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Surviving a 14-Hour Flight With My Toddler

Flights with children can be tough. But flights with toddlers can be a downright nightmare. When a 20-month-old meets a long flight, say a 14-hour flight, the challenges that ensue can make you wonder what crimes you committed in a past life. We are on holiday in Asia, which means that we have already endured one of those aforementioned 14-hour flights. Sure, everyone came out alive, but it was not without a sea of evil glares, a knocked-over breakfast tray into the aisle and a bloody nose. I’m scared as hell for the return flight with a traveled-out toddler, but I'm putting on a brave face. I decided to document the flight. Just for kicks, and perhaps to put on record why I may be averse to ever doing this again.

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It's an 11 p.m. flight. And we’ve had a long day. So why the hell is my toddler daughter running circles around our bags, not looking tired, at all? In a moment of panic, I turn to my husband and say, “Do you think it’s too late to find Benadryl?” And then we hear them board families with young children and passengers needing assistance. I need assistance, I thought to myself. And we pick up our carry-ons and trudge to the boarding area.

We take our seats, the three center, bulk head seats. I immediately look around to see who is sitting around us. Do they look like assholes? Oh good, there is a really smiley Chinese family directly behind us. It’s looking safe to our left, where there’s Michael Bolton’s doppelganger lost in his headphones and an older man with a Pillow Pet. But there’s a red zone to our right: three single, unrelated women who have each individually refused to switch seats to allow a honeymooning couple to sit together. Oh yeah, they are definitely going to hate us.

And just as I’m sweating about the tough crowd to our right, I realize that the toddler in my arms has stopped jumping up and down on my spleen. Yes! She’s fallen asleep. She’ll sleep right through take-off and won’t even notice that she’s been cruelly strapped in by the seat belt, her arch nemesis.

The first three hours are pretty amazing. My entire family is out cold. And that includes me. Is this real life?

I wake up freezing at hour four. I’ve wrapped my daughter in my crusty blanket. But I’ve forgotten to bring a sweater so I spend the next two hours too cold to sleep, yet feeling like a lucky lady as I watch a really bad Justin Timberlake movie with a sleeping toddler on my lap.

Arms are flailing, Goldfish crackers are flying, my husband and I are fighting — and my daughter's screaming a Tasmanian-Devil-type scream so disturbing that people are unbuckling and standing to look.

The little human wakes, ready to play at hour six. Wow, that’s pretty good, I think to myself. She slept six hours! That seems like a sizable chunk of flight time. But, on a 14-hour flight that means that there are still EIGHT HOURS LEFT! I feel sick to my stomach, but proceed with my plan to introduce one new toy or activity every hour. I start with the sticker book. She sticks away … for 5 minutes. And then, she wants “down.” We make our way down the aisle past all the rogue arms and legs and around all the old people stretching. And we turn around and go back. We do this approximately nine times until I insist that we sit down.

And just as we sit down, there’s turbulence. And the seat belt sign goes on. Oh SH**. The airline attendant quickly appears, “Please put your baby’s seat belt on, ma'am.” I look to my right at the honeymoon haters and give them a look that says, “Get ready, bitches.” CLICK.

For the next 10 minutes while the seatbelt sign stays lit, it's tough to tell what's going on in seats 30 C through E. Arms are flailing, Goldfish crackers are flying, my husband and I are fighting — and my daughter's screaming a Tasmanian-Devil-type scream so disturbing that people are unbuckling and standing to look. And at the height of the mele, an airline attendant scurries up to me and frantically says, “Please comfort your baby.” I’ll spare you the details on how I respond, exactly.

When the seatbelt sign go off. The belt comes off, and Jekyll goes back to being Hyde. I'm so traumatized by what has just occurred that I dump the entire activity bag onto my and my son’s lap, offering my daughter a smorgasbord of things to play with all at once. Forget that one toy and hour thing. All bets are off, dude.

It’s hour 10 now, and we’ve spent the last hour watching Peppa Pig. My daughter goes ballistic when I put the headphones on her, and goes ballistic again when she can’t hear the sound, so I dutifully hold the headphones an inch from her ear for an hour (Anything to keep her in the Peppa Pig trance for another hour). Just then, a clueless weird lady decides that instead of crossing to the other aisle by way of the galley she’ll just jump over my legs and try to cross using our row!?? She doesn’t clear my legs and kicks my shin with her orthopedic shoes. I wail and spill my water all over my and my daughter’s laps. She doesn’t stop to apologize, but keeps awkwardly stepping over the rest of my family. I jump up with initial urges to fight her. Forget the bruising and being soaked — she broke the Peppa Pig trance, and we still have over four hours left to go!

I sit back down and smell a poopy diaper. I scoop up my daughter, hurry to the bathroom and get her laid out on the changing table in the tiny bathroom. TURBULENCE! I wedge my feet against each wall and firmly hold my daughter down while the poopy diaper bounces right along with us. An attendant knocks on the door, “Please return to your seats and buckle up.” “OK, thanks doll. Be right there, “ I say as I hastily wipe my daughter and pick her up, poop up both my forearms.

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I return to my seat just in time for breakfast service. And the cardboard eggs and soggy hash browns taste divine in my moment of comfort eating. My daughter eats a roll and falls asleep mid-chew. I manically drink three cups of orange juice and two cups of coffee.

My toddler sleeps looking like an angel for the next hour. Considering she’s only 20 months old, she’s done remarkably well. I stare at her with intense adoration only to be jarred out of the moment by seeing her startled awake, eyes wide open to the ding of the “fasten seat belts” sign. Eff me…

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