FILED IN: Child Behavior

First Flight

I recently visited my mother who lives 700 miles away in New York. The distance makes it difficult for us to get together as often as we would like, so I planned a trip hoping my son and his grandmother could get to know each other better.

I had flown plenty of times before, but never felt the anxiety and despair that set in after I ordered my ticket. My husband reassured me that my reoccurring nightmare of our plane going down in a large red ball of fire was unfounded and that indeed it was safe to fly. But as our departure date drew closer, I was seriously debating canceling the whole trip and staying home where it was safe!

Packing for the two of us presented me with new challenges. I soon realized that the highchair, strollers, bed and car seat, along with one suitcase devoted only to my son’s clothing, diapers, bibs, food, and toys would exceed the amount of luggage I was permitted to check.

Maybe I should call the airline to ask for some sort of “special baggage allowance.” After all, I was a new mother, and they would understand that all of these things were essential.

As the days grew closer and my pile of “stuff” started pouring out into the hallway, I realized I hadn’t even started to get my own things together. With only two days before departure I needed to reevaluate my plan. So I did what any put together, “with it” mother would do. I called my mom.

In tears I told her how stressed out I was and that I didn’t think I would be able to make the trip because there was just too much to transport! Not to mention my anxiety about flying was reaching astronomical proportions and just the thought of stepping on a plane made me nauseous.

After I calmed down my mother went through my list and concluded that indeed I was trying to pack away the entire house — no wonder I was stressed. She checked with a friend and arranged to borrow a highchair and car seat for us. She also suggested packing less clothing and doing a load or two of laundry at her house.

I started to tackle the mound of clothing one pile at a time, choosing things that could be mixed and matched for multiple uses. Rummaging through stacks of bibs and washcloths, I minimized my pile by packing samples of one-use bibs that I’d been receiving in the mail. No money spent and I can just throw them out when I’m done. They should make clothes like that, too!

Now it was time to move on to my carry-on diaper bag — this was about as difficult as the suitcase. I hid the toys that my son loved to play with the most a week before our trip. My thinking was, instead of letting him play with them all week, I would surprise him on the plane when he got cranky (which I assumed would definitely happen).

The first time I packed my carry-on, it weighed more than my son and I realized I would have to make some adjustments. Diapers and wipes were a must, but a full bag of them may have been excessive. Bottles, finger foods, his favorite blanket, all had to come along!

To keep him distracted from other passengers and to avoid crying and screaming on the plane I knew I had to pack a few toys.

With little room left I decided on three of his favorite books, a few colorful rings and two rattles. In case of a real emergency, I packed one annoying toy that made all sorts of noise. Hey, the rest of the passengers would just have to deal with it! I’m the mother here, right?! I’m the one who has spent over a week packing and repacking, waking up in cold sweats with visions of my plane wrecking. They, the single, childless passengers, would just have to deal with it; they didn’t know how easy they had it.

Our day of departure finally arrived and we made it to the airport early enough to get through the long security lines. They finally cleared us through and it was time to say goodbye. With my son on one arm, diaper bag on the other, and umbrella stroller in tow, I was ready to board. I kissed my husband goodbye and stood in what I hoped was the final security check before boarding.

I struggled with folding up the stroller, placing it and the diaper bag through the screening machine. As I started to walk through the metal detector I was immediately stopped. “Excuse me ma’am, you need to take your shoes off and send them through as well.”

The line in back of me was growing by the minute with anxious, baby-less passengers who were giving me dirty looks for holding them up. I tumbled around unsnapping my sandals, walked through the detector barefoot, scrambling on the other end to grab my diaper bag, unfolding the stroller and putting on my shoes, all with my son still balanced on my hip. Why did I decide to make this trip alone!?

The petite airline worker got on the microphone and announced they would begin boarding their special business class members at this time. “What?”, I thought. Had I missed something? What about children traveling alone and people with small infants? Had I been so distracted that I had missed my special early boarding call?

I heaved my tightly packed diaper bag and pushed the empty stroller past a line of men in dark suits holding laptop bags. Surely they would understand that I, the mother traveling alone, needed a few extra minutes on that plane before anyone else.

I noticed a few stares out of the corner of my eye as I not-so-gracefully boarded the plane. As I started down the long narrow aisle of the plane my stomach tightened. My son let out a few shrieks before sitting down and getting buckled in. We watched as the remaining passengers boarded the plane, looking at us as they shuffled down the aisle, with an expression that said I hope I’m not sitting next to the woman with the baby.

As we taxied on the runway, I could feel the heat in the cabin of the plane rise. I fumbled around with the air nozzle above our heads but found little relief.

“Excuse me ma’am, but you’ll have to make sure that bag can fit under the seat in front of you entirely, or we’ll have to check it.” I looked up at the airline attendant who was giving me one of those, You’re going to be a handful looks, and forced the bag further below the seat. There, it fits! And if my son’s cookies got crushed it’s on your head!

My heart began to race as the plane gained speed. I had a bottle ready, hidden in the pocket of the seat in front of me, in the event my son started to scream from the pressure that was surely to distress his little ears.

I closed my eyes and said a little prayer, wishing I had created some kind of a flying mantra to help me calm down. The stale smell of the seats, and the crumbs remaining from previous passengers complimentary cookies which were sticking to my rear end, were all making me feel sick to my stomach.

As we took off, the sound of the engines and the wheels folding up into the plane were the only sounds I heard. My son was busy staring at the other passengers and kicking the seat in front of us. Not even a whimper. No tears, no screams or uncontrollable outbursts.

He loved looking out the window and playing with the tray table and airline magazines. He wriggled around a bit before finally closing his eyes and drifting off to sleep. With about forty minutes left in our flight I was feeling a little more relaxed and a little embarrassed for the way I had acted and the ridiculously large bag I had packed.

Yep, I thought. That’s me, Super Mom! That’s right passengers, see my son here, isn’t he just perfect, so quiet and happy. I didn’t mind taking credit for his good behavior — after all I did have something to do with it right? I was in control here.

The pilot announced we were making our descent and I finally started to breathe a sigh of relief. With only about ten minutes until we were to land, my little angel was still sleeping and I had managed to enjoy my complimentary pretzels and soft drink.

Just as I leaned my head back and closed my eyes, I heard a loud piercing scream. I looked at my son who was screaming as loud as his lungs would allow. Ok, this is what I had been preparing for all along. I remained calm. I could deal with this. I was the mother, I was in control.

I quickly grabbed my emergency bottle of milk and proceeded to force it into his mouth, only to have him swat it out of my hands and scream even louder. I tried to offer him a pacifier and ended up watching it fly three seats in back of us. I emptied my entire bag of tricks on the floor of the airplane and nothing worked.

I felt flushed. No doubt the passengers looking back at us could see how disheveled I had become. Whispers started floating around the airline cabin like mosquitoes buzzing about. Ok people, so he’s crying, big deal! I think this is a little harder on me than you right now! The only thing I could do was hold him and try to let him know that everything would be all right.

He ended up crying, I should say screaming, until we touched ground and the fasten seat belt light was turned off. As we sat there waiting for the other passengers to de-plane, we received a few sympathetic smiles and some, now he’s feeling better comments.

That night when I lay down to bed, the sound of the floor fan cooling off my room reminded me of the airplane engines we had heard only hours earlier. I was grateful that we had arrived safely, which in the end was the only thing that mattered.

It is true that since becoming a mother my fear of flying has increased. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that I am now responsible for another life and how much my little one depends on me. I hope that as time goes on and as we make more trips this fear will lessen, but I don’t know if it will ever go away.

On that first flight, part of me was nervous about what other people on the plane would think. After all, if they saw a mother with a quiet, happy baby, they would conclude that she was a good mother. If they saw a crying, hysterical child they would conclude that there was a mother who needed to work on her parenting skills.

In the end, it didn’t matter what anyone thought. When my son was crying, my only focus was on him and making him feel comfortable. And that comfort is not found in some bag of tricks but in the arms of a calm and reassuring parent.

If being disrupted by a fussy child was the worst thing that happened to the passengers on my flight, then things were not so bad. And if they haven’t already, they will realize, as I did, that we are not as in control as we would always like to be. Sometimes we just have to hop on board and hope for the best.