Travel by plane with a baby over Thanksgiving, and you’re bound to think twice about ever visiting your family for this holiday again.
We had planned in August to make the eastward trek to Boston to visit Elle’s grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins. Back then Thanksgiving seemed as distant as Misty Maiden covered in snow and the minutia of such a trip (like how, exactly, two people can steer car seat, stroller, computer, baby food, baby bottle, and pesky things like shoes and belts through security at DIA without losing their minds) remained unexplored.
We were not the only people so deluded. There were thousands of families like us, ramming mountains of gear into the ankles of those enviable single travelers toting nothing but featherlight computer bags. Sorry, but we had to vent our frustrations somewhere.
We were, I felt, as prepared as parents could be for this cross-country expedition in a claustrophobic flying metal cylinder. Our carry-ons were well organized. Monstrous, but tidy. Everything in its place: hand sanitizer, baby wipes, secret weapon toys, healthy snacks. This air of orderliness belied our underlying panic at what could devolve into airplane terror. A horror film, starring Elle, titled Babies on a Plane.
You may expect to know what I will write next. That Elle, upon arriving at seat 17F, turned into a Chucky-like child who bit and pulled hair and threw board books, all the while screaming that insufferable baby scream. That our row mates had to be dragged out of the bathrooms by flight attendants when the Fasten Seat Belt sign came on, their dread at having to sit next to a screeching child smearing goo over their leather coats apparent to all aboard Flight 3048. Or that our stressed parental unit delivered an awkward travel moment courtesy of a big yelling match fit for daytime television.
None of this materialized. Elle was perfectly sane throughout all three legs of this journey from Telluride to Boston. Not only was she reasonable, she was downright pleasant. She smiled at the people in the rows behind us. She took long naps. She didn’t spill a single cup of apple juice.
We prepared for and half expected to see baby-induced chaos in the airplane. What we weren’t as prepared for was the madness of the agonizingly long layover.
We were supposed to be in Atlanta for three hours. That is a long, but manageable, amount of time to spend in an airport. That is, if you don’t have a very busy 9-month-old.
In the olden days, before Craig and I wore the snot-covered badges of parenthood, a three-hour layover would mean hunting for the bar with the most comfortable chairs. Over drinks we would talk to each other like adults and order things like appetizers.
Old habits die hard. This time around, we again scouted out the most comfortable bar, but soon realized its entire floor plan would have to be rearranged to make space for our mountain of stuff. So we settled for a table near the entrance, where all of our belongings could spew out onto the terminal linoleum.
Craig ordered a beer. Elle reached for it, and in the process spilled my water. While we sopped up the wet mess, she managed to karate kick the open jar of pureed carrots sitting on the table. It went flying, landing with an explosive orange-colored crash. While we attempted to pick up pieces of broken glass and a runny pile of carrots, she went for Craig’s bowl of chowder. (Luckily, our reflexes were fast enough to stave off that catastrophe.)
“I think we’ll take a walk,” I told Craig, grabbing the baby, the stroller, and a diaper and hurrying into the madness of Terminal C.
Standing in the middle of an insanely crowded airport terminal walkway, holding a fussing, wiggling baby who just wanted to get down and play with that used tissue on the ground, I made a decision. Elle and I would set out on a quest. We would find a corner of serenity in this chaos. It was our only hope for survival, I determined, after watching the On Time sign for our Boston flight change to two hours later than it had been scheduled.
We walked from Terminal C to Terminal B. It was all the same, and Terminal A wasn’t much different. I was beginning to feel as grumpy and over-stimulated as my daughter when an airport directory sign caught my eye. It pointed me toward the elusive Terminal T. Could it be our savior?
Soon after swinging a hard right out of the train from Terminal A, I immediately knew I had found the Atlanta airport’s Atlantis. It was a 1,000-foot-long walkway, between the A and T terminals, where someone with a kind heart toward wayward travelers with children had installed a series of sculptures from Zimbabwe. There were pictures of lions and beautifully costumed African women on the walls. There was even a soundtrack playing soothing African drum music. And nobody was there.
Elle immediately stopped fussing and fidgeting and fell asleep. I stopped speed walking and read about each of the artists who had made these lovely, sanity saving sculptures. Craig called, and I told him I had indeed found peace and quiet two days before Thanksgiving in the Atlanta airport.
It was a little miracle that helped me realize, yes, regardless of all the chaos recently endured, I would fly with my child again, just not during Thanksgiving.