Airline travel is a necessary evil in our transient Air Force life, and while I marvel at how amazing it is that you can cross the country in mere hours, it has never been easy. Even before children, flying was at best expensive and mildly convenient on occasion, and at worst a surefire way to guarantee that I'd have a nasty stomachache for a minimum of four hours post-arrival. (Unlike Marie, I do not throw up on airplanes or in cars—my particular brand of motion sickness just makes me feel really yucky). When Matt and I flew with Maddie for the first time, she was six months old. It is a wonder we survived that trip because we weren't really baby-travel-savvy at the time, and for some reason thought it would be a fine idea to keep her in her carseat while carrying her through the airport with all our other stuff instead of using the Baby Bjorn or a stroller. My mom knows just what a bad idea this was, as she was the first to see us in the airport. It wasn't a pretty sight.
Aside from the time where the security people in Colorado Springs took Maddie's hat away from her and wouldn't give it back when she was 14 months old while they made us take our shoes off, etc. and she threw a hysterical fit (anyone who remembers Maddie at 14 months knows that taking her hat away from her was a big no-no), airline travel with the girls has been somewhat unpleasant but mostly manageable. We are better about packing, organizing, preparing for the security stuff, and getting ourselves and all our possessions to the right place without too much incident.
This last round of airline travel nearly did us in. Or, I should say, our normally sprightly and cheerful Gracie nearly did us in. On the way from Denver to Akron, she was entertained by the new toys and special snack treats for all of about 11 minutes. The remainder of the 2 hr 45 min flight was spent alternately screaming, fussing, shouting, hissing, clawing, spitting, and wrestling. (About an hour from landing Matt finally gave up and let her out of her carseat only to literally wrestle with her until 3 minutes before we landed, when she suddenly PASSED OUT from sheer exhaustion. We were only vaguely alarmed at the passing out part, because on one hand it was kind of scary, but on the other hand, she was very quiet. I also have to note here that the wrestling match, by all accounts, appeared to take place on a level playing field. As in, Gracie was a fair match for her daddy. Hard to imagine, but true.)
Once we were settled in the rental car, she yelled a little as the transformation from hideous beast to regular Gracie took place, and the rest of the week was mostly fine. Sweet, happy, ornery, slightly difficult, energetic, normal Gracie. We were dreading the return flight. And we were not disappointed. This time the special surprises held her attention for about 4 minutes, at which point her "there-is-a-nasty-man-in-front-of-me-who-will-react-if-I-behave-poorly-radar" went off, and the show started up again. Matt, sitting in 12D, mostly ignored us for a while, working to preserve his inner serenity for when it was his turn to "entertain" Gracie halfway through the trip. Because of the screaming, I let her out of her seat a little earlier this time, hoping that she would pass out again on me (no such luck). Here are a few ways to buy a handful of minutes if you are ever in the same situation:
• Allow your 16 month old to have a Tootsie Roll sucker, even though you are out of wipes and she insists on sharing with you for every third lick until she grows tired of the game and throws the sucker on the floor.
• Ply your 16 month old with markers stolen from her sister's Easter basket, and let her write on herself until she grows tired of the game and throws the markers on the floor.
• Offer your 16 month old all the headphones you can find to encourage her to plug the cord into the headphone jacks, even though she is absolutely never allowed to play with cords, until she grows tired of the game, breaks the headphones in two, and throws them on the floor.
OK, now that 9 minutes (approximately) have passed, hand your 16 month old to her father and watch in horror as she starts to beat him up (she apparently grew tired of wrestling on Flight #1). Try not to cry as nasty man in row 11 jams seat back and forth, turns to glare over seat repeatedly, and huff and puff.
[note: Hey, Nasty Man, we're not having any fun either, in case there was a question. Perhaps you should consider buying a FIRST CLASS TICKET next time.]
20 minutes from landing, Gracie ended her show by again passing out sweetly on her daddy's shoulder.
Growing up, the Willis Family had a special award called "The Best Traveler" award. I think it may have been a very sarcastic joke come to think of it, because none of us were particularly strong travelers. There was always much talk about who had forfeited their best traveler award. Maddie actually earned hers on this trip, as she was happy to listen to the iPod Shuffle carefully loaded with They Might Be Giants, princess stories, Shel Silverstein poetry, John Lithgow songs, and other appropriate CDs. (I only once had to tell her to tone it down, when she was accidentally singing Sarah Harmer's "Oatmeal and Peanut Butter Toast" at the top of her lungs). She kept the whining to a minimum, was excited to have Sprite as her beverage of choice, and mostly kept to herself.
Gracie, on the other hand, will not be stepping aboard another airplane until she is 14. Or at the very minimum, over 2.
[more stories and photos from our Ohio adventure to follow]