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Airplane Angst

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Jennifer Ginsberg: I am never getting on another airplane with my children. I may reconsider this when they are old enough to put on headsets and plug themselves into some Idiot Box Device for the entire flight, wanting nothing to do with me. But until that time comes, airplanes are now off-limits.

baby screaming on an airplane

Being stuck on a plane for even a short flight with them quickly feels like you are trapped in hell for an eternity. But as my Mom Brain forgot the pain of childbirth when I willingly became pregnant again two years ago, it also forgets the horror of being on an airplane with my children when I begin to plan a vacation.

Recently, I planned a trip to a beautiful resort in Mexico, with ten pools, a spa, seventeen restaurants, a Kid's Club, a circus, a private beach, and a nightclub where the parents can "Do the Macarena" after their munchkins are asleep! It was marketed as Family Friendly, i.e., it is acceptable for your child to throw his half-eaten chicken taco on the floor of the restaurant.

I boarded the flight prepared. I had real Cheerios, Goldfish crackers, potato chips, a seven-pack series of "SpongeBob," and a bunch of other treats and goodies that are contraband at home. I had diapers, wipes, and of course, a change of clothes for my baby.

I knew she was going to be my wild card. There was a good chance Shane would be delirious, watching "SpongeBob" and eating chips out of the bag, since he is never allowed to partake in these activities at home, at least simultaneously. But my darling Kiki, at one and a half, was going to be tough to contain.

As we settled into our seats, I noticed that the woman sitting next to me was pregnant. After learning that she was pregnant with her first child, I knew this experience could potentially traumatize her. I was determined to make the flight as pleasant as possible, and maybe even teach her a few things while I was at it.

"Your baby is so cute!" She gave Kiana a warm smile.

Kiana eyed her suspiciously and said, "Bye bye," as she spit a regurgitated Goldfish cracker into my hand.

As the flight progressed, Kiana got exponentially more agitated. I know how awful it is to be on a flight with a Screaming Baby. But, I promise you, when you are the mom of the Screaming Baby on an Airplane, the pain and suffering you withstand is much, much worse for you than for anyone else. Not only do you need to endure the fingernails-down-a-chalkboard screeches of your own child, you have to tolerate all of the other passengers' frustration and judgments. Being the mom of the Screaming Baby on an Airplane is a rite of passage. Along with birth and death, once you experience it, you will forever be a changed person.

After trying everything to pacify her, including putting down my copy of Us Magazine in the middle of "Will Britney and K-Fed Reunite?," I gave my husband a death glare. "Your turn!" I thrust my writhing, screaming, little red beast at him, put in my earplugs, and returned to my article.

A woman behind me tapped me on the shoulder in a not-so-gentle way. "It's her ears," she told me, as if she had discovered the cure for cancer. "You need to give her something to drink now!"

"Do you think I have not thought of this, you dumb bitch?" I almost said. I wanted to choke her. So far, I had given Kiana regular milk, chocolate milk, orange juice, apple juice, flat water, sparkling water, and any other beverage I could swipe from the cart. I attempted to breastfeed her, even though she had been weaned five months ago. I would have given her vodka if I thought she would drink it. If you are a passenger on a flight with a Screaming Baby, please leave your opinions, suggestions, and solutions to yourself. The only thing to say to a mother in such a situation is "How can I help you?"

My son walked over to me. He had been relatively quiet for the whole flight, which was odd because he and his sister generally like to flip out at the same time. He didn't look so hot. "Mommy, can I sleep on you?" He crawled onto my lap and closed his eyes. Shane hadn't taken a nap in a year. Why was he sleeping at 10 AM?

I suddenly felt a warm liquid spread all over my body. "What's that smell?" the pregnant woman asked. It was pee, Shane's pee, all over my cute cargo pants and dripping onto my Havaiana flip-flops. There were droplets on my toes, freshly pedicured in Lincoln Park After Dark. My child had actually passed out on top of me and peed. And the "Fasten Seat Belt" sign was on.

Worse yet, I didn't even think to bring a change of clothes for him. Shane hadn't had an "accident" in many months. I stripped him naked and put him in his 18-month-old sister's pink leggings.

We got off the plane. I was carrying my half-naked son in pink leggings and three carry-on bags, and my husband was schlepping the rest of the crap and our still-screeching daughter.

The only thing to do at these moments is blame your husband. "This has been the most horrible experience in my life! I am never getting on a plane again! Why did you drag me on this goddamned trip anyway?"

"It could have been much worse, Jen. It wasn't that bad." That is when Shane began to profusely vomit. All over me, all over himself, all over our bags. We were in the passport line.

The line dispersed and I looked at my husband and screamed, "Do something!" He grabbed a couple of tissues out of his pocket and began to wipe his computer case.

As we were waiting for our luggage, Shane said, "Mommy, I need to throw up again."

I couldn't get to a bathroom or even a trash bin. I ran to a corner of the airport, where I held him while he continued to vomit.

As I stood over my retching son, I noticed a man watching the whole scene from a few feet away. I began to rant, figuring this stranger was a good target. "Why is it that people just watch and judge? Do you think I planned this? What the hell am I supposed to do?"

He had long silver hair in a braid and a gentle face. "Sometimes there is nothing to do but stand in a corner and let your kid puke."

He saved my life that day.


next: Vacation Freak Out -- Cancel Trip to Mexico?
13 comments so far | Post a comment now
Kristen April 29, 2009, 6:48 AM

Hahaha, I’m sorry but I just had to laugh at this article. I HAVE BEEN THERE, DONE THAT! Every single time we have flown(which is like twice a year), something has happened like this article. An allergic reaction to peanuts anyone at 20,000 feet? How about puking all over everything because their is NO puke bag so my daughter had to finish the flight and make a connecting flight in a US airways blanket and I was doing it all by myself. Oh the joys of motherhood…LOL

kris April 29, 2009, 11:16 AM

I know it is bad manners to laugh at someone’s misfortune but I couldn’t help myself. You have taught me what not to do on a flight going on my vacation in Rome. I have flown with me son when he was 2 and 3 and never really had a problem. But I guess its because he was older and he was so happy to be with me and to see the different planes that weren’t military like.

lee April 29, 2009, 12:08 PM

oh how I feel for you! I flew across the country last fall with my 2 yr old and 4 yr old solo. My son (the 2 yr old) was so bad. I made the mistake of not putting him in a carseat (dumb) and when I sat back up after reaching down to get him a toy, hoping it would stop his screaming, he was gone. No panic, we are on a plane, but where the hell was he?? Doing somersaults down the aisle. He spent the rest of the flight screaming, throwing, whatever he could do, he did, no matter how hard I tried. As we were getting off the flight the woman behind me said “next time you should bring earplugs for everyone in the rows around you” as if that wasn’t enough, she followed it by saying “your sons behavior confirmed my decision not to have kids” If I had not been laughing I would have told her she would have been a bad mom anyway if she thought it was ok to say something like that. When we landed I handed him to my mom who was meeting us at the gate and told her that I would not fly home alone with him either she had to fly home with us, or she had to keep him. Some people are so rude!

Heather April 29, 2009, 12:10 PM

The image of you carrying half-naked Shane in the pink leggings is too much. This is so funny, and a good reminder to the rest of us to be patient and understanding when that kid on the plane starts screaming—one day it may be ours!

M April 29, 2009, 2:27 PM

It’s 5 years later and we still talk about our flight to Florida with our then, 3 y/o son. I, too, thought I was well prepared with drinks, dvds, snacks, books, and variety of light (and quiet) toys. (But, oddly enough, not a change of clothes!) My son sucked down milk the first few minutes of the flight, only to throw it up within 20 minutes. I felt terrible and tried to clean him up as best as possible. (The FA sprayed lots of air freshener, as no cleaning solutions were on hand. ) What I’ll always remember is the grandmotherly looking woman who was seated behind us, thereafter, complaining loudly as she stood near the bathroom for the remainder of the flight because she could not tolerate the smell. I felt terrible and apologized to all around us. However, I thought the lady’s behavior just made a bad situation even worse.

messymom April 29, 2009, 3:00 PM

you crack me up and i won’t do travel with more than one kid- alas maybe that’s why i only have one xo

dee April 29, 2009, 3:33 PM

i welled up at the last line. and i laughed as i continued to think about the whole thing. i always try to say something kind to young moms at their wits end whether on a plane or the grocery store. no one needs to be judged when the kids flip out. people should remember that while as adults we have had many years to learn to control ourselves and still have trouble kids esp. babies haven’t.

Heather B April 29, 2009, 9:40 PM

What a great story and what a fantastic writer! I can picture the whole thing and I feel for you. I personally like the part about blaming your husband in this situation and screaming “do something” (something I would do) and having him wipe off his computer case!

Katharine April 29, 2009, 10:17 PM

This is my absolute favorite of all of your Angst blogs!! Hilarious, honest, incredible writing. I will NEVER say anything to the mother of a Screaming Baby on a plane again (except “How can I help you?”)!

Rachel April 30, 2009, 9:43 PM

This article is hysterical!

Rayhan September 8, 2009, 11:26 AM

Hi. Experience is that marvelous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.
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Best regards :-(, Rayhan.

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