How a Tantrum on a Plane Taught Me That Parenting is Pure Chaos
Our regular columnist Jenny Mollen realized surrendering was the only option she had after a single drop of water caused her older son to start a tantrum mid-flight.
Taking a baby on a plane can be easy. As long as your child isn’t mobile, he or she is likely content to eat, sleep, and glaze over as you watch a terrible rom-com without the sound on. But that is just a dormant period, a time when your young child’s ability to destroy is still developing.
The fact that children under 2 fly for free on most major airlines is the first red flag that the deal is too good to be true. As in Vegas, your odds of winning are slim to none while your odds of winding up emotionally broken, naked, and covered in somebody else’s vomit seem to be far more likely.
Last spring, after packing and repacking my carry-on, I felt as prepared as any parent could be for a six-hour flight with two kids. I had clothes, toys, diapers, bottles, and the entire salad bar from Whole Foods strapped to my back when we settled into our seats. Sid, my then 5-year-old, sat next to me, engrossed in a video game, while Lazlo, who was 1 back then, blinked at me from across the aisle in my husband’s arms.
After beverages were served, Lazlo fell asleep in my lap. I was relieved and growing cockier by the second, when suddenly Sid shrieked. A single droplet of water had hit his shirt, and he was furious. “Mommy!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. “I’m soaked!”
I removed Sid’s headphones and asked him to speak quietly. Sid’s volume adjusted minimally as he tore off his shirt, demanding a new one.
Jason rummaged for a change of clothes only to tell me what I, unfortunately, already knew.
“I only see Onesies!”
“I only brought stuff for Lazlo,” I whispered in terror.
I turned back to my half-naked son and began negotiating with him like he was a monkey waving a handgun. “Sid, Mommy only packed Lazlo’s clothes for the plane. So you need to put this shirt back on.”
Sid paused to process what I’d said, then proceeded to flip out. “Nooooo!” he screamed, waking his brother, who joined him in high-pitched hysterics. The flight attendant rushed over to be sure none of us were spurting any blood. Before I could hand her Lazlo and ask if she could take him on a cockpit tour or store him in an overhead bin, Jason interjected, “Do you have any treats?”
“Sure! I have some ice cream I could bring over,” she said. “Would that help?”
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Sid agreed that some ice cream would help the situation.
Jason bounced Lazlo and he started to settle. I wriggled Sid back into his shirt, then promptly placed a spoonful of ice cream into his mouth before he could report that his sleeve was also wet.
The ice cream did the trick and all was well for a good 30 minutes.
All of a sudden, Sid screamed even louder than before.
“Mommy, you’ve got to be kidding me!”
Neither of us had noticed that I’d spilled chocolate ice cream straight into Sid’s lap. But now he saw it and was angry. The baby watched, wide-eyed, as his older brother stripped in his seat, sending the remains of his melted ice cream flying. I tried to fight him, took away his iPad, threatened an early bedtime, and even told him that what he was doing was illegal, but nothing seemed to help.
Eventually, for the good of the other passengers, I threw a blanket over Sid’s legs and surrendered.
We landed in New York City that night, one of us half nude, knowing that with time and sleep we’d laugh about the flight. The real trick to parenting is embracing the chaos because it engulfs you regardless. Parenthood, like ice cream, is sweet but messy, and let’s be honest, if we don’t need a vacation from our vacation, was it ever a vacation at all?
Jenny Mollen is the New York Times best-selling author of I Like You Just the Way I Am. She has two sons with husband and actor Jason Biggs.
This article originally appeared in Parents Magazine's November 2019 issue as 'Traveling with Kids.'