I’ve flown on an airplane with my child a handful of times. On those occasions, I’ve been incredibly blessed that my daughter has been relatively well-behaved, or that the person next to me — my wife, parents or random stranger — has kept her entertained while I succumbed to the effects of prescription-grade sleeping pills. (Don’t judge. My “World’s Greatest Dad” coffee mug broke last year, so the expectations have been lowered.)
But I still feel sympathy for parents of children who become unruly on planes. Most of the time these parents are doing their best to keep their kids happy and occupied, and when they can’t, they are as mortified as everyone else when their child melts down.
But as parents, we give up such luxuries as peaceful plane rides. We get frazzled, exhausted and agitated when we can’t figure out why our kids can’t chill out for few measly hours or, God forbid, go to bed within three hours of our first “It’s bedtime” declaration. But we signed up for this job. We committed to it. And, ultimately, we’ll look back at all the loving, but frustrating, but still loving, but mostly frustrating, parental moments along the way and laugh.
Case in point: Jeff’s story.
My friend Jeff (all the names have been changed to protect the innocent) was traveling with his wife and two children, a boy and a girl, who were between the ages of 4 and 7. Like me, Jeff’s chief desire on family plane trips is for his kids to behave and for him to sneak in a nap.
Settled in next to his son, Caleb, with his wife sitting on the other side of the aisle with their daughter, Abby, Jeff had slyly earned himself some snooze time by keeping an iPad out and accessible for Caleb in the event that the youth got bored. Jeff had just begun to doze off when Caleb nudged him and said, “iPad.” Something on the device needed his dad’s attention.
When he saw the iPad, Jeff immediately screeched a long, sustained “Noooooooooo,” which grew in pitch and intensity as he saw the iPad and then looked at his child and saw the true depth of the situation. It was the kind of “nooooo” that anyone will instantly recognize as coming from a parent who has just realized that it’s going to be a horrible day-slash-week.
Seems that while his dad began to doze, young Caleb was staring out the plane window, thinking, “I wonder if I pooped my pants.” To satisfy his curiosity, Caleb put his hands down the back of his pants. The result was positive and Caleb had a new thought: “I have to get this poop off my hands.” Naturally, he wiped them on his pants.
Now, Caleb is a thorough child. He knows the value of checking things twice. So, even with one hand still soiled, he did another check with his other hand. Once again, the result was resoundingly positive and, once again, he wiped the proof on his pants.
That question exhausted, Caleb moved on to another way to alleviate his boredom. He picked up his dozing dad’s iPad and proceeded to swipe and press the screen, as you do. It didn’t take many games of Fruit Ninja to determine that the pants-wipe method was not a very effective way to have cleaned his hands. He nudged his dad and handed him the poop-streaked iPad. And then came the “Noooooooo!”
In the cramped airplane bathroom, Jeff did his best to clean Caleb but realized that (a) they needed a much bigger sink for a proper rinse-off and (b) Caleb’s pants were done. Caleb spent the rest of the flight in his Underoos with his trickle-sink washed hands held in the “stick-’em-up” position.
If this is where the story ended, we could chalk it up as just another nightmare flight that couldn’t end too soon, but as they say, Wait, there’s more.
When they landed at the connecting stop of their flight, the plan was for Jeff and Caleb to sprint to an airport bathroom to wash up, and then the family would head to an airport shop selling spirit wear and T-shirts with the hope of finding some sort of sports team kid sweat pants. Or any pants at all; it was no time to be picky.
Brittany and Abby weren’t too far behind the boys but decided to quickly run into the women’s restroom for their own purposes. They didn’t know that by the time they finished and headed to the entrance of the men’s restroom to meet Jeff and Caleb, the boys had already gone on to scout for pants — Caleb still in his Underoos.
Time passed, and with Jeff and Caleb yet to emerge from the bathroom, Brittany got worried that Operation Clean-up wasn’t going well. Believing it inappropriate for a grown woman to enter a men’s room, but that a young child in a men’s room would be assumed by others to just be with her father, she sent Abby in with the task of retrieving Jeff and Caleb.
Young Abby bewilderedly entered the hustle and bustle of an international airport men’s bathroom and began calling out for her daddy. After a few minutes, scared and sure that her dad was not there, she came out. Brittany, desperate at this point, was not convinced: perhaps Abby had not looked long enough. She sent her back in for another look. One can only imagine the courage it must have taken for Abby to go stall to stall knocking and calling out for her dad. Needless to say, the child became very distressed.
The story concludes as a completely flustered and agitated Jeff, unsuccessful in his pants procurement mission, returned to the restrooms with an embarrassed and hysterical Caleb to find an equally flustered and agitated Brittany calling out to an embarrassed and hysterical Abby, who was still in the men’s room. By the time they boarded their next flight, the entire family was frazzled, exhausted and agitated. And Caleb was still in his Underoos.
And this, dear reader, is what Jeff, and all of us parents, have signed up for. What we committed to. These loving, frustrating, but still loving, but mostly frustrating, moments we will one day look back on, as Jeff does, with uncontrollable laughter. The kind of laughter that anyone instantly recognizes as coming from a parent who has realized that having such a horrible day-slash-week was actually part of the fun.
It’s the nature of being a family man. But it still doesn’t hurt to keep the sleeping pills handy.