Four hours

On Wednesday, I committed the act of flagrant hope and suspension of all parenting values otherwise known as Taking Small Children on International Flights.

Admittedly, the “international” bit meant flying, via Minneapolis, from Fort Lauderdale to Thunder Bay, but still. Ten hours spent in transit with a five-year-old and his toddler sidekick requires concessions to M&M cookies, portable DVD players, rolling around on the floors of public spaces, and an all-you-can-drink apple-juice bar. (Sidenote: is Isaac, at two and a half, still technically a toddler? Is there a name for this age?)

Every time we get on a plane, the nice people in first class smile at the children as they march on board and make jokey comments to us about how we’ve got “some good little travellers there!” And I smile back and say, “Well, we’re planning on leaving them up here with you, if you don’t mind.” And they smile and laugh some more and then we leave them to their quiet, amenities-laden, seats while we go find ours in coach, children in tow.

In absolute truth, the kids are getting easier and easier to travel with. Or maybe it’s that Rachel and I are getting better and better at travelling with them. Or some combination thereof. Whatever it is, Rowan and Isaac are fairly easy to placate with cartoons and a regular supply of treats, and the adults can be fairly certain of at least skimming a magazine article or two (me) or completing a Sudoku (Rachel) in between fielding requests for blankets and escorting small people to washrooms and reading stories and filling sippy cups and explaining why it’s not good to kick the seat in front of you and retrieving dropped Bakugans and making pillows of laps and turning the overhead lights on and off and on and on and on and off. And on.

And off.

So, we get on our first flight of the day, which coincides precisely with Isaac’s naptime, and we have three seats on one side of the plane, and a fourth across the aisle. And it is my turn to sit with the kids. Which I do. Because it is my turn. And I am one of their mothers. And they’re all excited to turn on the DVD player even though they know they have to wait for it and so I spend a half-hour preflight repeating brightly, over and over, “No, not yet! Not until the lady tells us!”

And then I am paged. Passenger Goldberg is paged. And I press my call button, and not one but two flight attendants come to let me know that I have been selected for an upgrade to first class.

FIRST CLASS! With all the people I threatened to leave my kids with. Except, without my kids. But with free booze. Even though it goes against all my principles, I adore first class. The two times in my life I’ve flown it.

And I can’t do it. I mean, even if it wasn’t my turn to sit with the kids, even if I was snugly ensconced across the aisle, I still couldn’t have done it. In my heart of hearts, I know that I would have never in a hundred years forgiven Rachel if she went off to sit in first class and left me with the kids. I know all that, but that doesn’t stop me from harbouring a brief and utterly unrequited longing that she will look up from her Sudoku and smile and wave me off, saying, “Oh, go for it! Have a great time! We’ll be just fine here — no really, go!”

And so I turn down my upgrade to first class for four hours of Flying with Children. Four hours during which Isaac does not nap, not even for a moment, but instead becomes increasingly cranky and winds up screaming, “I want milk! I WANT MILK! You go away!” for the flight’s final half-hour. (When he finally sleeps, it is as the landing gear is released on the runway as we touch down in Thunder Bay; the bump as we hit the tarmac lulls him into an ever deeper slumber that lasts all the way through customs, where we have to explain to the official how, exactly, we are family, but I digress.)

Four hours. Four full hours of my life that I could’ve been in first class. For hours that I will never get back. Not that I'm not trying.