Here is the thing about flying: I hate it. I hate everything about it -- the operations, the uncertainty, the germ-infested airports, the time spent trapped in your seat. I hate all of it. The only thing I hate more than any of this is doing all of that, but with my children.
Flying with young children is a test of your personal fortitude, the strength of your marriage and a direct challenge to your belief system in all that is holy and right. It's exhausting.
Do you ever wonder what Hell looks like? It looks exactly like that spot where the families wait to pre-board a flight. The children run around bouncing off the walls and the parents cling to each other, weighed down by excessive amounts of travel gear for children they know will be incapable of using any of it for more than five seconds. The only thing more terrifying than the look on the parents' faces is that of the other passengers who know they will be stuck with you. It is a dark moment made even more macabre by the look of glee on the children's faces as they prepare to taunt you for hours on end with nonstop requests for gum and books and movies and pillows and potties and anything at all really that they want and you can't even escape it. You are stuck. For the next six hours, you will parent by any means necessary. You will be their butler.
Any time before my husband and I prepare to begin any kind of long journey with the children involving air travel, we literally do the same thing: we commit to love each other no matter what for the entirety of the day. We do this because after hour four of being stuck in a flying tube with them, they are just so insanely irritating that when someone drops their raisins for like, the seventh time, and you just go to lose it on your spouse, you'll remember that pledge of love and that they are cunning enough to try to turn you against each other.
There are certain things I know will happen each time we fly. I suppose by now it should be comforting, sort of like the airplane version of Groundhog Day. It is not comforting. All of it still sucks. And all of this happened when we flew across country with them this weekend.
I over-pack our carry-on bag. I stuff it with leap pads and iPads and pencils and stickers and Legos and cards and extra clothes and snacks and headphones (that no one will actually use) until you can hardly recognize the shape of the distorted and bloated bag you think once was the North Face backpack you took with you on your honeymoon. Inevitably, we will be something like 10 minutes into the flight and someone will ask my husband to retrieve an item from the bag that is completely hidden from the naked eye. As he furiously contorts his 6 foot 3 body in the four inches of space the airplane hilariously refers to as "generous leg room" to locate that hidden Dora book that someone desperately needs, the entire bag will erupt in a blur of Frozen-themed extra underpants and cheddar bunnies. When a bag like this explodes, I imagine it is roughly what it would like if a toddler exploded. Lots of electronics and applesauce and extra underwear, a lone lollipop, things to color with. Phil growls at me. I remind him of our pledge of love.
I also know that as we run to catch the flight with three carry-ons and the stroller and the three kids my husband will inevitably decide he is in dire need of the world's largest hottest cup of coffee. This will render him incapable of actively doing anything other than very slowly drinking this insanely large and hot drink. Because I am fond of the children having flesh on their bodies, I will tell him that he cannot bounce the baby on one knee and the coffee on the other. Picture it: today, 10 minutes to get from one gate at the Denver airport to the next before our flight leaves. Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Perfect time for a jumbo-sized cup of caffeine roughly the temperature of Hell! Because it's easy to run through the airport with all of the children carrying that! Of course!
Other things I am certain of: No matter how many times I ask my 4-year-old if she has to pee, she will wait until the exact moment that we start to make our descent before she decides she definitely has to go.
That my 6-year-old will have no trouble declaring he has to go to the bathroom, but will become obsessed with locking the door properly and almost certainly get locked inside the bathroom.
That the baby I have been trying to get to sleep for the entire flight will only close her eyes the second we are wheels down at our destination.
That even though I have to pee I will try to hold it so we can make our flight. Once on the plane I get so wrapped up putting on Wreck it Ralph and soothing the baby and feeding the baby and then HOLY MOTHER OF GOD I FORGOT TO PEE. And like a child, I have to run to the bathroom before I have an accident. Without fail, this will be the exact moment we experience terrifying turbulence. Because what better place to catch MRSA than bouncing off the walls of the airplane bathroom?
There were many other fun moments too. For some reason, when the baby has a particularly explosive diaper situation, my husband and I are fond of saying she "bombed" us. I have no idea why we say this. So today as we flew somewhere over California, the baby that didn't have any desire to poop while on the ground decided to take the most ridiculous poop of her life in mid-air. I turned to my husband and without a thought about where we were or what I was saying yelled to him over the engine, "Phil! She bombed the airplane!"
Note to self: Don't mention bombs on airplanes, even if you are joking about diarrhea and babies.
Finally, we landed. I thanked the good lord (or any lord) for putting us back on the ground again safely. Honestly, all things being equal, my children are pretty good fliers. But that's just it: They are children and their behavior doesn't suddenly change if they are in the air or at a fancy restaurant or whatever. They are one speed at ages 6, 4 and 6 months. That is, they are high speed. All the time. It's our own fault for creating any kind of scenario where we expect to get anything back from them other than that. Which I suppose is really how it should be. I love their energy, most of the time.
As we piled out of the plane with our disheveled, yet surprisingly still high-spirited children in tow, my daughter took note of the tense look on my face. She extended her hand, as if for a high five. Reluctantly, I answered. "Now that's the sugar!" she said.
God, I love my kids.
I just love them more on the ground.
This piece was originally published on My Jenn-eration.