Monday, April 12, 2010

Up in the Air

If there is one experience that puts any parent to the test, it is air travel. I have been a parent for 7 1/2 years now and I have taken my children to all sorts of public places--the grocery store, the library, the zoo, office buildings, restaurants, movie theaters, church--but no encounter with the general populous is more fraught with stress and challenge than that of taking your offspring on an airplane.

The general public is predisposed to dislike children on airplanes. Deny it if you want, but the sentiment is palpable; this is perhaps what makes the experience so distressing. Never in my life do I feel more judged as a parent than when I enter an airport.

This weekend I was traveling alone with my three daughters--ages 7, 5, and 2. The older two are by nature very obedient and quiet children. They came that way and I'm not sure our parenting has had much to do with it, but I still like getting the compliments about how good they are being.

My youngest daughter is cut from a different cloth. If she doesn't like something she will let you know, and she won't be quiet about it. Her tantrum abilities are already the stuff of legends.

The first big challenge was security. One woman. Three children. That's eight shoes, 2 backpacks, 4 jackets, 4 boarding passes, a purse, a cell phone, and a laptop. I was a whiz, if I do say so myself. Once we hit the plastic tubs I had everyone through security and re-shoed (both times) in less than 5 minutes. If you are not impressed, fellow travelers, well you should be. I was a wonder of speed and efficiency.

It was then that we needed to make it to our gate, and it was then that Maryn decided that she needed to be carried. I was already carrying a backpack filled with snacks, books, crayons, pillows, etc., and I had my laptop in my purse, so I figured that this mama horse had packed enough. Maryn didn't agree. She refused to walk and then she went boneless and sprawled out on the glossy airport floor.

I told her "fine, stay there" and kept walking. But then I got too many looks of horror from other travelers, and being on a schedule, I finally had no choice but to give in and scoop her up off the floor and perch her on my hip, where she sat like the Queen of Sheba all the way to the gate.

As we were boarding the plane, Maryn determined that it was "scary" and didn't want to enter. She was still howling and screaming when we entered the plane and I got to do the walk of shame past all of the disapproving faces of my fellow passengers. I wanted to shout, "See how good the other two are being!"

I positioned Cora and Sydney on the row across from me so that I could see them.

The stewardess came and said, "Are you the only adult? I don't know if this will work." It seemed I should have consulted her before I was so bold as to give life to three children. Southwest can only accommodate three passengers on either side of the aisle, and I, being only one adult and lacking the ability to cut myself in two, was left no other alternative than to sit across the aisle from at least one of my children, which apparently inconvenienced the stewardess.

I assured her that I had the situation totally under control and that I could, in fact, manage all three children rather competently.

Soon the announcement came that this was a full flight and that any parents flying with children who are not ticketed would need to hold the children on their laps because every seat was needed. Maryn, who was still fussing and being unconsolable because she didn't like the seatbelt, had made the entire plane very aware of where a potential unticketed child might be. I swear that at least 12 heads turned and looked accusingly in my direction. But I had paid full price for Maryn's ticket and I wasn't about to relinquish her seat. So I answered their accusatory stares with a firm, "She's ticketed."

Once we were in the air, Maryn settled down. She didn't like it that a young boy, roughly 12 years old, came and sat next to us, and so she insisted on sitting on my lap for the entire flight, leaving the seat that we had paid full price for completely empty. (On a side note, this kid left the flight with an entire grocery sack full of peanuts. I was pretty impressed with his peanut scoring skills).

In the end, we made it there and back. I am still alive, and so are my children. But I will warn that the experience is not for the faint of heart.