So, we did it.
My partner and I took three kids under 10 on a plane. For lots of hours.
The flight there was pretty good. There was a brief period of three-year-old Noah yelling, “I want orange juice!” because I had told him about the beverage service before it actually appeared (such a rookie mistake!) and my family no-juice policy has turned the kids into rabid juice junkies. But otherwise it was pretty smooth.
Now, the way back was another matter. Though it started for a similar reason, really.
Noah and Selah were seated in the two seats next to the window, and Asher, Leon, and I sat across the aisle from them.
Soon after takeoff, the flight attendant came on the overhead to announce that soon they would be traveling around the cabin with a cart of $25 snacks and $5 blankets–you know, the kind that used to be free but now you have to pay for. But she said they had popcorn. And Noah heard her say they were handing out popcorn.
“I want popcorn.”
“No, we’re not getting that popcorn. It’s expensive. I have some goldfish cra–”
“I WANT POPCORN!” He proceeded to do that much-hated preschooler gesture–the “limp fish.” Somehow he managed to also keep hitting Selah, who was minding her own business next to him and demanding nothing.
“Stop hitting Selah.”
“I WANT POPCORN.”
“I WANT POPCORN.”
“OK, 3. You have a timeout.” I got up, wondering how to execute a timeout on a crowded plane, and he started screaming as I began to reach for him. I picked up his even-limper body and sort of fumbled him into the seat I’d been occupying moments before. I sat next to Selah. This placed the tantrumming child specifically into Leon’s space, with me happily across the aisle. This wasn’t really what I had intended, and the reason for this was made clear when he started hitting and kicking Leon. Leon started restraining him so that Noah would stop kicking him, and this made him scream more.
My child of at least average compliance, normally, started hollering, “You’re stupid, MOMMY!” and I immediately ceased making eye contact with anyone else on the plane. “Stupid! Stupid MOMMY!” He kicked the seat back of the seat in front of him to punctuate each statement. Leon looked like he wanted to explode as he attempted to keep Noah from striking him. I was tempted to yell at the flight attendant, because they should know better than to announce popcorn over the loudspeaker. But I refrained.
Noah had simmered down a bit after a potty break, and he issued a tearful apology to Leon (as per my demands) by the time the meal service arrived. Leon switched seats with Selah so we could sit together and the kids could sit together.
I handed the man in front of Noah the cookie from my tray. “This is to help make up for the kicking.” He did not say, “Oh, that’s OK,” or tell me the cookie wasn’t necessary. He took the cookie and turned back around, silently.
Noah didn’t like the food, which was a nice tray of teriyaki chicken and some salad. I took his tiny bowl of salad for myself–and Leon’s, since I didn’t know if the chicken was Celiac-friendly. Noah didn’t want the food on his foldout tray, and I tried to tell him that he didn’t have to eat it but there was nowhere else to put it.
Meanwhile, Asher, who was now 3 seats away from me and sitting in a completely different aisle, announced that he had to poop. He couldn’t get up because his tray was blocking him, and Selah couldn’t help much. I kind of gestured around, stressed, until he basically vaulted over the arm of the seat into the aisle.
Asher came back and performed more gymnastics to get back into the chair, threatening to knock over both his and Selah’s trays. I reminded both older children to eat, because they had noticed the movie playing on the lady across the aisle’s iPad.
I had eaten approximately two dry leaves of lettuce when Noah started to slide down his seat under the tray. I climbed out from under my lettuce to put him back into his seat. He kept trying to put the tray back up and I imagined the silent curses of the man in front of us. Mercifully the flight attendant took his food away. She eyeballed my three tiny bowls of lettuce. I asked her if they’d considered offering plastic bags for parents to put over their heads, so that they could put themselves out of their misery. She laughed. I told Leon I thought she hadn’t known I was serious.
I took Noah to the potty again (thanks, beverage service), and once again crammed myself into the tiny cubicle with him. When I got back, I reminded the older children to eat. Their eyes were glued to the iPad across the aisle, and neither had taken more than two bites of food.
As I ate my third lettuce leaf, Noah spilled an ice-cold cup of water into his lap and all over his seat. He screamed again, jumped out of his seat, and took his shorts and one shoe off. He did not want to get back into the seat, which was now drenched. I couldn’t blame him, really, but the seatbelt sign was on, and I knew we had to get him back into that seat somehow.
I put a plastic bag over the seat and convinced him to sit on it. I fastened his seat belt and climbed back under my tray of lettuce. Knowing it was way past naptime at this point and that he was not going to start behaving better without resting, I handed him his blankie. He immediately dropped it, and neither of us could reach it since my tray was still down and he was seat-belted in. He cried. Selah couldn’t reach it either, because she still hadn’t eaten her food, so her tray was also blocking her. I reminded her to eat. She nodded blankly, staring at the iPad.
In his effort to get his blankie, Noah had completely turned around in his seat. Through the crack between the seats, he spied the girl sitting behind him. She greeted him and he hid. This launched an exuberant peek-a-boo game. I was mostly relieved that he was finally happy, but also knew that this was not doing much to get him to sleep. I hoped everyone around us thought that his shouts of laughter were cute and not further obnoxiousness. They were cute. I said a silent prayer of thanks for the girl behind him.
I gave him the normally verboten binkie, and he dropped it. Thankfully his peek-a-boo friend was able to get it and hand it back to me. They played for a while until he suddenly announced that he had to go pee right now.
I remembered that he only had one shoe on, and picked its mate up off the floor. He didn’t want to put the shoe on. He insisted he had to go potty. I said he couldn’t go into the potty without his shoe. (When was the last time someone sanitized that floor??) After some fighting about it, he put it on and we went to the potty. Again.
When we got back, the clever Leon had switched seats again, leaving an open seat between me and the window. I put Noah into that seat, gave him the binkie and the blankie and headphones with white noise, and he conked out within minutes.
Thank goodness. We made it.