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The International Writers Magazine: Life Moments

Kids on a Plane
•Amanda Callendrier


There is a little circle of hell that only those of us who travel with children know exist.  It is a dark place, filled with screaming and, occasionally, unmentionable bodily fluids.  Yes, yes, I know, we are not alone on the airplane.  You childless travelers are there suffering with us.  But it's not the same, you with your white sweaters and Bose earphones, glancing smugly at us as we trudge to the back of the plane, holding Thomas the Train backpacks, and if we are very unlucky indeed, car seats.

I've been doing it for six years.  That's me in the back, hissing, "If you do that one more time, YOU. WILL. REGRET. IT."  Once, I took an eighteen-month old with an ear infection on a transatlantic flight.  (No, I didn't know this before we boarded...)  It is, in fact, possible to scream and cry for five hours, with two short breaks for vomiting and cleanup.  I took a three-year-old on a transatlantic flight (fortunately, not the same flight), when, after not being allowed to leave our seats because of turbulence, I was both peed and vomited on.  Now, I always travel with an extra shirt, and it's best to choose something in a color that resembles dirt and/or mucous.

After one of these flights, or maybe it was another one like it, a woman on our next leg down to Nashville, turned around, gave us her most charming smile and a wink, and said, "Honey?  Do you think you could keep him from touching my seat?", which, since we had just boarded, no one was actually doing.  I must have been wearing what I call my abandon-all-hope-ye-who-enter-here look, because I didn't actually speak before she backed away, visibly.  The truth is, I was fresh out of Benadryl.

There are special skills involved in folding a stroller with a fussy child and sending it through airport security, barefoot.  It is a shame that these are not skills that we can put on our resumes, because really, it's bigger than, like, Excel.  I can do most of this with one hand, since the other is usually filled with a screaming person who has just had to put a favorite toy in a plastic bin to be x-rayed.

Generally, the airport is filled with willing helpers- dads who know how to unfold strollers, moms who will give you a hand even when theirs are full, a flight attendant with an extra bottle of water or a little toy.  Someone offered me a shirt when I was of mine in a bathroom.  Usually, all it takes is a sympathetic smile to make it seem not so horrible. The row of portly businessmen who refused to change seats so that I could hang a bassinet for my baby - forgotten thanks to the high school student who offered her lap for a pair of little feet, and played dolls with my older one like she was getting paid for it.

My little ones are getting bigger with every transatlantic flight.  They're almost (dare I say?) normal now.  They pull their own miniature suitcases, and no one needs a stroller.  There are no sippy cups, no baby food, and no DIAPERS.  Drawing, books, the in-flight movie, and we're good to go.  This year, the French couple sitting in front of me gave me, at the flight's end, a small smile, and a "bravo;"  the American grandmother behind me gushed, "They were SO good," which mean the same thing, more or less.

"Oh, they're used to it, " I gloated, eyes passing over the wailing baby three rows behind us.  But it was not so long ago, and old habits die hard.  Don't be fooled by the tiny Princess-themed carry-on.  We all have a change of underwear and toothbrushes, just in case we have to spend the night somewhere.  The kids have pajama pants on standby, and that extra shirt in my purse?  If you're covered in apple juice (or worse), I've got your back.
 Amanda Callendrier January 2009

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