Comic relief: Johanna Stein says parenthood is a minefield of unpredictability

By Johanna Stein on June 04, 2014

I am at the airport with my daughter and the guy she calls “Dada.” We are about to board a Florida-bound plane to visit my mother-in-law. But the toddler is losing her s#!t.

After two years of being the perfect travel companion, she has suddenly developed a fear of flying. I wonder if maybe she’s worked out the physics of what we are about to do. Perhaps she has come to realize, as I have, that manned flight is a practical impossibility and is certain to end in our fiery deaths. Or maybe she’s just toying with me. Whatever is going on in that reptilian brain of hers, she is yelling at the top of her lungs, “NO AY-PWAY! NO AYPWAYYYYY!” as we board the aircraft and take refuge in our seats.…

People file past us, with varying looks of pity and horror but mostly relief that they’re not sitting next to the kid who’s screaming like a mongoose that’s been stabbed with a rusty steak knife... At this point the husband and I do the only thing we can do: we turn on each other. He glares at me and I glare back, an exchange that every parent recognizes as the “I WILL DIVORCE YOU IN THE NEXT FOUR SECONDS UNLESS YOU FIX THIS” glare.

His response is to rub her back and say “it’s gonna be okay it’s gonna be okay it’s gonna be okay” over and over and over, and since that is just slightly less annoying than the screaming, I take control of the situation ransacking the diaper bag, in hopes of finding something to stop the infernal sound that is coming out of her face hole: Binky? Lambie? Super Plus tampon hanging out of a torn wrapper? Nothing works. She just gets redder and louder. …

The captain’s voice comes over the loudspeaker, “Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot take off until everyone,” he is clearly referring to me, “takes their seats.”

As a last-ditch effort, I grab an airsickness bag, draw a face on it, reach inside, and say the funniest thing I can think of: “Ooga booga.”

The kid stops crying, then smiles, then giggles. “More puppet?” I ask. “MO PUPPA!” she says. The orange level threat has been averted. Frau Stewardess smiles, blessing me with a nod. I couldn’t be prouder if I’d just disarmed a hijacker with a Uniball pen and a lavender-scented sleep mask. …

“Mo Puppa, Momma!” I kiss her head, thank the gods above for blessing me with such natural parenting ability, then think to myself, “Sure, one puppet is fine, but two puppets— now that’s a show!” I reach into the wall pocket in front of my husband’s seat and take out his air-sickness bag. I draw a face, give it curly hair and glasses so that it looks like me – I know, nice touch – and stick my hand inside.

And then my world contracts. Seems this air-sickness bag has been used before . . . but not for a  puppet show. No, it’s been used for the purpose that God intended. My husband looks at me, understanding immediately what has happened. He is horrified, though I think I see the tiniest hint of a smile creep across his face. After deciding to divorce him the minute we touch down, I turn to the matter at hand … on hand … IT’S ON MY HAND!!

You’d think that having a child has prepared you for the bodily functions of humanity, until you find yourself wearing a glove made of the puke of a stranger. I spring out of my seat, afflicted digits still in bag. … The aisle is filled with humans lumbering to their seats. I want to crawl between their legs, leapfrog over them, fatally stab the stewardess if I have to, whatever it takes to get to that bathroom.

Finally, I claw open the lavatory door and lock myself in. I take a deep breath, then pull out the hand. It is covered in a substance that is thick, wet, viscous, and sprinkled with flecks of something – honey roasted peanuts, perhaps?

As I scrub my hand in water hot enough to cause a third-degree burn, I think maybe I should save the bag for its DNA, just in case I acquire some rare, undefined flesh-eating disease and need to identify the mystery cookie tosser. But no, I’d rather go to my death than have to look into the face of the person whose guts I have touched. … I hurry back to my seat where the child is now sleeping, clutching the puke-free puke bag to her chest like a teddy bear. Normally, an event like this would send me into a rage, long enough to write at least half of an angry letter of complaint, but as I watch her sleep, my anger deflates.…

All I can do is chalk this one up to experience. Parenthood is a minefield of unpredictability: sometimes the mines are made of tears; sometimes they’re made of undigested food.


Writer, producer, actor and director Johanna Stein is a Winnipeg native living in LA. For more about Johanna go to www.jojostein.com.

Excerpted from How Not to Calm a Child on a Plane: And Other Lessons in Parenting From a Highly Questionable Source by Johanna Stein. Available from Da Capo Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2014.


Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, June/July 2014.


By Johanna Stein| June 04, 2014

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