Round Trip Tickets to Hell?

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Next week is Spring Break, and Michael and I were planning to fly cross-country with our infant — ostensibly so I could present a paper at a conference, but mainly so we could go play with my adorable nephews, who live in DC.

This seemed like a perfect plan back when I bought the plane tickets in January; I was still safely ensconced in the cocoon of maternity leave, cushioned from the grind of working fulltime, and March seemed impossibly far away. Julian would be over three months old then, I thought; my God, that’s practically an adolescent. He would be a totally different baby. He would have bloomed into one of those measured and self-reliant infants (those exist, right?) who nap regularly for, I don’t know, three hours or so at a time, who entertain themselves contentedly on a playmat for long stretches, smiling at Mama and Daddy as they pass through the room in the midst of their domestic productivity. (Clothes? Washed! Dishes? Washed! Body? Washed! Breakfast? Eaten! House? Pristine!)

And OF COURSE we would, by that advanced infant age, SURELY have attained the ultimate holy grail of parenting: a baby who sleeps through the night.

Or so went my thought train of self-deception, back in January.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, March has arrived, and now I realize that I was completely off my tits in Delusion Land. (It’s sort of like Candy Land, but instead of gumdrops, there are just endless little squares of disappointment.)

Today, I canceled our airline reservations. And here’s why. It’s all because of my imagination. My overactive, take-no-prisoners imagination, which convinced me that flying cross-country with a three month-old, or at least with MY three month-old would look something like this….

[Cue dream sequence music.]

We leave for the airport at 4:30 AM, which isn’t really a big deal, since I am pretty much always awake at that hour, because, yes, our baby does NOT sleep through the night. Not even close. In fact, he has embraced a radical, subversive baby lifestyle known as reverse cycling, where he actually eats MORE frequently at night than he does during the day. Every night is like cuddling up to an open bar for him, a bar that never closes and sleepily rolls over to feed him anytime he makes a squawk, which he does about every two to three hours, all night long.

They say babies with working moms can fall into this nighttime guzzling habit, but my baby must come by it naturally, because he started doing it before I actually went back to work. No doubt he’ll grow into one of those hungry night owl adults, the ones who shuffle to the fridge at 2 AM, half-asleep, and eat all the leftover pizza.

But I digress. Back to my airplane scenario. So we get to the airport, and I’m feeling confident and brave, like one of those spandex moms I see running past my house with tight butts and nice jogging strollers – those moms who just exude an air of why yes, I have my shit together! Smiley face. I feel like one of those moms upon arriving at the airport, because my baby has slept peacefully in the car and is now gurgling happily in the Ergo, because we’re one of those weird attachment parenting couples who don’t actually use a stroller.

And right around the time we’re about halfway through that long morning-flight security line, baby derails. He starts fussing, refusing to be in the Ergo any longer, so Michael pulls him out, and we notice his diaper is soaked, but we’re about to go through security, so we just hold the pee-drenched baby and wrestle our belongings through the checkpoint, glancing anxiously at the clock because everything is taking way longer that we thought it would.

We get through, and I rush to the bathroom to change him (and it has to be me, because there are never any diaper changing stations in the men’s restroom, as if men lack opposable thumbs or something), but of course there’s ANOTHER long line, so by the time I’ve changed him — and he is screaming now, because he needs another nap — we’ve missed the special people-with-young-families boarding time, so we end up getting seats right by the toilets, where there will be an endless stream of cranky people who need to pee (or worse) cycling noisily through during the entire flight.

And even though we try to get a row of seats to ourselves, the flight is full, so we have a hapless stranger with us, so close our elbows touch — a scowling man who has never had children and who, in fact, was mistreated by a baby once and now despises them beyond reason and thinks there should be laws against bringing those fleshy sacks of poop and screams on airplanes. He does not say any of this, but I can read it in his hardened eyes. He hates us. (Or, if we don’t get this guy, we might get one of those awful racist drunk people who ACTUALLY SLAP BABIES ON PLANES, because those people do exist.)

Julian will begin crying as the plane takes off because he’s overtired, hungry, and afraid the plane is going to crash (infants have a sense of their own mortality by three months, right?). I try to fix the hungry part by whipping out a boob in front of what is basically a flying metal tube packed with a hundred strangers, but Julian is too hysterical to eat. This happens when the tiredness and hunger coincide, and I can usually only break the feedback loop by standing up, taking my shirt off entirely, holding him sideways across my body, and swinging him side to side while nursing him at the same time. As you can imagine, this is a difficult maneuver to do on an airplane.

And of course there is turbulence. Of course the fasten seat belt sign stays permanently lit. Of course there is an adolescent boy sitting across the aisle from us whose father glares threats at me every time I try to breastfeed my screaming baby, as if I’m doing some sort of strip tease, because many people still can’t handle that fact that breasts are not just “fun bags” for dudes; they exist to feed babies. Of course the plane starts to descend just as we’ve calmed Julian, who starts to scream again at the change in air pressure. And of course, as we land, it occurs to me that the journey is not even half over, because we have a layover, and then another long flight to take us the rest of the way across America, during which we will experience more screaming, more murderous glares, an epic diaper blowout or two, and, I don’t know, maybe the plane will crash.

I could go on, but you get the idea. This nightmarish scenario has been on repeat in my mind, driving me to ultimately pull the plug on the whole trip. But now I’m wondering if I just chickened out, if I let myself succumb too easily to New Mom Anxiety. I think about those spandex moms with the tight butts who run marathons and have their own successful at-home businesses. They would have stuck it out.

So, readers, tell me: is traveling with a young infant as nightmarish as I imagine? Anyone have any good stories to share? I welcome feedback from any parents out there, tight butts or otherwise.

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26 comments

  1. Deja

    My butt is so not tight. But this is hilarious. And I had about a million things I would have interrupted you to tell you, had you been telling me this in person, new bloggy friend. (It’s maybe good it’s not in person? Interrupting is rude!) So who knows how Julian would have done, right? But my baby did really well on our cross-country flight at three months. I hear they generally do when they’re so small. They like the movement and don’t need constant entertainment and are happy to be close to you. Now I, on the other hand, I didn’t do so well. I thought I was going to murder someone. I’ve never had such a hard time flying.

    But here’s the thing: of course canceling the trip was the right move, if it felt right. Motherhood is teaching me a series of brave no-thank-yous. I’m saying “no” to things that are beyond me more than I ever have in my life. It’s pretty awesome, honestly.

    • Abigail

      “Now I, on the other hand, I didn’t do so well. I thought I was going to murder someone. I’ve never had such a hard time flying.” YES. And that’s probably the truth of what would really happen. Baby would be more or less fine, but I’d be an anxious mess just waiting for the explosion. (Also, I didn’t mention this in the post, but my husband is afraid of flying, and I would probably absorb that extra stress like a sponge…) And I totally agree about how motherhood is forcing me to draw boundaries where I would normally falter — it’s been nice, actually, especially at work. Hmmmm… maybe there’s a future blog post in there somewhere…

  2. Becky

    In my experience, it’s actually much easier to do without all the standard contraptions… I always feel bad for the parents with 15 bags stuffed into the stroller, which already has the car seat clicked in and a few stray pacifiers and sippy cups rolling around, wrestling with trying to get the thing folded and on the conveyor belt through the tiny hole to the security x-ray machine. Breezing through with a diaper bag and an Ergo? Not so bad.

    That said, my minimalist tendencies have come back to bite me. It took me awhile with my oldest to realize the change in air pressure always resulted in multiple blowout diapers, and so I ran out of clean changes of clothes on more than one occasion. At the end of one particularly harrowing day of travel, I remember we finally arrived at our destination with him in nothing but a diaper and a hoodie. That didn’t do much for my “competent mom” self-esteem (on the other hand, thank God he still had a clean hoodie!) Another time after long delays due to weather, I had to rely on the generosity of strangers (“Quick! She has a baby about the size of mine! Just suck it up and ask her!”) to give me a few spare diapers and wipes. Even with these slightly terrifying experiences (I haven’t even told you about how motion sick– vomiting included– I get on airplanes… try doing THAT while breastfeeding your baby!), traveling with my kids has been mostly pleasant, and I’m amazed and grateful every time they do well (which is almost every time)… there are so many things that could go terribly wrong, and yet don’t… phew!

    Make your family come to you for awhile… you’re still getting your feet wet with this whole parenting thing. But eventually, you’ll take that leap, and maybe it won’t be as nightmarish as you imagine. Fingers crossed for you!

  3. Liz

    Ha ha! I actually think as long as they are still breast feeding they are pretty easy to travel with. Magnolia and I flew to Alaska when she was 5 mo and back when she was 10 months- people didn’t even know there was a baby on the plane- she just nursed and napped. But if you have claustrophobic tendencies being all wrapped up in the kozy carrier plus luggage staps plus blankie- it can get a little weird! I think it’s one of those things where the baby can handle it depending on the parent’s stress levels! Also we cloth diapered but for trips I’d use the fancy-hold-a-ton-of-pee disposables.

  4. Davida

    First of all, I have no horror stories. Little A is a good traveler. However, for more specifics, through the fog of time I remember:
    We traveled (all three together) from San Jose to Portland, when little A was 2.5 months old, for Christmas. I don’t remember anyone crying; the flight attendant reminded us to have her suck on something (bottle, pacifier, breast) during takeoff to help her ears. My mistake that time was only nursing on one side for most of the day because of modesty concerns (waaah, such a sad other breast later, nearly gave myself mastitis). The nice thing about flying for Christmas is that other travelers are understanding.

    We made that same flight when she was 6 months and also 8 months old; I think these were harder trips because she was a little more mobile, but we just grinned and bore it. The nice thing about that flight is it is short, and a person can handle anything for two hours. I still don’t remember anyone screaming, but I am sure she was more restless. Once she got past a year or so old, I would (and still do) bring stuff for us to do: crayons, new stickers and sticker books, etc.

    • Abigail

      Yeah, I think I would feel a little squeamish about breastfeeding in such close quarters. I fancy myself to be bolder than that, but I even shut the curtains in my office when I pump, despite the fact that no one could possibly see in unless airborne.

  5. Melanie

    I flew from Vietnam with Ben when he was 7 months old. He was a model traveler, even then. My husband was more of a baby, whining about some cold that meant he couldn’t help with Ben. But I brought Samuel home from India when he was 3.1, and that was the trip from hell. Blowout diapers, crying, restless, pushing buttons, flopping all over the seat, refusing to be buckled (And that was just me). I had infections in both eyes, which were nearly swollen shut, but Ron had Delhi Belly, and was completely out of the picture as far as helping. Longest 15 hours of my life. No joke.

  6. Meghan

    Traveling with a 4 month old from the west coast to the east was easy because he was content to be held and entertained on our laps, and slept a lot. He was even sick, and puked all over me (soaking through my pants and underwear, lovely) right as we took off but wasn’t an issue on the flight. Flying with a 6 month old from Ethiopia to Portland was much harder because he wanted to be mobile (he was almost crawling), but also probably because we had really just met him, didn’t know his schedule and personality, and were traveling for 24 hours rather than 3.

    • Abigail

      Wow, Meghan and Melanie. I think internationally adopting mothers need some extra kudos — you aren’t driving home from the hospital with a little person you just met; you’re flying internationally with him/her! And especially as a brand new mom, Melanie. Hats off to you. Now I look like total weak sauce. 🙂

  7. Jenny

    Well traveling with a little one is never easy no matter the age. We took Natalie to Colorado when she was 4 months old. Oh wow was that an experience. We drove with canaan’s parents and sister all piled in one very small mini van. It was a grueling two day trip that I was convinced I wouldn’t survive (that was before we even hit the road). However, once we were on the road and I was able to just react to whatever the situation was, the trip wasn’t so bad. I nursed in the car every 3 to 4 hours, and the rest if the family would go order food in the restaurant while Natalie had her meal. Then I would go in and eat while they entertained her. She napped well in the car because she loved car rides and her seat was super comfortable because we put memory foam underte lining of her car seat. The week while we were in Colorado she did really well too. She slept through the night in her pack n play. I think my anxiety before and during the trip was the worst part. I would psych myself out every time it was bed time or it started getting close to meal time. It could be that I suppressed all the bad memories since then but I don’t recall her ever having a melt down that was I was expecting to happen. However, I do recall saying never again and that was a crazy idea.

    • Abigail

      Michael and I are planning a road trip down to San Diego in May. For some reason the thought of driving long hours with a baby is much less stressful than flying — I think maybe because I have more control and can stop the care, etc. Plus, I think the biggest anxiety for me is the “stage fright” dynamic, of having to display my babycare skills in from of dozens of strangers. We’ll see how the road trip goes. I will NOT chicken out on that one!

  8. Stefanie

    We have never had problem with flying with the boys. Most people are very understanding and I never felt like I was getting any angry glares from people. We tend to sit in the back by the bathrooms, because it is noisy back there and if the kids did fuse people wouldn’t notice as much. I agree with previous commenter that it is nice not to get weighed down with too much stuff. It was definitely easier to fly with the boys when they were younger because they were not as mobile.

    I had a friend who bought a bunch of $5 gift cards to Starbucks when she was flying with her kiddos to hand out to people sitting near her. Luckily the kids did well and she didn’t hand them out.

    • Abigail

      I salute their creativity and organizational skills. (And I bet the mom is one of those tight butt, jogging stroller moms!)

  9. Abigail

    Well, after reading all these comments, I’m realizing that I probably did let myself succumb to New Mom anxiety. Most of the stories I hear about traveling with infants are positive. I find myself thinking that traveling with an older baby would be easier, for some reason, but I guess then there’s the mobility issue. Well, luckily the tickets were Southwest, so we can reuse them sometime this year. I’m gonna plan another trip to DC, and if I start to feel like chickening out, I’ll come back here and read these comments again…! And, of course, Julian’s been a real angel the past couple of days, after several days of being a little monster, and now I’m wishing I hadn’t pulled the plugged. Sigh. C’est la vie.

  10. Melissa Weckhorst

    When Ian was only a few months old, we flew with him to Illinois. He was a perfect angel, in that he was in a magical “bird” era where he slept if it was dark and there was enough movement. We were also lucky to fly on a fairly empty plane, and got a whole row to ourselves, meaning we could bring the car seat on board and buckle him in. But, I chalk all of this up to “beginner’s luck.” The next time I took Ian, he was just under the “lap babies fly free” rule. And, we being frugal, decided we would travel with our GIANT, gangly child of nearly two whose favorite activity was running laps in a big room. Unfortunately, due to the circumstances, I would have to fly alone with him on the trip over. I brought four complete sets of clothing in my carry-on and enough diapers to last a week. Unfortunately, I was stuck in a window seat next to a teenage boy (who was horrified by the thought of children), and a business man who kept glaring at me. During the 6 hour flight, Ian completely blew out 5 diapers, which ruined each set of clothing, and he screamed and kicked the teenager the whole time. By the time we got off the plane, Ian was wearing my sweatshirt and I was exhausted and nearly in tears. After that, I vowed that if I flew with kiddos again, I would pay for the extra seat, no matter the cost or the age, and I would have either my husband or another adult with me for moral support. I commiserate with you. Flying with kids to me now sounds like cruel and unusual punishment!

  11. Abigail

    Holy crap, that sounds eerily like the over-the-top, nightmarish scenario I described. You actually live through it! And you were all on your own! You are a goddess.

  12. Erin Wood

    I had the same anxiety and canceled my flight to go to my SISTERS wedding. My baby was 3 months old. A flight across the Pacific seemed like no big deal BEFORE baby #3 came along and then once she arrived it felt so overwhelming that I couldn’t even get on with my day because I was stressing over it. It was just me and her…not the whole family either. So I finally canceled my flight and apologized to my sister (who was awesome about it). This is my bit of advice. Don’t underestimate the power of hormones. They can bring on the weirdest anxiety, stress, sleep disorders, mood swings, etc. I never dealt with any of the before mentioned until having a newborn and breastfeeding. Once I was done breastfeeding (about 6 months) I leveled out (those breastfeeding hormones can be crazy at times too) and looked back at all of the things that stressed me out. I couldn’t understand why that seemed so overwhelming…to take a 3 month old in an airplane. But all I can say is don’t compare yourself to others who seem to “have it all together”. Everyone has different reactions…it doesn’t make you weaker just different. And do what you feel comfortable doing. It is perfectly fine to lay low for the first few months. You will know when you are ready to do those things (fly with little ones, etc.) because it might stress you out but not the overwhelming, impossible feeling like now. I flew with my kids when they were 1 and older. It was still hard but I didn’t feel so overwhelmed and consumed by it.

    I always wanted to be those moms too that took their babies everywhere and acted like nothing seemed impossible. And more than likely things might have gone fine. Or if they didn’t I still would have survived. But I just couldn’t put myself in a situation where I felt out of control. I knew I would be a better mommy if I didn’t.

    • Abigail

      Thank you, Erin — this is SO encouraging to hear. I’d been feeling a little like I wimped out, even though I do know it was the best decision for me and my family at the time. We would have been leaving for the airport at the crack of dawn tomorrow, and I am so relieved that we’re not!

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  15. Katherine

    I know I’m late to this party, but I just discovered your blog! I flew with my 3 month old son by myself last September. I flew from Sacramento to Denver (about 2.5 hour flight) and it wasn’t terrible. The two worst moments were 1.going through security by myself (because the TSA people just stare at you struggling with your bag and baby and shoes) and then 2. my darling son had a poopy diaper each way, and those airplane bathrooms are about 2 inches big. Somehow we managed. He was content to nurse and dose the flight away.

    He will be 11 months old when I fly next month – two flights with 1 layover. I’ll be flying with my parents on the way there but by myself on the way back. Darling son is all about the crawling and the standing and crusing right now. I don’t know how it’s going to work…..pray for me….haha.

    • Abigail

      Good luck on your next flying experience!! I’m about to take the plunge in a week or so, and feeling much better about it now. He’s five months old, and seems to have hit an “easy baby” phase (fingers crossed!!!). And I will be traveling with my husband, so as long as he keeps his own flying anxiety in check, I think that will be a big help. Whew. Stay tuned!