Last Thursday evening I set out to Chicago O’Hare with my 20 month old for a 24 hour + plane journey to Kochin, India. I lost track a while ago of how many international trips I’ve taken with my toddler, but we’ve definitely done it enough that I should know exactly what to expect by now.
Except that with every trip with my toddler, once a sleepy baby, is a constantly evolving being, hence despite my experience traveling with her I never really do know exactly what to expect. Sometimes she is an incredibly pleasant and communicative little person that shocks me how knowing she seems to be. Sometimes she is an incredibly illogical tyrant, as one would expect from a toddler. So, yes, long trips with my toddler still horrify me.
Perhaps ‘horrifying’ is a bit strong. I am ever the optimist, after all, so my motto in general is to plan for the worst and hope for the best. The funny thing is that after all the hours I’ve spent traveling through lines, security, airports, and planes with my toddler, she almost always exceeds my expectations. I thought I’d share my fears in this traveling experience, though, because despite how well traveled we are, it certainly doesn’t mean everything always goes perfectly, or that I don’t sometimes feel like a complete novice.
This past Wednesday evening we had a few things working against us:
1) Just the day before we arrived back home on a red-eye to Chicago from a short five day trip to Portland. Yes, it was only a two hour time difference, but it was enough to throw her sleep schedule off kilter. This meant she took an early nap Wednesday and by 5pm was ready for another nap. I was determined to keep her awake until we boarded the plane scheduled to depart at 8:30pm as I did not want her napping and then being wide awake through much of the beginning of our 15 hour flight. However, this meant that our trip by bus and train to the airport, standing in line and check-in, and making it through security was a bit of nightmare since she entered her “I’m a toddler and I’m freaking tired mom- tyrant on!” I definitely was getting looks from other passengers on the train to O’Hare with suitcases that varied between “how annoying” to “Oh, god, I hope they’re not on my flight.”
2) Probably thanks to our flight back from Portland, both Veda and I woke up the day we were set to leave to India with head colds. This not only makes for a cranky mommy and baby, but also added to my worry. If you have ever flown on a plane with a cold, you are probably familiar with the intense stabbing pains in your ears and face that happens on the descent down. I can -mostly- endure that for the 20 minutes or so of a long descent, but I was worried how my toddler might feel and react (she ended up doing much better than me as she nursed- I was actually groaning and whimpering in pain).
3) I was traveling solo with a breastfeeding toddler, plus my prego belly. A 24 hour + trip with a layover in the middle of the night in Abu Dhabi can be quite exhausting minus the parasites (yes, I am referring to my offspring as parasites, in the most loving way possible). My usual optimism was becoming dampened by the fact that I was exhausted from the recent red-eye, exhausted from being pregnant, exhausted from being sick, and I knew I had to be “on” for the next 24 hours to keep my toddler sleeping, happy, and entertained. Since my husband was already in India and I was going it alone, I had no one to fall back on.
So Wednesday evening as we head to the airport by bus and then by train which stops right at O’Hare, my anxieties deepened. My toddler was bellowing out short screams, throwing her shoes, and crying. I think that’s called a tantrum. Luckily my mother was there to help us with luggage on the way there. I wanted to leave my car seat behind for this trip, so I opted for public transportation rather than taking a taxi.
At check-in my toddler continued screaming and crying, especially when I had to divert my attention away from her to check our luggage and get our boarding passes. There was a very long security line where we waited about half an hour. She spent most of the time screaming and crying, flailing her arms and legs laying flat on the ground. All of my tricks that usually work didn’t (she didn’t want to nurse, be in a baby carrier, be bribed by chocolate chips or the promise of animal stamps on her hands, she didn’t want to be held, play with any of her toys)- she just wanted to be pissed off…and pissed off she was.
By the time we got through security our flight was already boarding. She refused to be carried, but also refused to walk toward our destination. I was pretty close to crying out of frustration and out of complete exasperation thinking about how in the world I would keep it together for the next 24 hours (hey, I’m pregnant and emotional, too!).
As we boarded the plane, though, as if my toddler knows the drill, as if she realized the end was in sight and this schlepping through lines business was about to come to a close, she switched off the toddler tyrant behavior and switched on to the pleasant little lady that I am usually accustomed to. She happily pulled her Trunki filled with toys onto the airplane and through the aisle. Even though I was flying infant-in-lap, I scored a row of three seats all to my Veda and I (thanks again, Etihad!).
We settled in, she happily flipped through a couple of her favorite books (I Took the Moon for a Walk and Good Dog, Carl) while I organized our carry-on bags. As the flight took off a short while later, she curled up on my lap and nursed to sleep, sleeping for the majority of the 15 hour flight. She played happily in the kids playroom in the Abu Dhabi lounge, slept for 3 hours of our next four hour flight to Kochin, and happily cooed and played for the last hour she was awake. She did so incredibly well on the flight, I was actually able to watch a couple of movies and get some sleep in for myself. When she spotted her daddy through a sea of people on the other side of customs as I was collecting her baggage, she was in good enough spirits to gallop over to him, pressing her face and hands against the glass between them, grinning and exclaiming, “Daaaaaaddddddyyyyyy!”
After the trip was over and I reflected back on how stressed I was leading up to the trip, I realized that I had been part of the problem to begin with. A little bit of anxiety and preparation is normal and healthy, but I think I was definitely stressing more than usual. Toddlers and babies pick up on how we are feeling, and I think Veda was sensing my anxiety and acting it out somewhat. She was also incredibly tired, but I am glad in the end that I kept her awake so that she crashed on our long flight for much of the long haul.
Even after all these trips, all these flights, all these travel experiences, my anxieties of traveling with an unpredictable and ever-evolving little human can still get the best of me. I have to keep reminding myself that almost always without fail it ends up being really okay in the end. No, it’s not always perfect, but what about being a parent of a toddler is? We did make it to our destination, after all, and the journey really wasn’t that bad. Filing this away for our next trip coming up in less than two weeks to South Africa! Relax, momma, relax!