The search box came up feeling like a total win for me: “Airplane activities for toddlers.” Inspiration galore. Popsicle sticks, Velcro, painter’s tape, oh my! And the pictures of toddlers sitting quietly, kindly, peacefully in their mother’s lap, giving full attention to their educational activities were perfection. “Thank you, Pinterest,” I thought to myself as I perused the aisles of Michaels for what would be the most incredible bag of airplane preparedness any mother had ever put together.
As I carved out a few hours of nap time to trace shapes on felt and glue together sticky boards for my daughter’s amusement, I pictured my first airplane trip after having my second child as mostly going smoothly. Double stroller, a few bribery snacks, our iPad (newly loaded with a whole season of Daniel Tiger, just in case), and of course, the toddler activity bag. What could go wrong?
Everything. The answer is, everything could go wrong. Because all bets are off in an airplane with an almost two year old. They just are.
Row 19 became a scene of chaos. We blew through the snacks, Daniel Tiger came through for me for only the length of one 24-minute episode, and my felt shapes—oh, my beautiful felt shapes!—my daughter had no interest. Zero. Not even a full minute of engagement. My blue circles and orange squares and black sticky board all became weapons in the most epic temper tantrum Southwest airlines may have ever seen. I tried being firm, counting to three, warnings of timeouts and spankings. Then I changed my countenance to kindness, offering snuggles, more juice, my phone, my purse, anything you want just please stop kicking the seat of the nice lady in front of us! Back to firm, tried sweet again. And then, raised the white flag of surrender. As I nursed one baby to help his ears, the other one melted to the floor of the aisle, face to the ground, feet pounding, tears flowing, and I pretended it wasn’t the most germ-infested place on the planet. I had nothing left in my bag, or my mind, for this one. After thirty minutes, she fell asleep there, on top of carry-ons and the footprints of a thousand dirty shoes.
Motherhood looks nothing like Pinterest.
As passengers filed off the airplane, I heard them, the not-so-quiet whispers of passive-aggressive judgment and the “my child would never have been allowed to act that way” looks. I knew the sentiments all too well, because I’ve whispered the same judgments and given the same looks. Watching parenting is so much easier than actually doing it.
Admittedly, I had no answer for this fit of insanity. I still do not know what I could have, should have, would have done differently. I have chalked this all up to a no-nap, confined space, “my daughter just needed a moment” episode. (I mean, we all need a moment sometimes, amen?) No search box answer for it. In the end, I think I did what any wise, mature mother would do: I avoided eye contact with the other passengers and got off the airplane as fast as I could.
In just under two years of being a mom, there has been no shortage of I-don’t-know-what-I’m-supposed-to-do moments. I can only imagine there will be several thousand more. But I think that it is supposed to be this way. Our very best intentions and preparedness meet the reality that our kids are just tiny versions of our messy selves, and therein lies motherhood. We can “pin” our entire life into beautiful looking categories, but if we are really living, it is probably much, much messier than the pictures. Sometimes we just have to surrender. And then take a breath and laugh a little, because the beautiful girl screaming herself to sleep on the airplane floor will wake up soon, and all she will want is to rest her head on your chest. And even though she is getting much too big for it, she’ll ask “hold you?” and want to be carried to the stroller waiting at the gate. Like nothing ever even happened.
It’s so beautiful, this whole raising children gig. Beautifully hard, beautifully fun, beautifully trying, but it is the best kind beautiful.
And Pinterest, I do love you. Someday, when my daughter puts a whole picture of felt cutouts together and brings it proudly to me to show off, I will thank you.
But until then, we are in a fight.