rejected, sippy cups hurled aside, books batted down, tray tables kicked, and seatbelts strained against as do those belted to a table in a lunatic asylum. His message was unmistakable: get me out of this car seat and let me run free. So we did after a time, long unbalanced sprints up and down the aisle until I got to recognize every exasperated face of a teen just woken up, every businessman pretending to ignore the child stepping on his Prada loafers, every little child curious to see another short person, every grandmotherly-type not yet tired of seeing a cherub go running past.
And this may be the one piece of advice I can give to those traveling with a toddler: let them toddle. Generally it’s not a problem to roam up and down the aisle and people prefer a happy child running by than a grumpy one wailing. Snacks, new toys, songs, reading the emergency water exit cartoon– these things max out in about 2-3 hours. On a five hour flight you have to get creative. I made a tent out of a scarf tucked behind the car seat and held up by the tray table. This was pulled down in anger about two seconds later but the construction/destruction cycle bought us another ten precious minutes. Finally about twenty minutes before landing he got tired, snuggled with Mama, and all was well. Until the seatbelt sign came on and we had to strap him back in his seat. WAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!