I always pick Skee-Ball over roller coasters at the amusement park. I will never be caught dead on a ropes course, even though I’m well aware of the safety harness. And zip-lining in Costa Rica set me back a good three months in therapy.
But then I became a mom of four kids, and simple, everyday tasks have me earning my superhero cape. Just going grocery shopping is no small feat. Eating out at a restaurant is like an extreme sport.
But I’m pretty sure flying alone with all of my kids is downright heroic.
She uses the iPad like it’s a high-priced drum, and toys are just tossed, usually at your lucky seatmate’s head or on the floor just beyond your reach.
I flew once with my first three children, who were all under 5, and vowed never to do it again. But desperate times, like my husband’s deployment to Afghanistan, called for desperate measures. And even though the DVD player could not soothe the savage toddler beast, we survived—as did my fellow passengers, who were extra glad they had packed their earphones.
So when I added a fourth child to my brood, I vowed that I’d never fly alone with all of them until the youngest was old enough to be entertained longer than two minutes by something other than kicking the seat in front of her.
Even traveling as a family with my husband is challenging, because while the older kids can generally be occupied with treats, toys and technology, my youngest (just under 2) could not care less about any of them. The bag of gummy bears only lasts so long, and then when the sugar high hits, you regret ever thinking that letting her eat them was a good idea. Sure, you survived the long taxi and takeoff, but now she’s running up and down the aisles as if it’s a relay.
She uses the iPad like it’s a high-priced drum, and toys are just tossed, usually at your lucky seatmate’s head or on the floor just beyond your reach. And even when you get creative, by packing masking tape or cleaning wipes, or begging the flight attendant for lots of straws and empty cups, you get maybe a total of 10 whole peaceful minutes. A small consolation on a two-hour flight.
Now this is mildly bearable when I’m alone with her and don’t have to deal with the other kids. Or when I’m able to pass her back and forth to my husband like a game of hot potato. But it’s exactly how I feel on a roller coaster: holding on for dear life until the ride finally stops, hoping that all the contents in my stomach stay there. And also hoping that I have a voice left after screaming the entire time.
So I was pretty sure that a plane ride alone would be about 50 times worse.
When you have no other options, it’s amazing how your survival instinct kicks in. So with three hours of sleep and a Gas-X and Pepto cocktail, I was ready.
But instead of feeling powerless, I felt like I had super powers.
It started with the shuttle driver who couldn’t stop gushing about how awesome my kids were. And he was right, they were pretty awesome, magically sitting quietly in a big van, awoken from a dead sleep at 5 a.m.
Then passers-by at the airport offered me all sorts of support and congratulations, which I generally tend to roll my eyes at because while I appreciate the admiration and how you could never do this and “Wow, you’re my hero!” I’m just a mom with four kids trying to get home without completely losing my sanity.
Yes, it’s true. My vagina is badass! But me? Crazy. Just plain crazy.
But on that day, I decided to soak it in.
Every look of astonishment and loudly voiced compliment was like wind under my invisible cape. I laughed when the flight attendant told me she wasn’t sure whether she should offer me a hug or a drink.
And I only mildly freaked out when the plane’s hydraulic broke, forcing us to taxi back to the gate and delaying us for over an hour.
That’s why they invented individual seat movie screens and Alvin and the Chipmunks:Chipwrecked!
And Ativan. (For me, that is).
Yes, there were still whiny children, orange juice spills and a baby who was not so keen on being buckled in for longer than 30 seconds.
But the satisfaction of knowing that I flew alone with my four kids, who are all under 7, feels like a medal around my neck. A notch in my belt.
And when the passengers walked by us as they exited the plane, dishing out compliments on how awesome my kids were at flying, and how brave I was, instead of my usual “aw, shucks,” I smiled and agreed.
I may not be jumping off cliffs anytime soon, but you try flying alone with four kids. It doesn’t get any more extreme than that.