Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Flight of Firsts

Tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM, Sophia, Trey and I will be taking off in an airplane from the Dallas/Fort Worth airport and heading to my hometown of Huntington, WV to visit my family. This is a trip that we take about twice a year, so in theory the trip should be fairly routine by now. However, it is not as easy as simply getting on a plane in Dallas and actually landing in Huntington. No, this trip usually involves multiple airports, sometimes delays or cancellations, lost or broken luggage, rental cars, and whatever surprise that is thrown our way. For this trip we have a layover in Chicago, then on to Columbus where we will pick up a rental car and drive almost 3 hours to Huntington. I expect that I will be arriving in Huntington approximately 10-12 hours after I wake up tomorrow morning – it is going to be a very long day.

Flying with Sophia is always an unknown “adventure”. She has flown approximately half a dozen times in her short 2 years of age. The first time I took her on a plane, she was about 10 weeks old. I was by myself so I carried her in an infant sling and she slept soundly the entire flight. The lady sitting next to me did not even know I was holding a baby for the first 10 minutes of the flight. I was confident that future trips would be just as easy! I was lulled into this belief just as Sophia had been lulled to sleep by the sound of the plane’s engine. However our confidence crashed as we found our trips becoming increasingly difficult as she got older.

One time when Sophia was still an infant, Trey and I were trying to get her to sleep on the plane. I was holding her in my arms and praying that she would settle down when the overhead speaker crackled and the flight attendant’s voice boomed through the plane. Sophia jerked awake at the sudden sound and her face turned purple with anger before she let out a LOUD scream and began crying. Trey was flustered and frantic as he tried to comfort her and her cries felt amplified in that small airplane. We didn’t ask – we actually demanded that flight attendant turn down the volume on the overhead speaker but it didn’t help. Every announcement that day was followed by us comforting Sophia and shushing her back to sleep.

Last summer, we were all returning from my family reunion in Charlotte. Sophia was almost two but we were taking advantage of the airline rules and were traveling with her as a “lap child”. This means she did not have her own seat and would be restricted to our laps for the entire flight. We were not worried, because 99% of the time there has been an extra seat nearby that we can use while one of us sits with Sophia. Unfortunately, this flight was COMPLETELY full and on the way home Sophia had a complete, over-the-top, classic meltdown. I knew it was because she had not gotten enough rest during our trip – but I had no remedy for it mid-flight. Sophia basically screamed for the last hour of the flight and did not even want to be touched or comforted. I tried everything I could think of such as snacks, stickers, suckers… but all I did was succeed in escalating her screams. When they announced a delay in our landing (we circled Dallas for almost 40 minutes), everyone around us groaned in frustration and I knew we were the culprits. About 10 minutes before the wheels touched down, she exhausted herself and fell asleep against Trey. I was weary with relief – but it was short-lived. The landing woke her up and she was unhappy once again.

Trey and I looked at each other when we got off the plane and said those same words that we say after each trip we have taken with Sophia…

“NEVER AGAIN! We are NEVER getting on a plane with her again”!

But time passes and the feeling of wanting to visit my family begins to make these memories fade.

In the last two years, I have learned to change diapers in the mini-airplane bathrooms, on my lap, and in the middle of crowded airport bathrooms. I have sat in a stall to nurse Sophia so I could avoid the stares from strangers at the gate (even though I am very modest and could discreetly feed her while completely covered). I have endured the dirty looks, loud sighs, and “helpful” advice from fellow passengers for the multitude of inconveniences that I have brought upon the entire plane by bringing my young daughter on board. I have carried a diaper bag and car-seat on one arm while pushing an empty stroller through the airport and carrying Sophia in the other arm (and I had bruises for weeks from the car seat bouncing against my leg).

Tomorrow is a flight of firsts… the first time we have all flown into Columbus (these were the cheapest tickets I could find). The first time we have ever taken a flight that includes a layover (pray for good weather in Chicago). The first time we have all flown together with Sophia in her own seat (maybe I will get to read a book or magazine while Trey and Sophia watch a movie on the computer). The first time that we have flown without bringing a stroller, diapers or pull-ups (I need to remember to bring an extra change of clothes for Sophia in the event of a bathroom emergency). Maybe, just maybe, it will be the first flight since that VERY first flight over two years ago that we make it the entire flight without any tears. Or maybe when we return to Dallas on Monday, Trey and I will turn to each other and say, “NEVER AGAIN!”

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