I'd been putting it off. Finding excuses. My pre-motherhood life of foot-loose fancy-free travelling had long gone. I did not want to take our mobile baby (13 months) and active newly potty-trained toddler (34 months) on a long haul flight. I imagined never-ending wails of discomfort and boredom, challenging nappy changes in tiny spaces and meltdowns amongst unsympathetic judgemental passengers. I'm not the kind of parent to write little anticipatory sorry notes or dish out ear plugs to passengers, apologising for age-appropriate behaviour. While I do fret about what other people think, I worry more about my children's discomfort: ears popping, turbulence induced sickness or worse.
Yet in a serendipitous moment, I agreed to a family trip to Canada. A long overdue visit to see family and friends, including our youngest to meet his great-grandmother for the first time. Despite all my anxiety and fear, we had eight near-enjoyable hours in the air and by the end, I'd identified all the benefits that flying long-haul with babies can bring.
- Priority Check-in and Boarding - When you're forever in economy, being told you can skip the queue because, "your two year old is in the Kids' Club," is quite a perk.
- Exercise - After eight hours of sitting down, eating out of plastic rectangles, one can feel pretty sluggish. Not with toddlers in tow. Their natural curiosity and need for movement means repetitive trips up and down the aisles. My ankles and calves were nicely stretched and flexed.
- Sociability - While up and down the aeroplane aisles, my littlest one liked to stop, stare and smile at all the distracted faces. Not all, but a few begin a dialogue of coos and peekaboos. One particular traveller introduced us to her family and a good hour passed by in good conversation while her children provided live entertainment for the baby.
- Screen Time - I try to leave my phone upstairs when our day begins and have been known to pack up the television for months on end. I hate screens and fear the worst about their impact on society. Yawn. Putting our children on a plane with a screen behind every seat plus every passenger using their mobile and tablet could have sent me over the edge. It had the opposite effect. The lack of control totally relaxed me and a large portion of the eight hour flight was merrily spent playing games and watching TV. Thank you, technology, from the bottom of my heart.
- Relaxation - Being a stay-at-home mum of two kids under three and doing paid work on the weekend can be a hectic choice of lifestyle. My children have napped at the same time ONCE in twelve months. For the first time on that plane, with littlest one dozing on my lap while the eldest plugged into his screen, I sat back and watched a whole film. Uninterrupted. In the middle of the day. Snacks and drinks brought directly to my chair. Win.
- Calorie-burning - The most useful asset of spending a day in the air has to be the ability to breastfeed. Take off - breastfeed. Sleepy baby - breastfeed. Anxious baby - breastfeed. Turbulence - breastfeed. Landing - breastfeed. Little one was calm, content, slept well and even giggled at the breast when the plane jiggled around as we descended through the clouds. Thanks to the feeding, I was always hungry for the next plane meal, snack and drink, happily polishing off all the food left over by my family. No wasted food. I felt strangely energised as though I'd run 5km with a pizza in my hand.
- Awe-struck - As adults, it's easy to take air travel for granted. Seeing the experience through my toddler's dazzled eyes was truly humbling. The tiny houses, the journey through the clouds and the roar of the engines were all mind-blowing moments. I'm excited for him to see the mighty moon on our journey home.
- New Horizons - The best benefit is that my inner traveller has been rediscovered, re-released to new possibilities. If health and money allows, perhaps we can become that family who travel the world, enjoying varied cultures and cuisines, educated with a global perspective and a thirst for multilingualism.
Sure. I shouldn't get carried away. There were a couple of hairy moments including an urgent wee mid-taxiing to the runway and protestations against the seatbelt sign, but it was nowhere near as awful as I feared. It's been good to think positively; we still have to get home.