Parenting Kids On Planes

1560714_10151936196293087_1958088754_nAfter 10 days of vacation in the Caribbean I had to laugh when Max (almost 3) was more excited about flying home because we got to go on two airplanes and see the astronaut in the Atlanta airport (its in the TGI Fridays in the E Terminal).  That’s kids.  Like my 10-month-old Dodge, playing with the wrapping paper more than toys on Christmas morning.  Max was excited to take his toy airplanes on an actual airplane while endless beaches, turquoise waters, and tropical drinks disappeared behind us in the jet-wash.  There’s an old saying we use in the film industry, “Hurry up and wait.”  That’s flying with kids.  Hurrying to catch a cab and get to the airport so we can wait in the check-in line.  Hurrying through security with milk bottles being scanned and kids running so we can wait by the gate.  Hurrying to get on the plane to get our bags situated so we can wait for everyone else to get on.  Hurry up and wait.  Kids are not good at hurrying (or waiting).  I was, as always, pleasantly surprised with my kids who behaved very well under the circumstances on this trip.

20131227_143946On the first flight we saw the harsh contrast of different parenting styles when we sat in front of a family about a year older than us with a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old.  Max is almost 3 and is very easy to fly with.  We take him out to dinner, to public functions, and have taught him how to behave in public with the understanding that he’s still a little kid and it could all go out the window with a little sugar or exhaustion.  Controlled chaos.  I remember him being 2 and it was more difficult…but even then, so long as you told him exactly what was going to happen (good and bad) he was great.  No bribes, no tricks, no overly high expectations…just the truth of what is going to happen and preparedness for the reactions to it.  I have 3 rules for Max when we fly:

  1. You have to stay in your chair with your seat belt on
  2. Remember to use your “inside voice”
  3. Do not touch or kick the chair in front of you

122-59205-airlineannoyance-1387409882That’s it.  3 simple rules.  Everything else can be related back to these rules and a kid can remember these.  They are kids and therefore will violate them accidentally (sometimes intentionally) but it is a core to come back to for conversation.  The family behind us?  No rules.  Their 2-year-old shouted at the top of her lungs over and over and over and over again, “Dad! Dada! Dad! Daaaaaad!” while kicking Max’s chair for 2 1/2 hours straight.  Sometimes she would scream just to get his attention.  What did Dad do?  Read his book and ignored her.  Am I judging?  You bet.  First of all I have to applaud the dad for mastering the art of ignoring his kid’s annoying cries for attention because it was fingernails on a chalkboard bad.  However, just because he mastered the art of ignoring his shouting daughter doesn’t mean the rest of us have!  It was a constant barrage at 30,000 feet and Mom wasn’t any help either.  Finally they got involved and bribed her with a lollipop (rewarding bad behavior with sugar) and silenced her for about 5 minutes.  Now, here’s the kicker for me:  The parents never apologized for the screaming or kicking at any time during or after the flight.  I know more than anyone that kids will be kids, and airplanes suck for adults…they suck more for kids.  However, even when everyone knows kids will be kids you’re supposed say “sorry” so we can say, “It’s okay…kids will be kids.”  I was happy to get off that plane with lollipop-sucking, screaming, Honey Boo Boo and her indifferent parents.

20131228_110144Okay…so now you think I’m super judgy.  You’re right.  Stick with me though, there’s a silver lining.  If the kid had been a baby and screaming because her ears hurt it would be a different story.  We had that issue with Dodge a few months back if you remember.  This wasn’t a baby crying in pain.  This was a kid with fully formed sentences, understanding of the space around her, and a commanding use of the word, “Dad.”  The next flight was a very different story…we were the only ones with kids on a SUPER late flight full of adults thanks to major delays.  The first thing that happened was the gentleman in front of us asked how old Dodge was.  We told him he was 10 months and he told us he had a 7-month-old daughter and how they had flown together recently.  An average parent-to-parent conversation.  However, it set the tone that the gentleman in front of us was saying, “I understand how hard this is with a baby.”  It was a nod of understanding.  When Dodge cried before takeoff we apologized to a sympathetic audience who knew exactly what we were in for and then got pleasantly surprised when he stayed quiet for the flight and slept for most of it.  Max, as always, was just a flat-out rock star.  We talked at length before the flight, I told him how he needed to sleep on this plane because it was bedtime, he asked me questions, I replied, and eventually he was asleep in my lap as we soared through the night sky.  After we landed, the woman behind me on the plane leaned forward and said, “I just have to say, it was a delight watching you parent your children.”  If you have ever had someone say this to you as a parent…let me tell you right now…it is the ultimate compliment and the best feeling in the world.

Am I “The World’s Best Dad?”  Nope.  Don’t even own the coffee mug.  Am I a dad who values parenting?  Bingo.

20140107_111240There’s no instruction booklet, every kid is different, and it is 24/7.  It is the hardest thing I have ever done, the most rewarding, and has redefined how I think of myself as a person, an individual, a member of a family, and a member of the world.  Flight 1 is the story of what happens when parenting breaks down…albeit a 3 hour window into someone’s life.  Maybe it was a bad day?  Maybe Dad is deaf?  Who knows.  However, in that moment…it was unbelievably frustrating and I just wanted one of them to pull their faces out of their books and engage their child.  Annoying or not…the kid wants attention and you either have to give it to them or teach them to be self-sufficient through constructive and positive experience.  Instead?  Lollipop.  The second flight was the two greatest gifts there are on a plane.  A sleeping baby and the reward of a compliment.  Dodge slept because he was exhausted and Kate sacrificed her comfort for him to not create a sucky environment for everyone else on the plane.  Max slept because Kate and I have spent 3 years engaging him in conversation where we have learned who he is, what he likes, and how he learns from us.

More often than not, we as people find ourselves judging other people (as I have in this article).  I’m sure there are plenty of times other parents have seen me with Max when I’m frustrated and then said something snarky behind my back.  Its human nature…and I’m a hard-ass.  However, how often do we compliment people for things we like…right out in the open in the moment?  Aside from my New Year’s resolution of going out and being more active this year, I’m going to resolve to compliment people more often when I see things I like.  I’m good at compliments in the service industry but what about in life?  What about complimenting people for things they do when they are not looking for a compliment or tip?  Think about how nice it feels when someone gives you a compliment out of the blue.

I like the way you finish a story I write and tell your friends to subscribe.  😉  Happy New Year!

Max's "Dusty Crophopper" toy at 30,000 feet.
Max’s “Dusty Crophopper” toy at 30,000 feet.

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