Greg and I think of ourselves as adept travelers. We pack light enough that we don’t have to check bags. We can quickly navigate airports with the carseats and stroller. We know better than to take a 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade through security, something that still seems to trip up the average person.
After having Eleanor, I spent a lot of time reading tips about traveling with children. Always, the authors talked about how rewarding it was to see the world through a child’s eyes. I just needed to pack a lot of snacks and a few new toys for the airplane, and everything would be fine. Travel with children was definitely worth the hassles, the writers reassured me.
Here is the real secret to happy traveling: Set your expectations low.
Despite all of the travel experience Greg and I have accrued, we inevitably hit snags. Last week, we visited our families in Illinois. Greg’s parents dropped us off at O’Hare on Saturday morning for our return flight home. We had printed our tickets ahead of time. All of our luggage was carry-on. Our flight was on time. Smooth sailing.
We neared the front of the security line, and Greg turned to me and said that he couldn’t find his driver’s license. He patted his back pockets and front pockets. He checked his wallet and the diaper bag. For the first time ever, I prayed for the security line to move more slowly.
“Could you have dropped it in your parents’ car?” I asked.
No, he told me. He had pulled it out of his wallet when we got into the security line. I crouched and scanned the floor. There were dozens of people and bags behind us. It was useless. We had reached the front of the line. I always think of Greg and I as a team. I have done a lot of stupid things, and he has stuck by me. But at that moment, I wondered whether I could dissociate from him and get on the plane with the kids.
Greg told the TSA agent at the front of the line that he couldn’t find his ID, and our whole family stepped aside to let those behind us go. We were those people now, the people who don’t know how to travel. Greg looked both sheepish and mildly happy. I knew that he was mortified, but I have never seen him look so pleasantly dazed. The TSA agent glared at him. She called out to everyone in line to check the floor around them. And then Greg patted the pocket in the front of his shirt and found his license. He showed it to the agent.
“I’m going to slap you,” she growled. Greg continued with his sheepish, mildly happy face. “I’m going to slap you,” the agent said again, in case Greg had missed it.
We were allowed to go through. After our walk through the metal detector, Greg was selected for a random security check that I am certain was not random. I had collected all of our bags, and one of the security agents came to ask me which bag was Greg’s. She walked away with Greg and the bag. I waited with the kids. After about five minutes of waiting, I began to wonder if they were going to hold him until we missed our flight.
I walked with the kids in the direction that Greg had gone. He was in a room, one of those rooms with the opaque glass and a deadbolt on the door. I began to scheme. I could knock on the door and pretend that I was violently ill, that Greg needed to take the kids. Two minutes of Henry, and they would shoo us onto that plane (See? We really are a team!).
Just then, Greg emerged from the room, and we found our gate. We parked our bags and made bathroom visits. A man sat down across from us and unfolded “The Wall Street Journal.” He took a sip from his bottle of Diet Coke, put the cap on and set it on the seat. The bottle tipped onto the floor. The cap wasn’t fully on, and a fountain of shaken Diet Coke sprayed from the bottle. Greg and I flung bags sideways, and then Greg grabbed oblivious Henry. Meanwhile, the man was just looking up from his newspaper to notice what had happened. We had found one of the few people in the country who loves newspapers more than I do.
All of our bags had been sprinkled. Henry’s sneakers had taken the brunt of it. I’m usually comfortable with flying, but I was starting to wonder whether we should board our plane.
We got onto the plane, and shortly after take-off, I pulled out the peanut butter sandwiches I had packed for lunch. Eleanor had requested a peanut butter and honey sandwich, and I had even cut off the crust, something I never do. She looked at it and declared that she wanted jelly, not honey. Greg found one of the sandwiches with jelly, and we swapped. Now she wrinkled her nose at the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We do not kowtow to whining. Like most parents, though, we will do almost anything to appease our children on a plane. Greg pulled out the honey sandwich again. In the handoff, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich flopped to the floor.
Part of the reason the sandwich wound up on the floor is that Henry was fidgeting in my lap. Henry is our 28-pound lap child. That might not sound like much weight. Try to imagine someone handing you a 28-pound wild boar and asking you to keep it in your lap for three hours on a plane. That’s what we had.
Henry received his sandwich, and the destruction began. He squeezed chunks of the sandwich in his fists, peanut butter and jelly oozing everywhere. My leg felt warm. If you are a parent, you know what this means. I lifted him and noted a diaper leak. I gave thanks. It was only pee. And that’s the sort of mindset you need to fly with your children. You need to give thanks for the pee on your jeans because you know that far worse things could be on your jeans.
Henry got changed, and I persevered in my dirty jeans. In the end, we made it home only slightly worse for the wear. Our flight was even on time. What luck!