I remember the days of flying without kids. I’d lived over a thousand miles from my family since I was 18 years old. I lived overseas for the first time at 24 years old. Airports were my jam. I was a pro. I’d check in online to avoid lines then cram as much as I could in my carry on bags to avoid checking any luggage, meaning I could just walk on up to the security line when I got the the airport and walk on off the plane and to my destination upon landing. Nobody slowed me down. I was the one you wanted in front of you in that security line, perfectly prepared to be scanned on through without a hitch. I’d waste time scrolling around on my phone or grabbing a coffee or a cocktail in the airport before take off (and likely another on the plane). Perhaps doing a little terminal shopping while I waited to board the flight. In air I’d catch up on a book, a magazine, or plug in my headphones and listen to some podcasts. Bonus if I was flying with a friend or my husband and we could talk and hangout a bit. It was a good time.
Needless to say my last flight, a 10.5 hour haul from Rome to Chicago, as the sole adult with my almost 3 and 5 year old daughters, was far from the experience described above. There was no avoiding lines or using only carry on luggage. I packed light with only one checked suitcase for the three of us, we each had a backpack, and then two massive bags for the car seats. I looked like a pack mule on Machu Picchu with those things on my back. Not only did I have to wait in line to check the luggage but I was then was told to schelp the car seats half a mile down the terminal to some over-sized baggage area. There were no pre-flight cocktails. There was no terminal shopping. There was no reading catch-up. I don’t even bother to prep my phone with podcasts, but instead “emergency” episodes of Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol.
But somehow, it wasn’t terrible. I used to dread flying with babies and kids. It was the worst. They’d spill my coffee. I couldn’t get more than a page through a book. My relaxing podcast time was replaced with me policing their feet from kicking the cranky old woman in front of us and being constantly paranoid that some passenger was going to get all Youtube rant angry to my family for us having the nerve to allow our children to travel.
Why was it different this time? During the longest flight we’ve done, and doing it as a solo parent no less? It was different this time because I learned to change my perspective. This time I wasn’t attempting to have the same pre-kids airport experience and being annoyed at my kids for making it something different. They aren’t little brats who were ruining mine or anybody else's, good time. They are just kids, excited to be in a new place with new things.
This time, instead, I saw it as a whole day to be with my kids. They didn’t have to share my attention with laundry or cooking or even another adult to talk to. Today it was just us 3, off on an adventure. Have you ever seen an airport through the eyes of a 3 year old? It’s amazing! Planes, tons of people who all look different, beeping golf carts everywhere. Moving sidewalks?!
My success wasn’t all just having a good attitude. I also was prepared for this to be harder. I went early to make sure I wasn’t stressed about the lines. This allowed me the extra 15 minutes to hike across the planet to drop off those damn car-seats without it being that big of a deal. I had no expectations of receiving any help, which made the friendly people I met who did help me a positive in the day (Kudos to the shuttle bus driver who convinced the cop to let him park directly in front of the doors because “I’m helping this lady with her two little girls!”).
I worried less about how many toys to pack to keep them entertained and instead gave them my full attention most of the time. We chatted about what we saw. (That lady has a dog? Wow, she does! How cute.) We told jokes. We even sang a little bit while walking down the longest corridor ever between our jetway and immigration. We picked out snacks in the terminal before our flight. They were excited to watch the in flight movies and snuggle. I purposely only put on tv shows or movies that I didn’t really care about, so I wasn’t too frustrated with the constant interruptions. I allowed myself a guilt free glass of wine on the plane and used the headphone splitter to watch Coco “with” my daughter. I didn’t worry too much about the one in-flight tantrum my littlest had, because it was for 10 minutes on a 10.5 hour flight: 10 minutes out of 630. With that ratio she basically was an angel. In fact, I stopped worrying entirely about what anybody thought about my kids on that plane or in those lines. I bought their tickets, we deserve to be there as much as any other passenger and I refused to apologize for them being kids. The moment my daughter sat down on the floor and emotionally exclaimed “I’m so sick of lines!” the other passengers laughed and said she was just expressing what everybody else felt. We actually ended up with compliments from other passengers about them and their patience.
Whenever I felt hot, or bored, or inpatient I reminded myself that I’m 33 years old with a full understanding of what’s going on. A preschooler is allowed to feel hot and bored and impatient too. We got through the feelings together. My phone stayed in my backpack, until that emergency episode of Peppa Pig saved the day during our last long line of the day.
Your kids aren’t perfect but neither are you. Just embrace the flight for what it’s going to be and you’ll have a much better time. Oh, but next time pack some sandwiches. Even my kids knew that the in flight meals were garbage.