“Hey, everybody – we’re in Hong Kong!” yelled my then 2-year-old son as we deplaned, looking around wildly to see what this Hong Kong might look like.
I chased him down the jetway, saying ”No, Myles. Remember? We’re in Chicago. We just saw Chicago from the air and I pointed it out to you.” I reminded him of the sequence of events for the day, which began with flying from Pittsburgh, changing planes here in Chicago, then landing in Hong Kong many, many hours later.
He didn’t hear me in his excitement. “See, Mommy? That sign is in Chinese!”
“No, sweetie. That sign is in English,” I gently corrected him, wondering how negligent a mother I appeared if my kid couldn’t tell the difference between ABCs and hanzi.
This was on our first trip to China back in the spring of 2006. My husband Randy was already working in Shenzhen, and Myles and I were on our way to join him. Myles was thrilled, though his inability to keep track of time and details was well on display at the airport that morning.
I worried about how I was going to manage 15-plus hours of travel with my rambunctious son. I spent weeks planning, packing, and re-packing our carry-on bag so that I would have enough activities to fill the time. I evaluated each item – from sticker books to stories and toys – on whether it would keep him occupied in relative quiet for at least an hour. I arranged them in my bag by hour of travel: Hour One, Hour Two, Hour Three, and so on. In short, I was a ball of nerves, relaxing only in the last few hours of the flight when Myles finally fell asleep.
Upon arrival in Hong Kong, Myles resumed the enthusiastic outburst I’d interrupted back at O’Hare Airport. That is, after I crawled around our narrow, economy class row to gather all the stuff that had scattered during our long flight.
In the years since, I’ve made more than 20 long-distance hauls with Myles and Brigid. The first few were much like that initial trip to Hong Kong, with rigidly-organized attempts to keep the kids entertained on the flight, and the desperate inventorying and repacking after landing.
Once Myles became an independent reader and more airlines adopted personal in-seat entertainment, I could relax a little bit more in the time leading up to our trip. Brigid still needs some guidance, but not nearly as much when she has unfettered access to cartoons – a rare treat.
However, one of the greatest inventions to come along – which has freed me up before, during and after a trip – is Minecraft. Under normal circumstances, I limit Minecrafting sessions to a matter of minutes. However, that rule is ignored on the plane.
The kids can play all the Minecraft they want, provided they let me read or – better yet – sleep. I often have to repeat myself so that the kids know they didn’t mishear me: “Yes, you may play all the Minecraft you want if you leave me alone.”
Minecraft is less objectionable than other games, I tell myself, because it can be played in a non-violent, purely creative way. With all the building going on, it’s like playing with Legos. There’s a bit of engineering and problem-solving too, in that users need to understand certain properties of the materials in order to use them.
Keeping the kids glued to one screen or another not only helps me have a more restful flight, but there is so much less to collect after we land. The downside is weaning them off Minecraft in our jet-lagged haze. It may have taken me eight years to master flying with kids, but I am still a novice when it comes to overcoming jet lag with kids.
This article originally appeared on p49 in the October 2014 issue of beijingkids. To view it online for free, click here. To find out how you can obtain your own copy, email email@example.com.
Illustration: Crsytal liu