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Thinking about flying with a toddler? Three words: DON’T DO IT.

I don’t mean that. I mean, in the grand scheme of a two-week vacation, the four-hour flight there and back is just a fart in the pants. You can do it! But be forewarned. And pack at least six kinds of crackers.

Children under the age of two can fly for free. In Canada, at least. So, as new parents, we think Yippee! We’ll take a trip somewhere before the half-pint is two. Give him a ride on a big ol’ jet airliner – for free! Not so fast, opportunistic little mama; think this through. If it’s relaxation you seek, leave the lil’ squirt home. There won’t be much time for kicking your feet up. The kicking (and screaming) will be done by someone else.

The drama begins at the airport. For the love of lemon gin, take your umbrella stroller. A toddler on the loose at the airport? You may as well post an ad on Kijiji: One toddler for the taking. Likes cheese puffs, pooping in pants, and long walks on the beach. You can push the stroller right up to the door of the airplane. Leave it there and board the plane; the stroller is magically waiting for you on the other side. But don’t get too excited; the nightmare occurs in between.

Our August flight to Ontario would have gone much differently had Max been a 9-month-old crawler instead of a 16-month-old Olympic sprinter. With a perfectly immobile baby on my lap, my biggest worry would have been keeping his ears clear and his belly full. I could have flicked on the cartoons, stuck a bottle in his gob, and giddy-up – Toronto, here we come. But Max had learned to motor and had been honing his legwork for the past five months. And now he was bringing those mad skills onboard. No amount of Thomas the Tank Engine was going to stop him from busting a move on that Boeing 737. In fact, Thomas probably just reminded him to go full steam ahead.

For Max, boarding the plane was like walking into a new world of possibilities. His eyes lit up when he saw the endless rows of seats, each containing a different face. I could almost hear his thoughts, spoken in a British Stewie Griffin accent, of course. What is this? A life-size Fisher Price Shake-n-Go Flyer? Must… explore… now. Check out the giant porn stash on that dude. Feast your eyes on that chick’s big dangly earrings! Can I grab them, mommy? Can I? Can I? Oooooh, this little window shade is fun! It’s open, it’s closed, it’s open, it’s closed…

When we took our seat, we were pleasantly surprised to have been assigned the row with extra legroom. Bless your heart, travel agent lady. At least you tried.

I’m no dummy; I came prepared. I packed several NEW dinkies and toys. They worked – for a while. Eventually, Max started tossing everything to the floor. Half the time the toy would wind up under someone else’s seat, so I’d have to retrieve it with my head in a stranger’s crotch. Excuse me, sir, could you move your undercarriage so I can find my son’s train?

I also packed snacks galore. My purse was a vending machine. Raisins, fruit, Cheerios, Goldfish crackers, and a few sugary sweet treats for emergencies. But there were not enough snacks in the world to keep our boisterous boy down. By the time the seatbelt sign was switched off, Max had turned on the Turbo Ginger.

We made the mistake of traveling at night. The flight left at 7pm, so I thought – Perfect. He’ll get on board in his pjs, have a bottle, then go to sleep… and we’ll watch a movie! Dream on, Self. Max was tired, but he fought it with every fiber of his 25-pound being. And how could I blame him? This was an exciting new place. There was no crib, no darkness, no familiar surroundings. It couldn’t possibly be bedtime! Damn, that kid is observant.

He tried to escape our two-seat row, but Andrew’s leg served as a barricade. It’s not safe out there in the aisle!  Some parents walk their kids up and down the aisle to let them blow off steam. But this could easily go awry. People have hot beverages, and there’s always a flight attendant coming or going. Besides, if I gave Max an inch, or 10 feet of aisle, he’d take a mile. One glimpse of the buffet of faces beyond our row and things would get real ugly real fast. Try returning to our seat once he had a gander of that sweet action. Max Murphy Meltdown imminent.

Thankfully, he was content to stay in the one-foot by two-foot playroom in the clouds – i.e. the space between the window and the aisle, minus the space taken up by mine and Andrew’s legs. He flashed greasy grins at the gentleman across the aisle from us. He danced up a storm. He was deliriously tired, lying on the floor for a few seconds as if he was going to go to sleep, then suddenly springing to life and cackling like something possessed. Aha! You thought I was asleep, didn’t you? Suckas! Sometimes he’d lie there for a few extra moments and we’d get our hopes up – could this be the beginning of peace? – when suddenly I’d feel little teeth chomping into my foot. What a case. Andrew and I cracked up. Until we cracked. Three hours into the journey, we were desperately begging the sandman to arrive.

Max slept for the last hour of the journey. Just enough time for Andrew and I to fall asleep and – ding ding – buckle your seatbelts, we’re coming in for a landing.

The return flight was even worse. It was the red-eye; need I say more? This time, we even had a spare seat between us. A blessing? You would think so, wouldn’t you? Mastermind Max only utilized this luxury for his lunacy. He stood up on the seat and threw things over the top at the poor people dozing behind us. A die-cast locomotive to the face leaves a mark.

My recommendation? Fly with your under-two-year-old before he or she is walking. If it’s too late for that, travel with a partner. Don’t fly at night unless you have the patience of job and caffeine injected directly into your veins. If you have money to burn, buy the kid his own seat and attach your carseat to it. (Apparently stapling his sleepers to the seat is a no-no.) If your mini has miraculously developed the faculty of reason – If you sit down and be a good boy, mom will give you a marshmallow – lucky you. Or, if you were blessed with a naturally chill child, congratulations; I was not. Turbo Ginger makes for a frustrating plane ride…

…but a fun life.

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