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I started a new job earlier this month. Booked a quick trip to San Francisco before starting the new gig.

We live 20 minutes from O’Hare, and always use that as our home base, even though Midway is clearly superior (ask anyone). Chicago has had unseasonable weather all month. And when there’s bad weather, O’Hare is notorious for inbound and outbound flight cancellations. When I purchased the tickets, I wanted to avoid getting stranded in California and calling in for my first day of work. So I congratulated myself on finding a cheap return flight at 6 a.m. Sunday, with enough time remaining in the day to make up for any delays.

I’d braved 6 a.m. flights several times for work the past year. At O’Hare, the TSA has limited early morning staff, so it can take a full 90 minutes to make it through security. I’m usually scrambling to arrive at my gate in time, yet another anxiety-inducing detail.

A week before departure, I realized that our return trip coincided with the beginning of daylight saving time. Losing an hour that morning, I figured we’d need to wake up at 3 a.m. (equivalent to 2 a.m. pre-daylight saving time) to arrive in time for boarding.

Of course, we’d need to accomplish all this with a twenty-two-month-old on five hours of sleep, losing another two hours once we’d returned to our time zone.

Side note: San Francisco in the Springtime is lovely. I’m glad we took a mini-holiday while we had the chance.

The night before we returned to Chicago, I put a cranky little girl to sleep while someone decided to stay out all night. Let’s not go there.

What I will say is this: SFO is dead at 6 a.m. on a Sunday. Their security gates weren’t even open when we arrived.

Whoops, guess I could have allowed us an extra hour of sleep.

I’ve gotta say, our terminal was a traveling parent’s mecca. Let me show you what I mean:

Discovering the mini indoor playground.

Discovering the mini indoor playground.

Compost bins in an airport?!

Compost bins in an airport?!

The butterfly wall was a big hit for everyone.

The butterfly pulley wall was a big hit.

Fabulous chairs and a precursor of the crankiness to come.

Fabulous chairs and a precursor of the crankiness to come.

Not sure why all airports don’t have playgrounds like this. We would have been miserable waiting at our gate in straight-backed chairs if not for this lovely kid-friendly oasis.

This trip was our final chance for the little one to fly free, so of course we opted for her to ride on my lap. Before boarding, the flight crew arranged roomier seats in the bulkhead for us. That extra space was our saving grace.

Normally, we’re savvy air travelers. We have family and friends spread all across the country, so she’s flown round-trip four times in her two years. Jacob and I both have taken her on flights by ourselves on separate occasions, single-handedly wrangling baby and luggage and diaper changes and security disrobing.

Together should have been a snap– and it was, at least while we were in the spacious airport terminal. As soon as we boarded the plane, and there was no more playground, she started winding down.

She was tired and so were we. Our lack of energy translated to lethargic parenting.

We had to store all of our carry-on luggage in the overhead bins since we were riding in the bulkhead, so we didn’t have quick access to toys and snacks. Plus, singing Old MacDonald forty times in a row on three hours of sleep is hard to manage. We quickly ran out of milk, so she didn’t have a drink to swallow for un-popping her ears during altitude changes. We broke a record for number of diaper changes on the infant-sized changing table in the one-person bathroom. All of this on top of no sleep really did us in. 

And she only slept for 45 minutes of the four-hour flight. We had a squirmy, tired and clumsy girl on our hands, inevitably leading to cry-inducing collisions involving her forehead and the window, arm rest and tray table.

So, yeah, she cried. A lot.

I know that makes us the people everyone else on the plane loves to hate. But we deserve a little sympathy. Planes are not designed for kids. That doesn’t mean kids should be banned from traveling. With families spread across hundreds of miles, and so much of the world to see, are we supposed to leave our babies at home to fend for themselves?

I didn’t really have any left-over energy to feel guilty or embarrassed about the crying. We did our best to extinguish it, but it still happened. This was her eighth time on board an airplane, and the only time she cried longer than five minutes.

Come to think of it, I can’t remember ever flying without the sound of someone’s baby crying in the background.

So take it easy on us parents. Chances are, the crying is harder on us than it is on you. And if it’s really such a hassle, you can buy earplugs for less than you’d spend at Starbucks.

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