Door to door it was 16 hours. It was me, my four year old son, and 4800 miles of land and ocean to cross
My dad lives on the Big Island of Hawaii, we live in Maryland, and the only way from here to there is strapped inside a small metallic tube dashing across the atmosphere at 550 miles per hour. Though we are a TV-free family in the sense that we do not even own a television, we do allow the occasional family movie night with my son. Many well meaning friends brought over DVD’s and one even loaned us a portable DVD player complete with head phones. I was told with stern looks that this was vital for our journey. So on the night before our flight I sat staring at two piles, trying to decide which one should be put in my carry-on bag. The first pile was my mommy survival pile for a long flight. Sticker books, a toy airplane set, new art supplies and a note pad, stamp ink and some new stamps, a roll up chalk mat and letter dice, an eye spy bag, a dollar store travel game, and a huge pile of new books. Add to that a variety of snacks and two water bottles. The second pile was my life raft, a portable DVD player, a case of videos, and an iPod.
So which one to take? Truth be told I packed them both. I decided to try my hardest to make this trip video free, but I would have the movies on hand just in case. Friends gave me incredulous looks when I told them my plan. Why make it hard on yourself? What’s the big deal if he watches some videos on the airplane? Even grown-ups get stir crazy and bored on long plane trips, so why torture yourselves?
The reason I didn’t want to rely on videos to get us through this plane trip is the same reason I don’t use TV to get us through childhood. I want my son to learn how to be with himself, use his imagination, and pass the time without needing to plug in his brain. I don’t want TV or videos to be the norm or the expectation for long trips or rainy afternoons at home. It should be the exception not the rule. It should be a family treat, an occasional educational tool, not a crutch.
At home it’s a snap. The whole world is at our disposal, why on earth would we want to sit idly by and watch television? But being buckled into a Boeing 777 shoulder to shoulder with 200 strangers is a different story. So I lugged my carry-on, laden with books and videos wondering which would prevail.
Our first leg from Baltimore to Chicago was a snap. We left at the crack of dawn, and Zach was still in his sleepy mode. He was happy to snuggle into a seat, do sticker books, and ask a million and a half 4-year old questions about airplanes for two hours. The next leg was Chicago straight to Kona, Hawaii. Ten and a half hours. Thankfully the first hour or so he slept. If I was a smart mama I would have slept too. But instead I did the plugging in and watched a grown-up movie on my iPod.
When Zach woke up we broke out the crayons and paper. He drew the one and only thing he ever draws these days: pirate ships. More specifically pirate shipping shooting cannons. From there we moved into stamping. I bought a new stamping set for the trip that he’s never used before so he was pretty fired up about that. He stamped words with the new letter stamp set (hey we’re homeschooling at 30-thousand feet, how about that?) And he made some stamp scenes using animals. When the fun wore off we moved to snack time, and then I tried to figure out this crazy, plastic, barrel of monkeys game I got at the dollar store. My boy thought it was pretty funny that mommy couldn’t figure out how to set up the game, and while I was concentrating on the minuscule, made-in-China, plastic molded palm tree leaves, he started sword fighting with the little neon colored plastic sticks. I never really did fully figure that game out, but it bought us some time and we had fun with the monkeys and sticks anyhow.
I made a conscious point not to look at a clock while we were passing the time. I didn’t want to get into the “oy vay we still have 6 and a half hours left to kill” mind game. I wanted to enjoy the uninterrupted, one on one time with my son. No cell phone ringing, no appointments, no errands to run, no emails to answer. We talked, we sang, we told knock-knock jokes. And when things got slow I dipped into my magic mommy bag for my next trick. After the monkey fiasco, I broke out a new sticker book with nothing but truck stickers. This went over very well and my sweet son proceeded to joyfully decorate the entire row with monster trucks and big rigs while I read some magazines. Then we read some books. And next came the obligatory pestering of the people seated behind you routine. Thankfully there was another kid, albeit an older one, back there. So Zach stuck his head between the seats and over the top and did his flirty, peek-a-boo thing for a bit.
Somewhere in the middle of the trip he wised up to the fasten seat belt light. It became his new obsession, and the moment it went off he took it as a sign to wander the airplane. We were in the middle row of a large jet and Zach felt cheated by the lack of window vistas. So we promenaded up and down the rows looking for an open window seat to temporarily take over. At the very back, he got his wish and we spent a good deal of time staring down at he deep, blue Pacific Ocean searching for freighters and staring at clouds.
The only hitch in the flight was me. Zach was a trooper, an angel, an ace traveler with nary a complaint. I was the one who started to lose my mind. I wanted to watch a movie, I wanted to read, I wanted to sleep, I wanted a glass of wine, I wanted to check out. But then where would that leave him? When people say a kid can’t make a long flight without a video, what they really mean is THEY can’t make it. But I did. I took just about everything in my magic mommy bag to do it, but I did it. We walked off the plane into the sunny Kona open air terminal without ever having touched the DVD player, he never knew it was in the bottom of my bag.
The reward was the flight back. I loved how upbeat Zach was about the pending long trip. I loved how relaxed he was. And I loved how when they played the movie “Kung Fu Panda” on the screens strewn all across the airplane, he glanced up and said, “Mama, why would they put a TV in an airplane when there is so much to do?”
I ask myself that very question about life in general.
(here are some photos from our journey out to Hawaii this year...).
Fresh art supplies still do the trick..
Thank you dollar store for these crazy DIY cardboard animals. They were worth every penny and then some.
Burning some energy during an insanely long layover in SFO. They had a decent little play area.
And a nice little book store with a children's section to lounge in.MamaRoots goody I stashed inside before rolling the yard up into a ball.