Raising Roo: Flying With a Carry-on Baby (Part 1)

Having a baby in the middle of a global pandemic has meant that, for basically all of Roo’s life, our family of three have been home bods. Given that Alex and my preferred state of being is in tracksuit pants on the couch reading books, this has set Roo up with a realistic expectation of things to come.

Still, despite our love of burrowing down into a nest feathered with home-cooked meals, movies, books, coffee, chocolate, chips, and long chats on the couch, there’s a big beautiful world out there and we felt bad that our son had only seen a very small portion of it. We started to worry that we were raising a hermit and Roo would start school unable to identify basic landmarks and asking questions of his teacher such as “What is that big burning circle in the sky?”. 

With the objective of literally expanding our boy’s horizons, we booked a holiday to travel to the far off and exotic land of Greece. Which, given I now live in Europe and not Australia, is not actually as far off and exotic as it used to be when I was growing up, and in fact can be gotten to from Vienna in the same amount of time it takes to fly from Melbourne to Sydney. Alex spent her childhood summers playing on the white sands and in the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, so Greece seemed like a fitting location to take Roo on his first getaway. I spent my summers splashing around the not-quite white sand and not-quite blue waters of Portarlington Bay, which, ironically, on this side of the planet is seen to be far more exotic than the Greek Islands. Apparently exotisism is all about distance. I hope to take Roo to Portarlington in the future to really round out his maritime experience.

While the commute to Greece was far more economical from my current residence, it still required the use of an aeroplane to get there, which meant we voluntarily paid good money to climb into a cramped and crowded metal tube with a baby and a gaggle of strangers. This made us more than a little nervous.

Thanks to the supreme organisational skills of my wife, a turn on of mine and one of the many reasons I married her, we headed to the airport with an arsenal of goodies designed to dazzle and distract a one-year-old boy no matter his level of agitation. We went into the experience ready to bribe, weasel, beg, and proffer any and all of our possessions in order to ensure Roo’s equanimity. Were we ready to debase ourselves to appease a one year old? You bet. Did we care if it meant avoiding hours of a wailing infant confined to our laps and two-hundred odd people glaring at us from the corners of their eyes? Not in the slightest.

Thanks to Roo being an unerringly early-riser, to the point that I’ve disabled the alarm on my phone as I now have a baby that performs the same function — the clock clicks over to five and you can be guaranteed that his little sleepy cries will soon come wavering into our ears via the baby monitor —we were up and about well before our scheduled flight of ten am. Alex had yet again earned her title of maestro of management and had all items packed and post-it notes on the back of the front door listing those last few possessions that needed to be tucked inside the suitcase. Roo contributed to the preparation process by graciously accepting the food we hand-fed him and then deigning to allow us to remove his soiled diaper and wash away his mess without too much fussing. He’s a real team player.

Thanks to my father-in-law, we made it to the airport right on time, bade farewell to Opa, and then waded into the mass of humanity that seems to fill an airport regardless of the hour. Having sequestered ourselves away from humankind like devout monks during the pandemic, this was our first foray back into the fray of society and, to be honest, being around so many people freaked us the hell out. There were so many of them, packed in and moving in all directions, and Alex clung to the suitcase while I clung to Roo held in my arms like buoys in a turbulent ocean. 

We found our check-in line and wove down its undulating length to the end, far from the counters, and watched a man in line berate anyone who hesitated by the express check-in, unsure where to go, barking at them that the line starts back there and that that counter wasn’t open. Alex and I shared a look and, without needing words, agreed that we hadn’t missed this aspect of our community.

Thankfully, the mass of people that so exhausted us was a novelty for Roo and staring directly at strangers, unblinking, a contemplative scowl on his face, kept him relatively entertained as we painstakingly inched towards the counters.

Once we had shed the suitcase and secured our tickets, our next challenge was getting through customs. This is already an unnecessarily complex procedure, what with electronic devices needing to be removed, pockets emptied, boarding passes presented, and potentially deadly bottles of hand disinfectant and deodorant safety secured in plastic ziplock bags. We learnt that adding a baby and a fold-away pram into the mix made it even more of a juggling act as we hustled our possessions and offspring around between us, ending up sweaty and frazzled but with the backpacks and pram on the conveyor belt and the child in our arms. It could have easily been the other way round. 

When it was determined that neither our items or toddler posed any potential explosive risk, we entered the interior of the airport with a sign of relief. We had made it to the waystation between the madness of the exterior airport and the claustrophobia of the aeroplane and so celebrated our temporary respite with sugared doughnuts, as is only proper. While discovering the joys of deep-fried dough coated in sugar, Roo put his also newly discovered art of flirtation into action with everyone and anyone in our proximity. Given we were in a capital city’s primary airport, this gave him a lot of people on which to practice. 

Roo has a bluntness and confidence to his flirtation that I’m a little jealous of. His tactic is to just walk up to his target until he’s about a metre away and then stop and stare until they acknowledge him. For people who like babies, this is almost instantaneous as they turn to coo over his fluff of blonde hair or cherub cheeks. More entertaining is when the quarry is clearly unaccustomed to small people and do their best to ignore the unblinking toddler at the edge of their eyeline, despite the invasion of the normally respected personal boundaries. Eventually, Roo wins this battle of wills and they turn and give him an awkwardly formal greeting, and this is when Roo sinks in the hook. After waiting all that time, he locks eyes with them for one heartbeat and then gives a coy smile and adverts his gaze, waits another beat, and then looks up through his lashes with a shy grin. The man is a pro. Once this little performance has played out, they’re putty in his hands. 

Of course, this entire recital makes Alex and I extremely uncomfortable as we are torn between not wanting to bother other people with our offspring, not wanting to constantly have to collar Roo as he learns about the outside world, and, perhaps most importantly of all, not wanting to make awkward conversation with the collection of random strangers and potential weirdos our son approaches. Generally it plays out with Roo making his move, us all agreeing he’s adorable, and Alex and I hustling him along until he spots his next prize.

Once the doughnuts were digested and we had torn Roo away from the latest object of his affection, we made our way to our gate. This process, normally done quickly and efficiently in order to allow Alex and I a sense of solace at having arrived at our gate before the aircraft, was a much more protracted affair as Roo took three steps back for every four taken forward. Given this playground of lights, people, stores, bathrooms, and rows of seats set out before each gate purely for his clambering entertainment, Roo saw no reason not to crisscross the entire terminal, stopping only to inspect, grab, lift, lick, and poke his finger into anything that caught his interest. He walked with the assurance of someone with a total right to be there, meaning it was up to Alex and I to guide, corral, and snatch him out from under the feet of unseeing fellow passengers and their rolling carry-on suitcases.

The act of herding a toddler through a busy airport had the added benefit of keeping us busy and providing us with some exercise while we waited for boarding. When the time for boarding finally came, Alex and I gave each other a quick pep-talk, sent a prayer to a god we don’t believe in, and strapped Roo to my chest in a baby carrier. 

(To be continued…)

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