When you are a DMD flying on your own with three young kids whose ages range from 5 months to six years you don’t do it to be a hero or because you are brave. You do it out of necessity to get on with the task at hand, however ugly it may turn out because you are a DMD!
Four weeks before Christmas we decided to bring our family of five to my hometown of St. John’s, Newfoundland from Ottawa because of some extenuating family circumstances. This was not our original plan as my wife, an orthopedic spine surgeon, was due to be working from December 27-30. The plan was to have the whole family fly to St. John’s on December 22nd and my wife would leave early on the evening of the 25th to give herself a day of flexibility in case there were weather delays. It was a good thing that Alexandra built in flex time as her flight was canceled and it took her 24 hours to get out of St. John’s. She arrived home at 3:30 am in time to start her on-call shift at 8 am. That’s not exactly how you want to start four days of call.
Once Alexandra left I would be parenting solo on our flight home scheduled for December 30th with our three girls (Aspen, 5 months; Trinity, 4; Sierra, 6). Our itinerary from St. John’s to Ottawa had us take two 2-hour flights with an hour-and-a-half stopover. We were flying in the mid-afternoon so at least it wasn’t a super early flight or a red eye. I honestly hadn’t given flying solo with the girl’s much thought until a couple days before when my mother, half joking, suggested she come with me to help out on the flight.
The day of the 3 pm flight my parents took the two older girls for most of the day so I could pack. I kept the baby with the hope she would have a couple of nice long naps before the flight and allow me the time and space needed to pack. As you can see in the photo the long naps didn’t really work out and packing was a little chaotic trying to track down all the kids’ clothes and Christmas gifts around my parents’ house. I ended up forgetting a bunch of the girls’ clothes as I forgot to check the closet and a dresser drawer in the room they were sleeping. Oh well, nothing was lost and no one was hurt…
We arrived at the airport with time to spare and the check-in went relatively smoothly until the ticket agent asked for an ID for my five-month-old. I said, “REALLY an ID to fly within Canada for an infant?” She actually has a passport but we didn’t bring it as we were flying within Canada. She said it was to prove that she was less than two years old to get the free flight. I held five-month-old Aspen up in the air and said, “She is clearly under two!” Fortunately, she accepted her health card which I had a picture of on my phone.
Once we were checked in we had time to take a couple of photos before heading to security….and then the real mayhem was about to begin.
We went through security relatively smoothly while wearing the baby on my chest. I was selected for secondary screening and got poked and prodded while the other two girls asked what they were doing to me. I was just thankful they didn’t want me to take off my boots. Then, as we were getting settled into our seats at the gate I heard a page over the airport intercom saying that there was a laptop computer left in security. I immediately knew it was mine, as I didn’t remember putting it back in my backpack. I told the kids to stay in the play area and watch our other carry-on bags as I ran off to fetch my computer.
– Always put your computer in the basket before your computer bag- not afterward. I believe I left my computer because I was distracted by the kids and pat down. When I was finished I grabbed my bags and left and didn’t look back to see if anything was on the belt.
At the gate waiting area I struck up a conversation with a nice lady who was reading a book that I love. We had a nice chat until I heard the pre-boarding call. If there was ever a time I needed pre-boarding then this was it and I didn’t want to miss my chance! I hustled the kids over to the ticket counter to show our boarding passes and we were off down the bridge to the plane…. until my third step when I realized I didn’t have my computer bag with not only my computer but my iPad, kids’ headphones, food and diaper bag supplies. I told the kids to stay there as the line started to grow behind them and I quickly ran back to grab my bag from the seat I had laid it on. The girls were so excited to finally board the plane that Trinity, the four-year-old, took off sprinting down the bridge in her winter boots and promptly tripped herself to end up doing a face plant. At this point I am still wearing the baby and a loaded backpack, dragging a wheelie carry-on bag and Trinity’s carry-on in my arms. I picked her up as she was screaming that her lip and hip hurt. I looked behind me and see the rest of the passengers calmly waiting for us to move along onto the plane.
On The Plane
We got seated on the plane with Trinity and Sierra sitting in two seats on one side of the aisle while Aspen and I were sitting across from them in the aisle seat. I was really hoping to have a friendly parent or grandparent sitting next to me to help out with the kids as needed but my dreams were quickly dashed when a six-year-old boy jumped into the seat next to me. The rest of his family was sitting behind us.
Once we were situated on the plane, the captain announced that there would be at least a 30-minute delay leaving because it was snowing too much to even begin the de-icing process. During the wait, I decided it would be a good time to change Aspen’s diaper. I gathered my supplies and headed to the bathroom when the flight attendant told me I could not use it because they were locked for take-off. She also informed me that the bathrooms don’t actually have a change table. I asked her what she suggests I do and then she said I would have to change her in my seat! I had a little chuckle when I got back to my seat toward the back of the plane once I noticed that the last two seats were empty as they are often the seats that the flight attendants sit in during the flight. I decided that would be a perfect place to change a VERY dirty diaper.
We ended up sitting on the tarmac for about two hours before the wheels left the ground. While waiting, the kids seemed to eat just about all the food I had packed for our five-and-a-half hour journey (including the layover). A key element of eating a vegan diet is to bring your own food when you travel and I was almost out of supplies. The airline we were traveling on did not even have food to purchase although they did give us free bags of chips, heavily salted almonds and cookies….oh, and even free booze.
For a moment, I had almost justified taking advantage of all the free booze so that it could help me get through the flight. My rational side prevailed and I declined, as I knew it would just make me need to pee…
Most of the time that we were on the ground the seatbelt sign was lit. As soon as we got to our cruising altitude and the seatbelt sign was turned off, the girls and I, as well as about fifteen others, were bursting to pee and jumped up to head to the one tiny bathroom up front. I asked the father of the boy sitting next to me if he would hold Aspen while I ‘quickly’ ran up to the bathroom with Sierra and Trinity. We patiently waited our turn for ten long minutes. It was just about our turn when the flight attendant came up and asked us to move back because the pilot really had to pee and needed to go next. I thought, of course, he needs to go RIGHT NOW. I guess pilots need to pee as well. All this time, with the girls bouncing around, I was a little surprised that no one offered for us to go in front of them.
Usually, when Trinity goes to the bathroom on the plane she doesn’t lock the door and I stand right outside in case she needs help. For some reason, she decided to lock the door this time…. and of course, she could not get it open when she was finished. I could hear her inside screaming as she rattled the door in desperation. I was trying to tell her how to open the door but it was futile. Eventually, we had to push the call button for the flight attendant to come up and open the door for her. Distraught and with tears running down her cheek she jumped into my arms.
While we were waiting for the bathroom I kept trying to look to our seats in the back to see how Aspen was doing with the stranger holding her. We were far enough away I couldn’t hear or really see anything. As we headed back to our seats, I passed the flight attendant who said to me, “Oh she’s not happy.” As I approached our seats I could now hear Aspen screaming her head off and see the man doing all that he can to help calm her down. Our ‘quick’ trip to the bathroom must have taken us fifteen minutes. At this point, I was sure the entire plane knew that the Stratton’s were on the flight and that I had my hands full. We were not even thirty minutes into our first of two, 2-hour flights!
Thankfully, I was able to get Aspen into the Babybjörn carrier and get her to sleep on my chest. Sierra and Trinity were set up with some downloaded Netflix shows on my iPad and the rest of the flight went much more smoothly. I am pretty sure that for the first time ever there weren’t even any spilled drinks!
Once we were halfway through the first flight it became clear that due to the delay leaving St. John’s we would most likely miss our connecting flight in Halifax, which would take us home to Ottawa. I calmly played out all of the potential scenarios in my head of what could happen in Halifax. First, for some reason, the plane would be delayed in Halifax and we would be able to make it on board. The second scenario was that we miss the connecting flight and have to spend hours in the airport waiting for another flight. Third, there were no more flights to Ottawa for the evening and we would have to spend the night in a hotel. Given the first part of our journey, scenario two and three would have been too epic for me to even to contemplate at this point. Shortly after I began playing out the scenarios in my head, I was relieved to hear the flight attendant announce that half of our plane would be connecting to Ottawa as they had decided to hold the plane for us in Halifax until we could make the transfer. HALLELUJAH!!!
The rushed transfer happened relatively smoothly given the circumstances. I was relieved to see the gate for our next flight was next to the gate we exited. The last thing I wanted to do now was to sprint through the airport with my four carry-ons and three kids in tow. The second flight went relatively smoothly other than a mini-meltdown by Trinity because she wanted to eat her third bag of chips before finishing the few carrot sticks I had packed for her (this airline gives them out for free). Trinity and Aspen fell asleep on the plane and I even managed to listen to a couple of podcasts.
Thankfully, Alexandra was able to leave work that evening and she was at the airport to greet us upon arrival. I think I will wait ten years for my next solo flight, or at least until everyone is out of diapers…
Lessons when flying solo with young kids
Anytime you fly with young kids there is a good chance the unexpected will happen. The more prepared you are to deal with the situation ahead of time means the better the chance that things will go smoothly when it does happen. Selecting good seats as well as packing adequate food, entertainment, diapers and clothes will go a long way to set you up for a good flight.
Going it alone means you do not have the typical backup your spouse would offer. I allowed myself to become distracted too easily at the airport and it almost cost me- big time. You cannot rely on your memory or strangers to help you out. It didn’t help that I had too much carryon luggage, which included my two bags, a diaper bag and inevitably the kids’ bags as well. I became distracted when chatting it up with strangers at the gate while the kids ran around the kid zone.
Take Offers of Help
The fiasco at the bathroom would have been much worse if I had had the baby in my arms the entire time. The fight attendant offering to help me take off the Babybjörn during take-off was critical to keeping Aspen asleep as well. If I had taken Aspen out of the carrier myself she would have woken up and who knows what would have happened in rest of the flight with a potentially screaming baby.
Shawn Stratton is a DMD living in Ottawa, Canada. He is an international leadership and team development consultant, professional speaker, bestselling author, and Ironman competitor. You can find him at www.shawnstratton.com
Shawn also runs a bi-weekly Mastermind exclusively for DMD’s who are looking to better themselves personally and professionally through accountability, hot seat sessions and support. To learn more about the Mastermind for DMD’s visit http://www.shawnstratton.ca/mastermindfordmds/