We Survived a Cross-Country Flight and Wedding with Toddler in Tow!

For a year, I knew I would be taking my 3-year old son Riley to Seattle for my brother’s wedding, and it was daunting. We had flown with him to Disney once and he was a champ about it, but this was triple the flight time (and a three hour time difference)! It was anyone’s guess how this would go down.

We made our way through the bustling crowds of the JetBlue gate at JFK, my one hand holding Riley and my other hand clutching his equivalent weight in Goldfish crackers. I had gone on a late night app-downloading binge, so I knew he’d have games at the ready. All electronics were charged and ready to go. And surprisingly, it wasn’t so bad (save for the fact that my kid doesn’t nap on a plane, so it was a LONG six hours).

Here are my top tips for take-off with a toddler:

Charge all electronics the night prior. Batteries are your friend.
Talk to your child about the experience and what to expect (“first we are going to park the car, then take a bus to the airport, where they’ll check our bags”, etc.)
Choose an airline that takes kids into account. JetBlue was great for their personal TV screens with cartoon channel, and their wide variety of snacks.
Ease take-off eardrum pressure with a lollipop or chewy snack. A treat that will keep your child swallowing or stretching their jaw will help keep pressure from building and causing discomfort. Also, talk about why and that it’s normal – don’t make it a surprise.

Pre-pack an “acceptable” meal, sandwich, etc. Meaning the “home run” according to your toddler. The only thing worse then a bored kid is a hungry kid. Bring the sippy cup empty (my purse was soaked with water thanks to the air pressure on takeoff) – fill it once maximum altitude is reached.
Remember any medication your child may need in your carry-on luggage; don’t buy anything new with a no-mess dispenser thinking it will be travel-friendly – my son refused to take his medicine as it wasn’t served up like usual.
Have your child pick a small toy or two to bring along. He seemed to understand that he couldn’t bring everything and was then happy with his action figures, as opposed to rejecting something I had pre-selected.
Decide whether underwear or a pull-up is your best option. As our son is fully potty-trained, he only wears pull-ups at night, so we let him wear underwear and tell us when he needed to visit the restroom. If he had been a bit younger, I would have opted for the pull-up as this could have resulted in a tantrum when I told him he couldn’t run up and down the aisles for the duration of the flight.
Also worthwhile: Kid-size headphones; crayons or Color Wonder products (mess-free); favorite shows downloaded onto the iPad; new books (lightweight paperbacks) with their favorite characters.

Ah, we finally touched down and made it to our rental car. Our son fell asleep the moment he was buckled in the back seat, which was not a bad thing. The short nap to the hotel helped to stretch his bedtime towards Seattle time. We kept him up later than usual, since we knew he’d have to make it to the evening rehearsal dinner and the wedding in the coming days. This also helped avoid a potential 3:30 a.m. wake-up call by him (which might have left us roaming the hotel lobby with me pleading to let the rest of the hotel sleep).

The next day we let him take an early nap, as that’s what his body wanted. We let him sleep in the car and didn’t worry about waiting a while before heading into the sightseeing attraction; it was a small price to pay for him behaving later. Finally, the wedding events were upon us!

Here are our top tips for the pre-wedding events and the ceremony:

If your child is in the wedding, rehearse at the location. This is the first time I was thankful for an actual rehearsal. It helped our son understand exactly what would happen during the ceremony, where he needed to stand, and he got to meet the other ring bearer and bond with him, rather than meeting the same day.
Have them warm up to their formal attire prior to the trip. We talked a lot about wearing a “big boy suit like Daddy” and let him fall in love with his black Converse sneakers so that it wouldn’t be a struggle on the day of the event.

A favorite family member should be designated as their go-to gal. My son knew that after he walked, his cousin would be saving a seat for him with some M&Ms and cheerios. He sat down and happily watched the wedding, but she would have led him outside if he caused any disruption (we were both in the wedding, so we needed to appoint someone!)
Bring some of your flight-friendly games and toys to the photo shoot. If it’s going to be a long afternoon of pictures, make sure they have stuff to keep them entertained during downtime.
If you can swing it, hire a babysitter at the location. We had a nursery school teacher that the bride knew come to spend the duration of the wedding in the bridal suite. Once the kids got tired of dancing, they were able to change into their pajamas, eat their dinner, and relax and play games with her – and we got to mingle a bit more.

Riley walked down the aisle like a champ and wore his suit without complaining (ok, so, the tie didn’t happen, but still!) We were so proud!

Just as we had all adjusted to West Coast time, it was time to head back to New York. The return flight was a similar experience to the way there, with minimal drama (except for a spilled chocolate milk and a speech on why he couldn’t kick the seat in front of him repeatedly). Taking an extra day off of work to allow our son to adjust back to East Coast time was perhaps my best idea of the entire trip. He was up until 10:45 p.m. despite our best efforts and no kid wants to be dropped off at daycare at what feels like the wee hours of the morning. One more day of adjustment (a “no nap day” at school) brought him back to EST. There’s no place like home!

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