Flying the Whiny Skies


We flew to Georgia for Christmas.

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.”

Big. Mistake.

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.

15 responses »

  1. Flying is one of my one and only phobias (odd for someone who spends his days in the tops of trees and towers)

    Our last trip from Detroit to Seattle required a little help from the doctor. Help in the form of a little pill that had me a drooling vegetable from take off until about two hours after landing. Did the trick though.

    Well, sadly I could have told you the Dimetapp thing…..Benedryl says the same thing.;)
    Oh how I’ve been there & done that. The only trip I can look back with pleasure on, was suprisingly our 3 day DRIVE to Idaho a few years back. But then, no one can convince me that God did not seal the boys’ mouths like Daniel’s lions on that trip.
    (sigh!) Just think, you’ve got another year to think about what drug you’ll need next time. And may I suggest, topical Valium. Might work for Caleb….did nothing to Carson. Sure made me woozie when I got it on me though.;)LOL

  3. One solution – Tylenol PM. Sure, you’ll be totally comatose, but at least you won’t be able to notice the glare from the guy in 4A.

    You have such a great way of putting the reader in the airplane seat. πŸ˜‰

  4. Ok, Dramamine might work, but I’d go with something cheaper and that you probably already have around your house – Children’s Motrin. It’s wonderful because if your kiddos are aching anywhere, it’ll kill 2 birds with 1 stone – heal them right up and make them sleepy πŸ™‚ I’m a pro at forcing my kids to sleep when desperation strikes!

    As for flying with children, we’ve only done it once, and we only 1 kiddo. I was pregnant with the 2nd at the time. We’ve contemplated making a trip to MO over the summer to visit family and a friend, but unless we win the lottery (which would be hard to do since we don’t play), I’m not so sure we’ll be doing that either!

    And finally, I married your other half – White Knuckle Man. He’s never been very happy about flying – it’s the take-off that worries him. I, on the other hand, am an airline bratt. My dad worked for the airlines almost my entire life, so the thought of driving anywhere sends chills down my spine. I’ve had to learn to cope with long trips since getting married & losing my flight benefits, but I’d rather pay $500 than to be in a car for more than 2 hours!!!!

  5. sounds like we both had wonderful travel experiences this past Christmas…and thank you by the way…for bringing back the vivid nightmares of an 18 hour flight from Japan to Idaho…just me..with two small children. It all came crashing back into memory just now. I thought I was over the nightmares…*sigh*

  6. Do you remember the carefree tree-hugger that chuckled in amusement at the college girl who had never flown? Where did she go, oh former lover of the skies? Actually, I remember when she morphed into White Knuckle Woman…does she come with cool aluminum foil braclets like
    Wonder Woman? I found your blog, hi, friend:) Remind me again why you are not a writer. Thanks for the vivid word pictures! I must run, but I will type at you more later. More than my luggage. JMo
    Psst…hi, Tato.

  7. You are not the first mother to recommend medicating children for the flight. Parenting seems foreign to me, not having kids, but I do not envy the likeness to a pack mule that travelling parents with children are forced to become.

  8. JMo!!!! Can it really be you??? I can’t believe it! The information age has reunited us! If you don’t write immediately and tell me what you’ve been up to, I’ll be forced to blog all your deepest, darkest secrets from college, including the time you wet your pants at that Piper show…

    Jon–that “little pill” sounds great! (But what will I give the kids?)

    SJ–you’re right; it’s a pretty safe bet that my name will not show up on any NASA rosters in the near (or far) future.

    Jules–does topical valium come in a value pack?

    Amy–Thank you, and may I say: “Likewise.” πŸ™‚

    Anon (Lisa?)–Thanks! Hey, maybe if I lay hands on that topical valium, I could surreptitiously rub some on the guy in 4A, too!

    Kathy–It just occurred to me: Dramamine might be the answer to my little backseat driving problem, too. πŸ™‚

    Jennifer–What’s wrong with driving? Sing all the way through “99 Bottles of Beer On the Wall” eight or nine times and you’re there!

    Kassi–I’m here to help. πŸ™‚

    Newlywifed–A pack mule is an excellent analogy to an overloaded parent (except the ASPCA doesn’t host fundraisers for us…)

  9. You need to submit this entry to a magazine somewhere – it is such a fantastic read! I am glad you survived the holidays…and the flight!!! I should appreciate my solitude before motherhood hits!!

  10. Alas, the confusion has set in during your old age…the only fluid MY pipersuit acquired was sweat and mutilated-cafeteria-pea juice. That’s just for the record, of course. I won’t name names:)

  11. Hey Katrina–Such a funny story. I know exactly what you mean!! Next time ya’ll are flying into Denver let us know. We’re only an hour away and would love to see you guys!
    later, morgan pace

  12. Koyama–Thank you! So sweet. πŸ™‚ And yes, revel in your solitude–after children, it’s only found in the bathroom (and sometimes not even there…)

    JMo–Ha! Of course I remember; I was just baiting you. I will point out, however, that there was a huge amount of Grape Faygo involved in that incident.

    Morgan! Another wonderful face emerges from the past! We will definitely look you up next trip through Denver. I’d love to hear what you and your family are up to!

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