I live about 4274.7 Miles from my hometown, my mother, and the only place I have ever lived in the United States.
It is a given that our son, who is half American, will spend time with his Grandma in my hometown. Even if that means 10 hour flights in cramped airplanes, countless security checks, dealing with jet-lag and time changes over and over and over again, and sometimes doing it without the help of my husband. It is worth it and we feel so lucky that we are able to visit a few times a year. Teddy LOVES his Grandma so much and any cold he gets or never ending flight is more then worth it. But that doesn't mean it is easy, in fact the days leading up to a long haul flight are always tempered with a slight feeling of dread.
Before we flew for the first time I had this little idea in my head that maybe, just maybe, he would be so in awe of the plane that he would look around silently for a bit before conking out and sleeping for the whole flight. I know babies who have done that and isn't it fun to hope? Well now I know exactly what to expect and a small amount of dread is definitely a realistic feeling of acceptance of what is to come.
Honestly my motto for any flight is always ,"It is only (insert how many hours trip will be) of our lives we will quickly forget this day in the long run. We will get through it." This motto has gotten me through hours of him fighting sleep, wanting to crawl from seat to seat, and long delays.
So first off- flying itself isn't that bad. We have never had problems with his ears popping, although I am sure this is different from child to child. The first flights I made sure to nurse him during take-off, although be sure to wait until the plane actually begins heading into the air, as you can spend 20 minutes or more just slowing getting into position on the runway and depending on your child's age they may not be interested in nursing or drinking from a bottle that long.
But Theo was never scared or in pain, he seemed to enjoy looking out the window a bit as he got older, and he loved the people watching. Which is the crux of the problem with flying... the other people.
Now when you go on a long car ride with your child, you have some toys and some snacks with, maybe even one of you sits in the back to more actively entertain the baby. You might worry a bit about how things will go but you probably won't worry too much. If baby screams, maybe you sing loudly, or turn the radio up, or stop and take a break. Either way while it might be annoying it isn't really that bad. You've probably been living with the kid for a few months and you love them by now and hey this is what parenting is all about.
That same situation in a plane sucks. You can't help but feel bad for all the people crammed in around you being forced to listen to your child whine/scream/cry/loudly sing/whatever else they decide to do, and your options for dealing with the situation are limited. You can't just turn on your headphones and tune out the baby (or you could but then you are officially one of those parents I hate), you can't ask the pilot to just stop the plane for a bit so you and baby can take a breather, and getting loud with your baby is also pretty annoying for everyone else around you.
Basically you are sitting in a space the size of a middle seat in a tiny car with baby on your lap and you are trying to pretend there is a force field all around you which baby should respect and stay inside. The chances are good that baby thinks this imaginary force field is a real joke. The chances are even better that baby loves the stranger sitting next to you who rolled their eyes and could barely hide their annoyance when they found out they were stuck sitting next to the mom with the baby... and the huge diaper bag that looks to be overflowing and can't possibly be regulation carry-on size. In fact baby will probably ignore the sweet little Grandma who instantly fell in love with him to instead try to pull on the grumpy baby hater's shirt over and over and over again. You will probably sweat in exertion trying to keep baby distracted by anything but the baby hater, and then you will look at your watch and realize that only 8 minutes have passed and you still have 9 hours and 52 minutes to go.
So my goal on the plane is always to keep baby as quiet (within reason of course), and as distracted as possible- the easiest way to do this is to have baby eating or sleeping. The way I do this will be in part II :D