Right now I am lounging in the Dallas Fort Worth Airport. Literally. My kids and I are perched on these great black leather (pleather?) chaise lounges. I suppose I shouldn’t be so excited since the addition of the lounges probably has a more sinister intention (to make people sleep here instead of putting them up in a hotel when their flights are canceled), but right now I am appreciative. The three of us are in route to San Jose, just like we have done two times a year for the past three years. Jonah, Layla, and Molly…we have become quite the traveling trio.
One of my best friends, I call her Jane (wink, wink), has never flown on a plane with her two children and imagines that it would be very nerve-wracking. I had the same concerns when I did it for the first time. Yet, like many firsts since my breakup, the reality of it has been so much more pleasant than the nervous anticipation. I guess that I worried about being one lap for two young kids, about needing hands for them as well as our luggage, about providing inadequate stimulation for two hungry minds.
However, as has often been the case, I overestimated my ex’s usefulness. The truth is that he and I never traveled well together. We were just reminiscing today about the time that we flew out of Newark and missed the exit on the New Jersey Turnpike and had to drive over 20 miles in the wrong direction and back. We had trouble finding the economy lot and the shuttle was late. It was a bad combination of events that led us to arrive just a few minutes before our flight was due to take off (thank God this was pre-9/11). We made it but we were extremely stressed and none too happy with each other. In fact, I remember swearing on many occasions that I would never travel with him again. But then we would make it to our destination and we would have fun and I would forget about my angry vow.
My ex also had the tendency to stay up all night before a trip. Sometimes it was because we had to wake up really early in the morning and he just couldn’t sleep. After a while, though, I began to believe that it was just his way of screwing with me (ok-I’ll admit that I was probably taking it way too personally) because he would then proceed to sleep the whole airplane ride because, of course, he would be exhausted.
So it will probably come as no surprise to you that traveling alone with Layla and Jonah has been a lot easier. There was one unfortunate incident on the first trip where I made the mistake of getting on the escalator with Layla in her stroller in front of Jonah and he was scared to board it and did so unsteadily and ended up falling backward back to the bottom, while Layla and I were taken out of his reach by the ascending escalator. Luckily a nice man came to his rescue and brought him up to join us. And we have hit our stride since then.
To entertain the kids on the plane I use the typical parenting tricks of keeping us well stocked with markers, coloring and activity books, Harry Potter novels and electronic devices such as the Nintendo DS and my laptop to show movies. I also make sure to pack us plenty of sandwiches, snacks and, of course, $3 bottles of water. Layla has sensitive ears so I buy several packs of gum as well, which came in handy today as she lost her pack and howled in discomfort on the descent into Dallas until I found the backup.
I am sure that many of you parents are thinking, big deal, I know these techniques. Well, then, let me share with you my secret weapon. Upon entrance into the stressful confines of the airport with its endless lines, crowds, and security checks, I don a different persona. I call her Zen Mom. Zen Mom uses the calm, soothing tones of a New Age therapist, a mellifluous voice that is several decibels below my normal speaking voice (let’s not even mention my laughing voice). Zen Mom is unflappable and refuses to break a sweat or utter a cross word, even when a child spills soda on her lap on the plane (Zen Mom brings extra clothes and has now learned not to allow the children to have their own can). Zen Mom smiles sweetly and stands firm to the belief that she can ward off any tantrum or crankiness by setting a loving, peaceful tone for the day. In short, she is a super hero. Zen Mom stops tears with a single coo. Zen Mom wards off boredom with a single flash of a smile. Zen Mom soars 30,000 feet in a single bound. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It’s Zen Mom.
The other day I told my ex that other passengers often compliment me on how well I handle the kids on flights, and he responded saying that they are just good travelers. Oh yeah, buddy? When was the last time you flew with them? And would you even remember it during the brief moments that you weren’t in a stupor? You just haven’t seen Zen Mom in action (of course she doesn’t exist much outside of the flying environment).
As I finish this piece, we are currently on the plane and I see a man busily doting upon his three children while his wife is resting. I am not jealous, though, because right now Zen Mom’s children are peacefully, no … blissfully, sleeping, while she…. I…get a moment to myself. I’ve got to find a way to bring Zen Mom back home with me.