By Hook or by Crook: Traveling with Baby

Susanne and I like to think we are seasoned travelers, people who move around continents with ease and without flinching. I know before I get to the security line how many bins I’ll need for my stuff. I know which planes have a great bulkhead row and which will cause me to wrap my legs around me like an experiment in human origami. Southwest trains their employees to present all information as a jolly delight, so I’ve learned to cut through the tone to get to the actual substance. Delta, after its merger with Northwest, has a lot of sullen, underappreciated staff at the till, so I make sure to smile when I talk to them and then I get slightly better service. I’m a gate-checking madman, avoidant of baggage fees, and I most recently am grieving the loss of the tiny bag of pretzels, because it seems even that microscopic luxury of flying has now vanished.

When people told me that everything would change once the baby arrived, they failed to bring up air  travel. Not a single person in the 8,374 instances of “Your life is going to change, you know,” that I heard before Emile’s birth finished the sentiment with “especially when you try to get on a plane.” I recognized that life would shift, but I didn’t think about flying.

First, we were confounded by how much of the baby’s wardrobe to bring. For myself, I’ll count outfits by how many days I’ll be gone, plus or minus special events, swimsuits, and a couple of pajama sets. Always an extra pair of underwear and extra socks, maybe house slippers if I’m visiting relatives in winter. For the baby, the equation was an order of magnitude more complex:

1 daytime outfit * 7 days + 5 potty accident replacement outfits (ensuring at least 60% are mix and match with each other) + 4 nighttime sleepers * 3 potential nighttime potty accidents / mother’s laundry capability = 5 daytime outfits and 5 sleepers

We also packed a fistful of socks–I know, that’s not an exact measurement–copious numbers of receiving blankets and washcloths, extra outfits in the diaper bag, pacifiers, a crib sheet, a snuggle blanket and two other blankets for the 16 minutes he would spend outside in the cold. Oh, and a dozen diapers just for our travel day.

This left 2/3 of a bag for Susanne and me. We exchanged tired grins with each other. Our piles of shirts seemed gargantuan in comparison to Emile’s little onesies, but lost the battle of volume over the sheer number of items we were bringing for our kid. To her credit, Susanne found ways of making room for our things that I didn’t know existed, curving sweaters around a stack of shirts and into a deep crevasse along one side of the bag. We agreed we’d check one of our big bags and gate check the other. Gate checking is one of the real advantages of twin prop and small jet travel. At some point we made the decision to bring the stroller, since we had to bring the car seat anyway.

If we take Emile out with us for lunch or dinner, we plan around his naps. He’s not on a schedule of any kind just yet, so this means waiting for him to be less awake and then crossing our fingers that he’ll conk out in the car on the drive to some eatery or other. But flying has its own schedule requirements, so we wondered how well the baby would do when things weren’t on his terms.

Turns out, the hour-long car ride to the airport was the best lullaby we could have designed. It wasn’t until we hit the Denver airport that he made any kind of a fuss. I told him I know, I still think Tim Tebow’s a joke, too. He settled down again for the next flight to Arkansas, but between Point A and Point B, Susanne got good with the public nursing, and I mastered the diaper change pit stop at the end of a men’s room. With lines to change diapers at the women’s room in Denver, I acted like I’d found a major tax loophole on my new yacht. And I got a couple of knowing smiles from guys who seemed to have small child experience of their own. Thinking back about it, I may have received more in-bathroom man nods with Emile on the changing table than I ever got without him, and I’ve been using men’s rooms for the better part of a decade now.

Even better, I can now break down Emile’s stroller and car seat in 7 seconds. Not that it made a difference to the TSA guards, who found something to scrutinize each time we were processed. Damn that IKEA allen wrench in my briefcase, because it had to make three passes through the X-ray scanner before my colleague in security was happy. Okay, it may have been the enormous pile of pens that I’ve stashed in there. I swear I haven’t really put 80 pens in my case; I think they’ve been procreating on their own. And Susanne knows now not to include any foodstuffs in Emile’s diaper bag, because that threw the guards, too. Maybe it was the sheer number of bins that we needed to get through to the gate, something like 9 in total. At that quantity of stuff something is bound to trip an alarm, I presume.

So okay, we need to be better organized and account for time spent shoving all of the unbroken pens back into our luggage.

The crappy pens I donated to our federal government. Hey, I’m a giver.

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Categories: Family, Travel

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7 Comments on “By Hook or by Crook: Traveling with Baby”

  1. Barbara
    November 30, 2011 at 9:47 am #

    LOL! I KNOW I have discussed with you our total travel PTSD since Ari came along. The last plane trip we took him on was fall 2009 and I think I may have just begun to recover. Glad you all made it there and back!

    • evmaroon
      November 30, 2011 at 9:51 am #

      Yes, I remember you talking about traveling with your little onebut you didn’t say anything in context of “your life will change,” so I didn’t put the two together until we started packing. Thank goodness we survived! The guy in the row behind us said to the woman next to him: “He wasn’t very loud for being such a little baby.” WHEW. Now we only have to survive two 4-hour flights to Minneapolis in three and five weeks. (It’s a leg to getting to Detroit.)

  2. Barbara
    November 30, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    I guess I did (and do) try to avoid statements like that, figuring you’d already heard it 8,374 times. I will now say this though — I found it much easier to travel with Ari as a baby than as a toddler, since he was not mobile and couldn’t shriek about having to stay in his seat!

    • evmaroon
      November 30, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

      As usual, I’m sure you’re right! My hope here is that Emile travels enough as a baby that he gets used to it by the time he starts climbing all over xena’s creation.

  3. December 1, 2011 at 5:04 am #

    Was this your first flight? We’ve done 2 (1 to CA and 1 to CO) and will be doing our 3rd from Baltimore to Burbank, CA in 3 weeks. I learned a few things:

    1. I way over-calculated and over-packed for Oli. Specially since we had laundry on site, there was no reason to carry 20 outfits for a 5 day trip.
    2. For us, timing the flight to his feeding time was perfect. He’s an early riser like me so the 6 am flight is absolutely perfect for us. Bottle time as soon as we are taking off.
    3. New toys; we get a new toy for every flight that he doesn’t see till we get on.
    4. Loved the bulkhead row. With the extra room, we just let him play on the ground the whole flight and he was in heaven. Now that he’s walking, that’s going to be tougher.
    5. Depending on the size of the baby, buy him a seat! Oli is so tall that wrangling him away from the person sitting next to me made me hurt my back. Even when I was feeding him, his legs would dangle over the armrest and he’d inadvertently kick the person. Needless to say, for the next flight, he has his own seat.
    6. No layovers. Oh my god, the layovers just extend the pain. The more take-offs and landings there are, the melt downs expand exponentially. Even worse, on one of our flights, we had a layover without being able to get off the flight. HORRIBLE. If you have a layover, make sure there’s extra time to let the baby crawl/walk around before getting back on another plane.

    Good luck! It gets easier and tougher at the same time. Easier because you learn and adjust. Harder because they get more mobile and don’t want to be tied down for that long.

  4. grace
    December 1, 2011 at 4:44 pm #

    Where did you baby sleep? We finally bought a Chicco play yard and the MamaDoo Kids mattress topper and everyone sleeps better. Before our son would sleep with us… too many arms and legs in one bed! 🙂

    • evmaroon
      December 1, 2011 at 5:43 pm #

      @grace: We are not cosleepers, as I am certain I would be too afraid to move or squish the baby, and I’m happy to have him learn now to sleep on his own. My mother got a portable crib for him, so he was in our room with us while we visited at her house.
      @slyvie: There’s not a direct flight from Walla Walla or the Tri-Cities in Washington State to anything in the midwest or east coast, silly. And getting to Michigan or DC takes a minimum of 12 hours, so I’m thankful for some time when I can push Emile around in his stroller, as it settles him and puts him to sleep. Also, tickets for these many hours of above ground torture start at $500 and go up from there. For now we’ll just park him on our laps. We dosed him with a hit of Tylenol shortly before each take off and I think it helped his eardrums a lot. He’s still too young for the simplest of toys, but I bet we take your approach in a few months or a year from now. How old is Oli at this point? Seems like you had him just yesterday!

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