From N.Y. to L.A.: the parent trapped

Times Staff Writer

I want to explain how I got this fat lip while flying home after our family vacation. The lip is turning purple and attracting attention.

It was a lovely, if stressful, trip, our first with both children. Luke and Rafe are 3 and 1, respectively.

They were marvelous on the flights from L.A. to the East Coast, so my husband, Alex, and I have high hopes for the return journey -- and two giant backpacks full of toys, books and activities. We think we are getting good at this.

Oh, how this thought makes me giggle now, in a manic kind of way.

We must take two flights because no airlines fly nonstop between L.A. and Albany, N.Y. Our first flight leaves Albany on time. The challenge with commuter jets is getting the kids' car seats onto the plane. The aisle is very narrow. We bump down the row, carrying kids and seats while trying not to whack anybody in the face with either, then wrestle with getting both seats belted in while getting out of other passengers' way.

We settle down for the short flight to Newark, N.J. This 35-minute trip somehow takes more than an hour. The boys are very good, and periodically Luke yells, "I love you, Mom and Dad! I love our vacation!"

We get off the plane in Newark. Lucky for us, our connecting gate sounds nearby. Then someone announces a gate change on the public address system. They have moved our connection to another wing of the airport. We schlep to Gate 111 with both boys in the double stroller, our carry-ons and the two car seats, which Alex is toting like an Ironman competitor. They are each in a big bag made for car seats. As we hurry along, the giant bags bang Alex on the upper legs.

We find our gate with enough time to change two diapers. As we wait to board, we notice that several of the other passengers appear a bit surly. We find out that many are refugees from an earlier canceled flight.

When pre-boarding is announced, we must fight our way past the idiots who lurk around hoping to be the first to get on after pre-boarding -- because heaven forbid you get on the plane later than anybody else; perhaps they are afraid the first people will get all the liquor.

I collapse the double stroller at the end of the jetway while holding Rafe and am whacked in the shins when it falls on me. Then a flight attendant tells me to move it somewhere else.

We schlep all the stuff onto the jet, where we are sitting two and two, in consecutive rows, because it's a three-and-three plane. Strap car seats in. Strap kids in.

Carefully assess the person on the aisle in both our rows to see whether he and she will tolerate small children. We're lucky: A nice man is beside Alex and Luke, and a pleasant woman, who tells me she has five grandchildren, is next to Rafe and me.

The plane takes a long time to board. Periodically the attendants admonish everyone to hurry so we can take off. Finally everyone is on, and the captain announces that Newark takeoffs are a bit backed up.

We are 21st in line.

While we are waiting, what seems like a hurricane descends on the airport. The rain is coming down so hard that we can't see out the windows. There is lightning. After a while the captain mumbles that no takeoffs are being allowed in the New York area.

I let Rafe out of his seat because he doesn't like being cooped up for too long. He climbs all over me and keeps patting the arm of the woman next to me. Behind us, Luke is having fun with new toys.

More than an hour passes. Periodically, the attendants tell us to stay in our seats because we are on an Active Runway. The girl in the seat in front of Rafe reclines her seat, which, because his car seat sticks out a bit, leaves only about 1 inch of legroom. Luckily he's small and not sitting in it right now.

Finally, about an hour and a half late, we take off. Rafe now refuses to get into his seat -- he starts screaming and crying when I put him in it -- but he is fine in my lap. Joy. He is due for a nap, so I hope that he will sleep during the meal so I can eat.

Did I mention it's a five-hour flight? The following couple of hours I have largely blocked from my memory. Rafe neither sleeps nor sits in his seat. I give him a little Benadryl. I walk him all over the plane, and finally he starts to become drowsy. One attendant keeps kicking me out of various areas because she has to Move Hot Things Around and It Could Be Dangerous.

While I'm trying to get Rafe to pass out, an obnoxious fellow waiting for the restroom tells me he has one noise he makes that all babies love. He proceeds to spend several minutes going, "Pblblblblp! Boop!" at Rafe, who does indeed think it is funny and is now wide awake. (Later I find out that this man is drunk and was almost thrown off the plane before we took off.) Rafe's medication has worn off, and I can tell he has a slight fever, so I get some ibuprofen out and force-feed it to him.

The food is coming, and Rafe falls asleep at last. I go back to my row. He is a heavy child and my arms ache. I put him in his seat, where about every minute he has a giant spasmodic twitch and starts crying. He has never done this before. In fact, he has never really screamed before.

Finally he wakes up completely, but I let him stay in his car seat and bawl while I bolt down most of what's purported to be a chicken sandwich. Then I pass my tray behind me to Alex so I can pick Rafe back up. He climbs all over me, pulling my hair with verve.

An army of two

Behind me, mild-mannered Luke has suddenly lost his mind. He has decided he wants to sit in Rafe's seat. We try to explain there is no legroom there. Plus I am a little busy with the bipolar baby. Luke begins bawling and reaches over the seat to put his hands on my head while wailing, "I love you, Mommy! I love you!" Finally Alex distracts him with the news that the dinner tray contains a brownie.

After the trays are gone and everyone has calmed down, Alex takes Rafe and Luke climbs over the seat to sit in my lap and read books. He is as sweet as can be.

Alex gives Rafe a bottle because Rafe was too mad or sick to eat much food. After a while Alex quietly says my name. I turn around to look through the seats. He is covered with milk barf. Rafe has just done a Return to Sender on the entire bottle. I grab the towel I've been keeping in the diaper bag -- thank heavens -- and toss it to Alex, grab Rafe and tell Luke to sit in Rafe's car seat.

Alex mops himself off with whatever else he can find. Rafe is now quite merry. Alex even kept him from being hit by the barf, although he does still have a faintly fetid air about him from a different bodily function, which caused a slight breach of the containment field. The woman next to me offers to hold him for me. I tell her thank you, but it's probably best she doesn't.

Alex goes to the restroom to clean off but is plagued with a damp leg the rest of the flight. While he is gone, Luke decides he wants to go back in his own seat, so I distract him in various ways. One flight attendant has been very nice and comes by to ask if I'd like her rubber mallet to use on Rafe. I say I'd rather use it on myself. I realize I am getting a cold.

Luke goes back to his seat and falls asleep, God bless him. Rafe is happy in my lap and playing with all the toys I bring out and peeking over the seats at people. At one point he tires of a toy, so I pull the airplane phone from the seat-back in front of me and let him hold it. He's waving it, and while I'm zoning out for a moment, he whacks me hard, right in the mouth. My lip starts to swell.

This is the point at which I begin to cry. But quietly and unobtrusively, because one mustn't attract attention.

The friendly attendant returns and says, "Well, it's not a rubber mallet, but I hope it helps," and hands me a glass of wine from first class. Because I can't put Rafe down and he starts grabbing at the cup, I drink it in two gulps. This drink saves my life.

Finally, at what is 10:15 p.m. to us, we land. On the 45-minute car ride home, Rafe sleeps.

Alex mentions the reunion his family wants to hold next summer in Cape Cod, Mass. It would mean a cross-country flight for us plus several hours of driving.

We have a hearty laugh and hope the rest of the clan has a lovely time. We will not be traveling any farther than the mailbox.

Carolyn Huffman Kimball, an editor in The Times feature sections, is the overtired mother of two.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World