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Parenthood Is A Mine-Field Of Unpredictability

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Parenthood Is A Mine-Field Of Unpredictability

I don't want to make a habit of reposting other people's articles or blog postings, but this is just too good not to share and given all of the airline travel that we have been doing lately and will continue to do, I can definitely relate to this (the uncontrollable screaming kid part):

From Motherlode: Adventures in Parenting, a parenting blog on nytimes.com:

November 4, 2009, 4:04 pm
How (Not) to Calm a Child on a Plane
By Lisa Belkin

Johanna Stein, a TV writer, who describes herself as a “first time parent and long-time neurotic,” read my post about the mother and child who were escorted off a Southwest flight last week, and sent me an essay she wrote about being that parent — the kind whose child won’t stop screaming.

Many of us have been where she sat. But, she warns, most of us would never want to do what she did.

How to Survive a Midair Disaster
By Johanna Stein

I am at the O’Hare airport with my daughter and the guy she calls “dada.” We are about to board a Florida-bound plane to visit my mother-in-law.

But the child is losing it.

After two years of being the perfect travel companion she has suddenly developed a fear of flying. For a toddler, she’s pretty smart (I’m not bragging when I say that… it actually creeps me out) and I wonder if maybe she’s worked out the physics of what we are about to do. Perhaps she has come to realize, as I have, that manned flight is a practical impossibility and is certain to end in our fiery deaths.

Or maybe she’s just toying with me.

Whatever is going on in that reptilian brain of hers, she is yelling at the top of her lungs, “NO AY-PWAY! NO AY-PWAYYYYY!”

I pour the screaming mass down the gangway. We board the airplane and take refuge in our seats. Luckily we’ve scored the bulkhead. Actually, luck had nothing to do with it. I had flirted mercilessly with the ticketing agent, a very fit man with impeccable hair, who my husband later informed me was clearly gay. Whatever. Whether I’d seduced him, or whether he’d simply taken pity on a woman with zero gaydar, the result was the same: I’d scored. But in this moment I take no comfort in our rock-star seating, because there is a demon in my lap who is trying to separate my scalp from my head.

People file past us, with varying looks of pity and horror but mostly relief that they are not sitting next to the kid screaming like a mongoose that’s been stabbed with a rusty steak knife. And even though the titanium-haired stewardess has announced that the flight is full, the seat next to me remains suspiciously empty. Perhaps my neighbor-to-be saw the Tasmanian Devil in my arms and chose to de-plane and take a 96-hour Greyhound bus ride home instead.

The husband glares at me. I glare back, peeling my lips over my teeth, skeletor-style. Every parent recognizes this wordless exchange which, roughly translated, means “I WILL DIVORCE YOU IN THE NEXT FOUR SECONDS UNLESS YOU FIX THIS.”

His response is to rub the child’s back, softly saying “it’s gonna be okay” over and over. I don’t know who is more annoyed by it, the kid or me. So I take control of the situation, ransacking the diaper bag, presenting my findings to the child in hopes that something will distract her: snack-pack… stuffed animal… crayons… super-plus tampon hanging out of a torn wrapper… Nothing. The child just gets redder and louder.

I reach into the seat pocket on the wall of our bulkhead seats and pull out the SkyMall magazine. Nothing thrills me more than the SkyMall. Where else can you buy a one-person submarine for only $9,000? Evidently my daughter does not share my love for the Mall of the Sky. She rips the magazine out of my hand and flings it and the tampon onto the lap of a businessman sitting two rows back.

The captain’s voice comes over the loudspeaker, “Ladies and gentlemen”, he says, “we realize this is a full flight, but we cannot take off until everyone” which can only mean me, “takes their seats.”

By this time the stewardess is sending me a look that is 40 percent concern, 60 percent irritation. I offer her a “hey, whattaya-gonna-do, right?” smile-shrug combo, then wonder if USA Today will pick up the story when we are ejected from the flight

As a last ditch effort, I grab an air sickness bag from out of the wall pocket. Using one of the rejected crayons I scrawl a face on the bottom of the bag. I reach inside, turn it into a hand-puppet and say the funniest thing I can think of: “Ooga booga.” The child stops crying. Then smiles. Then giggles.

“You like the puppet?” I ask. “MO PUPPA!” she says.

The orange-level threat has been averted. Frau Stewardess smiles, blessing me with a nod. I couldn’t be prouder if I’d just disarmed a hijacker with a Uniball pen and a lavender-scented sleep mask.

I think “maybe I should write a parenting book — or a column.” Yes, a monthly column, maybe in Family Circle magazine, or the New York Times, where I will offer helpful parenting advice under headings like, “Keeping Your Cool Amidst Chaos” and “Saving the World, One Diaper at a Time.”

The child — now human again — interrupts my fantasy publishing life. “Mo Puppa, momma!”

I kiss her head, thank the gods above for imbuing me with such natural parenting ability, then think to myself, “sure, one puppet is fine, but two puppets — now that’s a show!” I reach into the wall-pocket in front of my husband and take out his air sickness bag. I draw another face, this time taking a little more time and care with my creation. I give it curly hair, long eyelashes and glasses so that it looks a little bit like me. Nice touch.

I stick my hand inside. And then my world contracts.

Seems this air sickness bag has been used before, but not for a puppet show. No, it’s been used for the purpose that god intended.

There is puke in them thar folds.

A weak cry crawls out of my throat. My husband looks at me, understanding immediately what has taken place. He is horrified, though I think I see the tiniest hint of a smile creeping across his face. After deciding that I will divorce him the minute we land, I turn to the matter on hand. On my hand. IT’S ON MY HAND!!

You think that having a child has prepared you for dealing with the bodily functions of humanity. Until you’re wearing a glove made of the puke of a stranger.

I spring out of my seat, afflicted digits still in the bag.

Of course there is no lavatory in the front of the plane, where we are, in the bulkhead seats. I curse my flirtation skills, then make my way to the bathroom in the back of the plane.

The aisle is filled with humans lumbering to their seats. My instinct is to crawl between their legs, leapfrog over them… do whatever I have to do to get to the bathroom in the rear.

Finally I claw open the lavatory door and lock myself in.

I take a deep breath, then pull out the hand.

It is covered in a substance that is not quite warm, but it is wet. Viscous. Bubbly. Clearer than I imagined, but interspersed with flecks of something. Honey-roasted peanuts, maybe?

As I wash my hand in water hotter than I can bear, I think maybe I should save the bag for its DNA, just in case I acquire some rare, undefined flesh-eating disease and need to identify. But no, I think, I’d rather go to my death than have to look into the face of the person whose guts I have touched.

Now clean, I take a moment for a full body-shudder, and another to marvel at the perfect storm that has just occurred:

Roughly two million people fly the friendly American skies every single day. How many of those travelers feel nauseated enough to reach for, and then use, an air-sickness bag? (I travel often and can count on one clean hand the number of times I’ve seen it happen.) And of those phantom pukers, how many would choose to tuck the vomit-filled vessel back into the wall-pocket? And then, what’s the likelihood that a cleaning crew would overlook the sack o’ sick? And finally, what are the odds that all of this would become the perfect set-up for one arrogant idiot who tries to make a hand-puppet out of a barf bag?!

As I exit the bathroom, I stare into the faces of the last hurried stragglers boarding the plane. They all look agitated, each one facing the prospect of a middle seat. “You think that’s bad?” I want to say. If that’s the worst thing that’s going to happen to you today, then you, my friend, have hit the jackpot. Because you’re looking at a woman who has seen into the abyss.

I hurry all the way back to my (damned bulkhead) seat. The child is now asleep, clutching the original vomit-free bag to her chest like a teddy bear. Normally an episode like this would send me into a deep and lasting rage, long enough to write at least half of an angry letter, but as I watch the sleeping baby, my fury deflates.

I will not judge the poor sick bastard who, in a moment of lapsed judgment, has made my list of life’s most disgusting experiences. Who am I to cast the first stone? If somebody filmed all of my questionable life moments, then edited them together, the resulting movie would be about three hours shorter than my actual life span. So no, I will not condemn the Barfing Bandit.

All I can do is chalk this one up to experience. Parenthood is a mine-field of unpredictability. Sometimes the mines are made of tears, sometimes they’re made of undigested food.

Anyway, it’s possible that the occurrence of this mathematical improbability has created a statistical vortex by which we are virtually guaranteed that this plane will land safely. So thank you former passenger of seat 1B, wherever you are, for saving our lives with a single, well-placed heave.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Leah said...

Oh that was too funny and incredibly disgusting! Ugh! I cannot even imagine what that would feel like, having your hand touch someone else's puke! Ugh! Grossness!
Anyway, I am glad that Lucas has been such a great traveling companion on the flights so far. Heres hoping he keeps it up and he never has any pre-flight tantrums like this child in the story. Whew!

December 11, 2009 at 10:24 AM  

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