Last week Jeff, the kids and I flew to San Francisco.
Anyone wanting to punish a criminal, teach someone a lesson, prevent a teen pregnancy or indulge him or herself in any masochistic activities needs to hop a plane with a seat directly in front of parents traveling with young children.
At first things went really smoothly. Rollie woke up in a wonderful mood, full of excitement that we would be flying on a big airplane, he would get to watch movies, sit next to Dadda and me for hours and hours and maybe even get his very own soda (currently the carrot of choice we dangle before him to stimulate compliance). And Elsa was just pleased as chubby pie to wander around a vast airport, grinning at anything with a pulse and usually getting a return smile or compliment...or tummy poke from some of the more audacious strangers. We were in for approximately 6 hours of flight time, broken up by a layover in Dallas. It seemed fairly straight-forward. Rollie had his own seat, Jeff was equipped with several movies on his iPad, we had iPods, a backpack full of toys and edible briberies, books, presents, a portable three-ring circus, everything we could think of to keep our two darlings entertained while we streaked westward at 500 miles an hour.
But eventually the novelty of being on a plane, surrounded by everything any child could possibly want, need or dream of, wore off. "Eventually" in Kid Terms is after about ten minutes.
"I want to go home," Rollie said as soon as the plane leveled off at our cruising altitude.
"Honey, we're going to Uncle Matt's house," I said.
"I don't want to go to Uncle Matt's house."
"Yes you do, you love Uncle Matt."
"No, I don't."
"Of course you do. Uncle Matt is so much fun."
"Why is Uncle Matt so much fun?"
"Because he plays baseball with you, and he has a pool, and he's going to take us lots of fun places."
"Why is he going to take us lots of fun places?"
"He just is, so why don't you watch your movie and relax?"
"I want to go home."
I looked to Jeff for help, but he was busy manhandling a very restless and suddenly Stronger-Than-Ten-Average-Men Baby Els (who had also recently discovered how much fun it is to scream at decibels never before measured on the Saffir Simpson Scale....oh wait, that's hurricanes....). She was flailing and wriggling so much seats were being jostled three rows up. But she wasn't even really crying. She was actually kind of smiling as she found new and exciting ways to worm her way out of Jeff's straight-jacket grip. Heads turned in our direction, but thankfully most of these people offered up looks of sympathy. Obviously these were all parents, people who had been here, done this, and were now breathing a collective sigh of relief that they have moved beyond the stage of Traveling With Toddlers and clinking their nine-dollar mini-bottles of wine together in celebration.
Jeff's jaw clenched as he fought to keep Elsa from kicking the seat in front of her, but I could see his veneer of frustration turning to a veneer of rage (the veneer of patience had been checked through to San Francisco, along with the Benedryl I'd meant to pack in our carry-on).
"Want me to take-" My words were cut off as Jeff hurled our daughter in my face.
With this change of scenery, Elsa stopped squirming for about 17 seconds. She discovered how much fun it was to take off her shoes, and then grunt at me to put them back on her feet. And to play with my seat belt. And to tear apart the foil wrapper on my pack of gum. I am so glad I packed a giant backpack full of distractions for her. It came in handy for her to step on as she tried to leverage herself out of my arms and into the seat in front of us.
Halfway through the flight, Rollie started whining about going home again. And Elsa discovered how much fun it is to antagonize him. She found great joy in putting her feet on his arm, and giggling when he shrieked and brushed them off like they were a pair of sneaker-clad bloodsucking insects. He grew so annoyed with her that he began kicking the seat in front of him in retaliation. I hissed at him to knock it off, but at this point my threats carried about as much weight as an packing peanut.
Finally Jeff broke out the iPad for Rollie and the rest of the world fell away as he settled back with A Bug's Life. He sat still between us, slack-jawed and content, no longer noticing Elsa's insistent toes digging into his arm. Which, of course, infuriated Elsa.
Ever try to hang onto a greased pig as it squeals and twists in your quickly weakening grip? Ever try doing it at 35,000 feet as you try not to wake the passenger in 26 C? While the pig is in a poopy diaper?
The one saving grace of the flight was the in-flight movie on the tiny screen above me. Invictus. Matt Damon in a little rugby uniform. Every time I thought I was about to lose it, I just gazed above me at his muscly thighs and adorable smirk and a wave of calm washed over me. I couldn't hear the movie, but the eye-candy alone was more than enough. I've never wanted to be in a scrum so badly in my life.
The trip itself was lovely. We visited my brother, his girlfriend, and my sister Amy flew in from Atlanta to meet us, too. (And believe it or not, she needed the vacation more than I did. Some of you might recognize her from the cover of my book--she is the inspiration behind The Octopus. She hasn't been away from her kids in nine years. I keep waiting for her to snap, but so far she's been unflappable. I'm pretty sure she's a robot.)
The flight home was somewhat uneventful, although I did get yelled at by a stranger for the first time in my life. I guess Rollie playing with his seat-back tray-table wasn't nearly as charming to him as it was to me. The poor old man must have been simmering over Rollie's antics for a good two minutes before whirling around and glaring at me from just over his headrest.
"What's the matter with him?" he barked.
"Uh...." I gave him the weak, Please-Forgive-Me smile. But my Jerk Store answer was, "Well, sir, he's three, he's over-tired, the time change has him all jacked-up, he hasn't pooped in two days, all he really did was open and shut the tray table a few times, would you rather hear him whine?"
Unfortunately, the trip home had no in-flight movie. All I had was the memory of Matt Damon in tight white shorts to keep me sane. Sometimes, it was just enough......