It’s been one week since we flew home to Hong Kong from Seattle, and in those thirteen airborn hours I pondered why and how anyone ever thought flying was a good idea..and many other miracles. These are the stages you, too, may experience when flying between continents with children.
- Book plane tickets many, many months in advance so the anticipatory joy of travel (dread) has time to build. At time of booking, raise fists to the sky when comparing prices between economy and business classes. Reflect on the one time you flew business class to Ireland ON A MISSION TRIP IN HIGH SCHOOL (what? how? why???), and curse yourself for not being more grateful then. Ponder passing your kid off as under two, although he weighs 43 pounds.
- Spend at least $100 at Target the night before the flight on crap that will probably pollute the earth for the next million years. In our family, this means small plastic toys with weapon-like accessories fill the cart. Also, the best chocolate available in the checkout line and several travel packs of Wet Ones. Try to picture what you’ll need at hour 11, but fail to come up with any new ideas.
- In the hours before your flight, panic about the expiration date on your passport even though you’ve checked in a hundred times already. Make sure your husband knows you are panicking and expect him to join you in your irrational frenzy.
- Burst into ugly tears when the TSA officer tries to confiscate your chocolate protein shake, which you see as a legitimate medical supplement. Pregnant, incredibly prone to vomiting, and an entire day surrounded by smelly strangers…this is MEDICALLY NECESSARY. Miraculously get your way.
- Board the plane. Try to carry your boarding passes, passports, and all the last-minute airport purchases, including onion rings, bags of almonds, and the latest copy of House Beautiful. Also the 500 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles your kid packed but has already decided are passé.
- Hours 1-5: Binge watching for the whole family! That show on HBO you never knew you loved? Now a lifelong fan. Make sure your child is adequately engrossed in his Disney Junior selection, so as not to be scarred by the HBO-ness of your own selection. Repeat until you remember about the blood clot forming in your left ankle.
- Eat “dinner.” Enjoy the pungent aromas of airline food for at least an hour, as the smell of Chicken Cacciatore floods the cabin from the 500-pound, bathroom-blocking cart. Once your “food” is delivered, lecture your child about what a privilege it is to be served a meal on a plane in 2016! Eat the cucumbers off the salad, give all the cheese and crackers from everybody’s tray to your kid, and try not to knock your picked-over meal off the tray for the next hour. Remain hungry.
- Hour 9: Question every decision you ever made leading up to this unbearably long flight. Think of other things that take LESS than nine hours. A standard American workday. The drive from Denver to Santa Fe. Watching Titanic almost three full times. Or in my case, delivering a baby.
- Get up and face the state of the airplane bathroom. Beg your husband to take your child as well, citing sexist views on standards of cleanliness between genders.
- Ask your husband to take your kid to the bathroom. He complies.
- Annnnnnnd again.
- Hour 11: Begin to study the flight map on the touchscreen that has now become slightly blurry from so much up-close exposure. Get really worried that you’ll crash (or be shot down) over Russia or North Korea. Or??? Reassure your child when he sees you start to squirm. Use phrases like, “At least we’re all together, honey!”
- Remember that House Beautiful you bought! Find it covered in yogurt from the recent “breakfast” delivery. Also find that you will never actually buy anything from the pages of House Beautiful, no matter how much HGTV you watched whilst traveling in America. Notice how bloodshot your kid’s eyes look…calculate screen time…pencil in costs for therapy later in life.
- Hour 12 and a half: The plane begins its descent! Look around and wonder how the glorious mess at your feet somehow fit into the allotted carry-on bags you first brought. Panic, then whisper-yell at your spouse to stop watching Jamie Oliver’s cocktail special and help you pack it all up again. Acknowledge you may need to be a nicer person after the flight is over.
- LANDED! Elbow your way into the aisle with every last item shoved into whichever backpack you could reach, balance your slumbering, 43-pound child over your shoulder, and drag wheelie suitcases behind. Glare at the spry college student, with his one, solitary Herschel backpack, who tries to cut you off.
- Get to the car, gulp your complimentary water bottle, and say, “Hey! That was such a good trip. We are so lucky to be able to do this. I’m grateful–don’t you just feel grateful right now? It’s really not that long when you think about it. Our kid is a trooper. Let’s go again!”
Godspeed, good travelers! It’s worth it every time.