Our trip from Cambridge to California was 20 hours, start to finish. Still, it wasn’t bad. Felt boards are my newest best friend. British felt boards are the best airplane toy ever, really. Felt boards, stickers, books, snacks, sparkly markers, more felt board, more stickers, toy cars, and a lot of walks up & down the airplane aisle actually made the time pass okay. For 5 of the 20 hours, Sophie even slept. I was shivering, because although I had remembered to pack multiple toys, snacks, diapers, and many changes of clothes for Sophie I — predictably — forgot to pack a simple cardigan for myself in my carry-on bag.
On the first flight of our journey, there were four children Sophie’s age, and all their parents shared my belief that other kid’s toys — and especially other kids themselves — are the most interesting thing for our own kids. We kept circling around to each other. Ashley’s mom sang songs, Evan’s dad lent books, Anya’s mom chatted.
At one point, when I produced yet another sparkly set of stickers from my magic carry-on bag, Sophie looked at me and asked, “It’s my birthday?” Then we got to add singing “Happy birthday to Sophie” to our toolkit of things to do during those 20 hours in airplanes and airports.
Still, somewhere over the Atlantic, after passing her naptime and her bedtime wide awake, cooped up in the airplane, quietly flipping the pages of her book and fiddling with the doodad in the airplane armrest for controlling the in-flight movie, all of a sudden, Sophie howled. It was a gut-wrenching, from-the-soul howl of terror.
“Is she hurt?” all our airplane neighbors asked, awoken from their naps.
No, just tired, I said, tired and terrified. Shush, I said to her, rushing to clear the felt pieces off my lap so I could hug her.
She looked up at me, swallowed her howl mid-breath, and announced, “I big girl.”
It nearly broke my heart. Big girls can cry too, I told her. It’s alright to cry. It’s alright to be scared.
But, also, I was happy that she was now quiet on that long, crowded flight.