Dear Fellow Passengers,

We are your worst nightmare. We are the ragged, exhausted parents of two wild toddler boys who are about to pile into the row of seats directly behind you. We’ve barely survived the gruesome 10-hour flight from SFO to London, a three-hour layover and one epic temper tantrum over a denied escalator ride. You are in your right mind to look at us in horror. Trust me, we are equally dismayed about losing the lottery on the airplane seating chart—we don’t want to sit next to them either.

A pretty Swiss Air attendant welcomes us with coloring books and crayons which my 16-month old immediately torpedoes into business class. Why can’t my boys behave like the French kids quietly drawing in the next aisle? I want to scream, “We’re not ugly Americans! We’re cool, we live in Oakland!!,” but my son upstages me by spitting up his blueberry smoothie.

When health issues derailed my 84-year old father-in-law’s visit to the states, we decided to bring the family to him.  The pure life force of a child can do wonders to uplift the spirits of anyone, especially a lonely expat living far from family.  Taking the transatlantic plunge is not for the faint of heart, so here’s a few helpful hints to help send you on your way.

PLAN AHEAD: I’m a former travel slut who’s ‘winged it’ through South America, Europe and South East Asia—not anymore.  Book ahead!  We’ve had great luck staying in condos and apartments found on Airbnb, Craigslist or VRBO.  A kitchen and spare room can save you money and buy you ‘mommy/daddy’ time.  The internet is your friend. Find the shortest flight you can afford and remember kids under two fly virtually free.

AIRPORT TIPS: Watch the airplanes take off, ride the escalators and run wildly down long ramps. Tire those little suckers out.  Cruise the TSA  website for current regulations and confirm your drop-dead check-in time with your airline.  Always check your stroller at the gate and tag it for your layover destination (security checks are a nightmare outside of the states too)

ON THE PLANE:  Bags of peanuts can be just as fascinating as new toys or books. Bring kid-size earphones, an iPad, computer  and a cellphone loaded with games. Be prepared to break all media rules, and don’t feel guilty about it. Bond over misery with other parents. Keep your sense of humor. Drink wine. Repeat.

ON THE GROUND: Take another lap up and down the escalator to reward your kids for the flight. Congratulate your partner for surviving yet another milestone in your relationship. Do a family happy dance. Now, let’s go practice some bad French!

LET GO AND LET IT BE: Say goodbye to bedtime routines, schedules and expectations. Find activities that are fun for everyone. We loved the French municipal lakes for their kid-friendly playgrounds and pools, but the chilled wine served at the snack bar kept us coming back each day.

It’s important to steal a few moments to take in the culture, history and gorgeous scenery that doesn’t include strip malls. Without the luxury of a sitter, my husband and I gave each other a ‘get-out-of-jail’ free card for a child-free afternoon to squander shamelessly.  I devoured two museums, three art galleries, two chapters and one perfect eclair in complete silence. It’s amazing how much you can pack in when you’re not catering to someone else.

Remember to take time to enjoy the simple pleasures. My father-in-law spent every morning and evening reading to the boys. It was more delicious then any five-course meal that we missed out on. My oldest son resembles his charming grandfather the most. My wild thing made friends with French kids far cooler than he’ll ever be. His joie de vive won everyone over, including the stewardesses and passengers on our flight home.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.