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Monday, December 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 34.0° F  Overcast with Haze
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Mama Madison: Patience on a plane
The challenges of flying with tots

While I've never had a traditional fear of flying, mild anxiety set in the first time I had to travel alone with one of my children. My oldest son was 18 months old at the time and we we were heading east to visit Grandma--the first time without the benefit of Dad's extra pair of hands. The early morning Madison to Chicago leg went smoothly; the flight was fairly empty and my son slept the whole way. We happily de-planed and went in search of our DC connection.

But then the snowstorm came, bringing along with it a major delay. What was I going to do with a stir-crazy toddler for the better part of a day wandering around the airport? The initial tour of newsstands went reasonably well. But since he couldn't read yet, and didn't seem interested in sitting patiently in his stroller while I perused the latest issue of Glamour, we needed another plan.

The remaining four hours essentially became the "Taste of O'Hare." First there was breakfast at Chili's, which morphed into a mid-morning snack at Garrett's Popcorn, followed by something so cinnamon-sugar laden at Auntie Anne's it could barely be called a pretzel. The best laid "healthy eating" plans of mice, men and weary moms are thrown out the window when trapped in a maze of fast food eating establishments in search of entertainment.

Finally, just after the milkshake at McDonald's, our plane was ready to board. We scurried on quickly (pre-boarding is one of the few benefits of traveling with small children) and I settled into 6A, the window seat, with my son on my lap"I'd checked the car seat long ago, not wanting to have another thing to schlep around the airport.

While secretly hoping for no seatmate, 6C boarded a few minutes later. I'm sure she too had wished to sit quietly alone, and certainly not with a toddler, after so many unwanted hours of airport waiting. But lucky for us she was a lovely woman, around my age, on her way to a business meeting. While she didn't have any kids of her own, she had numerous nieces and nephews and seemed to genuinely enjoy children, even mine, despite the fact that he was pulling on her glasses and singing the "Bob the Builder" theme song for the umpteenth time.

And then, out of nowhere, the Linda Blair moment happened. My son's face went green and I didn't even have the split second I needed to grab the motion sickness bag"projectile vomit, across 6B and all over the lap of the kind stranger playing patty cake with my child. This was no innocent baby spit up that could be taken care of with a wipe. This was the type of throw-up that could only come from around 3,000 calories of junk food churning in an almost fast-food-virginal tummy.

Trust me, those cards in the "seat-back-in-front-of-you" talk a lot about oxygen masks and turning your seat cushion into a floatation device, but they don't offer a bit of advice on what do in this type of emergency.

The flight attendant bought over towels and napkins, and my seatmate was able to make her way to the bathroom and at least get the chunks off; there was no way that silk blouse would ever be the same. But she still had a smile for him, albeit a bit more strained, for the final 30 minutes of the flight.

As I forced my email address into her hand to send me the dry cleaning bill, we said good-bye. I'm sure she was also thinking good-riddance and very likely began the current movement toward petitioning airlines to offer childfree flights.

This week my family and I are flying the friendly skies en route to a Boston vacation. Needless to stay, travel with older kids is a lot less stressful. With a pack of sugarless gum, a book and an electronic device apiece, it should be a smooth ride. And they are all hopefully old enough to make it to the bathroom if it becomes necessary.

But I will try to channel my long-ago seatmate should a three-year-old with wild feet get seated behind me. And I pledge not to complain, not even quietly to myself, if an infant with sensitive ears screams bloody murder on take-off and landing. I even promise to smile a sympathetic smile at the poor tot's embarrassed parents as we de-plane. Because I've been there. But worse.

There is unquestionably a special place in air travel heaven for passengers like the "Angel of 6C". And hopefully it is quiet.

Have you had any travel nightmares with your kids? Any tips on making these necessary voyages any easier for first-time travel alone parents?

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