Some parenting mistakes are part of a recurring pattern or habit, like failing to be consistent or losing one’s temper. We’ve all been there, and often more than once. But other missteps make such an impression, you learn never to repeat them.
This was one of those, and it began with the best of intentions.
Early in my parenthood, I wanted to take a last-minute trip to visit my family in Texas. Maybe it was a special occasion or maybe I just missed having someone take care of me at a moment when all my energy was spent taking care of two small children.
My daughter was a toddler, around 3 years old, and my son was almost a year old. I don’t remember their exact ages, but I distinctly recall the air-travel accoutrements required: a car seat, a double stroller, a stocked diaper bag, a purse and checked luggage.
Traveling with children can be challenging under the best circumstances, like when you have an equal adult-to-baby ratio. It’s even harder when you are outnumbered, and my husband couldn’t join me on this trip. However, I have a habit of convincing myself that an ambitious plan I’ve hatched won’t be nearly as difficult as it sounds.
I am always wrong about this.
This particular trip would take place during my unpaid maternity leave, when I had the luxury of time, but a tight budget. I looked up the cost of two tickets, since our youngest could fly as a lap baby.
Yikes. The airfare was pricey — an unjustifiable expense during an unpaid leave. My husband told me to just buy the tickets. I ignored this suggestion.
Ever the deal-hunter, I convinced myself that I could get a better price through one of the discount travel sites. I mean, how bad could it be? (Note to self: Anytime you have to ask yourself that question, the answer is, “pretty bad.”)
I bid on two tickets and scored the flights for significantly less than what I would have paid through the airline. I felt quite savvy about these savings. We can call this the metaphoric pride before the fall.
The St. Louis-to-Houston flight is normally an hour and 45 minutes. But this low-budget itinerary was going to take more than six hours, with a connection and a two-hour layover as an added bonus. That didn’t sound like a great plan for a three-day visit while traveling solo with two babies, but there were no take-backs in this travel gamble.
So, off we went.
The first plane was one of those 50-seater express jets, which I’ll never forget because it provoked severe ear pain in both children upon the descent. I tried to nurse the baby while consoling a crying toddler. The flight attendant asked if I wanted to give my daughter a piece of gum. I had already tried gum, gummy bears, ice and juice, but nothing worked.
When we finally deplaned, the kids were already worn out. I was carrying one child, pushing the other in a stroller, and trying to balance an oversized diaper bag on the handles with a massive purse hanging off my shoulder.
I remember the pitying looks from other travelers.
We wandered around the Charlotte airport, found something to eat, and I tried to keep them awake through their nap times so they would fall asleep on the next flight. That was the latest in a series of bad ideas. My daughter, now a teenager, swears she remembers wondering why we were stuck at the airport and getting on another plane that would hurt her ears. By the time we finally landed in Houston, I had a severe migraine and called my husband to say that I considered it a victory that I was stone-cold sober and still had both our children.
The idea of going through that all over again in two days to go home made me feel dizzy. At my parents’ house, I bought two tickets for a direct flight back home after our stay. And yes, the purchase price included a free spousal I-told-you-so.
For the next decade, I never took another connecting flight with our children.
I had already learned an expensive lesson about cheap flights.
Aisha Sultan is a St. Louis-based journalist who studies parenting in the digital age while trying to keep up with her tech-savvy children. Find her on Twitter: @AishaS.