Traveling with Kids: A Mom Shares How NOT to Fly With a Toddler

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Editor’s Post by Deborah Hetrick Catanese

Sometimes traveling with kids brings unexpected surprises, especially for the Mom who doesn’t prepare for all possible scenarios! So, remember, there’s more than just buckling your seat-belt when flying with a toddler!

Traveling With Kids: Do as I SAY Not as I DID!

traveling with kids

I felt fairly intrepid going into Mothering.  I figured I had an edge, both experience and maturity wise.  That theory held up quite well during the first three years of my first child’s life, as I mistook Christina’s angel-baby demeanor as a reflection of my own abilities as a Mom.

Naively, I ventured into baby number two believing I was pretty darn good at mothering.  I ignored the harder and livelier kicks in my womb from my second baby compared to the first, but reality made its appearance along with Brian as he entered this world like a freight train without brakes.  Perpetually in motion, at three weeks old he grabbed the support bar of the battery-operated baby swing so tightly as he swung by, that I barely got to him in time to stop the whole apparatus from crashing down!  At eight and a half months, he walked. Yes, walked.

1 year old Brian hiking with Mom over hill and dale.

1 year old Brian hiking with Mom over hill and dale.

Our lively baby number two had arrived just weeks after my husband and I entered into small business ownership together –  What was I thinking?! – and my  life in all its aspects turned crazy mad.  I was faintly holding it all together, so I clung to my illusions about my ability to cope.  That is, until we as a family of four got on that plane to California to visit our dear friends and their 3 year old son. I remember literally grabbing and throwing things into a suitcase the night before, not having much time for advance preparation, so I focused mainly on having enough toys and books and diapers and snacks to last throughout the flight across the country.

I was too busy in my daily Mommy life to even check on how long the flight was from Pittsburgh to California.  I’d cope, however long it was, since we had traveled easily with our daughter from infancy on.  And besides, they’d surely sleep through long stretches of the flight.

Just an ordinary meal with Brian!

Just an ordinary meal with Brian!

What was I thinking?! You see, I foolishly agreed that we would just buy three seats on the plane, one for my husband, one for my four and a half year old Christina, and one on the aisle for me while holding 18 month old Brian on my lap.  The airlines didn’t require us to buy a seat for him, so this saved us lots of cash that we could spend going out to dinner in Santa Monica!  I would hold him, and he would go to sleep. That was the plan.

Why didn’t I consider the fact that Brian only liked to be held in the early stages of bedtime preparation while hearing his bedtime story and sipping his milk, but once he started to get sleepy, he would squirm and fuss until I put him down in his crib, at which time he would go promptly to sleep? Umm…I was too busy to think?

From the second we boarded, Brian loved the plane and all the action.  Brian LOVED action.  His eyes were like saucers watching intently as everyone kept coming to their seats and filling the overhead bins.  Brian didn’t talk much yet (early walker, slow talker…yes, one of THOSE!) but he was very good at sound effects and pointing at what he wanted or where he wanted to go! The people boarding were still smiling at us then, smiling at the sweet Mommy holding her sweet son…and telling me he was adorable and how cute his funny little sounds were.

Simply adorable!

Simply adorable!

But within ten minutes of takeoff, Brian wanted to explore the plane.  Books? Swatted away! Toys? Failed to appease! Food? Gulped down in a second like feeding half a biscotti to a hungry Rottweiler, and then my Brian was right back to squirming and making a big fuss about wanting to get down.  People quickly turned their smiles upside down. I knew I was in trouble when he pulled off his shoes and threw them in a pique down the aisle.

But then he started to flail his arms, kick his feet madly, and literally rip his way out of my arms, my strength never a match for his. He ran up the aisle screeching happily, wearing just his socks and jammies, his voice as loud as his actions were manic! I threw off my seat belt and ran in hot pursuit.

When I caught up with He of the Exuberant Little Flushed Face, I tried to be playful and giggle with him a little, in some sort of desperate motherly psychology. I tried to be blase about the caustic glares of a gazillion eyes on me, all judging me as the world’s worst and most permissively poor mother.  I attempted to hide the grinding of my teeth as I carried him back to OUR seat, while he giggled and wiggled with great joy.

Sleepy yet?

Sleepy yet?

BUT, you know that game where the baby throws the cup down from their high chair, you pick it up and hand it back, and they gleefully throw it again?!  Well, my little munchkin couldn’t wait to play our fun little game again!  I wrestled, I tried to restrain, I softly cajoled, I broke into a flush and a sweat, I tried every entertaining trick I had packed in the diaper bag for distraction. It was futile. He only stopped screaming, crying, and flailing when I put him down!

John, on the other hand, was in charge of our zen little Christina, so in the midst of the delightful time he was having reading her stories while having her rapt attention, Dad would occasionally turn to me and hiss,  “Can’t you settle him down?!  He’s disturbing everyone!!!!” Um, yes, I noticed.

So, I was the mother who chased her child up and down the aisles from PIT to LAX. I knew that this was the lesser evil, since his screaming tantrum would have been WAY worse, but I wasn’t feeling much gratitude from my fellow passengers. Only the flight attendants seemed to understand, as they looked casually the other way, nonverbally granting me permission to chase this little rapscallion on my own, up and down the aisles, like Sisyphus foolheartedly chasing his cursed stone!

BTW the length of the flight was 6 years.  I mean, 6 HOURS.  Our friends Gregory, Laurie, and 3 year old son Nicholas were waiting at the gate (a lovely pre 9/11 custom) with bright welcoming smiles and a great big “Hey Guys! How was your flight?!”

My answer, spoken like the lead zombie from the Living Dead, was:  “I need a realtor.”  Huh? They stared at me, uncomprehending.  I shook my head wearily and said, “We can’t possibly fly back to Pittsburgh for at least 10 more years, so we’ll just have to buy a house here.”

Turns out, we bought Brian his own seat on the plane a week later, equipped with a borrowed car seat. As soon as I set my little sweetheart in the car seat and buckled him up, he fell fast asleep. He slept like a baby from LAX to PIT.

So, lovely Mamas, take my advice!  Don’t do as I DID, do as I SAY…do your homework and be prepared for anything when travelling with kids. You are NEVER to busy to plan!  And for God’s sake, buy your toddler their own seat on the plane!

Fashionably yours,


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