Whoever dubbed them “the friendly skies” did not see the look of hostility on the face of the man sitting in seat 4A when three adults, two children, and five carry-on bags filled with assorted toys, snacks, and diapers (most of them clean) collapsed in a sweaty, tired heap across seats 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E, and 4F.
Flying with kids is a special sort of torture, familiar to those who are foolish enough to move thousands of miles across the country from their parents before producing the biological homing beacons known as grandchildren. As a Georgia girl married to an Idaho boy, my future in aviation was sealed from the moment our lips met.
An adult traveling alone will buy a ticket, pack a suitcase with clothes, and tuck a magazine or two in her purse before showing up at the airport for a dull but quiet wait for her boarding call. A mother, on the other hand, will pack diapers, wipes, a stroller, a carseat, and the entire contents of the playroom in her checked baggage. Her carry-on will be filled with extra clothes for every member of the family (in anticipation of the inevitable juice spill that happens two seconds after the drink cart passes), enough snacks to feed a small village for weeks, a dozen books, a box of crayons, and a big bag of quiet toys, all of which will be refused roundly by the children in favor of tormenting the person in the seat in front of them by opening and closing the tray table four hundred and eleven times and sticking their legs straight out into the aisle at every opportunity, tripping flight attendants and causing a traffic jam of passengers on the way to the bathroom.
During our layover, I walked Caleb up and down the terminal in his stroller to forestall the overtired toddler temper tantrum that had begun brewing between Spokane and Denver, praying aloud and repeatedly for an on-time connecting flight. I glared openly at two adults, sans children, who I overheard complaining loudly about their three hour layover while I could only daydream about collapsing into an airport chair with nothing to do for three blissful hours but read magazines and watch planes swim in peaceful circles through the sky.
Once on board, the juggling act of toys, snacks, and books began, punctuated by Caleb’s increasingly cranky demands as his promised meltdown approached critical mass. I began to wonder about the exact composition of the chemical the A-Team put in B.A. Baracus’ milk and how I could get my hands on it. Last year when we flew, I dosed the kids up on Dimetapp before our flight, hoping for a quiet journey between angelic, sleeping children (and besides, I’m almost certain I heard one of them cough the night before.) For your edification, let me now illuminate a critical piece of information that I missed in reading the fine print on the Dimetapp box: “excitability may occur, especially in children.”
To be honest, I can’t blame all of the tension on the kids. I’ve always been a rather anxious flyer. Actually, that’s an understatement. I used to be that woman you sometimes see on airplanes, the one who’s gritting her teeth and white-knuckling the armrest, eyes rolling back in her head in alarm while she frantically concentrates on keeping the airplane up in the sky by sheer act of will. Exhausting. I finally realized that something had to change when I actually proposed making a four day drive to avoid taking a five hour flight. Over time, with prayer and pep talks, abject terror has slowly given way to uneasy acceptance and I’ve managed to mostly forget that we’re basically defying gravity and hurtling across the sky in a big metal burrito. I still hate turbulence, though. White Knuckle Woman reared her fearful head once more on the flight from Denver to Atlanta when the seat belt light came on with a series of bumps that convinced me we had run into a whole flock of miraculously airborne hippopotami. The flight attendant’s overly-chirpy voice on the intercom assured us that we were just hitting some “choppy air” in a tone that somehow conveyed to me that I was about to meet death in a fiery plummet to the unforgiving earth. I could feel the pressure changing in the cabin–where were those oxygen masks? Gasping for breath, I forced myself to concentrate on not screaming while the chirpy flight attendant sat immobile in the forward jumpseat. Couldn’t anyone but me see the barely restrained panic beneath that forced smile? Were these our last moments? What would it feel like? Would I ever taste Breyers Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream again? And why was I wasting my last moments thinking about ice cream???
Fortunately for all of us, our heroic pilot kept his cool and brought us safely through the savage hippos to make a beautiful, three-point landing in Atlanta. I tried not to look surprised, but I think it gave me away when the flight attendants had to pry my seat cushion/flotation device out of my arms.
On the bright side, White Knuckle Woman’s tantrum completely distracted the kids from theirs.