Airplane Spirituality: What I learned from travelling with a one-year old

An airplane wing just after take off at Sacram...

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This holiday, Nica and I went to England, then Portugal, then travelled back to the US via London, again. That is four flights in three weeks. Nica is one. NinjaDad was only with us for the first of the four flights. While in the UK, especially, Nica was going through a growth spurt, was teething, she learned at least 10 new signs and took her first steps. That is a lot, all in a foreign country, in unfamiliar surroundings and with many new people gawping and fawning over you. Result – one clingy baby. And still, surprisingly, the flights went really well. How did we do it…?

Okay, first and foremost we have to acknowledge the role of luck (fate? good karma?) or perhaps just good genes. For one, Nica did not seem to have any problems with her ears which was a real blessing. The fact that she is breastfed and not vaccinated probably helps with that.

Speaking of breastfeeding, that was my secret weapon. Nursing was particularly useful during take-off and landings, as sucking and swallowing helps equalise the pressure in her ears. We also brought lots of entertainment and food. A little snack (a healthy one, of course) goes a long way with little Nica. ‘Entertainment’ was basic: things like books (including a photo-book – more on that in a future post), a soft toy and, you know, stuff. Nica like most babies her age, just loves bags full of stuff. My handbag works really well. She loves pulling out my purse and taking all the cards out of that – not ideal for a plane perhaps – but I let her have my make-up bag and the like. Other than that it was all about singing songs with her and walking her up and down the isle when that was what she wanted.

On the way there, NinjaDad had his iPad on him and we did pull that out ‘in case of emergency’ when Nica was getting a bit fussy (after I turned the TV I was watching off, when she woke up in the middle of the flight) and she enjoyed playing with the bubble app and the animal sound app – real treats. The other three flights was just me – no iPad.

On those flights, when I was alone with Nica, I found it turned into a kind of meditation. The only place to be was here and now. No point thinking about the future, either dreading it or preparing for it – you just don’t know what is coming next (will she sleep, will she wail, will she need me to sing, read, walk her ad infinitum? – you just don’t know). So, all you can do is stay present and react, respond to what comes up as and when it does. Planning, hoping or expecting just get in the way. I have found that often – unhappiness comes from unfulfilled expectations, which afterall are only thoughts. Let go of those thoughts and you are on a much easier path to self-contentment.

Sure, before you get on the plane you prepare, you try to anticipate your kid’s potential needs, of course – you do what you gotta do. For example on the last flight from the UK to the US (an 11 hour flight) with NinjaDad’s mom’s help, I made sure I had plenty of water, some fresh blueberries, a ripe avocado and lots of organic, gluten-free snack bars and the like. I also had ready-to-pull-out sections of my carry-on luggage for diapering, ‘entertainment’ and fresh clothes for Nica. So, yes, you prepare. But at the time, when you are in it, just stay in it – that is my learning. And that is what I did. On a minute-by-minute basis you can handle anything. In any case, I have most of what I have available at home, with me on the plane, that is: my breasts (and the milk within them), the songs in my head, my arms and legs for bouncing, carrying and walking Nica. I know I can handle most situations so I just see what comes. I read the need underlying Nica’s mood and respond to that. That is what I did, for 11 hours. Nica and I didn’t sleep much on the plane at all, only maybe 1.5 hours and this was after only 4 hours sleep the previous night (as we arrived in London from Lisbon late at night and had to travel to a different airport for the transatlantic flight early the next morning), so we played, we danced, we sung, we read books, browsed through Virgin’s kid-friendly e-books, etc.  And at the end of the flight, people congratulated us on such a successful (read: quiet-ish) flight.

This is attachment-parenting paying off. A year of being there with and for my kid, recognising her moods, needs, communications to me and knowing how to move with that – this, now on the plane, is where others see it in action and comment on what a ‘good’ baby I have. But again: hats off to lady luck and mistress karma.

I did not buy other people’s attempts to label the situation as difficult, ‘oh, it must be so hard, you poor thing, travelling alone with a toddler’. It was quite fun, actually, once I let go of hoping she’d sleep and I could just watch a movie or read a book like most of the other passengers. Once I sank into the reality of the situation at hand, then the dance of really being and seeing my daughter began.

Still, the flight was long and I did get very tired. At one point I looked at a clock and realised there were another four hours to go. The first thought that came was ‘I can’t do this for another 4 hours’, then another thought swooped in: ‘it is only four hours, anybody can do four hours with a baby’. So I ‘forgot’ I had already been keeping Nica amused for 7 hours and pretended I was fresh now and this was the start. ‘Four hours?! No problem I can do that, that is just like the first (and easiest) stint of the day from 7 to 11am when you just play with baby.’

My experience is also that people are extremely friendly and supportive of a mother travelling alone with a baby. I really appreciate that. This is one of the biggest, nicest perks of doing it on my own. Thanks everybody for your smiles and encouragement. That helped fuel me even further.

I literally arrived at the airport still dancing, singing songs for Nica and having fun naming (signing) things as we walked down the airport corridors at SFO, Nica in the ergo. It is funny what you learn and are reminded of in the most unexpected situations. Stay present to what is and open to what arises – was the teaching from my little one this day… if only I remembered that the other 364 days of the year!

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