Right now, I'm a dad of one. My wife is pregnant with our second, due in late May. But for now, my life revolves around 21-month-old Sadie.
Two weeks ago, my wife flew to California for business. It was a week of firsts: among them, her first time away from Sadie for more than one night, my first time playing single dad for more than one night, and Sadie's first dinner at a grocery store consisting of french fries and grape leaves an hour past her normal bedtime (let's pretend for a second that I'm not the stereotypical father, incapable of sticking to routines and cooking a decent meal). But most notably, it was my first flight (this one across the country, no less) alone with Sadie, as she and I traveled to see Mama in San Francisco for the weekend.
I'll preface all of this by saying that Sadie was a total champ. Both on the trip out and on the return, she played contentedly, she snacked, she even slept. She was a joy. It was me that was the wreck. Specifically, the lead-up, the packing and transporting ourselves + luggage to the terminal, the security line, the boarding. The feeble attempts to install the carseat (yes, I caved and bought her a seat—she even got the window for pete's sake), then the realization of what a terrible idea that was, then the polite desperation to request our patient aisle-seated friend to briefly watch Sadie while Dad, sweating and exhausted, gate-checked the carseat. Sadie looked on curiously, playing with her doll ("baby") and munching on a block of cheese (remember when I requested to please disband all notions of stereotypical fathering?).
As soon as we plunked ourselves down and settled ourselves into our seat, I placed her on my lap, and she gave me a hug. She nuzzled and snuggled and proclaimed a barely audible "Dada....". Maybe she was psyched for the 1:1 time, maybe she sensed my stress in the lead-up to that moment and suspected (rightly) her place in the world to bring her Dad back down to Earth, or maybe it was a combination of both. Immediately, all was right and good and calm, and there commenced our first flight together as Dada and Sades. And in reflection, we both rocked it. Here's how:
- Make everything take a really, really long time. It could be reading a book (have her point out everything, literally everything, on the page), removing every single tiny sticker from its sheet, or opening a wrapped present. Lose yourself in her discovery of all things, and in her contentment there.
- Wrap her toys. I can't take credit for this idea, but it ended up being the most important tactic. The night before the flight, I took 8 of her toys (a small rubber firetruck, a block, another block, another block, some plastic sunglasses, etc) and wrapped them in wrapping paper. Then I taped them excessively. On the plane, she got to open each one. The opening process took a very, very long time. And with each one, she looked at me like I had just given her a pony, proclaiming her undying love for me with an excited "thank you!" with each discovery.
Abandon whatever snack policy you have. My wife and I try to limit both the kind and quantity of snacks. In other words, she doesn't have cookies at noon followed by pickles followed by cheddar bunnies. But on the plane, I didn't care. As long as she was happy, everything was awesome. So I had a snack pack, with each snack individually tupperwared, from salami, to crackers, to pickles, to grapes, to rice cakes, to pouches.
Abandon whatever iPad/TV watching policy you have. Although my daughter doesn't watch much in terms of screen time, she is developing a moderate fascination for Elmo and Dora. So I downloaded an episode of each on my iPad before the flight, and we flipped occasionally between the two.
Know the book equation: one book per hour of flight (i.e., don't overload yourself). Sadie's a reader, so I may have busted this equation a bit, but we read a lot of books. She turned the pages. I had her point out everything on each. The Pout-Pout Fish was the biggest hit.
If she's tired enough, she'll sleep. Although we couldn't tire Sadie out by jumping on trampolines or running on the playground, a bevy of snacks, intense focus, and lots of counting meant that for roughly 25 minutes, Sadie visited dreamland. Which meant Dad could too.
Stickers. Lots and lots of stickers. Pulling them off the sheet. Putting them on Dad's head, sweatshirt, and on her stickerbook. Maybe even on the airplane window.
Take advantage—but only when really, really necessary—of the seatbelt sign being shut off. We only got up when Sadie was nearing the end of her rope. I tried to limit this, otherwise she would have wanted to confine herself to the aisle only. So we did some walking around, but only when we really had to.
Have a beer. You deserve it!
We made it. You can too.
COO & Mimo Dad