Snacks. Binkies. Anything to get that toddler calm. But not whiskey on his gums like the old ladies have advised me, because I like not being in jail.
Rule #1: DON’T EVER FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT’S HOLY DON’T YOU EVER DO IT.
Thanks! See you later!
…Oh, you’re still here. Wait, you’re serious? OK. We were only half serious about Rule #1, although we’d be lying if we said that this was ideal. Obviously, sometimes getting where you have to go involves getting on a plane, and sometimes, if you want to take your kid with you (or couldn’t talk anyone else into keeping them while you jet off to Whateverastan), you gotta go without a partner to help corral the wee one. You might be a single parent, as I now find myself, or just have to travel without your partner for at least some portion of your trip. Whatever the reason, this can be way, way stressful.
Toddlers are stressful when out of their element, overstimulated and way past nap time, even when you have help (See Lynne’s sad/funny story about her son, a plane trip and some poopy pants). So when you’re the only person there to carry, coordinate, wrangle and talk a crazed two-year-old down from a “NONONONOOOOO!!!” jag…let’s say this is not where vacation dreams begin.
I just got back from a similar trip mostly unscathed, and plan to do it again very soon. And I know I wouldn’t have made it back alive (or at least as sane as I claim to be) without following the below listed rules:
1) Do all your documentation, as much as possible, before you get to the airport. I cannot stress this enough. Check in online the minute you can. Print your boarding out, or download it onto your phone. Try to travel as light as you can, even trying to just do a carry-on if you can swing it with both of you, to save yourself from even having to stand in that Godforsaken line to check your bag. The less loose paper you have flying about stuffed in a nasty baby bag as you’re running through Security screaming “Where is your shoe? WHAT DID YOU DO WITH YOUR OTHER SHOE??” the better.
2) Try to figure out what you really need to bring, and what you can borrow or rent when you get there. This is smart anyway, but when you’re the only person who’s going to be dragging the stroller, car seat, luggage, baby bag AND the child (can’t forget him!), you’ll appreciate downsizing. This last weekend we were in NYC, and relied a lot on Uber, a company that, at least in that city,. provides car seats that are installed by trained drivers. So we didn’t need to bring our own. We did take the big stroller, but that can be rolled through the airport with all our stuff in the bottom basket for kind of a third hand, and checked for free at the gate.
3) Get help where you can. My mother has, lately, asked for gate passes on days she is not flying with us, so that she can physically help get us through security, carry stuff and stop Boy from climbing on the conveyor belt to make sure no one stole his stroller. (This happened. He’s paranoid. I told him no one wants his nasty cracker-dusted stroller. He did not believe me.) And this weekend, my sister is going to pick us up at the terminal and then drive us to the rental car facility, because I would never be able to get the stroller, car seat and actual bags on the shuttle by myself.
4) Bring the whole kit of wonders. Again, every toddler parent knows to be prepped with snacks, drinks, and whatnot, but when you are alone with that lovely ball of energy and crankiness, you must make sure that they’re…handled. Like Olivia Pope handles people, or at least like she did before she went public with the President, lost her mind and starting acting like a quivering chump. Distraction is key, so I came armed with snacks in tiny containers, those squeezy food packets he’s likely a little old for but which fill the belly with minimal mess, sippy cups, his favorite apps on my phone and extra binkies. At two we really wish he didn’t want binkies anymore, but they’re good for takeoff and landing to prevent the ear popping. And they keep him quiet. So quiet.
4b) Do not rely on wonders you cannot control. JetBlue has the FlyFi free WiFi and I figured that it would provide a chance for Boy to watch his favorite online videos, like that oddly hypnotic ChuChu TV with the little chubby animated children singing “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes.” But the FlyFi was a no-go on our last flight, and so the increasingly frantic tug on my arm and little demanding slurry voice going “Hesholkneetoes! HESHOLKNEETOESSSSS!” was met with a lot of “Umm, that’s not working right now.” Toddlers care not about your petty technical difficulties. They are the Tim Gunn of people. They demand you make that thing work. And if you can’t, you sing that song to them yourself in the lowfi version and hope it does the trick till the snacks arrive (It did.)
5) Get there early. But not too early. Most airlines suggest being at the airport two to three hours before you leave. For us at the moment, this isn’t always possible considering nap time and the boy’s tendency to wake up at the most inopportune times. If we fly really early, he usually runs around the terminal before crashing on the plane (Crash good.) But sometimes we can be there too long, and he’s tired in the airport but awake and cranky trapped on a plane. It ain’t good. So know your kid, try to get them to get a good night’s sleep and hope they run it all out before you get on the plane.