One time on a trans-Atlantic flight, I sat next to a Mom and Dad with two children– a 3-year-old and a nursing baby. While Mom struggled to feed and comfort the crying baby, the 3-year-old boy continually wiggled out of his seat, eluded Dad’s attempts to contain him and escaped into the aisle. This caused Dad to continually climb over me to retrieve his son. Soon the drink cart appeared and Dad began to order tiny bottles of whiskey. He downed them one after another until he passed out, leaving his wife to deal with the two kids on her own. The kid then took to swatting at my magazine as I tried to read. A few hours from landing, I invited the kid into my lap and we looked through the Skymall magazine picking out toys and writing up the kid’s birthday wish list and another list for Santa. We thumbed through my New Yorker and made up stories about all the cartoons. When the flight mercifully ended, I handed the kid back to the family. Mom looked at me in amazement and said, “How did you do that?” “Out of desperation,” I said. I felt sorry for the woman because any Dad who does what that guy did ain’t much of a dad in my book. I should have said something to this boozy Dad, but I am a non confrontational guy and so chickened out on telling him what I thought of his gambit.
Which leads me to this universal parenting topic: flying with a toddler. I have a few tips that might be of use.
Bring a toddler on an airplane without unduly disturbing nearby passengers to me is more of a white knuckle ride than anything I’ve seen on Fear Factor involving contestants jumping out of a helicopter into a vat of maggots. As a father of four in a family of world travelers, I have accumulated a few tips on how to get through those long flights without resorting to drugging your healthy children with cold medicine:
– Bring them on board tired. If you fly in the morning, let your toddler stay up as late as possible the night before so that they are sleep deprived when the plane takes off. Or fly on the red eye so that you can maintain their normal sleep schedule. This is a calculated gamble because if your child is tired, you are probably tired too, and everyone might be at their wit’s end. I took this approach on several cross-country and international trips with my children and it almost always worked. Of course, there were moments when I was desperate for them to sleep so that I could too.
– Bring new toys. Make a secret trip to Dollar Store and buy a selection of new, never-before-seen (small) toys that will keep your kids busy. Matchbox cars, army men, whatever. Keep them in a bag and bring them out one at a time at intervals wide enough to keep them occupied throughout the whole flight.
– Bring a small family photo album. Kids love looking at pictures, especially people they recognize or trips they remember. They can look through the same album repeatedly. Try to ask them 10 questions about each picture just to pass the time and so that you don’t blow through the album too quickly.
– Play a simple form of Pictionary. I bring one of those small etch-a-sketch boards with the erase lever and draw as many animals or objects that I can think of and ask your toddler to guess what it is. Keep going until you’ve run out of animals to draw or your hand cramps up.
– And, most importantly, stay off the booze.