Travelling with children, like most activities involving children, comes in progressive stages.
Flying with a toddler or new baby falls in to the “extreme” parenting category. It's like a game of Survivor, you are constantly trying to outwit, outlast, outplay.
The early years are all about packing the right amount of nappies, food or formula. Strollers are left at special gates and breastfeeding is perfectly timed for take off and decent to protect little ears. Everybody has at least two changes of clothes, including the parents. Seating arrangements are carefully discussed to allow for aisle walking with toddlers and bags are checked and rechecked for the extra dummy, the blanky that 'has' to be there at nap time and the favourite non leak sippy cup.
Unfortunately, the reality usually looks a little different. After spending a week packing everything required for a 15 hour flight, you will board the plane and discover your bulging baby bag has been included in your stow away luggage. Everything you need is now underneath the plane.
You'll ask yourself you how this has happened? Perhaps you'll think back to that crazed moment when you were trying to fold the stroller with one hand with six passports between your teeth whilst wearing your sleeping baby in its sling/baby bjorn. You'll cringe as you recall the haunting gasp from woman at the check-in counter that coincided with your baby slipping out like a sausage on to the rollers of the xray machine. Yes, it may have been then that you lost concentration for a moment.
In a desperate search for replacement nappies, you will sprint from gate 3 to 47 to find the airport pharmacy and in a moment of unexplainable insanity you'll pay $32 for a jar of vaseline and a panty liner, desperately hoping that you can whip something together that will resemble a nappy.
It may appear that your troubles are over when the airline staff tell you they have supplies onboard. Shortly after you will find yourself in an airplane toilet, with a roll of sticky tape and an adult sized nappy. The sticky tape will be helpful with both keeping the nappy on and ensuring your baby no longer slips on to the floor. Later, in a breast feeding mishap, you look down and realize you have two lines of tape running from each nipple. The crinkling sound your baby makes as it rolls over is cute, for the first hour, the next fourteen are a little tiring.
As we drove to the airport last week, it occurred to me that this was our first flight in eleven years without a stroller. We have passed the extreme parenting stage of flying. Our first child was eleven days old when we made our first flight as parents. She is now on her third passport and can recite the safety video of roughly 10 different airlines. We've spent a lot of time in parenting rooms in airports and have eaten way to many meals in compartmentalized trays with al-foil tops.
As we made our way through Customs and Immigration in Doha, I walked behind my Four Little Travelers, they had packed their own carry on bags, two tracksuits, two sets of pajamas, two pairs of knickers/jocks, one toothbrush, one hairbrush, their favourite book, pencils and a notepad. They each had the stuffy/teddy that has been there for every flight, with it's head sticking from the top of their bags.
Our days of walking the isles with a toddler, comforting a screaming baby and begging a flight attendant for a jar of baby food are over.
We've made it.
Although, we were short a pair of jocks and hairbrush when we arrived....