Getting High With a Toddler: A Minute-By-Minute Recap of My Son’s 1st Airplane Ride
Recently I went to California. This means the wife and I flew with our 1-year-old. I’m afraid of flying to begin with, and with a human howler monkey as my carry-on, I was not exactly enthusiastic for the experience
Flying is a fear that I’ve developed as an adult, even though I’ve successfully and safely flown on probably close to 50 flights in my life. (Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!) There’s just something about the prospect of hurtling towards the ground at 400 mph with absolutely no control that doesn’t appeal to me. But my father-in-law was graduating with his doctorate in “sunny” Newport Beach (By “sunny,” I mean 60s and overcast. For shame, Orange County Visitors Association! Your advertised “sun and sand” was all a ruse!), so a vacation seemed appropriate and exciting.
Except for the flight. Nothing was exciting about the prospects of the flight. Sadly, I thoroughly investigated the practicality of driving across country, taking a train to California, and faking a horrible illness. None seemed viable solutions, though mononucleosis was a strong contender.
To prepare for the flight, we gathered endless advice from friends and strangers about how to entertain a toddler with the attention span of a Jack Russell Terrier on uppers. We gathered new toys and books that were guaranteed to excite our child in the most soundless way possible, we planned our flights around when he was most likely to need to sleep, and we packed enough snacks to feed a small toddler army hellbent on inciting midair anarchy.
Oh, and I got two valium pills from my PCP to cover my own anxieties. Two seemed like plenty. It was not.
Our flight was scheduled to leave at 5:30 pm. Here’s how things went down:
2:30 pm – My father arrives to drive us to the airport. We have everything packed and waiting, a minor miracle with a toddler. Everything is going swimmingly.
2:31 pm – A torrential downpour of biblical proportions unleashes it’s fury. There was a 0% chance of this occurring, according to our friendly local lying weatherman.
3:05 pm – After waiting out the rain, we finally have the car loaded, and we’re on the road.
3:40 pm – Having arrived at the airport, I am attacked by a sudden bout of explosive diarrhea. You may want to avoid the restroom closest to the Delta check-in counter in the Pittsburgh International Airport for the foreseeable future.
3:55 pm – One of our two carry-ons has been flagged by TSA.
3:56 pm – Excuse me, BOTH of our carry-ons have been flagged by TSA. EVERYTHING IS GOING SWIMMINGLY!
4:05 pm – Turns out, one bag has something that “resembles cocaine” (baby formula) and a water bottle, which is a major no-no for most travelers. But not the Hemmings; we have a small child who needs his formula, so we’re allowed to take a bottle of water with us! But first they just need to test it in their giant bomb testing machine, that resembles an industrial trash compactor. Reassuring us that this is totally normal, the TSA agent dons smelting gloves, inserts our once consumable water into a humongous poison sensing piece of machinery, and finds that our water bottle contains . . . water.
Our water is now, almost definitely, radioactive.
The other bag, which is full of toddler toys is flagged because one of the toys “sparkles” on the x-ray machine and resembles C-4. It is laughed off by the TSA agent, and we are sent on our way. While the whole experience isn’t overly inconvenient for us, it did leave me with literally ten thousand questions about how easy if would be to smuggle cocaine and C-4 through security if you just have a kid with you. (Note to criminals: I’m 100% sure all of these loopholes have since been corrected, so there’s no need to go trying anything illegal at any of our lovely airports! Have a nice day!)
4:20 pm – Oliver has just fallen on a moving walkway. He has two bloody knees. Nothing to see here . . . just some wonderful parents with totally not-radioactive water and a not-bleeding baby. Carry on.
4:30 pm – After emergency bathroom visit #2 to go #2, I decide to buy some Imodium from the gift shop before I publicly poop my pants, which I have never done before, especially not in a London subway station when I was 19.
While in said gift shop, I of course run into a girl who I went to high school with, and I of course am carrying one singular item that clearly reveals my intentions: to stop my diarrhea by any means necessary. I don’t have a candy bar and a magazine and oh by the way some Imodium. Nope. Just Imodium. “Hey, it’s been 18 years since I’ve seen you! I have the runs something fierce! Wanna roll the dice and shake my hand?”
5:05 pm – We’ve made our way to the plane. Our seats are in the next to last row, and the plane is one of the smallest I have ever been on. Two tiny seats on either side of the aisle; small enough that I could simultaneously reach my hands to touch either side of the plane if I tried, and I don’t exactly have a wingspan that evokes jealousy. This is the kind of plane that doesn’t even make that lead story on the national news when it crashes. The kind of plane that Harrison Ford jumps out of with a raft (extremely topical Indiana Jones reference). As I begin to analyze the tight confines, things begin closing in around me, and my imminent demise becomes crystal clear. I think it’s time to take my valium.
5:10 pm – Having gotten our bags situated, we decide to give Oliver a snack. What has Kristen packed for him? A cup of GIGANTIC watermelon pieces. And no knife.
We are on an airplane, away from sharp objects of any kind, and I have 30 pieces of watermelon that will not fit into my son’s mouth, even though he is jumping up and down on my lap, begging for food. Have you ever tried to break watermelon into small pieces with your fingers while smashed into an airplane seat with a 1-year-old throttling your privates as he tries to escape? Good times!
I ended up basically Lady and the Tramping the watermelon with Oliver while confused adults stared at us from around the plane. In the end I had to retrieve no less than a dozen pieces of half-chewed watermelon from the cozy confines of the airplane floor.
5:20 pm – The woman in front of us looks like Yoko Ono. She’s reading a book about the societal expectations of Native Americans. My first reaction is to scoff at how odd this is, but after trying to read over her shoulder for five full minutes, I decide to retract my cynicism. Oliver brushes his hand along her hair. She full-on turns around and shoots us an extended angry glare before turning around with a huff.
5:27 pm – I can literally hear Yoko breathing heavily in anger in front of us. I debate whether or not I should say something. “Ma’am, all I am saying is give peace a chance.”
5:28 pm – I begin giggling about this extremely lame Yoko joko. Hey, this valium is okay!
5:35 pm – We are taxiing, but inexplicably Oliver has no interest in watching the plane take off. Instead he only wants to open and close the window shade a million times in succession, as earnestly as possible, as if he’s personally powering the airplane with his hard work. He has never done anything so feverishly in all his life.
5:40 pm – Oliver begins a full-fledged meltdown because he is being restrained from jack-hammering the tray table up and down. Kristen shoots me her best frazzled female look. I return my “concerned and supportive” face, which Kristen later claims was just a drugged out half-smile. We break out Oliver’s bottle, which has been held in reserve for the moment of take off, to help his ears pop.
5:45 pm – We officially take off for Oliver’s first ever flight! All is well.
5:50 pm – My fear, has managed to overpower the valium, and I’m full-on gripping the arm rests for dear life. Oliver looks back to me . . . realizes I’m scared . . . and offers me his pacifier. This totally ruins me. In a good way.
6:00 pm – We reach cruising altitude and break out the first of many new toys intended to endlessly entertain Oliver. We choose the C-4 toy, which is essentially just some lego type blocks, but you have to push really hard to connect them. Airplane tray tables were not meant for such things. We persevere for a few minutes before letting him just gnaw on the pieces for a while. They’re about the same size as the watermelon.
6:20 pm – Half hour into the flight, and Oliver falls asleep on me. Shhhhhhh.
6:22 pm – Oliver’s deep sleep came upon us unreasonably fast. We are caught off guard and are forced to do the Texas two step to get to my iPod and my wife’s book that she brought to read. Annnnnd, what did she choose?? Miracle in the Andes: book about a plane crash where the survivors have to resort to cannibalism. I inform Kristen that, thanks to this latest affront to her afraid-of-flying husband, I will be eating her first.
6:45 pm – The stewardesses come around with drinks, forcing me to sit Oliver upright so his head doesn’t get bashed by their cart. Instead, my elbow takes the blow. I suffer for my family.
7:20 pm – Oliver is awake! With his first act, he chokes on the sip of water that I give him and spits it all over me. OH NO . . . he’s starting to cry! Quick, introduce our secret weapon . . . the brand new Magna Doodle!
7:30 pm – The Magna Doodle is a big hit with everyone except Yoko, who resents Oliver’s joyful cooing. (NO, spellcheck, I did not mean to type The Joy of Cooking.)
7:45 pm – Oliver begins playing peekaboo with the woman behind us. Hey Yoko, take notes. This is how you treat a family with a kid who has thus far been VERY well behaved.
7:50 pm – We are about to land in Minneapolis. We have 50 minutes to change plans, change a diaper (Oliver’s not mine – the Imodium worked), and let Oliver run around a bit. Thus ends Oliver’s first ever flight.
Postscript: During our mad dash, I literally bumped into Rachel Nichols (the sports journalist), but did not stop to say anything to her, as my son was 10 feet ahead of me and screaming like a banshee.
We made our connecting flight with relative ease, the flight was uneventful (Oliver slept the entire way), and our vacation was filled with clouds but fun. I wore a seaweed wig. Oliver had s’mores. My Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley cup. It was fun.
The flight home was not without incident, but, to spare you another 2,000 words, I will summarize with my top 5 LEAST favorite things from the flight home:
1. A ridiculous hour-long wait to check our baby stroller at the American Airlines luggage counter, and my desire to stop to get a Gatorade (I’d spent the morning in the pool and was dehydrated – safety first kids!) led to us almost missing our flight. We made it to the gate so last minute that they had actually given our seats away, leading to the wonderfully awkward experience of having to apologize to a mother and daughter as we crossed paths with them as they were being removed from our seats.
2. Kristen, Oliver, and I sat with a German man (4 people in 3 seats! Math is fun!) who listened to techno music during the entire flight and read a book called The Sixth Extinction. It was . . . unsettling.
3. Kristen refused to talk to me during the takeoff (angry about my Gatorade stop), and my valium had not kicked in yet, so the takeoff resulted in the amazing dichotomy of one grown man doing everything possible to contain a whimper while sitting next to another grown man, hellbent on jamming out to dance music.
4. A horrific storm struck during the flight. The captain apologized for the extreme turbulence, but said the storm was at all elevations, so we had to fly through it. Kristen opened her blinds to show Oliver the lightning, but I clamped that thing down right quick and forbid her from opening it for the remainder of the storm.
5. I changed Oliver’s poopy diaper in the airplane bathroom. Man was not meant to juggle tiny excrement while locked in a plastic closet 30,000 feet above the ground. Thankfully the diaper change came after the horrible storm (think . . . the man shaving in the movie Airplane . . . but with poop).
Even though we made both flights safely and with relative ease, I am still not looking forward to any flights in the near future. I was hoping Oliver would agree. Instead, he has developed a love for airplanes and excitedly points skywards every time he hears one fly overhead. Even when we’re indoors.
If he becomes a pilot, do I have to visit him at work?