Planning our vacation with Tokki, I was very focused on the flight. How will I entertain him for eight hours? Will he scream? What food should I bring?
The truth is, the flight there and back were both surprisingly easy. (It was the tired and lost-in-the-rain moments on vacation that were the challenge.) Afterward, I thought, That’s it? It reminded me of when I was pregnant and I read stacks of books on childbirth, an experience that lasted a day or two (“Now what?!”). The flight will be over within hours. That’s when the traveling actually begins.
If you’re heading out on vacation with a baby for the first time, here are a few flight tips you can peruse quickly so you can get to the real nitty-gritty of preparing the trip itself.
1. Bring sippy items. Everyone told me that nursing during the ascent and descent is crucial, as sucking helps the baby’s ears deal with the pressure change. In case Tokki wasn’t in the mood to nurse, I also packed bottles, his sippy-straw-cup and a few squeeze tubes of baby food (these things are amazing in theory, but only if your kid will actually eat them). Tokki is no longer a placid newborn and has become rather squirmy, so while I tried my best, he often wasn’t using any of the above as the plane went up and down. Still, he was a-ok. Having these things prepared, though, made me feel better.
2. You need familiar songs... We had barely pulled away from our house in the airport limo when Tokki cranked the waterworks, five minutes into our transatlantic trip. We had several long flights and train rides ahead of us and already he was Mr. Crumpleface, covered in tears. My desperation was immediate. I began to hum a song my mom sings every time she visits. I only knew the first line – “Three bears live in a house,” I sang. Tokki looked at me anew. His tears dried. Ooh, it’s the three Korean bears in the house, his face seemed to say. The trouble was I had no idea what these bears do in their house. “La la la,” I floundered, pathetically. What do the three bears do?! At the airport, I called my mom. She was on the golf course. I made her sing me the song and repeated it back for good measure. Then I sang it to Tokki for 10 days straight in France -- when I got us lost in the rain on the way to the hotel, as I nursed him to sleep in unfamiliar rooms, as I distracted him in boisterous restaurants. I love those freaking three Korean bears.
3. ...And unfamiliar toys. In the lead-up to our trip, I began squirreling away toys -- small, light, and in the case of one cloying singing train, equipped with an off switch. I had enough that I could bring out a new one each hour of our flight. I also amassed a small, glittering pile of costume jewelry to wear in-flight, in case he wanted to play with it (he didn’t). He did like my Teethease, which the company sent me (it’s a teething necklace for mama to wear). In the end, the ad hoc “toy” that kept his attention the longest (all throughout our time in France plus the return flight) was a mostly-empty water bottle. We usually don’t use plastic water bottles around our house so perhaps this was a moment where, if his baby peers could talk, he would be singled out as totally weird (“Duh, that’s just a water bottle!”) but to him, it was fascinating – novel, clear, crinkly, its contents in constant motion. The toys I carefully selected for him did the trick of distracting him for a minute or two each time but every day, I resorted to giving him what is basically garbage, the water bottle, his most favourite toy of all.
4. Borrow baby gear. I polled my friends who have traveled with their babies and many of them had used the PeaPod for sleeping and a strap-and-snap travel high chair. I borrowed both, to test them with Tokki. We schlepped the PeaPod across to Europe (thankfully very light) and while I think it’s the coolest thing ever, Tokki spent exactly 3 hours sleeping in it. After that, he refused. The travel high chair, on the other hand, helped us have wonderful meals en famille, every single day. Plus, I found it so much more secure than most of the sketchy high chairs that restaurants provide (if at all) and it allowed him to belly up to the table with the rest of us. Charlie, the PeaPod’s original owner, loves it and is using it right now on vacation in Alberta. Plum, the owner of the travel high chair, has outgrown it, which means Tokki will use it a few more times before handing it back. I love when baby items make the rounds.
5. Don’t be afraid to fly overnight. Flying overnight was the best thing we ever did. We checked-in early so we wouldn’t be rushed. And then, as we settled in, with my husband Isaac and I sitting next to each other and Tokki in my lap, two flight attendants approached the woman next to us and asked if she would move seats to accommodate our baby. Isaac and I were both taken by surprise. This lovely passenger gave up her window seat for a middle seat elsewhere on the plane...for a flight all the way to France! Sweet lady - there was no way we could thank you enough. Tokki sprawled out on the seat between us, sawed baby logs all the way across the Atlantic until the moment we began to descend into Paris. It couldn’t have been smoother. Sure, he had gotten a few hours less sleep than usual but he was so into his new surroundings as we made our way through the metro and into a new city that he didn’t mind at all.
And if your baby freaks out on the plane, it’s ok. Who cares about the other passengers? They, like everyone in life, are divided into those who get it and those who don’t. Parents have been there. Pretend the other people don’t exist. And besides, there’s that lovely, muffled quality your ears take on in the air. Hope the other passengers have that merciful quasi-deafness. And no matter how long your flight may seem with a cranky baby, remember it will all be over in a matter of hours. And then the vacation begins (good luck!).
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