I was nervous. I'd sharpened my peripheral vision in order to avoid eye contact. I'd practiced witty comebacks to any possible snide remarks. I packed my carry-on with just about every distraction imaginable. Vacations are exciting, but getting there is no longer half the fun. We were leaving on a jet plane with our daughter, who is 20 months old.
A toddler on a plane. Worse than snakes, apparently
You'd think my concerns would just be remembering everything and keeping it together (and her occupied/quiet) for the duration of flight. But news headlines were starting to report that families were being kicked off planes. Not just for out-of-control, tantrum-throwing tots, but for cheerful toddler babble.
I must admit, I initially had little sympathy for Julie and Gerald Kulesza, who were kicked off an AirTran flight when they couldn't control their tantrum-throwing 3-year-old daughter, according to The Telegram. The flight had already been delayed for 15 minutes while she screamed on the floor and climbed under seats. According to the airline, they were ejected, not because she was screaming, but because she wouldn't sit with her seat belt fastened.
***Note to self: Will not get kicked off plane for tantrum if baby properly restrained.***
On the other hand, I felt enormously bad for Kate Penland and her 19-month-old son, Garren. According to ABC News, after an 11-hour delay, Kate and Garren finally boarded their homeward-bound Continental ExpressJet flight. Garren's repetition of his newly-learned phrase, "bye bye plane" didn't go over too well with a flight attendant. After Kate dismissed said flight attendant's suggestion to sedate her baby with Benadryl, she and Garren were booted off the plane. Apparently, the flight attendant told the pilot that Kate threatened her, an allegation refuted by Kate's fellow passengers.
***Note to self: Keep baby's mouth full of food to avoid repetitive babbling.***
Yep -- that's what I did. Trust me, I wouldn't win any Mother Of The Year Awards for what my daughter ate on that journey, but to quote a good friend of mine, "This is not about good parenting practices, it is about surviving the flight!"
I had steeled myself for angry glares from fellow passengers and hostile looks from overworked flight attendants, but I'm happy to say that none were forthcoming. In fact, some people were actually friendly!
Nobody looked exactly thrilled to have a toddler in their midst, especially in executive class (thank you, frequent flyer points!), but the big sighs and side eye I was expecting never materialized. Comments on articles about flying with a baby implied that we'd likely be tarred and feathered in the departure lounge. Perhaps people are far ruder behind the anonymity of a computer screen than they'd ever dare to be in person.
This was seven years ago. Have things changed? Nope. In fact, things seem worse.
For that flight and on our gazillion subsequent travels, there were also a number of parents traveling with tots of various ages. We all have one thing in common -- a bulging carry-on bag. Mine was stuffed with the aforementioned junk food plus healthy snacks, new books, new trinket-y toys from the dollar store (wrapped for even more fun), diapers, wipes, sippy cup, cherished blanket (guard with your life), two changes of clothes for her (you never know), a change of clothes for me (you never know), plastic bags (to hold the aforementioned possible laundry) and her pacifier to help her ears for landing (the only times she slept on both flights).
Use a packing list. Organization is the key to a stress-free vacation and the journeys there and back are no exception. The annoyance of having to carry so much stuff is offset by the possibility of needing something mid-flight and not being able to get it.
Still, the idea of traveling with a baby or toddler seems so stressful to some that they either postpone vacations until their child is older, or they leave the little one(s) at home. Yes, my daughter doesn't remember the places she'd been before her third birthday, but my husband and I will never forget the wonderful times we've spent away from our busy day-to-day life, watching our kids experience new places, faces, flora, fauna, and food.
Our vacations aren't the same, they're better.
Corinne McDermott is the founder of Have Baby Will Travel, a website with a mission to inspire, motivate, and help families travel with babies, toddlers, and young children. Connect with her via Facebook or Twitter. A version of this post first appeared on her site.