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Up in the Air (With Children)

I used to love to fly. I would request a window seat and forget that I was in a tiny claustrophobic cabin and lose myself to the clouds, to the perspective of being in a liminal space, above life on land, and closer to the vast expanse beyond. I always travelled light; my carry-on contained a good novel, a pen, and a notebook. Airplanes represented the wide world of possibility, new languages, new vistas, the possibility of meeting kindred spirits, and adventure.

Well, that’s changed. My carry-on now contains: ten diapers, thirty wipes, two half-empty tubes of diaper cream, one thermometer, Infant’s Tylenol, Children’s Tylenol, seven hundred (broken) crayons, three hundred markers (out of which three have ink), five coloring books, three sticker books, four pacifiers, two extra pairs of socks, pants, shirts, onesies, and tights, one stuffed elephant, one stuffed dog, five squishy bath toys (don’t ask), two board books, hand sanitizer, five extra clips, four sandwiches, two plastic bags full of noodles, three cheese sticks, carrot sticks and celery sticks, apple slices, fruit leather, crumbled crackers, pretzel sticks, one sippy-cup, and two juice boxes. Though we often order a window seat, if I am lucky enough to convince my four-year-old to let me sit in it, the little one spends the entire flight on my lap pulling the window shade up, and down, up, and down, up, and down, up, and down, so that I have no choice but to vacate said seat and let my four-year-old sit there.

The hardest part is getting the little one to sleep, since one of her greatest joys in life, to quote Amy Ozols: “is wakefulness—and not simply passive wakefulness but the kind of vigorous wakefulness that makes a person like me start to question the very possibility of silence as a condition that can exist in the universe.” The process usually takes at least an hour of my telling endless stories, singing endless renditions of “Hello, Everybody” and “Mary had a Little Lamb,” and physically wrestling with my daughter to keep her lying down. During this time, I endure vicious looks from the passengers around me. It begins with a slight shifting from the people in the rows directly in front of and behind me. Then come the not-so-subtle over-the-shoulder glances. Then people clear their throats. It moves like the wave in a ripple until I feel like the entire plane is going to stand up and scream at me to just keep my kid quiet, and how dare I subject them to this torture, and shouldn’t there be a rule that children shouldn’t be allowed to fly, and that I shouldn’t be allowed to be a parent.

Ironically, it’s these same people who, before the flight, smile at the girls as they run through the airport, arms horizontal, pretending to be airplanes, and who delight in how cute they look in their fur-hooded vests. Just hope we’re not on your flight, I mutter as we pass them by.

We recently flew to Montreal, via Denver, and our bags decided they’d rather ski west than east. As I railed against fate, and argued with the guy in India hired to tell me he was sorry for the inconvenience, I couldn’t help but notice that my daughters weren’t fazed. They were wide-eyed, busy with playing with new toys, connecting to their grandparents, gasping at the frigid air, gaping at the snow, and listening intently to the sounds of French on the radio. They had traveled, and this was an adventure. And so I hung up the phone, put the girls in borrowed boots, and took them sledding beneath the cloudless sky.

–Maya Bernstein