Just yesterday I returned from a flight back to my home state. I’m from a small town and the nearest airport is an hour and a half away–and there are no direct flights. Since I wanted to go back for longer than my husband could take off from work, I went alone with all three of our kids: Lauren, age six, Kate age four and Cooper age one. I knew it would be hard, at times miserable, and at best, long and uncomfortable.  The best I could hope for was to have no flight delays and minimal kid-drama.

We started our trip with the alarm set for 2:30 a.m. We needed to leave for the airport by 3:30 to make our six a.m. flight. From my previous flights alone with both girls I knew that organization was the key to success. For days before the trip I added  various articles of clothing, undergarments and socks to the massive suitcase, laying open like the jaws of a giant gator.  And I, the zoo keeper, was wary of overfeeding my alligator. I was trying to “pack light” because I knew we could do laundry as needed.  But, in the  end, the suitcase was completely full, though thankfully, zippable.

I planned for both of the girls and myself to have a carry-on (backpacks). Theirs contained empty sippy cups (since water is no longer allowed through security–SIGH), plenty of healthy snacks and of course, a few emergency lolly-pops.  They were allowed to take one small stuffed toy, a small security blanket, a few books and a small pad and pen. My backpack contained about five diapers, wipes, snacks for Cooper and me, and most importantly, my iPad, on which the girls can watch movies. I also brought a book for myself but I wasn’t foolish enough to think I would have a chance to read any of it even though we would be in the air for almost five hours. Instead, I would be working the entire time–feeding, shushing, nursing, threatening, bribing and sighing– secretly jealous of those who were traveling without children–napping, reading, catching up on work.

I spent the entire flight with a squirmy, sweaty 15 month old on my lap, and simultaneously pulling things out from our carry-ons that were each jammed under a different seat. This required contorting my body in ways that are usually not required–reaching, unzipping, grabbing, fumbling with one arm outstretched and my head jammed between my knees, while the other arm held a thrashing baby who may or may not have been flinging slimy fig cookies at the passenger behind me.

I was eternally grateful that Cooper only had wet diapers on both flights. Thank goodness for small favors. On the other hand, I was dismayed that Kate had grown just enough since her last flight that her legs reached the seat in front of her. When she gets mad, she kicks. And the unlucky lady in front of her found that out. On several occasions, I grabbed her legs and hissed empty, desperate threats like “The pilot kicks naughty children off the plane!” When I had to use the bathroom, I had to take Cooper with me which was not ideal for obvious reasons. Also not ideal was the fact that I had to leave Lauren and Kate unattended for several minutes. When I returned from the bathroom, I found Kate sashaying up and down the aisle of the plane and socializing with the other passengers. No surprise there.

The only way I can sum up my over 12 straight hours of solo travel with three young children, who unlike on a long car trip, we not strapped into car seats, is to say that we survived and arrived safe and sound at our destination. We enjoyed a full two weeks of romping in the countryside at my parents’ house, though the thought of our return flight haunted me the entire time.  And as for the trip back? We survived that too, despite the extra hour that we spent on the plane, delayed for weather, before taking off on the four hour flight. Will I ever attempt that again? Not anytime soon, that’s for sure!