It had been exactly 4 years since I had traveled on my own with my two sons. I’m not talking about driving a long distance, I’m talking checking luggage, waiting in the security line, and flying on an airplane kind of travel. I didn’t really think much about it, I just went for it and hoped for the best. This is sort of my MO and sometimes it gets me into trouble. While flying by the seat of my pants when making plans can cause me some of the usual parenting strife, undoubtedly, my kids always have a blast. Whatever discomfort or stress I sometimes need to overcome as the parent, it is typically worth it on the other side of the adventure. In the end, these experiences will be tucked away pleasantly in my sons’ memories for them to look back on fondly.
This close-my-eyes-and-jump travel decision with the kids, was quite a learning experience for me as a mom. So many unforeseen hurdles cropped up, by the time we returned, I was ready to hit up Home Depot to buy some lumber and build myself a lady shed in the backyard where Enya played on repeat and a masseuse was on call.
My sister had recently moved back to Chicago. I had initially decided to help her paint, hang stuff, and unpack without the kids in tow. However, the price was right, and it had been so long since I had brought the boys to their grandma’s house in Illinois or to visit Chicago, that neither of them remembered it. If they came along on this trip, they would get to see Grandma’s house, see their Aunt’s new house and maybe even visit with a friend or two and their kids also. These reasons were solid enough for me to make the decision to bring the boys. It would be another mom and sons adventure! So why not?
Fear of Flying
Upon mentioning the trip to both my boys, my 9 year old was elated. My 5 year old- not so much. He told me he was afraid to fly and that he was not going. When I told him it was not a joke, and we were really going, he burst into tears. This continued on for the whole month and a half anytime the words “fly”, “airplane”, “Chicago”, or even the words “Disney World” would come up. He would shake and cry and say again and again how afraid he was to fly.
Because his reaction was so severe, I decided to bring him to my EMDR therapist. He completed one session of therapy, and by the end, he was excited about flying. This alleviated his sudden breakdowns about flying. However, I only brought him to therapy once. It was not quite enough to solve the issue wholly. Unfortunately, there was no way for me to know this, until seeing how he reacted while boarding the airplane.
My mom offered some pretty good advice regarding luggage,”Just bring one large suitcase and one carry on bag.” I took her advice and it worked out much better than trying to have the boys bring their cutesy roller suitcases.
When packing stuff for three people, one has to watch out for the weight so that there are not charges for oversized bags and so that you are not forced to pitch stuff due to it being overweight. Learn from my mistake, and check BOTH airlines if you are taking two different ones. It turns out one of the airlines had a 10 pound difference with their weight restriction than the other. So on the return home, I had to throw away some of the gifts my sister gave me and shove all of the footwear we had brought into my already overflowing over-the-shoulder bag. Take it from me: mail extras, souvenirs, and gifts home. Otherwise, you’ll be frantically deciding what you can and cannot live without in order to get the weight of your bag down.
De Plane! De Plane!
The crying started once my husband pulled into the drop off lane at LaGuardia. My son was suddenly behaving the way he had been before the therapy session. He clung to my husband and begged to stay behind. We knew this meant boarding the plane was going to be a nightmare. My son latched onto my leg throughout the security line and whimpered quietly. I tried psyching myself up by telling myself in just a few short hours it would be over and we’d be in Chicago. I would help him get through this-it would be fine. We got to the gate and the attendant issued our seats. I saw that they were the last three seats on the plane and thought to myself, um, no way. I knew how loud it would be in that last row, and my son hates loud noise. I also knew that walking to the last row of a large plane with a frightened child would be like running the gauntlet. I let her know about his fear and she said she would absolutely help. Thank God for nice people. She moved us all the way up to row 14, and for a moment, there was relief.
The same Delta agent asked me to get on the plane first with the kids. She said this would likely ease his anxiety versus waiting in a long line. This made a lot of sense because waiting in a line would only allow his fear to fester. We got to the front of the line and started down the ramp. This is when my son came undone. I knew instinctively his first move would be to make a run for it, so I was already latched onto his wrist with a death grip. He kept sharply turning and trying to dash back to the boarding area but without any luck. Somehow I got him down the ramp and as we stepped onto the plane. This is the part we’ll all never forget. He lost all control and started kicking, biting, punching, and worst of all, screaming in what I can only describe as an animalistic like terror. The pilot and two flight attendants stood and stared aghast. The one flight attendant had this look just dripping of judgement-I felt like she rolled her eyes with all of her face. She kept looking at her flight attendant buddy and I wanted to shout at her for having the empathy of a gnat. She would have never heard me over my son’s screams.
I finally got him in his seat by dragging him by his wrists with his back, bottom, and legs dragging down the aisle. I still had my carry on bag over my shoulder as well as my purse, so I was basically pinballing off the seats as I pulled my poor child to our row. As if the demon that had just possessed him was suddenly excorcized, he sat down, buckled up, and said, “I faced my fear mom.”
We hadn’t even taken off yet. I was confused, but I smiled and hugged him and told him I was proud. In my head, I was concerned that this had just traumatized him worse than anything else I could have ever imagined. My older son turned to me and whispered that he could not believe what he just saw his brother do, and that it really scared him. He also confided that he was now feeling very afraid to fly himself.
I gave them both a pep talk while they fought over the window shade being up or down, held their hands, and hoped for a good take off and smooth flight.
Silently, I was cursing the world for my having to give up alcohol and coffee that week for a health issue I was having. Either one or both mixed together would have really helped in that moment.
The Airplane Lavatory
You may be wondering if the flight attendants came by to check on us or ask my son how he was doing. The answer is no. And as if to add insult to injury, when he had to go to the bathroom, I walked him up and asked if he could go in by himself with me standing there in case he needed help. Nope, the flight attendant said. I either had to go back to my seat while he was in there, or I had to go in with him. I could not block the galley.
So I squeezed into the bathroom with him. I also had to use the bathroom, as I had been holding it for the last hour. He refused to stay in there with me, and to his credit, we really didn’t fit in there together. I poked my head out and asked if he could stand right outside the door while I went to the bathroom (his brother was using the bathroom at the other end of the plane), I was nervous about him making his way back to his seat on his own. Nope. He could not block the galley she told me coldly. I walked him back to his seat and realized, I was actually going to pee in my pants if I didn’t sprint back up to the bathroom. As I ran back up, I see the flight attendant stand with her arms above her head in an “X” like manner blocking the bathroom and looking at me. I cried out, “Are you kidding me right now?”
I wanted to scream, and I’m usually a pretty calm person. She made me walk my child back to his seat and was now blocking me from going to the bathroom? What kind of jerks do they hire to be in customer service these days? I thought to myself.
Turning and running to the bathroom in the back of the plane meant that the faucet was starting to drip if you know what I mean. I finally went and when I was finished it was upsetting because I basically partially peed my pants thanks to that flight attendant.
As I exited the bathroom, I was immediately met by the cold flight attendant, who was standing right outside the bathroom door, waiting to greet me.
“Ma’am, do you know why I was blocking you from using the lavatory? It’s important that you know why I was doing that. I saw that you were upset.”
To which I replied, “I have a bladder condition. You told me I had to walk my son back to his seat before I could return to the bathroom, then you blocked it. I was already in discomfort, and then I had to run to the other one and basically peed my pants.”
Unmoved and stoic, she said with that same face where she’s doing an all body eye roll, “There was a law implemented after 9/11 where if the cockpit is open for any reason, no one is allowed to use the bathroom closest to the cockpit. That was why I was blocking it.”
“Thanks for explaining.” I went back to my seat with her staring daggers at me. What was I supposed to say? I get that there are rules and laws, but did she really have to be such a jerk? I should have just made my son wait outside the lavatory and not even asked her.
After an uneventful flight, except for me kind of peeing my pants, we made it in one piece. What did I learn? It’s really hard to fly with kids by yourself. You feel weird leaving them unattended, when you have to use the bathroom it’s a real hassle, and you have to constantly apologize to the people in front of you for the kicking and tray slamming.
The Pick Up
When we approached my mom’s car at the airport pick up, I unexpectedly broke down. I hugged my mom and sobbed like a baby. It’s hard to articulate the emotions that overtake you when you force your child to do something they don’t want to do. Could that cause them trauma? But could it also help them to face a fear? The emotional aspect is heavy. Once I had a good cry which thankfully was behind her open trunk, I pulled myself together and got in the car. About ten minutes into driving, my older son starts shouting that my younger son is going to throw up in the back seat. I look in the back seat and sure enough he’s got his hand over his mouth and his cheeks are full. He has somehow managed to hold his vomit in his mouth. We were in rush hour traffic, thankfully, so I told him to roll down his window and stick his head out to empty his mouth. He did this and we later learned it all went down the outside of the car door. Still, I was impressed with his ability not to get it all over the interior of the car. When I asked him if it was because of his scary morning, he said no, it was because he decided randomly to stick his finger down his throat and it made him throw up.
Don’t Touch Anything- My Sister’s New Place
My sister had shockingly done almost everything on her own related to moving in. She had hired painters, and set up all of her furniture and emptied all of her boxes. The only thing left to do was hang pictures and set up her balcony furniture. Her whole place was decorated in mostly white and her walls were a very light, freshly painted color as well. I don’t know about your kids, but mine love to run their dirty hands along the wall. She also had new flooring so we had to be careful on that. We mostly had to try to stay out of her new apartment because it was so beautiful, clean, white, and new. This meant we hung one picture out of the 10 she planned to hang while we were visiting and we set up her balcony furniture. That was about the extent of my “helping” her. Her place was so nice it reminded me of a museum. Remember that kid that broke the museum statue and the parents were fined $132K for it? Yeah. It was very relaxing at my sister’s new place with the bulls, I mean kids.
A trip to Urgent Care
There is an amazing pizza place in Chicago called Lou Malnati’s. I have to get it everytime I visit. It takes awhile to make the pizza and since my kids don’t behave in restaurants, we preordered it so that when we arrived we could sit and eat right away. My little one and I decided to meet my mom, sister, and older son there since his shoes were soaked from him running through playground sprinkler in them. They were taking forever to dry, so I wrapped his feet in plastic wrap and stuck them in his wet shoes. We walked to the restaurant and sat down at the table with everyone. Just after they served us drinks, my little guy started playing with his straw. He decided to drink a bunch of his apple juice quickly. Then he sucked it into the straw and blew it out and all over his Grandma’s shoulder. Just as I started to scold him, his face turned red and he put both of his hands to his throat. He started coughing and gagging and crying in a panicky sort of way. I asked him if he was choking and he nodded. I picked him up and brought him into the bathroom (which was right next to the table,thankfully) and gave him the heimlich maneuver. He started crying harder and pointing to his throat. He could talk which was a bit of a relief. He said something was stuck and it was sharp. The only thing it could have been was a piece of ice, I thought. The waiter came over to set down the pizza on our table, so I asked him to bring warm water quickly and he nodded. I called an Uber to take us to urgent care. My son drank the warm water to try to melt the ice, but it was no use. Whatever it was appeared to be lodged in his windpipe and not the throat. It was not something that could be washed down per se.
We ran down to the Uber and it felt like an eternity before we got to the urgent care facility. He cried and held his throat the whole drive. It was about 15 minutes before we got there. Another 15 in the waiting room. Finally we were seen and they took an X-ray to see if there was a foreign body lodged in his throat or in his lung because now he was saying the pain worked its way down to his lung. We stayed for two hours and the doctors listened to his breathing and heart and asked lots of questions. They had me find out if the straw had broken into fragments somehow and if it was either lodged or cutting into his throat. The answer was no. Fortunately, my sister and mom thought to inspect his cup and straw thoroughly along with the Manager of the restaurant and text me those details. That was the missing link that the doctor was waiting to hear. After observing him and debating on whether or not to send him to the ER, followed by the X-ray coming back with no liquid in his lungs and no foreign bodies lodged in his throat, he was cleared to leave. It was deemed that he had aspirated apple juice. This can cause a sharp burning sensation that feels like something is cutting your throat or is stuck. Because it was not enough fluid to show up on an X-ray he was released. If it had shown up, he would have been admitted to the ER. Parents beware of your kids playing with straws.
I do have to say that both the urgent care center and Lou Malnati’s were amazing. Both followed up later that night/the next day and Lou Malnati’s covered the cost of our meal. My son and I ravenously dug into our delicious pizza later that night.
When I See Others Traveling Solo With Kids
This is my message to single parents or parents traveling alone with their children: You are brave and you are no doubt, physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. What I wish for you is nice, compassionate people along your journey. May you be surrounded by understanding strangers, family members, and people in customer service positions. And may your children enjoy and appreciate all of the fun adventures you take them on.