As the summer ends, road warriors (or business executives) can breathe a sigh of relief as they can once again travel without airports and planes filled with an armada of children. Many of us who travel 100+ thousand miles yearly have died a million deaths when seated by a crying baby and roll our eyes when in line behind the "amateurs" and their children. The 10 minute zip to the front of the line for us frequent fliers literally comes to a stand still.
But what goes around comes around - In the last three years, I have become a father to two sons and now regularly travel with my wife and children. I have become "one of them." The following are a few of my humbling reflections:
No matter how well I plan, there is no expedient way to get through the security checkpoint or board a plane.
Traveling alone on business, I am a well organized traveler. I pack so that I can remove shoes, keys, laptop, Blackberry, coat, and liquid items without stopping the security line. In ten years, I have never set off a metal detector nor have I been manhandled with a metal detector wand. Impossible to do with children. Try removing three pairs of shoes, folding a stroller, removing liquids from purse, baby bag, carry-on, chasing down son #1 who is behind the security scanner, pulling out baby #2 who crawled under the security table, pushing along seven grey containers, remembering to remove the laptop and DVD player, forgetting that you had a full bottle in the baby bag, convincing TSA employee that the baby bottle is not filled with liquid explosives, again chasing down son #1 who just ran through the metal detector and is halfway down the terminal, collecting belongings that are log jamming the scanner, finding floor space to put belongings back together, tie four pairs of shoes, unfold stroller, strap kids in stroller, get things together and move the entourage toward the gate. If you have 10 minutes to catch your flight and you are behind us, today is not your day. Boarding the plane is a similar ordeal with nearly as many steps and as complicated as mapping a genome.
I pride myself on packing lightly.
I can do week-long international business trips with only a rolling carry-on and my laptop briefcase. Not so with two children in diapers. On a recent week-long family vacation this summer, I packed one pair of shorts, three shirts, and sandals. My wife packed lightly as well. We checked two full size suitcases, two car seats and a baby stroller. See above for what we carried on the plane. It is overwhelming the amount of stuff two small children require. I have no idea why they need so much stuff, but they do.
I am the A-hole with the kid who keeps kicking the back of your seat.
Asking a three-year-old and one-year-old to sit quietly and still in their seats for four hours is like asking two cats to sit still while giving them a bath. On a recent flight I got up to use the restroom and returning to my seat, I noticed the seat of the sleeping woman directly in front of my son bouncing like we were going through bad turbulence. Except we were in smooth air. My son was pounding on his tray table like a snare drum. My wife could do nothing because our one-year-old was screaming and she was trying desperately to get him to sleep. Luckily and miraculously, the woman slept through it.
What happened to him and what's that smell?
When traveling solo, I know down to the minute when I need to wake up for an early flight and leave my house - one hour door-to-gate. On a recent 8:00am departure, we were up at 3:45am bathing kids, finishing packing, feeding kids, packing for a small army, oh and getting ready ourselves. I was a wreck by the time I made it to the terminal, bloodshot eyes, sweat soaked shirt - I look as though I am coming down from an all-night bender. The second leg of the trip required an hour on a boat to get to our final destination. My son, not yet having his sea legs or the wherewithal to give notice that he's feeling nauseous, threw up all over my shirt while sitting in my lap. The gasps and disgusted looks of the passengers around me were awful. I had an out-of-body experience watching a peaceful cruise on a pleasant day unfold into a nightmare.
Traveling with children is not all bad, and the fun they have experiencing a new place is well worth the effort. Another upside is that I am a much more patient traveler. When I am traveling alone on business, I smile at the baby who is in line in front of me; I help my fellow family traveler by picking up a dropped toy or bottle. I often say, "I understand, I know what it's like traveling with children." I can often also spot, when traveling with my family, those who have been where I am; they are empathetic and forgiving of the inconvenience and tolerant of the screaming baby and his disheveled father.