Until the moment when I need to board a flight, that is, and I realise that a frantically moving child who will want to traverse aeroplane aisles for several hours and say hi to every passenger is a hindrance rather than the best thing I've achieved in life (other than the time I managed to binge-watch five seasons of Lost in two weeks).
So, here are some things I learned from my latest attempt at navigating airports and planes with baby D.
1) DO wear a hat, preferably one that makes you look ridiculous. In an attempt to mask my matted hair, I threw a straw trilby on to complete my "airport ensemble" at the last minute (I didn't want to fly into New York with frizz; even though I would be landing in the motherland at 11 pm, it's the city that neither sleeps nor tolerates bad hair days, after all).
The hat proved to be more effective than toys or food as a distraction for Diana, who was completely mesmerised by it. Not only was it a valuable tool for impromptu peek-a-boo sessions, it quickly became a toy D was contentedly playing with and even took to wearing at one point. This was especially good because once I discovered its power, I put it to use to stop D from running through the airport, which sounds like a good thing (tires toddler out) but is really a bad thing (ginormous suitcases flying at them from all directions).
2) DON'T think your child can't be hit by a wheeled trolley. Or several. I didn't realise how monstrously sized most suitcases were until I saw my daughter narrowly winding her way through dozens and realised they are at least double her height and weight and rather terrifying things to smash into.
Of course the other alternative is that your child doesn't expend energy running around the airport and potentially screams the whole flight. Which is infinitely worse, I imagine. So try to make sure they're only bulldozed by carry-on luggage.
3) DON'T bother attempting to stick to any kind of routine while travelling. I called off "Project wean Diana off of milk bottles and dummies" the second I got to the airport, and I think she had consumed about five milks (more than an average day's worth) within an hour of the flight taking off. I also found myself giving her normally forbidden snacks (i.e. ones with no nutritional value and sugar) - anything to assuage the beast. On the plus side, I was too exhausted to berate myself for bad parenting.
4) DO bring a baby carrier along. D is on the cusp of being too big to fit into the aeroplane bassinet, and since she likes to turn and move in her sleep, it was going to be a hopeless cot replacement anyway. Thankfully, rocking the babe in the Ergo carrier worked and D happily slept for most of the journey (both ways, in fact).
5) DO bring a large stuffed animal for the babe, one that sticks out of your luggage and tricks the immigration officer's eye into thinking you've bought far less than you actually have because it's so distracting. I recommend one of the stuffed vegetable toys from IKEA – we brought Broccs, as D's giant broccoli is affectionately called, with us, and not only was the toy a comfort to D, I am convinced I looked like an amazing parent because my child was playing with a vegetable.
6) And finally, DO prepare for surprises. From our arrival at the airport, when we were informed that Diana's ticket hadn't actually been purchased and had to get her a new one on the spot (good thing I wasn't to blame for that one) to the discovery that eating a large bag of peanut butter M&Ms for dinner will make you very ill for the duration of the flight, I learned a lot from this most recent trip.
Namely, I realised that toddlers aren't always the worst behaved people on planes. Everyone expects them to be, which puts even more pressure on their parents, who are meant to be extra calm, rational and functional in what is undoubtedly a highly stressful situation. So the real shock isn't the child who behaves, but the parent who manages not to crack under the pressure.
I am not that parent and neither is my husband. We cracked, shamelessly. While Diana slept, like an angel, I spent the flight bitterly trying to prevent my spouse from watching in-flight entertainment by ripping out his headphones and pressing buttons on his TV screen (in my defence, while I spent hours rocking D to sleep, he watched three films and two TV shows). He yelled at me, I screamed back, and soon we were shouting volubly about nothing while baby D noiselessly slept and onlookers wondered how they got so unlucky.
So my toddler isn't going to be the worst passenger on your flight. Certainly not if my husband and I are on board.
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