Toddler Travels: From Nashville to Chicago

Nellie and I flew to Chicago for my mom’s memorial service two weeks ago. This isn’t her first trip to Chicago. She flew with me last September when she was 20 months old. Traveling with her the first time was a breeze – navigating the airport by myself with all our carry-ons, car seat and stroller was the hardest part. She flew beautifully, was well behaved the entire trip, and fell asleep for the entire return trip.

This time? I wasn’t so lucky.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t what I’d call a nightmare, exactly… But traveling with a toddler proved more difficult this time. I’ve decided to begin a short series that I call “Toddler Travels” to tell the tales of our Chicago adventure. We’ll begin with the journey North.

Toddler Travels: From Nashville to Chicago
Tuesday, May 29th. 11:00 P.M. I was lying in bed, still awake. Why was I still awake? I had to be up at 4:00 A.M. to load the car, get myself ready, get Nellie dressed, so we could leave the house by 5. While lying in bed all I could think was, “Am I fucking insane? How the fuck am I supposed to get through the airport with her stroller, car seat, carry ons, what if the plane crashes, what if she escapes the stroller and I don’t notice? What if I forget her in the bathroom and it’s like Home Alone? Home Alone in an airport bathroom wouldn’t be nearly as madcap and hilarious as the movie was. Can a toddler even SET booby traps? Where is she going to find paint cans and Christmas ornaments for potential burglers/abductors/monsters to step on? What if there’s a gremlin on the wing? PANIC PANIC PANIC.”

That’s pretty much what was running through my head from 11 P.M. until approximately 1 A.M. when my body took over my brain and passed out from sheer exhaustion.

At 4 A.M. my alarm cheerfully woke both me & Josh up, telling us it was time to GTFOut of bed and get moving. Luckily I had packed everything, and everything was ready to go minus Nellie and the things she was currently sleeping with. Before long, we were loaded into the car and ready to head to Nashville. It was still dark, so we were hoping Nellie would sleep the majority of the way there. Luck was on our side, and she slept until about 30 minutes outside Nashville (it’s a 2 hour drive from Chattanooga) when we stopped for a bathroom break. We grabbed a quick bite at McDonalds (mmm. Stale biscuits and chewy bacon), and after another short bathroom break (MY BLADDER SUCKS, OKAY? NOT FUN FOR ME) we reached our destination. Thank the gods for curbside check-in; Josh was able to help me with my luggage to the curbside check-in and I was able to handle it from there.

I had learned my lesson from last time: pushing a stroller AND pulling a wheeled carry-on? Not so easy. Instead of a carry-on that I had to push/pull/carry, I wore both of our carry-on bags. My purse is a cross-body so that served as mine, and Nellie’s carry-on was her little pink backpack with butterflies on it (can you say BADASS?). That left me free to push her stroller which only posed one problem: her car seat. I decided to bring it with us on the plane for numerous reasons: I was afraid it’d get lost, broken, or stolen if I checked it with my luggage, and I knew she’d be more comfortable and more likely to sit still if she rode in it on the plane.

I rented a luggage cart for $4.00, which worked okay but again I ran into the problem of pushing her stroller AND the cart. All was okay until we reached security. When Nellie saw all of the people buzzing about she freaked out.

“UP. UP. MAMA. UP. UPPPPPPPPPP!!!!” she pleaded desperately, her little arms outstretched toward me. Clearly, she was also panicking about plane gremlins and being left in the bathroom.
“Nellie, baby, Mama can’t pick you up now. We are in an airport and I need you to sit still. You can get out in a minute and walk through that fun thing there! YAY!” I pointed at the metal detector. Nellie gave me the side-eye.

Last time I traveled, there was a helpful woman who hoisted my car seat onto the security conveyor belt for me and helped me collapse my stroller. Apparently Nashville was populated entirely by assholes this time, because all I got was the stink-eye from a busy-looking woman in a business suit. FUCK OFF MS. FANCY PANTS, DON’T THINK YOU’RE BETTER THAN ME JUST BECAUSE YOU DON’T HAVE SMOOSHED-UP FRUIT SNACKS IN YOUR HAIR.

We got through security painlessly albeit a bit slowly, and that’s when I decided to ditch the cumbersome luggage cart. After struggling with it for a few seconds (my brain was addled by plane anxiety, shrieks of “MAMA! UP! MAMA! LOOK! FOX! PLANE!”, and not enough coffee) a nice airport worker gave me a pitying look and returned it to a dock for me. I took the straps of Nellie’s car seat, looped them around the handles of her umbrella stroller and then used the seat to steer. Brilliant. Awards forever.

Nashville airport is the greatest place on Earth, and that’s because they have a playground. It’s like one of those you see at the mall – foam, soft, probably germ-ridden but who gives a rat’s ass at this point, right? Just play on the damn airplane slide and try not to lick anything, kid.

  Mmmm.. Tastes like pink eye.

Nellie had a great time playing and only got in trouble twice when she tried to run off. Instead of having a panic attack and shrieking at her about getting abducted by tourists I very calmly put her in “time-out”, which was actually very effective on her. We stopped for some snacks, gate-checked her stroller and before we knew it, it was time to board the plane. We flew Southwest (which is a great airline, by the way) and the flight attendants were very helpful, just like last time. As I carried Nellie on, they carried her car seat. I crammed her car seat onto the window seat of our chosen aisle, got her situated and flopped into my seat with a sigh of relief. The hard part was over – unless, of course, there was actually a gremlin on the side of the plane. Which OF COURSE there wasn’t – that’s ridiculous. Everyone knows that a gremlin would be smarter and find a way to get ON the  plane, probably through gnawing its way through someone’s carry-on luggage, or posing as a hat, or something equally as sneaky.

I digress. The flight itself was very easy – beautiful weather, no turbulence, and I was able to keep Nellie entertained with apps on my iPhone almost the entire time. The flight from Nashville to Chicago is super quick – you’re only in the air for about an hour. Once we landed we had to wrestle her car seat from the airplane seat, maneuver it out of the plane and once again awkwardly make our way through the airport. Luckily our gate wasn’t at the End of the Universe like it was last time, so it didn’t take long for us to make it through and reach my dad. After some brief confusion where we thought one piece of my luggage was lost (it wasn’t – in fact, some asshat had plucked my small, black cosmetic bag from the belt, realized it wasn’t there bag, and PUT IT ON TOP OF A PODIUM instead of putting it back on the belt like a normal person who wasn’t King Asshat of Chicago), we were settled into dad’s car and headed to breakfast.

We had made it to Chicago in one piece. Our trip had begun, and we made it gremlin-free.

Stay tuned for more tales of our Chicago adventures!