Nothing is more challenging than flying with small children.
To be fair, with the advent of the iPad and with the advent of my willingness to buy each of my children one, this challenge has become more manageable.
On my most recent trip, before we get into the cab for the airport, I load my backpack with my computer, two iPads, an iPhone, 5 chargers, and several hardback books I think I am going to read even though I haven’t ever found enough time to order a kindle on amazon. I don’t quite let myself compute how many thousands of dollars of electronics I am toting around because I am too busy making sure I have my wallet, ID, cash card, boarding passes, keys, and absolutely no liquids.
My kids are cooperative, or maybe just semi-conscious, having been awakened 5 minutes prior to the cab’s arrival, having slept in their clothes. They allow me to put on their shoes and socks without the usual readjustment ad re-readjustment of the toe seam. We pack up their bedtime toys (special doll “Belle” for my daughter, special blanket “Wankie,” and stuffed dog “Big Roofers” for my son) which they have never slept without (save for the night of my 40th birthday party when I forgot to back them) since they became special.
These toys fit snugly in my son’s child size Thomas the Tank Engine roller bag.
Belle is really a Cinderella doll who acquired the name of her brunette Disney princess counterpart when she was substituted in a pinch for the original Belle. Original Belle was left at a playground so long ago that I never would have remembered that there was a different doll but for my occasional need to explain why my daughter who definitely knows her Tiana, from her Jasmine, from her Elsa, Anna, Aurora, Rapunzel, Merida, Cinderella, and Snow White would be calling her doll by the wrong name.
We get in the the cab.
There is no seat belt for me.
I buckle my kids in and spend the next few minutes thinking,
“Phone, wallet, ID, cash card, boarding passes, computer, iPads, no liquids. Phone, wallet, ID, cash card, boarding passes, computer, iPads, no liquids.”
I send a text message to my husband complaining about my lack of seatbelt. Halfway through the message, my daughter asks to play with my phone. I say no. Not wanting to be a hypocrite I put the phone away.
Immediately wonder whether I still have my ID. I look through my purse to find my ID. Then I wonder whether I have lost my phone. I haven’t.
“Phone, wallet, ID, cash card, boarding passes, computer, iPads, no liquids.”
Soon enough we get to the airport and make our way through security. I note how grown-up the kids are and how far we have come from the days when I had to fold up a stroller and put everything through on my own. Now, I daresay, the kids are helpful. My son is capable of rolling his own suitcase down the concourse, and putting it through the x-ray machine himself. My daughter can tie her own shoes, even though she no longer needs to take them off.
I put my backpack through, having been careful to extract the computer and two iPads, before learning that I could have left the iPads in place and oh wait a minute something is wrong with the back pack.
I am probably the only person alive who is actually scared of the TSA people and when one of them takes an extra look at my back pack my heart begins to race. What could possibly be in it?
Gingerly, with a hand shrouded in latex glove, the TSA employee reaches into my backpack’s side pocket and withdraws a can of prune juice.
The agent looks at me weirdly. Suddenly I remember. I had stashed that can of juice in the side pocket of my backpack back in January after my son had picked it up at a breakfast buffet and decided not to drink it. At the buffet, I remembered thinking how weird it was that anyone still drank prune juice. As I stand at the TSA table, I recognize it is weirder still to have toted it around unwittingly for three months.
Regardless, I feel like I have drunk three cans of the stuff as I repack my pack making sure to have my phone, wallet, ID, boarding passes, computers, 2 iPads, and definitely no liquids.
A quick bathroom stop is in order. Very quick. In very short order. As quickly as we do find a bathroom my son, with Thomas suitcase in hand, insists that he is too old to go into the women’s room. Physically unable to argue this point, I allow my son to stand just outside the bathroom while I sprint inside with my daughter. I spend the next 25 to 35 seconds doing what I needed to do while emitting continuous shrill shouts of “Are you still there?” to my son, who at the end of this 25 to 35 second interval is “still there” where I left him but a little more embarrassed to be related to a mother who is apparently not “all there” herself.
I take a deep breath to collect myself. I have my phone, wallet, ID, boarding passes, computers, 2 iPads and at least 45 minutes before we have to board the plane.
Enough time to go to the Hudson Newsstand. I find myself smiling, as I saw what merchandise catches my kids’ attention. They are at a sweet “in between” stage where they are still young enough for crayons and coloring books but big enough to want “chapter books” as well. To be clear, the crayons will be used for a collective 15 minutes, and the content of the “chapter books” will be absorbed only to the extent that my children will be able to announce, “I read a chapter book. It had 4 chapters. It is a chapter book, you know. With chapters.”
Still, I buy the crayons, the coloring books, and the chapter books as a sort of hopeful gesture. Thinking, well we don’t really need the iPads I guess.
This prompts me to verify that I do have the iPads. They have not been lost. They are still in my backpack with the phone, ID, wallet, computer, and boarding passes.
We wander around the terminal a while longer, stopping at McDonald’s, because that’s what goes best with iPads. We take our time with the hash browns and hot cakes, not wanting to get on the plane until the last possible moment.
I’ve never understood those people who rush to get on the plane as soon as possible. Especially with small children. I like to be last. This strategy minimizes the time on the plane and provides us with an opportunity to see the passengers whose seats my children will be kicking throughout the flight.
I guess some people like to be first so they can snatch up the overhead space with all of their oversized carry-ons. Nope, not us, we travel light. Unlike this other lady, the chump, with her enormous wheeled suitcase, briefcase, and three million personal items. Who does she think she is? Not me. Not the seasoned slim-traveling mom with the iPads and the chapter books.
With the absent-minded silliness with the prune juice behind me, I am feeling quite smug. All I need (phone, wallet, ID, cash card, boarding passes, computer, and 2 iPads) is in my backpack which can fit easily in the space underneath the seat in front of me.
The underseat space is also just the right size for that little Thomas the Tank roller bag. That one that was just the right size to hold all my children’s most important, indispensable, never-spend-a-night-without, bedtime toys. The one that is also big enough to accommodate my kids’ iPads but which I did not want to put inside because, I mean, it would cost so much to replace those iPads. Better to put my son in charge of only those items that could never be replaced like Belle, Wankie, and Big Woofers.
That suitcase he had been so responsibly rolling all throughout the concourse, that would fit so easily under his seat. It would fit, that is, if he were still toting the bag.
The blood drains from my face. The lady with her enormous carry-ons strolls onto the gangway unperturbed (and still unaware that her bag was going to have to be gate checked) as I cry out “Thomas! Thomas the Tank Engine!”
Where is it? I spun around Wonder Woman Style as I tried to think of all the places it could be and I continued calling out “Thomas! I lost my Thomas the Tank Engine suitcase!”
My heart sinks further as I realize that had not put a luggage tag on the bag. While a bloodhound could surely match the smell on Belle to that of my daughter, there is no way for a non-canine who wasn’t me to figure out that that bag and its beloved contents belonged to us.
I do what any responsible mother (who still had nightmares from when her own beloved bedtime toy was lost) would do. I leave my crying children at the gate while, I, still toting that backpack with the iPads, tear off on a panicked search. I have 5 to 7 minutes to find the Thomas suitcase. It has to be somewhere on the concourse, unless it has already been confiscated by the unattended baggage confiscation squad, which I imagined would only be too happy to send that precious cargo to a place where only old cans of prune juice belong.
I go to McDonald’s no luck. Customer service, no luck. Hudson News no luck. Women’s bathroom no luck. I go back to the security table where no one remembers me, my prune juice, or my Thomas suitcase.
As the seconds tick down and I realize that I am not going to find the suitcase, a calm descends. I realize that I still have what is important: my children, who were probably wondering when I was coming back, and those iPads.
On my way back to the gate I stop again in Hudson News. The Thomas bag is still not there. On my way out, the employees remind me that there is another Hudson News, up the concourse a way. Maybe I have my Hudson Newses confused?
Through my flustered, babbling disarray, I can see they have a point. I sprint up to the second Hudson News. I burst into that newsstand alcove noting that it does look so very much like its counterpart down the way. I am almost convinced that Thomas the Tank Engine would be there.
The cashier doesn’t say anything as hands the little roller bag to me.
I praise to the Lord above and thank the Hudson News employees below. I head back to the gate. My kids (and the airline employees too I imagine) are relieved to see me and my Thomas bag.
“This will fit underneath the seat in front of us,” I point out proudly as we get on the plane with a minute to spare.
I am so happy to have everything I need, nothing could upset me now.
Not even if, as it turns out, I have forgotten to charge the iPads.