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Thanksgiving is almost here gentle readers and those of us
who flew the coop when we grew up know what this means: time to fly back
somewhere to see family and old friends.
Since we’re not birds that means getting on an airplane. If you are reading this, chances are you are also a parent, which make this time of the year and this type of travel
even more fun. Yes, for many of us, it's time to take some deep
breaths, venture in to our kids’ room (or rooms) and start folding small
clothes to put in a suitcase with assorted, essential stuffed animals. Ditto on
books for bedtime, special “blankies” and, perhaps, a few boxes of dry mac-and-cheese before heading to the airport. Oh, the places we’ll go this week with about 16.3 million other people who
have the same idea, according to the Air Transport Association.
There is no better petri-dish for screwing things up with your little buckets
of joy than airplane travel. Fortunately, for us, no one made more of a
mess of it, and I mean that literally, than the writer and comedian Johanna
Stein. She describes her ill-fated adventure in gloriously nauseating detail
in the title story from her new and very popular book, “How Not To Calm a Child
on A Plane.”
Stein, her husband and her two-year-old were
headed to her in-laws' in Florida, when the little girl developed a sudden
anxiety about flying. As Johanna tells it, people passed by them, “…with
varying looks of pity and horror but mostly relief that they’re not sitting
next to the kid who’s screaming like a mongoose that’s been stabbed with a
rusty steak knife.”
Discovering a core of self-control she didn’t know she had, Stein found her way to the bathroom without screaming and cleaned off a mixture of items on her hand I will allow you to enjoy by reading the story itself.
She and her husband tried everything from rubbing her back
to entertaining her with overpriced, outlandish items in the skymall magazine,
but nothing worked. Finally, after some prompting from the pilot warning
that the plane couldn’t take off until everyone calmed down, out of
desperation, Stein reached for the air-sickness bag in front of her for a
little puppet improvisation. Miraculously it stopped her daughter’s
hysterics! But then her little girl wanted more. “MO PUPPA!” Inspired by
her own parental genius, Stein grabbed her husband’s air sick bag too because
“one puppet is fine – but two puppets is a show!” She drew a face on it
resembling her own and plunged her hand in ready to slay her daughter with even
more ingenious in-flight entertainment. It was too good to be true.
In this case, not a turn of phrase, but a fact. Seconds later she realized that
this air-sick bag had already been used — and not as a puppet. “You’d think that
having a child has prepared you for the bodily functions of humanity, until you
find yourself wearing a glove made of the puke of a stranger.”
really only one word for this well intentioned mistake: gross.
Discovering a core of self-control she didn’t know she had, Stein found her way
to the bathroom without screaming and cleaned off a mixture of items on her
hand I will allow you to enjoy by reading the story itself. I will also
resist the temptation to reveal here the comedically inspired thought
process that enabled Stein to walk away feeling grateful to the “former
passenger of seat 1B,” but against all odds, she does just that. Which is a
lesson in itself.
In a recent e-mail, Stein shared with me a few more
positive by-products from that fateful trip. “I learned that there is an
inevitability to being a parent (and, I guess to life ... duh). Whatever you are
struggling with right now, whatever childrearing issue that’s causing your
brain to explode, it will pass. Your kid will stop crying. She will sleep
through the night. She'll get past her "I hate mommy" phase (and
settle into her "I hate daddy" phase). Parenthood is an
ever-changing, ever-unfolding landscape. So it’s in your best interest to adopt
an attitude of flexibility and acceptance. I also learned to take my parenting
successes (when they occur) in stride and not to get too cocky about them.
Because every time I’ve taken the stance, “MAN, I am NAILING this parenting
thing,” I usually find that I’m five minutes away from looking down the barrel
of another big fail.”
Parenthood is an ever-changing, ever-unfolding landscape. So it’s in your best interest to adopt an attitude of flexibility and acceptance.
Johanna Stein is a smart, inventive and compassionate mother
whose honesty about all the various mistakes she has made in early motherhood
are what make her book such a great ride. In fact, there is one nugget of parenting
gold from the same story that I am delighted to leave you with as we head out
to holiday celebrations near and far.
“Parenthood is a minefield of unpredictability [.]” Stein
writes. “[S]ometimes the mines are made of tears; sometimes they’re made of undigested
Over the next few weeks, no matter what your minefields look
like, or feel like, or taste like, I encourage you to think of our friend and
her barf-filled puppet story and look for creative solutions to whatever is
ruining your good time. If that doesn’t work, remember that the worse
the holiday disaster, the better the story it will make.