My husband announced that he was going to Mexico for a week on a mission trip. I did a quick scan around the living room; my two preschoolers were jumping on the couch, my one year old was having her own little dance party to some music that only she could hear, and the baby was on the verge of completely losing his cool.
Really?! You’re leaving me for a week with all of this?
That night I called my mom and made my own announcement; "I’m coming to your house for a week!"
I have traveled with the kids before. I’ve even driven across the country by myself with 3 of them (when I was pregnant with our fourth). But I have never attempted to fly alone with all 4 of the kids. I was determined to maintain my sanity for the week my husband was going to be gone, and I knew I needed my mom for that to happen!
I booked an early flight because my kids tend to do much better in the morning. We would be at my moms by 10 am, and I figured that would be perfect!
I made sure to pack as light as possible. We had one suitcase (that would be checked), I had the diaper bag, a baby carrier, one kids backpack and a stroller. We have a sit-to-stand, so I can potentially have every child strolling. I strapped the baby to me, put my one year old in the front of the stroller and my two preschoolers shared the back seat.
Checking in was a breeze. When traveling with kids, you don’t really need anything for them unless one is a lapchild (then you just need a shot record or birth certificate).
We unloaded the suitcase and strolled our way to security. Again, early morning is a great time to go because there tends to be less people and the workers are often more pleasant (because they just started and haven’t had to deal with crazy people all day!).
Security can be a little hairy. It can be a little more anxiety inducing when you’re alone with 4 kids under 5. The reason being… the safety net of everyone in a stroller is ripped from you! Someone should tell the security people to figure out a way to keep all kids safely strapped into strollers as they go through. But no! Every child that can walk must walk! And they must walk one by one through the metal detector.
Now I don’t know about your kids, but MY kids are very clingy. Like, they literally cling to me. So it was quite the chore to get everyone to walk through the metal detector because NO ONE wanted to let go of my legs. Eventually I just said “heck with it” and I walked through with the kids attached to me. It worked. We made it through. None of the kids were carrying weapons. Thank God.
I had a short spat with my one year old who suddenly had a major aversion to getting back in the stroller. But a quick prayer and some bribery did the trick and we were on our way to the gate!
As I’m walking, the baby is growing increasingly agitated for some reason. At 3 months old, I know his little grunts by now. He’s nearing the edge of hysteria and I know that in approximately 7 minutes he will be in full blown crazy; shrieks, wild and uncontrollable arm flailing, just a general sense of unhappiness.
We get to the gate around minute 6. I quickly get the older three situated with breakfast bars as the baby just about reaches his breaking point. I whip out the bottle of breastmilk that is no longer warm and push it into his mouth. Well that does it...it completely unravels him and he just loses it. Full blown hysteria!
Eyes. I feel all the eyes on me. One mom alone with 4 kids. I know what they are thinking. “She’s not getting on MY flight, is she?”. “Please don’t sit near me, please don’t sit near me!”. “Why would she travel alone with 4 kids?!”
BECAUSE I NEED MY MOM, THAT’S WHY?!
I don’t actually yell, but I want to. Why isn’t this baby taking this bottle? He’s usually so good. What’s gotten into him. Suddenly my brain starts working again and I remember that he’s been awake for almost an hour now. His grunts may have been tiny hunger cues, but this mess I’m dealing with now is just plain exhaustion. Swaddle! Where’s my handy dandy swaddle? I quickly tear it out of the diaper bag and wrap him up like a tiny houdini that hasn’t quite mastered the technique of breaking free.
My chest puffs with pride. Look at me now, strangers! Look what I’ve done! I’ve...well, I’ve just quieted my own kid. Any newb can do that. My puffed chest deflates. Okay, back to the things at hand. I stuff the swaddled one back into the baby carrier. I give the preschoolers another breakfast bar. I tell the toddler to not throw her shoe. Pick up shoe, put back on toddler.
One of the airline attendants comes over to me. She looks at the stroller, looks at me. Smiles. “You need to check this at the gate.” Uh, yeah. That’s the general idea. I’m not about to put it in the overhead compartment. Insert internal eye roll here. She asks for my ticket and walks briskly to the desk. A minute later she’s back wrapping a gate check sticker around my stroller.
Oh yeah. That’s what she meant. I smile sheepishly and thank her for helping me out.
Everyone is lining up to board and I’m thankful that we are allowed to board before most of these people.
As we’re walking
to our death down the terminal I remind the children that they will be getting off the stroller and it’s essential that everyone stands by me and walks nicely onto the airplane. I’m sweating. Why is it so hot in here? I’m slightly anxious as we near the plane door. I only have so many hands. The kids outnumber me greatly.
“Alright Kemps, the train stops here.” One of the kids looks at me weird. They always have a hard time understanding me. It’s like they take everything so literally at this age. I can see my 3 year old looking for the train, confused. I love these ages. It’s so easy (and often fun) to get the quizzical look from them.
“Everyone off the stroller! Let’s get on the airplane!” They awkwardly get off of the stroller. I have to put the toddler’s shoe back on. Again. “Hands” I say as I’m fumbling to fold up the thing while still carrying a swaddled baby on my chest. The preschoolers grab each others hands, make whining noises as one squeezes too tight, and try to wrangle in the toddler. She protests. Loudly.
“Hands please, if you want to ride the airplane”. I give the mom look. The line is moving closer to the door and I don’t want to deal with a toddler tantrum at this moment. The excitement of getting on the airplane is all that’s needed and everyone is holding a hand.
We board the plane and I prod the kids to keep walking down the long aisle. All the way to the back. I may look like I’m in over my head with these four littles, but I’ve definitely got a plan!
We take our seats at the very back of the plane. It’s louder back there, we are right by the restrooms, and it’s where the flight attendants are for the majority of the flight. I position myself in such a way that I can receive help if I need it, we can get to the bathroom quickly and easily and...most importantly, the loudness of the airplane might just lull one or more to sleep.
I buckle all of the kids in (three year old by the window, one year old in the middle seat, me and the babe in the aisle and my 4 year old in the aisle seat across from me), say a quick prayer for help, and take my seat.
The hard part is over. We have successfully made it onto the plane. I have enough snacks, new toys and stickers to entertain for hours. The baby is the wild card. He’s not quite old enough to be entertained yet. He eats, he sleeps, and he really doesn’t enjoy being awake. We’ll see how this pans out.
We take off and the kids busy themselves with looking out the windows and putting stickers on all the things. I feed the baby as we’re jetting off into the sky and the drone of the plane lulls the little guy to sleep.
I decline the drinks the flight attendant offers the kids. She clearly doesn’t understand. Drinks mean spills. I’m not interested in that right now.
The kids entertain themselves the entire flight, and before I know it, we have landed in Chicago.
As we’re gathering our things to get off the plane, the kids get a plethora of comments on how great they were. And they were great! It was pleasant.
Everyone boards our little stroller and we take off to baggage claim, and then we spend a much needed week with my mom!
Traveling alone with kids IS possible. And it doesn’t have to be a miserable trip!
Here are some tips for having a successful Flight with kids:
+ Think ahead through all of the possibilities // I planned out the entire trip in my mind. What time we’d leave, having the kids sleep in their clothes so I didn’t have to hassle with changing them in the morning, how they would sit on the stroller, what it’d be like going through security, how I’d entertain them at the gate, who would sit where on the plane, etc. I mapped it all out ahead of time.
But it’s also important to think through different scenarios. Kids can be unpredictable, but if you already have a plan in place for crazy things happening, you’ll be ready when it does! What will you do if your toddler doesn’t listen? How will you handle a preschooler that runs away? What if there’s a simultaneous meltdown and you’ve got 4 crying kids? What happens if your toddler poops on the airplane and you have to change her in the tiny bathroom, while holding your 3 month old? (That really happened and it was horrible and disgusting and super akward!)
+ Pack light // The less you carry with you, the better. Through the airport we only had a diaper bag and kids bookbag and the stroller.
+ Pack well // Bring the essentials. I packed a change of clothes for everyone (because you never know!), diapers/wipes, pull ups for the ones that are potty trained but might fall asleep, a plethora of snacks (nothing with sugar because….4 kids, small space), new toys from the dollar store, window clings, lots of stickers and coloring books, and the ipad. Bring things you know your kids will want to play with.
My oldest LOVES coloring and using stickers. My 3 year old loves to play games on the ipad, but it’s very rare that we let him so I knew it would go well. My 1 year old loves all things food and candy. So I stocked up on sugar free candies and plenty of healthy snacks.
+ Teach your kids to listen immediately // Ugh! This one is so hard. But it’s so essential. When you are in a crowded area with more kids than you have hands, you need your kids to be obedient. This one obviously will take more prep and practice before the trip, but let’s be honest, you want this to be part of your life anyway! We get compliments all the time about how well our kids behave.
Here’s the thing: Our kids are wild and crazy at home. They are good kids, but their craziness abounds at home. When we are out and about, one rule prevails: if someone is disobedient, we do NOT get to do fun things. Obviously they all love to do fun things. But this is a hard and fast rule. If just one of the kids isn’t being obedient, we will leave immediately. And I will say “It’s so sad that you were disobedient and now we have to go home instead of doing ______”. This has happened only once with my oldest daughter and once with my youngest daughter. It (typically) only takes one time of leaving something fun for them to realize you’re serious and obedience matters! Be consistent every time (even if you lose money on the fun activity- like going to the zoo) and it WILL pay off down the road.
+ Get there early // Try to get to the airport early if possible. You want to be able to get through security without rushing, and also have time to take everyone potty/change diapers before getting on the plane.
+ Don’t get there TOO early // Getting there early enough so you aren't rushing around and can get everyone to the bathroom and situated nicely before the flight is important. BUT, having too much time before you board isn’t a good thing either. Kids get restless and all of that wide open space just demands to be run around in. Try to plan it so you are only spending 10-15 minutes at the gate.
*However, if you have one of those cool airports with a play area, by all means, get there early and let them run their crazy out!
+ Explain what’s going to happen // Talk to your kids before hand about what you’re doing. In a way that they can understand, tell them the different steps you will take before getting on the plane.
[Example // First, we will drive to the airport and everyone will get on the stroller. Then we will go through security and everyone will get to walk through this little doorway. Then everyone will get back on the stroller and we will go find a bathroom. After every has gone potty, we will eat a little snack and wait for our plane. Then everybody will line up and we will walk onto the plane and pick our seats, and we will fly fly fly until we get to Chicago and then grandma will pick us up!! Something like that ;-)]
Talking through it several times will help them know what to expect, and they’ll feel like they are a part of what’s going on.
What are some of your tips and tricks for flying with kiddos?