Letting Go of My Expectations and Being in the Moment: Flying (and Waiting) with a Toddler

Theo and I recently flew to Ohio to visit family. On our flight back, we had a four-hour layover, and I’d imagined grabbing dinner and letting Theo run around the airport before hopping onto a late evening flight where Theo would sleep. The flight to Ohio (my first time flying alone with Theo) had been intense, but manageable, so I was optimistic about this one as well.

(Please feel free to insert jokes about Greek gods and hubris here.)

Our first leg was supposed to be a two-hour flight, but ended up taking eight hours after we were diverted to another airport due to weather and then delayed there further by mechanical difficulties. We were stuck on the plane during dinner (mmm… peanuts and pretzels), and then had to deplane and replane twice.  Both times we deplaned, we were not given our gate-checked stroller, and Theo dramatically collapsed in the middle of the walkway on his blankie several times, forcing me to try to juggle our bags and a toddler.

When we reached our connecting airport at midnight, we had not only missed our flight back home, but were also told that there were no hotel rooms left in the city.


We slept on a mat, in a room with a dozen other travelers who were coming and going, with only an inadequate, amazingly thin red blanket (plus Theo’s blankie, of course), and were regaled with periodic airport announcements.

(Because yes, it’s vital that all of the stranded passengers who are attempting to sleep should be regularly reminded to not leave their bags unattended.)

At times, it was extremely frustrating. And, I have to admit that when I was told that I’d have to sleep in the airport after having been told at the previous airport that we’d be given a hotel room, I wanted to cry.

However, most of my frustrations were just from wanting to be at home, in my own bed, asleep, rather than responsible for the comfort and noise-level of a drowsy, over-extended toddler in an airport.

Without the frame of my ideal reality, the moment-to-moment experience was surprisingly sweet.

Some snapshots:

  • The flight attendant on our extended-to-eight-hour-flight referred to Theo as her little buddy and hopped with him when he was bunny-interpreting in the aisle of our tarmac-parked plane.
  • Every time Theo would collapse, insisting that he could no longer walk, another passenger would walk up and offer to carry some of my bags so that I could carry Theo.
  • I briefly snuggled another passenger’s sleepy, sweet, 10-month old baby while we were all waiting in line.
  • An airline employee not only helped Theo and I find a quiet(ish) mat to sleep on and carried my stroller up three flights of stairs, but also returned 15 minutes after getting us settled with a bag of snacks, drinks, and a coloring book.
  • When we first arrived at our mat, a sleepy college student on a nearby mat played peekaboo with Theo so that he’d stay calm. Other travelers later offered us extra blankets and larger mats. (After collecting six of the inadequate blankets, I was warm enough to sleep.)
  • Theo slept from 12:30 to 7:00 without peeping. While this is short in Theo-sleep hours, it’s amazingly long given the noise and strange environment.
  • In the morning, Theo on only 6.5 hours of airport-sleep was still sweetly himself, and danced to the music playing at breakfast.

And then, after a reasonably uneventful flight, we made it home, and I’m typing this from my bed while Theo and Brian blow bubbles in the back yard.

Overall, things went significantly more smoothly when I stopped wishing things were different, and instead just focused on what I needed to do within my present reality. Which sounds simple in a Buddhist-cliche way, but is probably one of the things I struggle with most in life, with my tendency to plan and idealize.

When things are easy, it’s easy to forget how kind most people are and how utterly survivable most of my non-ideal version of reality are. Even inconvenient reminders of this can be sweet, in the end.