Travelling with a toddler? Outline expectations and skip that 'apology treat bag'
I don't remember the first flight I took with my toddler. Much like childbirth and my wisdom tooth extraction, I've long blocked out the pain as a survival mechanism. What I do remember from those early years is how intensely I scoped out destinations to make sure they were worthy of the trauma it might take to get there.
The truth is there is no way of predicting, when your precious angel first comes on the scene, whether they will eventually become a chair-kicking demon refusing to lower their voice and stop rolling on the airport floor.
While it is inevitable that your child will embarrass you (it's the grandparents' curse), there are some things you can do to make sure you're as prepared as you can be for the inevitable travel crapshoot that is coming.
Train your child
Don't let your parental legacy be that you raised the seat-back-grabbing, loud-talking, already-reclined-before-takeoff man behind me on a recent flight. The time to teach children airplane etiquette is now – when they're too little to roll their eyes sarcastically, and they still fear your deadly stare. Talk to children (role-play works, too) about what to expect at the airport and on the flight long before you leave your house. Using inside voices and listening to the flight attendant are key. The more the flight unfolds the way they expect, the less likely they'll be to push back when the seat-belt sign starts flashing. Don't get me wrong: They are still going to spill their juice, lose the wheel off a toy car and have that bathroom accident at the least convenient time, but you'll be able to make some minor corrections and come out on the other end barely scathed if you've laid a foundation. They aren't too young to behave. They may just need more reminders.
Train your travel partner
Airplane travel requires everyone's full attention. Companions should always be ready to dash for diaper bags or catch snacks you thought were making a one-way route into your munchkin that decided to reappear unpleasantly.
Their role includes charming flight attendants so that bottles can be warmed in time to help little ears deal with changing altitudes, holding wee hands through turbulent moments and watching for signs that being buckled in amongst a crowd of strangers for four hours is starting to wear thin. Entertainment? They are the entertainment. Carry-on bags should house sock puppets and board books. And a word of warning: Leave airplane pillows and headphones at home. If your partner sees you slipping them on, you're bound to pay for it in micro-aggressions throughout the trip. (Remember when you slept through baby's first 2 a.m. feeding? Your partner does.) As a travelling co-parent, your days of simply watching the inflight movie are over. You have one show now and it's sitting beside you readying his throwing arm. What's your move?
That mix of dread and nervousness you're feeling about the coming flight? That's survival fuel. Family travel, is a marathon in which mental preparation is as important as physical preparation. Talk yourself into confidence. Promise yourself a spa treatment when you land or a kids-club day so you can read your book at leisure. Feel no guilt over being physically ready for the trip. The time to call on family/friends/paid help so you can get some extra sleep is ahead of the flight. You want to go into this well-rested and alert – both so that you can handle the journey's likely mishaps and so you don't miss the chance to enjoy that precious vacation time. Don't even think of using one minute of this time to prep an "apology treat bag" for passengers on the plane for when the baby acts up. Are you kidding me? You're raising a human being – focus on that.
This first trip won't be easy but it's finite. If you've done things right, there is a dream vacation waiting that will render that in-flight turbulence a distant memory. Of course, because you will be prepared, Murphy's Law says nothing will go wrong, but you'll let your guard down and the return trip will be hell on Earth. It's the parenting curse, but that's a worry for another day.