Postcards from the Ledge

When traveling in an airplane with a one-year-old, everything but time flies. In the past few weeks, Scott and I have flown from our home in Montana to a job interview on one coast and my brother’s wedding on the other, and unlike the airline carrier that had the misfortunate pleasure of having our business for both trips, Rainey hates to fly and it shows.

She’s been on a plane twice in the past, once when she was just a few months old and we took her to meet my twin brother’s family in Tacoma, and then again at Christmas when we visited Scott’s family in Wisconsin. The first of these trips was far from enjoyable but bearable because Rainey was not yet mobile, and she was content just to have my chest within nursing distance. And although she had learned to crawl by the time we took our second trip, the flight to Wisconsin was short enough for us to hold her attention with a bunch of new toys and a Ziploc bag of Cheerios.

The itinerary for our most recent excursions, however, included long flights, plenty of layovers, and a few unexpected diversions. But a couple of weeks ago, we left Montana for Oregon with a thirst for adventure like Lewis and Clark two hundred years before us, tricking ourselves into believing that this trip somehow constituted a vacation. Let’s face it, though, at this point in our lives as parents, the prospect of free continental breakfasts and a dip in the pool at the local Super 8 sounds like an all-access pass to paradise.

After checking the one suitcase that Scott and I shared and the three that contained all of Rainey’s clothes, diapers, car seat, playpen and the equivalent of an infant pharmacy at the ticketing counter, we passed through security with several more carry-on items filled with toys, books, blankets and snacks. Already exhausted from the flight of stairs we had to climb with Rainey and all her gear in tow, we arrived at our departure gate where we waited to board the plane bound for Salt Lake City.

That’s when I noticed that my wedding ring was missing.

With my heart in my throat, I instantly began tearing into the various backpacks and diaper bags littering the floor by our feet.

“Don’t rip everything apart here,” Scott said in his annoyingly calm voice he always manages to use when I’m hysterical, “we’ll look for it when we get to Oregon.”

I wanted to sit in the middle of the floor and cry, but instead I retraced my steps through the airport, asking everyone in my path if they had seen a lovely, gold wedding ring with a marquee diamond. Without any luck, I picked up a public telephone and left at least a dozen frantic messages on three different answering machines for my mom who was house-sitting for us for the next few days, begging her to rummage through every square inch of our home, including the trash cans, sink drainages, and the cat’s litter box.

Consequently, I was not in a good frame of mind when we boarded the plane a few minutes later. But thankfully Rainey’s curiosity with the on-flight phone and the smiling strangers sitting behind us occupied her for the duration of the flight. And by the time we hit the runway in Salt Lake City, my mental state had deescalated along with the plane.

We wandered through the post-Olympic airport looking for some dinner before the next leg of our trip, and after splitting some pizza three-ways, we met our connecting flight and boarded the plane an hour past Rainey’s normal bedtime, hoping that she would sleep the entire way to Portland.

But since luck wasn’t really weighing heavily in our favor that day, instead of snoozing, Rainey screamed for most of the two-hour flight. Her protests reached such catastrophic proportions that I seriously considered busting open the exit row window and tossing her out. And then it occurred to me that if I would do that to her, then what were the other passengers – people who don’t love her nearly as much as I do – wanting to do to her? But before I could fathom the horrible scenarios, two angelic flight attendants came to our rescue. They offered Scott and me some soda and sympathy while entertaining Rainey with a little game of hide-and-go-seek with her stuffed moose and blanket.

We eventually landed in Portland, and a few days later, Scott landed the job of his dreams. So you could say the trip paid off, even if Rainey did cut her first four teeth all at once while we were there and even if we did get stuck in Salt Lake City overnight on our way back home. But those are both stories for another time.

This past weekend, armed with the wisdom gained from that trip and with the additional traveling companionship of my mom, we hopped on another series of airplanes and flew east for my brother, Jeff’s, wedding.

Like most passengers traveling with small children, we were once again banished to the back of the plane where the fumes from the bathroom nicely disguise the scent of diapers and where the engine muffles the sound of a child’s cries.

When the captain announced we had reached our cruising altitude, Rainey decided she had reached hers as well. She began squirming and clawing her way to the floor, eager to familiarize herself with her surroundings. But because the refreshment cart was careening its way down the aisle, we confined her to the safety of our laps.

The tantrum she threw as a result was so hideous I considered throwing myself out the exit row window. Soon enough, however, we discovered that playing with the empty vodka bottle from my mom’s well-deserved Bloody Mary was the only thing that kept Rainey content. After about forty minutes, she fell asleep in Scott’s arms with the flask in her lap. Passengers walking back to the bathroom cast us disapproving looks to which I just smiled and replied, “Usually it takes her two.”

Rainey slept through the landing in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and while carrying her limp body through the airport, I overheard a mother holding a crying baby about the same age as Rainey saying to her husband in a voice filled with utter desperation, “you have no idea what I’m feeling right now.”

He might not have had a clue, but I felt like running up to her and hugging her neck and telling her that I did, in fact, know precisely what she was feeling and that somehow we were both going to make it through this whole ordeal alive. But I didn’t want to run the risk of waking Rainey or appear like I had forgotten to take my daily medication, so I kept on walking, consoled to learn that at least I wasn’t the only one traveling in agony with a twenty-pound baby.

After weaving our way down one terminal and up the next, we boarded our connecting flight and waited in our familiar seats in the back of the plane for the catering truck to stock the snack carts with bags of Spinzels that, incidentally, were hardly worth the hour-long wait. But a few dozen grapes, a handful of graham crackers, several lap changes, and countless recitations of Big Red Barn later, we finally touched down in Cleveland.

Two days later, while standing at my brother’s side as he promised his life to the woman of his dreams, I glanced down at my wedding ring that I had found buried beneath a heap of Rainey’s luggage and realized that, like traveling with a one-year-old, love and marriage and parenting is a lot of hard work but the journey is worth every mile.