Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It all changes with mobility

My nervousness at our flights this weekend turned out to be justified. I wouldn’t say River misbehaved. However, he Did. Not. Sleep. At all. And a little bundle of awake energy requires constant and creative entertaining to remain content with a very limited perimeter.

We did get an empty seat next to us on both flights. On the second flight, I was traveling with Mark and the flight wasn’t too full, so we got a whole row. On the first flight, I was traveling alone with River and had to fight like a crazy momma traveling with an infant to get that empty seat.

Upon check-in online, I changed my seat to the very last row to increase the chances of an empty seat. When I checked in my luggage, I checked with the agent and yes, it was still open. I asked her to tell anyone fighting for that open middle seat that they’d be next to a baby. I figured that would scare them off.

When I reached the gate, I checked again with the agent there (you can never be too sure). No! My middle seat was gone. The agent told me there were four middle seats open on the flight and I could ask a flight attendant to help me. Rows 7, 10 and 11 she told me.

I got on the flight carrying River strapped to my chest in his Ergo. One flight attendant gave me the evil eye. Another, an older gentleman, told me we’d have to wait until everyone was seated. He suggested I take my seat and he’d see what he could do. I knew they’d forget about me way back there in the back corner, so I asked if I could wait outside the plane until everyone was seated. Fine.

Until they told me there was a medical emergency on another flight and we had to leave asap to clear the runway. You must get on board I was told. OK, but how bout that empty seat?

“We don’t have time to deal with that!” the nasty lady said.

The kind man had already gone and asked someone if they’d be willing to switch seats. Score for the middle seat in row 7. But on the downside, we were smack in the middle of a sea of middle-aged male businessmen – probably not River’s biggest fans.

I tried my plan of attack. I stuffed him with as much food as he wanted to eat – a good 40 minutes worth. I ignored the disgusted look from the guy sharing our row as I cut grapes in half with my teeth, removed the halves from my mouth and fed them to River. I couldn’t help laughing when River later tapped the man while he was sleeping, causing him to visibly recoil from us.

All the rest of the guys were surprisingly good sports – even the silver-haired man ahead of us whose hair River couldn’t resist reaching out for. Breastmilk plus a bottle of formula failed to knock River out. He didn’t want to sit in the empty seat. So I could do nothing but entertain and entertain as I became especially conscious of the very limited square inchage of my lap in an airplane seat. I looked at my watch counting down the minutes until the end of the 3-hour trip.

I think I became overconfident after carting River through six states and four countries during his first six months. It seemed easy. If we could handle that, we could handle anything.

But the mobility changed everything. Even though he was relatively content staying within a prescribed area, there was too much to see and to explore to allow sleep. No sleep means no rest for parents – not even a listen to the ipod. And no sleep means River is tired upon arrival.

I can’t say I’m good at this yet. Below are a few tips I learned from my two flights, followed by what I’ve heard from others.

My tip: Figure out whatever your child needs to be content and bring this – plenty of it. In our case, it’s food. As much as I want to reduce the bulk, a solid food supply is essential.

My tip two: Check again and again and again to try to get that empty seat next to you. It is so worth it.

My tip 3: Try to schedule flights for the times of day with the highest likelihood of sleep, such as evening. Even if this doesn’t work (it didn’t, this time, for us) at least baby can get some sleep shortly after you arrive.

My tip 4: Connecting flights are looking more and more attractive these days. Short time in air plus time to run around at airport plus short time in air seems preferable to long time in air.

My stupid tip: Umm, don’t put the baby supply stuff you were going to bring on the flight into your check-in suitcase. Sadly, we did this on the return flight. We were lucky to have enough snacks and some formula in my backpack. We were lucky River took a pee for me in the toilet, allowing us to stretch his single diaper out for five hours use. We had to feed him formula from a Sigg water bottle, then from a bottle lent to us by a kind fellow passenger. Don’t follow in our shoes here.

Other tips I’ve heard from moms:
Suckers (dum dum pops) work magic once the kids are old enough for them, helping with ear popping via the sucking reflex and the sweetness keeping kids happy.

One friend told me of an organic oil a fellow passenger applied to the foot of her screaming young toddler that calmed the child immediately. It's called Gentle Baby and is made by a company called Young Living.

Other tips or suggestions are welcomed, appreciated, begged for. I was considering an overseas trip this winter, but unless I take an airline unpopular with Americans and snag a whole row (I’m considering that idea) I don’t know if I can manage 5-10 hours in the air. What travel tips do you have for flying with a 10-24 month old?

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