Sometimes You Gotta Put On the Mean Mom Face

About that family that got kicked off a plane due to a toddler tantrum...
Publish date:
June 7, 2012
parenting, kids, travel, children, privilege, discipline

Tantrums: kids have them. The “terrible twos” (a misnomer if you talk to almost every parent, ever, because this phase starts at about 1 ½ and ends at like, 4) is a normal phase of childhood development and almost every kid goes through it to some degree.

This is usually the time when some parents stop eating in restaurants or taking their kids anywhere in public. A friend of mine once told me about slinging her screaming three-year old over her shoulder and walking out of the grocery store, leaving a full shopping cart right there in the aisle. After that experience, she didn’t take her kid out in public until he was almost five. It just was not worth the hassle.

When my kid, Oliver, was a toddler, we never shied away from taking him to restaurants, but we were also really, really, really (REALLY) lucky; he didn’t throw the kind of full-on tantrums that some kids do. If he did start getting shouty at a restaurant, one of us just took him outside so as not to disturb the other diners. We did a lot of eating in shifts, and we did it because no one wants to listen to a screaming child, and also the best way to teach Oliver that it is not acceptable to misbehave in a restaurant was to remove him from the Fun New Place with the Things to Look At.

Airplane tantrums are a different story. When you are on an airplane with a toddler, you cannot just take the kid outside, unless you want to plunge to your death. Which maybe feels like a totally valid option if you are somewhere over the Rocky Mountains with two hours left on your flight when your kid starts to throw a fit because he is boooooorrrreeed and you are not only upset that you are annoying the other passengers*, but also YOU do not want to listen to your kid whine either. Not that that’s ever happened to me or anything.

Anyway. I’m saying to all you fellow parents out there: I understand. When your kid is being a jerk on an airplane, sometimes there is not much you can do. Sure, it’s annoying, but I get it and I sympathize, and I do not hate you or your kid.

Also: babies. Babies cry on airplanes not to make other passengers (and their parents) crazy, but because their ears probably feel funny and/or hurt and crying is how they say “Dudes, this is NOT OK.” Let’s make this clear: I sympathize with parents whose children are annoying the shit out of other people.

So. Last week, a three-year-old on an Alaska Airlines flight launched into a full-blown tantrum after his dad took the iPad away from him. The kid refused to sit in his seat for take-off, so the pilot invited the family to get the hell off the plane. My first reaction was to feel for the parents in a totally sympathetic I’ve Been There way. I mean, I haven’t really been there because I’ve never been kicked off a plane, but I’ve had to contend with the will of a tiny human who does not want to do what you want him to do. The airline then offered to put the family onto another flight, but the family refused.

Why? This:

I'm not sure how the kids will feel about flying next time," said the dad, Mark Yanchak. "As soon as we got off the plane he was like, 'Dad, no fly, go home, let's go home. I think the whole ordeal just scared him off. He didn't want to fly again.

Something about this quote rubs me the wrong way. You’re telling me that you’ve based a major financial decision, such as whether to forfeit thousands of dollars in plane tickets and vacation plans, on what your toddler does or doesn’t feel like doing? Oh man.

This reminds me of when I worked in retail: I once observed a toddler running around our store, picking up glass bottles of nail polish and banging them against the glass shelves while the mother basically ignored this behavior.

Not exactly wanting to clean up a broken bottle of nail polish, or worse, watch the kid cut himself, I finally asked the mom to keep an eye on her kid. She gave me a dirty look, crouched down in front of the boy, and in a gentle voice said, “Now sweetie, the lady doesn’t want you touch anything in the store, OK? Can you do that for her?”

I don’t really remember what happened after that, because I sort of left my body. But I’m pretty sure the kid did NOT say, “Oh, I’m ever so sorry, mother. I was simply checking out this new OPI collection. I shall carefully set these nail polishes down now and do exactly as you are asking. Thank you for correcting me.”

I guess I am just not this kind of parent. Sure, I let my kid make decisions, and I treat him with the respect he deserves -- but certain things, like not banging bottles of nail polish together, or keeping your seatbelt buckled, are not optional. These are not the situations where I ask my little lamb to kindly follow my directions. These are the times when I put on my mean mom face and tell little junior that I AM THE BOSS, YO.

This is my Mean Mom face, I think. (Also, I bleached my hair so that my stylist could give me a mohawk, but don't worry, it will be blue again soon enough.)

My son does not like this idea of me being the Boss of Everything, of course. The other day, he even said, “It’s not fair that everyone is the boss of me and I’m not the boss of anyone.” So I explained to him that I’m the boss because I’m his mom and my job is to protect him, but that when he’s 18 years old he can be the boss of himself, and if he becomes a parent, he will be the boss of his kids. But until then, it’s my way or the highway (I cannot believe I just wrote this). Them’s the breaks, little dude.

Look, I’m pretty tolerant of kid behavior. Toddlers throw tantrums, and older kids test boundaries and talk back (we are entering the talking-back stage now, ugh). Most people grow out of this stuff. I am way less tolerant of parent behavior. If I see a kid screaming or smashing glass bottles together, I expect the parent to do something about it. Some parents just don’t. Or maybe they are afraid of what other people will think if they discipline their kids in public, I don’t know.

I have a feeling this may be what happened with the Yanchak family who got kicked off the Alaska flight. I realize I’m assuming a lot here, but my Spidey Sense is a-tinglin’. I feel sorry for the family that they had to go through all that, but at the same time I don't think a major airline would ground a plane without a pretty darn good reason to do so.

The first parenting argument Seth and I got into was during a flight when Oliver was two years old. Oliver was being a butt (I can say that; I’m his mom) so I put on the mean mom face and raised my voice. Some of our fellow passengers must have noticed, because Seth leaned over to me and said, “You’re embarrassing me!”

Uh, no dude. I guarantee that no one on that flight was annoyed that I was disciplining my kid. I don’t know about you all, but what raises my hackles is when kids are acting up in public and the parents do nothing. The kid behavior I can excuse; it’s the parent ignoring the behavior and allowing it to continue that gets to me.

*(because you were raised in a small town in the Midwest, where everyone is considerate of everyone else almost to the point of martyrdom, and you always kind of feel like you should apologize for breathing too much air, let alone disturbing other people in an enclosed space)