Let me offer some unsolicited advice to parents who are fortunate enough to take your children on airplane trips across multiple time zones: Grab a dirty fork from your sink and shove it in your ear for eight hours, or until an ambulance has arrived. At least you’ll get some rest when they put you under to remove your useless ear.
As this introduction might suggest, my wife and I didn’t have a dirty fork handy. Instead, Meghan and I thought it would be the most wonderful idea to take a family vacation – scratch that, family “trip” – before she returns to work from maternity leave.
We looked at places all over the map and well, what could be more lovely than Hawaii this time of year?
Before we go any further, let me be the first to acknowledge that our family’s ability to even take such a great trip is a blessing. I know all families can’t afford to jump on a plane and visit the islands, and by no means do I want readers to think I’m asking for sympathy. As it happens, this trip to Hawaii was my first ever, and until our children are old enough, and smart enough, to split atoms, it won’t happen again.
No, our children – at the time we walked through security at the airport – were 5, 2 and 3 months old. These are not calm creatures by any stretch, but Meghan and I had a plan. We loaded every cartoon imaginable onto our portable crack-rock devices. We had coloring books, a couple of bottles of juice, extra diapers (though none in the adult size), Gummy Bears for extreme emergencies, and a glimmer of hope that our children would enjoy being entertained on a massive steel carton with wings.
Here’s how we saw things playing out: Meghan and our baby girl, Bo, would sit in one seat behind me, Hank (5) and Cal (2). In the row to our left, Meghan’s parents, Dave and Nancy, came along for the ride in hopes they may offer condolences and the kind of stern warnings that only grandparents are allowed.
In pure Dad fashion, I was convinced I’d have no problem handling our two boys on our own row. With the amount of entertainment I had at my disposal, I was certain these boys would spend a few hours watching shows and another five hours sleeping across my lap.
Ha ha ha ha ha.
Here’s what actually happened: Hank and Cal spent about seven minutes in their coloring books, another 9 minutes pulling stickers out of those books and placing them on my face, and the remaining seven hours and 44 minutes under the spell of aviation histrionics.
Maybe that’s going a little far. In case Hank ever learns to read my columns, I’ll grant that he did spend about half the flight to Hawaii consumed by two movies provided by the airline. His brother, Cal, on the other hand? A disaster by no other name.
Before our plane had soared over San Antonio – with a destination of Honolulu – Cal had ripped off both his shoes and scattered them in the aisle, soiled his diaper twice, and wouldn’t take a bite of the airline-provided mess kit.
If you don’t have young children, you might not understand this next part. Among the means of digital entertainment for children Cal’s age (2) are online shows like Little Baby Bum, Bob the Train and, most recently, Pink Fong. These are short-snippet songs that teach children the alphabet, sounds of animals and, most recently, the arm movements of Grandpa Shark.
What’s key about these shows is that they’re only viewable with internet access, which planes have these days, though they don’t allow you to stream video.
For two-thirds of the trip from Houston to Honolulu, young Cal pressed the You Tube icon on my phone, hoping to load a version of these musical atrocities. Instead, he was continuously greeted with the message that You Tube had no internet connection. At which point Cal would throw the phone on the floor, drape himself across my feet, and yell at his father for digital ineptitude. A fist-full of Gummy Bears and a sip of juice later, and the entire process would repeat itself.
Cal and I did walks around the plane. We watched videos I had captured of life’s events around our home over the past year. We threw coloring books on the floor. We stood in the back of the plane and rocked with the turbulence. We stormed up and down the aisles looking for an escape, or maybe he thought he’d find a You Tube connection. We ate chips, M&Ms and changed more diapers.
Here’s what we did not do: Cal did not watch one of the 15 favorite cartoons I had loaded on my phone. He did not color past Page 2 of his Paw Patrol book. And most importantly, Cal did not once lay across my lap to take a nap, which he would do in absolutely any other circumstance. We could have been riding in a tank raiding Saddam Hussein’s palace and Cal would have fallen asleep. But on this flight? Not a chance.
And again, I’m not being completely honest. As the hours ticked, and the in-laws looked on with faces the color of Elmer’s glue, the voice of our pilot mercifully blared across the intercom: “Please prepare the cabin for arrival.”
I looked to my right, where sweet Cal had turned a plane seat into a dumpster, and the little guy couldn’t take it any longer. His head rested peacefully, if not uncomfortably, on the arm of his chair, no energy left to fight any longer. Yep, on a flight that lasted more than eight hours, Cal slept the final 20 minutes.
So how was Hawaii, you ask? I’ll tell you when I get this dirty fork out of my ear.