takeoff, touchdown: flying with kids

He fell asleep on my lap.

We’d done the exasperated exchange, the eye-rolling, exhausted “I’m done with this child; you take a turn.” The baby had been cranky and squirmy, overtired and irritated. (Just like his mother.) After he refused to nurse on takeoff, spurned my cuddles, shoved away every toy I dangled in front of his eyes, I’d finally thrust him towards to his father, fists flying and limbs flailing: “HERE.”

In return I received the equally overtired big brother. With a sigh I pulled a stack of books toward us, ready to flip through every favorite at lightning speed, anything to calm the restless troops.

Instead, he snuggled into my chest, folded his not-yet-big-boy, no-longer-baby legs into my lap. Grateful for a single quiet moment, I buried my face in his wild mop of thick hair, breathed in the shampoo smell, planted a kiss on the top of his head.

Then I realized his forehead was dipping slightly into my arms. Again, dropping lower. And lower. His breathing slower. And slower.

He fell asleep on my lap.

Maybe it had been months, but it felt like years since he’d cuddled in this close to sleep. And I’m never the parent he calls out for in the night; I ceded that title eons ago.

But a long day of traveling, a surprise attack of car-sickness, a skipped nap and a stuffy airplane cabin produced the perfect storm for a snuggle. Amazed, I pulled him in closer, inch by inch so I wouldn’t wake him.

Flying with children has taught me a few solid life lessons: you can never pack enough wet wipes; accept all offers of cold drinks; when all else fails, peekaboo won’t.

But the one absolute truth I take from my three short years of air travel with the under-fives: It’s never what you expect.

They’ll be wired when you’re convinced they’re wiped out. They’ll refuse all food when you’ve planned for lunch. They’ll be angels when you feared devils, cranks when you planned calmly, charmers to all seatmates once you’re ready to stuff them away in an overhead bin.

But once in a blue moon, as the sun sets your window aglow with golden rays, a tired head will droop onto your shoulder.

And they’ll sleep when you were sure they’d be awake.

They’ll cuddle when you’re certain they’re too old.

Madeleine L’Engle called this decade the “tired thirties.” And does this picture ever prove her right…

13 thoughts on “takeoff, touchdown: flying with kids

  1. I love this so much! Beautiful. I rarely get snuggles from our 2 year old so I love seeing that photo. Recently he’s been more cuddly, which is precious.

    We’ve traveled quite a bit with our eldest, and will be flying soon with both. It’s always a challenge, and a disaster at times, but through grace and strangers’ kindness it has been okay thus far. Especially when TSA decides to not help and I’m traveling alone with an infant & car seat & stroller. And they all have to go through X-ray. Take your wrap & ditch the stroller for the little ones!

    1. “Through grace and strangers’ kindness” – agreed! I always think that for every annoyed stranger, an angel in disguise shows up. Sometimes the most unlikely types, too. I remember inwardly groaning when I got seated next to a big burly biker-type when traveling alone with a baby. I got so stressed out about how I was going to nurse with this guy right next to me. But then two minutes into the flight, he started talking about his twin nieces that he had been visiting and told me that he was “totally fine with all that baby stuff – it doesn’t faze me one bit.” 😉 He closed his eyes to sleep and I nursed the babe in peace.

  2. Aww, that photo just melted my heart! Believe it or not, I rocked my son to sleep for his nap every day until he stopped napping last month (he’s 4.5). I can’t tell you how much I miss holding him while he’s sleeping! (At bedtime he never falls asleep in the rocking chair; he waits till I put him in his bed.) Thankfully though, he is very affectionate, so we still get lots of snuggles.

    1. I’m jealous, Claire! Rocking little ones to sleep is the best. I remember doing that with my first for months and months. It was too hard with the second b/c the older one always wanted mama’s attention. But those snuggles are so precious – we have to soak them up whenever we can get them!

      1. Yes, having only one definitely makes it easier to stick with the rocking! (And because I only have one, I feel the need to savor these experiences as long as possible, since I won’t get another chance.) I was lucky that he always knew how to put himself to sleep, so I never had to worry that by rocking him to sleep once/day, it would become a crutch for him.

  3. What a beautiful post – such imagery in your words, and then the photo. I just read Ginny’s post about her back, and wrote about a baby falling asleep in one’s arms. God is good! I’m just typically not paying this much attention!

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