Parenting: Flying with Toddlers

The only thing that makes flying better is not flying with your toddlers. My wife (who, for some reason, doesn't want me to mention her name in these posts) is from the United Kingdom, which means that we pack up our two sons and take them on a 24-hour car/plane/train journey about every 2 years. 

After having done this a couple times, when I see people traveling who don't have toddlers I catch myself thinking, "Oh your plane is delayed? Now what? You have more time to read your magazine in peace and listen to music and enjoy free Wi-Fi and get coffee? Boo-fucking-hoo. I've got a small human who can't sit still and can't stop trying to lick the underside of a seat that hasn't been cleaned in a decade." 

When I fly without my kids now, I'm almost skipping through security. Volunteering for a pat-down just to spice things up a bit. 

"I would love to remove my belt and shoes! And is it a little forward to ask if one of you fellas could put the backs of your latex-gloved hands on my crotch?"

Going through security with toddlers almost turns me into a terrorist. 

I'm not afraid of the act of flying, but I am afraid of massive-poorly-run corporations and unnecessary-government-bureaucracy. Air travel in America is a marriage of these two monsters. 

When my oldest son was 18 months old, I heard the, "Sir, you're going to need to remove the younger ones' shoes."

"Remove his shoes?"

"Yes sir."

Like some drunk bro in a bar, my wife almost had to hold me back as I wanted to scream, "His shoes are 4 fucking inches long! Even if they were made of pure plastic explosives, they'd barely be able to blow up a tray table!"

Yes indeed. Back then, everyone had to remove their shoes. Eh-vree-wun. Yet who am I to argue? This is about security. Security! Am I with us or against us? This isn't about silly rules and theater, it's about peoples' lives. And when it comes to peoples' lives, rules must be set, followed, and never changed.

But wait, what's this? Now, two years later, kids no longer have to take off their shoes.

Ahhh!!! Have fun trying to fly now! How could you with the knowledge that not a single toddler on your flight had his or her shoes properly scanned by the Transportation Security Administration? 

It's practically a death sentence. 

On our last trans-Atlantic journey, it's hard to decide, but if I were forced to pick, I'd say that the low-point was when my napping 2.5-year-old son peed his pants, soaking the cloth seat below him, and the ladies British flag decorated watch that he had apparently been sitting on. 

As I watched him wake up, my interior monologue strung together every known obscenity into one massive word. Not only had he requested that I take him to the bathroom 4 times before he finally fell asleep (peeing each of those times, I might add, while I risked tearing my ACL trying to get a toddlers' pants and undies on and off in a tiny airplane bathroom), but he had finally (FINALLY!) fallen asleep just 20 minutes earlier, after going crazier and crazier for about 4 hours. 

Nothing sends parents into semi-psychosis like sleeping issues. I have never committed so much brainpower to sleep as I have with children.

So much of my current life revolves around, "He's not tired enough to sleep,""He's too tired to sleep," "Don't let him fall asleep in the car, it's too close to nap time," "Just go with it, he seems to only sleep when positioned on top of your face," and on and on and on and on. It gets to a point where you catch your thoughts wandering into strange (and possibly illegal) territory like: "Now I know that chloroform is bad ..... buuuuut, you know .... if you're not using it for evil, and you just use it in small doses? Like medically approved and what not. .... You know what I'm getting at?"

Now I'm stuck in my seat next to my kid covered in hot urine and not a drop of chloroform in sight. My younger son is sure of 2 things:

1) he doesn't like to wear diapers

2) he likes to pee his pants

So this was not the first pants-peeing in our family, meaning I had spare clothes on hand. Like a daycare MacGyver, I stand him up, take his shorts and undies off, put on his other shorts and undies, glancing up every once in a while to calmly assure the other passengers, "Nothing to see here, go about you business. What? You've never seen an uncircumcised wiener on an airplane before?" 

As my son starts to wake up, he begins to request the ladies British flag watch he has just peed all over. I oblige because it was his watch (long story). But I've got to get his pee-watch on and then pass him across the aisle, over my other son, to my wife, while we both try and convince him that he's dreaming or it's "Night time and time to sleep" and hope that, against all odds, he'll sleep the rest of the flight.

I use one of the plastic airline blanket bags to wrap up my son's pee-clothes, and then use another plastic bag to wrap the seat, which my older son is now insisting on sitting in, though he is fully aware of the fact it has just been peed all over. 

Looking down at the seat, my wife laughs and says, "At least the staff has the right cover for it."

This is a joke you'd only get if you'd wandered into the tenth circle of airline travel Hell. Hours earlier, we were grounded at Heathrow because someone on the flight previous had "soiled" two seats. The staff couldn't just put on a sign that said, "Don't sit here." Instead, FAA regulations require the seats be properly covered with FAA-regulation seat covers that say, "Don't sit here." So we sat for half an hour, waiting, and knowing that we'd miss our connection in Chicago to DSM. 

Seat covers! 

I've seen weather delays, mechanical delays, "paperwork" delays, and even a delay because the printer to print the paperwork wasn't working properly. But this was the first seat cover display. 

The mystery of air travel -- scheduling, delays, flights being moved up 13 minutes or back 8 minutes or canceled -- makes me think that one day, maybe when I retire, I'd like to work in all aspects of the world of air travel and finally make sense of how it ticks. I'll be a 65-year-old intern on a mission.

Of course, by the time I'm 65 I'll be traveling without my kids any more. So if my flights delayed I'll probably just read a magazine, go back for a second pat down, and hope I don't have to sit next to some pee-soaked toddler on my flight.