It dawned on me this morning that the whole family is leaving for Florida for vacation next week (no, I am NOT complaining). I find that the few times I have lost my mind enough to make travel plans with my kids that it seems like a great idea right up until the week before we leave. Then the reality of what I was about to embark upon comes crashing down around me. No matter how hard I try to prepare myself for the trip, something always goes unexpectedly and sometimes hilariously wrong. So, in honor of my inevitable future horror story, I decided to share my five best (worst?) travel failures.
5. Geronimo at the Gate
When my oldest son was 6 months old we were living in the UK and had ambitiously decided that it was time to show him off to all our family in the US. Being the obsessive compulsive that I am, I had read every advice site I could find on the internet about successfully traveling with infants. Some of the advice wasn’t very useful. For example many airlines have bassinets for babies that attach to the bulkhead row. Unfortunately the bassinets have a twenty pound weight, while my son did not. At six and a half months he already weighed 22 pounds (for those of you without children, or who haven’t had babies in a while, thats BIG!). So much for that tip.
But one of the pieces of advice that I did think would be useful was to avoid the airport bathroom changing tables if possible. They are full of germs and are often a fairly long walk away from your gate. So instead, they suggest that you wait until boarding begins and then change them on seats right there in the gate (using a changing mat, of course. We weren’t raised in a barn!). That way you can minimize the number of times you have to change them on the plane.
With this in mind, I waited until right before we boarded our flight to change Sebastian’s diaper on the seats at the gate. Now, maybe the airport seats in the US are shaped differently than the seats in the UK, or maybe Manchester International Airport was just trying to discourage people from changing babies in their gates, but the seats were slanted quite sharply from the front of the seat toward the back. In addition, there was a gap between the backrest and the back of the seat that was just about baby head sized (not that I noticed either of these little details at the time).
This was my first flight since becoming a mom and I was very conscious of being seen as a good mom (I’ve since discovered that there is a lot more grey area in parenting than I had originally realized). So once the flight attendants called for advanced boarding I quickly whipped out my changing mat so I could swap out Sebastian’s wet diaper for a dry one. Of course, as if he knew that everyone was watching me, the second released the tabs on his diaper my adorable little baby let out the loudest fart and turned beet red. Anyone who has spent much time with a baby knows that this can mean only one thing: Code Brown (or Yellow).
I’d like to say I was cooly prepared with the wipes within easy reach, but then, I wouldn’t be telling this story now, would I? No. The wipes were still in my bag on the seat the next to my changing mat. I quickly closed the offending diaper and reached to my right to dig through my changing bag. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my baby’s legs raise up in the air as he began to slide off the changing mat, backwards, and headfirst through the hole in the back of the seat. Time stood still. I could hear the collective GASP from everyone around me in the gate as I grabbed him by one of his legs and pulled him unceremoniously back through the opening before his head hit the floor. Just to add insult to injury, the poop from the loosely fitting diaper had smooshed up his back as I pulled him back onto the seat and was now smeared all over the back of the chair. When I looked up at the crowd who were now pretending not to have noticed my major mommy fail I could see the back of their heads judging me, and frankly, fair enough.
4. Tricky Turnstiles
Recently we took both children to visit some friends in Chicago. The three year old has a moderate to severe train fetish, so we decided it would be fun to take the El a couple of stops instead of walking. Did I mention it was bitterly cold? Right. It was about 10 degrees before wind chill. Needless to say everyone was bundled up and walking as quickly as possible with their heads down. The baby was wearing a long sleeved onesie, pants, a sweater, fuzzy socks, a snowsuit, and had two blankets over him in the stroller. He looked like a miniature version of the little brother in A Christmas Story. You know, “I can’t put my arms down!” It was hilarious and a little sad.
We arrived at an old station downtown which looks like it might have been around when Al Capone used to mug people on the train. Ah, the good old days. The stairs were narrow, steep and made of wood which had gotten pretty slick with ice. There was, of course, no elevator. There was a brief discussion about whether or not we should look for a different station that was more stroller accessible, but it was quickly overruled by a cold and excited boy who wanted to get on the train RIGHT NOW!! So we decided we’d outsmart the stairs. Mwah ha ha (that’s supposed to be an evil laugh). We carried the stroller up the three fights of stairs to the ticket platform. But then there was trouble.
In order to board the trains we had to pass through the world’s narrowest turnstiles. There was no way the stroller was going to fit. There was no other way through. It was through the turnstile or turn around. My husband had already taken the three year old through the turnstile so it fell to me to figure out how to get a square peg into a round hole. At first I looked around to see if there were any station workers who could help me out, but the only person in the station was an old man behind the plastic ticket window and when I glanced in his direction he looked away whistling in a cartoonesque gesture of “not my problem”. Yeah, he’s going to Hell. But that didn’t really help me at the time.
I had to take the baby out of the stroller, hand him to my husband while leaned completely prostrate across the turnstile (a task made infinitely more difficult by the fact that the baby’s snowsuit was made out of some sort of space-age teflon). Once he was safely in Daddy’s arms, after almost being dropped twice, I had to fold up the stroller, pass the front wheels to my husband who supported them with his free hand while the baby slipped slowly down his body on the other side, then pass simultaneously through the turnstile with the rest of the stroller. Phew.
The moral of this story is: you can’t outsmart stairs. If they had wanted strollers in their station, they would have built a ramp. Lesson learned.
3. Freeway Fun
While driving on the Interstate just outside of Kankakee, IL I heard a strange whooshing noise coming from the back seat. My first thought is, Sebastian opened his window. My next thought is, Crap! I quickly glance at my window control panel to see if I’d locked his window and I had. Double crap. I turn around (while driving) to see him holding the door handle and staring at me like a deer in headlights. Now what? Obviously, my first instinct is to yell at him. “Don’t move!” I shout, which of course means he lets go of the door handle and wiggles around in his car seat as if nothing happened.
So here we are driving the legal speed limit (…or 80mph) without an exit in sight, snow piled up on the shoulder of the freeway, and the door which may or may not fly open at any moment. Awesome. So I tell my husband to unbuckle his seat belt, lean over the passenger seat, across Sebastian’s car seat and hold the door closed. It made sense at the time. There we were, in the slow lane, me with a panicked look on my face, my husband with nothing but his butt showing through the window, and its 5 miles to the nearest exit. The baby, amazingly, has slept through the entire ordeal.
As if he hadn’t caused enough hysteria, Sebastian starts to poke Daddy in the eyes. Just for fun. But then, if he had been leaned across my seat like that, I can’t promise I wouldn’t have done the same thing. I decide that since we can’t do anything else, its a good time to have a lecture about car safety. I explain that when the car is moving he should never touch the lock or the door handle.
Sebastian: Why not?
Me: Because you could fall out of the car (not to mention be obliterated by oncoming traffic, but I left that part out).
Sebastian: Mommy, I wouldn’t fall out of the car because I am in my car seat.
Me: Ummm. True.
Daddy: (straining from the back seat) Rocks! Rocks could fly in.
Me: Yes. Rocks. So don’t open the door.
Sebastian: I don’t like rocks.
We eventually reached the next exit and were able to stop, shut the door, and engage the child lock. But I still push the lock button now at least once every 10 minutes while I’m driving, just to be sure.