No parent wants to have "the screaming baby." Not in a store, not in a restaurant, especially not on a plane. Every sound, every smell, every movement from your child seems magnified when you get those looks of disdain.
So instead of flying, I strapped 4-month-old Max in the back of my Hyundai and we embarked on the 12-hour trek from New Hampshire to Michigan to visit my parents. People thought I was crazy, but his first marathon screaming fit assured me it was the right thing—until he threw up. After a repeat performance during our second road trip, I was ready to chance a flight.
I had it all planned out: We would go under the cover of night. Max, now nearly 1, would probably be asleep and there would be fewer people on the plane, I rationalized. I would have bottles at the ready, since the sucking soothes ear popping. And I had a carry-on chock-full of books and little cars.
As the plane took off, I said a tiny prayer that when Max did melt down, it would be quick. And wouldn't you know it, he was perfect. He thumbed through his board books. He giggled at the airline attendant. Then he eased into sleep with a face as peaceful as a cherub's. For the entire 90 minutes, he was the picture of a charming and well-mannered child.
Other passengers marveled and cooed at what a delightful boy I had. They looked at me as we left the plane with eyes that said that other mothers could stand to pick up some pointers from me. I was emboldened.
I wasn't at all nervous when we attempted our second flight six months later. Max looked as if he might doze off immediately, and I apologized in advance to the older man seated next to me for any noise my son might make, chuckling to myself at his luck being stuck next to us.
I sat back snug and smug in my seat, enjoying my quiet child. My very quiet child. My really, really, kind of—come to think of it—oddly quiet child. I had barely finished that thought before I was covered in vomit. It was everywhere: on Max, on me, on the floor, on the seat. Max sat, dazed, stewing in the soupy goo.
Then the smell hit. Let's just say I still can't eat pineapple and yogurt. The odor lingered in the air, working its way up the aisle, turning heads as it went. I fumbled for something, anything, to start trying to clean it up. Suffice it to say, when the man next to us spotted an empty seat, he bid us a hasty adieu.
Max started emitting a sound akin to a honking goose. We hadn't even taken off yet. The entire trip was still ahead, and there we were, smelly and wet.
But you know what? I didn't combust from embarrassment. The people around me didn't say "for shame." They tried to help and gave me smiles of encouragement. I'm sure there were a few who muttered under their breath, but what do I care? I will never see them again.
As awful as flying with an upchucker was, afterwards I felt that I could handle anything: tantrums, poop attacks, crying jags. And I have. I still travel with Max, now 3, and his younger, less-prone-to-puking brother, Adam. And I've accepted that all I can do in any parenting situation is my best. But my best now includes a change of clothes and lots and lots of paper towels.
Originally published in American Baby magazine in July 2014.
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