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Holiday Travel Fail and Other Parenting Lessons

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.

RELATED: 5 Strategies for Holiday Travel with Kids

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.”

There’s 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 food.”

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.

Gobble, gobble, my friends. See you in December.

RELATED: Christmas Travel Nightmare Turns into New Years' Surprise

Image via Johanna Stein

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