Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The perils of being an international family

So, I was reading Devan's post yesterday about the struggles of traveling with kids, and I wrote part of this in a comment, but then it got me thinking about it more, so now it's a post.

I love that our family is international. In elementary school when we learned about immigration, I was always so proud of being a "first-generation American," tenuous as that was for me (my dad was born in England but moved to the US when he was six weeks old). Now that I'm older I recognize the more tangible benefits of his birthplace--namely, my British passport. But our family wasn't really international because both of my parents are, essentially, American. The first time I traveled internationally was, I believe, when we went to France when I was nine.

Obviously growing up I became more international, in that I lived in France and then in Senegal, and I've visited ten different countries and have a list a mile long of other countries I plan/hope to visit someday. But that's just an enjoyment of and interest in going other places. It's not that I myself am international in some way.

I love that our family will be. There are certainly frustrations with Torsten's family living so far away, like the fact that a simple visit to see his parents is expensive and time-consuming and involves a really long flight, but I love that he has a different perspective on things, and I love that our kids will grow up bilingual, used to traveling, understanding of different perspectives and cultures, knowing that there is more than just the US, you know? I think that's awesome.

But OMG, when we flew to Germany last month they showed us the little safety video and it showed a woman holding a small child on her lap. And that made us think about the fact that until kids are two years old (I think), you do not need to buy them a ticket to fly. They can ride in your lap.

I can maybe, MAYBE understand this if it's a short (read: under two hours) flight. But a transatlantic flight? No, no, no. As we sat on the plane, shifting uncomfortably in our small seats, we tried to imagine what it would be like with a baby on one of our laps. The first thing we noticed is that if the person in front of us put their seat back, they could easily crush the baby. And eating dinner? Forget about it. One of us would have to eat while the other held the baby. Then we'd have to switch. But it wouldn't be that easy because those tray tables are only big enough to hold one tray at a time, so after the first person ate, they'd have to wait for a flight attendant to collect their tray, and where would the second person's meal even go while the first person ate?

And how could you sleep? You couldn't, basically, not that I sleep very much on planes to begin with. And you'd have to trade off with the holding because your arms would probably fall asleep. And I doubt the baby would be thrilled about the whole thing (though I suppose that depends on whether it's the kind of baby that likes to be held all the time or not), but there would just be no relief. For nine hours.

And don't even get me started on how horrible it would be to do this with a baby AND a toddler, even if the toddler (presumably) had its own seat. One parent would be engaged in dealing with the toddler, so there wouldn't be as much trading off and maneuvering going on--it would be more like one person would just be stuck with the baby while the other one chased after the toddler. And the idea of traveling with THREE kids? As in, one of us would have to deal with two of them at once? Let me tell you, that idea right there has cemented my desire to have only two children.

I'm just saying, when our flight arrived in Germany last time and we had to circle for half an hour, I was ready to scream. And I WASN'T holding a baby. So basically, we've come to the conclusion that no way in hell will we be flying with a baby on our laps. Which means we will have to drop the $600 or so to buy it its own seat. Which also means we won't get one of those nice little two-person rows to ourselves anymore--instead we'll be stuck in the middle, likely next to some unsuspecting person who glares at us when our baby cries.

Yes, I realize this is all very detailed. What can I say? I didn't sleep much on the plane so there was a lot of time to think about this, and we aren't sure if we'll be going back to Germany before there's a baby in the picture, so it was actually important for us to visualize the scenario while we were in it, you know?

But on the plus side, our kids will have little passports with little baby pictures in them. How cute will that be? I wonder what you do about the signature when the kid is too young to write. Or talk.


  1. This is awesome. You truly are lucky to be such an international family, even with the pricey/long flights it creates. Your children will handle planes just fine, I'm sure - I haven't had my girl on a plane yet, but I always look to Matt Logelin for inspiration on this. His little girl is about a year old and has more than 20 flights under her (tiny) belt! So I guess it can be done.

    This quote made me laugh a bit, though: "One of us would have to eat while the other held the baby. Then we'd have to switch." It made me giggle because that? Was pretty much our life for the first five or six months, even without planes. :) Like you said, just depends on the baby!

  2. Are you into The Secret postive-thinking stuff? You don't know when, or even if, you'll have a baby!! Believe me, I know.

  3. I think that young kids actually don't need a passport until they're old enough to write their names, or something like that. Whatever it is, I'm almost positive that infants and toddlers do not need passports.

    Also: I am a big fan of drugs for airplanes. As in, I take two doses of dramamine and sleep, even though I don't need the dramamine for air sickness. And if I ever fly with an infant, I plan to get the OK from our pediatrician to give it benedryl or something to help it sleep most of the flight. Both for my sanity, the sanity of the passengers, and the comfort of the baby - imagine having your ears all wacked out with the pressure change, and no way to do anything about it! The poor kid would thank you for drugging it if it could talk. Plus, I've been that unsuspecting passenger with the screaming baby next to me. No, thank you.

    As for arms getting tired of holding: so you wear one of those soft slings. And if that's not enough, then you get 2 business class tickets, which might be slightly cheaper than the 3 coach tickets.

    Even tho we're not an international family and I haven't been on a trans-atlantic flight in a few years, I've still thought about this in detail. Mainly as I was listening to that wailing baby and missing my then-boyfriend, now husband. Maybe in a few years we can compare notes.

  4. For us it's about 14 hrs to do all the driving flying and customs going through to get from one family to the in laws. I can barely handle it myself so when we have kids I think I want to just pay my parents to fly down to see us. International couplehood, although romantic in a sense is SO difficult at times don't you think? We're doing immigration stuff for the second time now b/c we've decided US it is for the long haul. So now of course the right to work, and cross borders and having access to health care is something that's on my mind and will be until the completion of the process. 'Tis crazy.

  5. I grew up being a part of an international family, and I loved it. I really appreciate having a broader outlook on things and not being US-centric.

    I had 2 passports as a kid, and I think we just had to print our names since we hadn't learned cursive yet.

  6. someone who I read just went to hawaii with twin girls and wrote a post about some strategies she used for the plane -

  7. Airlines do try to work with families. And give you an extra, unsold seat for the babe, if there are extras to be had. Though, I'm guessing on international flights, there aren't many. I say, don't worry yourselves too much with it right now. Because, if you can deal with the day-to-day craziness of having kids, then the once a year (or less) trip to see grandma & grandpa won't be all that big of a deal!

  8. My parents are both Austrian, but all four of us kids were born and raised in the US (in fact, your blog made me realize that I am a first generation American). My siblings and I travelled to Europe every single summer. My mom even made a lot of those flight on her own, with FOUR of us!! From what I remember, if you are travelling with an infant, they usually give you (or at least you can request)the very first row of seats, which means that there is noone sitting infront of you, just this sort of wall. Some (all?) arilines had this bassinet that you could attach to the wall and voila, thats where the baby slept! I really don't know if this cost extra (I was only 7 when my youngest sister was a baby), but I can't imagine this costing as much as an entire seat.
    We did all have little baby passports (that one of our parents signed in our name), but I don't know if you HAVE to have one. I know that in Austria children under 12 can just be added to the parents' passport and that's fine.

    Maybe I should pass the link to this post on to my mom, since she's the expert here. I have often wondered how she survived so many plane trips with us as babies and toddlers. I do know that as we got older, plane trips were very routine for us and it was the BEST day of the year. And because of that, we tended to be pretty well-behaved :-)

  9. I think they might have tightened up the passport requirements for little guys in the past few years- my friend Alice tells a hilarious story about trying to get her 3-month old son to keep his eyes open for a picture of him in his carseat to use on the passport. (No idea on the signature thing, but apparently the Passport Control Office felt very strongly that he had to be photographed eyes open, in his car seat.)

  10. We took B on a 4 hour plane trip and she did really well. A bit fussy, but mostly interested in her surroundings. It was a plus that I was still breast feeding her so I could do that on the plane (instead of trying to give her a bottle, etc.) and she fell asleep on me. I had to sit in one position for about 1.5 hours. It was tolerable, but not hugely fun.

  11. my girlfriend has 3 kids, and she says the jump from 2 kids to 3 kids is WAY harder than the jump from 1 to 2, for exactly these sorts of reasons. like, if you take all 3 kids out yourself? you only have TWO HANDS to hold on to your three children. EEP.

    i'm pretty sure that if i ever have kids, i will announce that any people outside of driving distance will need to come to ME.

  12. We traveled to Ireland with a 1 yr old and a 4 yr old (who turned 5 on the trip)--it was actually okay. Compared to driving, it was actually easier, because the baby does want to be held most of the time. Also, compared to domestic flights, there are a lot of distractions and entertainments--movies (my four-year-old got to watch Scream 3! How very appropriate, eh? And he loved it), meals, etc. They can get up and walk when they need to.

    But! We did get the baby her own seat. We managed to get a little discount--kids under two sometimes fly cheaper on international flights.

    And I second Bessieviola--so many of your worries are actually normal parts of everyday life with small kids that taking them on a plane just kind of mixes it up a little. (Also, to clarify, they are NORMAL and EVERYDAY parts that you are TOTALLY USED TO and ARE PRIMED TO DEAL WITH.)

    The hardest part of traveling with small kids for us has always been the hotel stay, not the transport--the newness has worn off, everyone's tired and cranky, and you're having to shush them all the time. That's when I start to count the days until we can go home. So you've got that going for you--a comfortable, predictable place to stay.

  13. LOL - You have clearly thought this through and you are RIGHT. Flying with a baby in your lap sucks. It's not so bad with a newborn. Provided the baby sleeps, you don't and you don't need to use the bathroom. Or eat. ;)
    The last time we flew we had 2 under two and I had one in my lap, D had one in his lap and the other child had his own seat. It was the last time we flew for GOOD REASON. (and the flight was only 1hr 20 min)
    I think buying the baby it's own seat is definitely a good idea.
    Now, we'd have to get 5 seats which is another reason we don't fly much. It's expensive.

  14. Oh, and Benadryl makes some kids hyper. Unfortunately, had to learn that one the hard way...

  15. This is a hilarious post to me. The last time I flew home (and can I just say how thankful I am that I won't ever have to do that again for a long time) was bad enough, being pregnant and hiking around a toddler for 12 hours. She sat on my lap, but I would never do that again either. We were lucky that on a few of the flights we ended up with empty seats beside us, but there's never any guarantee of that.

    And the seatback thing. Argh! If I had my druthers, airplane seats wouldn't recline in the first place. Holding my child on my lap and then the guy in front of us leans his seat back and there was maybe four inches between the seat and her face. What if there had been turbulence??

    (No signature on the passport; and her picture looks hilarious because it was taken when she was about two months old and she looks nothing like that now!)

  16. hee hee. Elle has a passport, created when she was 6 months old. I don't remember who signed it, though.

  17. I wish my parents would have traveled with us kids more, but I can understand why they wouldn't (travel for a family of 8 would be outrageously expensive). Besides, I can't even imagine going on a long road trip with a baby, let alone flying with one. You are much braver women than I.

  18. That's why grandparents fly to you!! :-) I dread having kids on a plane.....let alone a flight over two hours.

  19. Just an observation, with no real point to it - You are one of the few people I've ever seen refer to a yet-to-be-conceived baby as "it" rather than "He or she". :-)

  20. Two things.

    1. Hey, you have an asshole Anonymous commenter too! Gosh, I wonder if we have the same one! We can be twins!

    2. I traveled cross-country with a 10-month-old on my lap, and you are right, it is awful.

    3. I think when your kids are small, it would be nice if your families did the traveling so you could stay in your house. I realize that totally depends on whether your families are willing to do that. But it would be soooo much easier and less expensive for them to travel than for you to travel.

  21. I think it's just common courtesy to not make parents (especially new parents) travel far with their children. There's so much STUFF they need.. so much to pack and consider.. dirty diapers on a plane?

    I think it's more than fair to ask Torsten's family to fly out to see you. When the kids are a bit older, then it'll make sense to fly across the pond with them!

  22. My in-laws are in Copenhagen, and we are in California. They have been really eager to have us visit with our now 10 month old son so he can start to be exposed to the Danish side of the family, which we fully support...however, we just broke the news to them that we really do not think 15 hours of flying with him this September would be a good idea for anyone, and are asking them to come out to visit us yet again until he gets a bit older and more manageable on flights. I traveled alone with him on a 2 hour flight when he was 7 months old and that was fine, but now he is crawling and pulling up and will probably be walking in a few more months and there is no way he would be able to do such a long flight on our laps. Even in his own seat it would be tricky...