Right about now a three-year-old is boarding a plane in Spokane on her way to see her father’s family in Hawaii. This is her third flight but only the second one she remembers. On the last flight, when she was a two-year-old, she was caught off guard by what must have seemed to her to be too many unwarranted and unfair restrictions.
Who likes the middle seat? Who can see anything if you’re strapped down with nothing to look at besides the back of the seat in front of you? Why do we have to wear headphones when we listen to the Frozen soundtrack over and over again? Why do we have to wear clothes when we’re more comfortable without clothes? Who’s shouting?
There was a struggle. Demands were made and met with strong resistance. But eventually an agreement between parties was reached and the rest of the flight was relatively uneventful.
When my phone chirped later that evening I opened it to find a text from my daughter saying they’d arrived on the Big Island. When I inquired about how baby had done on her first flight I got no reply. Instead she sent a photo that said enough. The image on my phone showed a contented two-year-old in control of the window seat, standing, hands pressed against the glass, looking out at the water below. She was wearing only a diaper and her Onesie which was unsnapped and open.
I know it’s no fun to travel with a crying child. It doesn’t matter if the child is yours or belongs to a stranger. Especially on a long flight. But truth be told, part of me is almost always secretly on the side of the outraged toddler. By the time most of us make it through the security circus and onto the plane, by the time we’ve buckled into a cramped seat, watched people struggle to stuff bulging luggage into overhead bins, listened to cell phone conversations and acknowledged the right of the passenger in front of you to recline fully even if it means your knees are wedged so tightly you can’t feel your toes, who wouldn’t like to howl in frustration?
In the year since that last flight my granddaughter has watched me fly away at least once a month and she sometimes comes to the airport to meet me after a trip. Somewhere along the way she came to the conclusion that every airplane she sees belongs to me.
When she found out she was going back to Hawaii, she couldn’t wait to tell me.
“I’m going on your airplane, Nana! Will you be driving?”
I told her that unfortunately I wouldn’t be on board, or in the cockpit, but it occurred to me I’d been presented with a perfect opportunity to preempt any dramatics.
“You know,” I told her, “Nana’s airplane has rules”.
This was interesting news.
Nana’s airplane is just like Nana’s car, I explained. There are rules to keep us safe and happy. I had her attention so I spooled off the first three things that came to mind:
Rule one: Sit in your seat.
Rule two: Buckle your seat belt.
Rule three: Use your inside voice.
She looked at me for a long moment then nodded. Not wanting to go too far, I left it at that and I didn’t give the conversation any more thought until my daughter called a few days later
“I hear Nana’s airplane has rules,” she said. And then she repeated the list I’d given my granddaughter who’d apparently memorized it and shared it every time they talked about their vacation plans.
So, right about now, if you’re on a plane and the three-year-old in the back is agreeable, fully dressed and causing no trouble at all, you’re welcome.
But if things get, well, complicated, don’t blame me.
It’s not my really plane you know.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org