International Travel Tip #13: When Flying – Embrace Bad Parenting

My wife and I have decided that we become freakishly horrible parents when we are traveling.  And we’re ok with that.

I noticed it first on the 13 hour 39 minute and 24 second plane ride from Hong Kong to Chicago.  This is the flight that I have been dreading for months.  The mere thought of it has caused me to instantly break into full body hives with violent eye twitches.  Our two year old doesn’t sit in a taxi for five minutes without kicking out a window and now we’re going to lock him in a flying tube with 500 strangers from all over the world?  What are we thinking?

I was thrilled to see that each seat on the plane was equipped with “Video on Demand.”  Personal television screens mounted just above the tray table, each with access to more than 100 movies, 4000 video games and 11 million episodes of Friends all at the push of a button.  It didn’t relieve all of the stress but at least there was hope that he would be partially distracted.  As we took off I consciously decided that this precious child, whose mind and welfare have been entrusted to me by God Almighty, could watch television without interruption for more than half of an entire day as long as he didn’t kick out a window.  I was fully aware how bad of a parent this made me but I did not care.  I was flashing back to the episode of Twilight Zone (up there) where Captain Kirk went nuts on a plane and got sucked outside at 20,000 feet.  Hives.  Twitches.  TV.

Somewhere over Russia I had an epiphany.  I realized I was no longer a good parent.  My son had developed a full blown addiction to the Mickey Mouse Club and I was both his enabler and his dealer.  For the first 4 hours I tried to get him to watch something else but 10 minutes into any show and he would beg for Mickey.  I would insist in my authoritative Daddy voice and he would begin to cry and eyeball the window like he was Chuck Norris.

Mickey it is.

Occasionally he would get restless and I would try giving him a cookie, or his juice or some cash.  If nothing worked we would take a walk to the back where he would jump and dance and charm the flight attendants out of cookies, juice and cash.  I quickly discovered that the only way to get him back to the seat was by saying “Hey you wanna go watch Mickey.”  Enabler.  About 8 hours in he was saying “Mickey dancing, Mickey dancing.”  I realized that now we were not just stuck on one show but I was actually rewinding to the 1 minute and 13 second segment where Mickey dances.  “Please son!  Can we please, PLEASE watch Umi Zoomi or Scooby Doo or Friends for crying out loud?!!”

“MI . . . KEEE DANCING!!” 

“ok.” (rewind)

What was I gonna’ do?  Put him in time out?

We survived the ride and it was worth every hive but we’ve completely given up on responsible parenting.  As we have traveled we’ve thoroughly enjoyed letting him stay up too late, eat too many cookies, fight with his sister and run in the house with a fork in his hand.  It has been a blast to watch him connect, for the first time in his memory, with two sets of Grammagrampas (all one word in his vocabulary) and more cousins than he could have ever dreamed.   I think the greatest epiphany in the whole story is that we’ve got these kids for a while.  As much as we want them to be well-rounded, well disciplined, well-mannered and well . . . perfect, we also want them to remember the year we went home for Christmas . . . and it was awesome!

We’ll go back and clean up the bad parenting mess later.  We thought we might try today so we insisted that our son eat his breakfast which ended in an epic battle of the wills that lasted an hour into lunch.  A crowd of senior citizens gathered at the Wal-Mart McDonalds just to stare at the horrible parents trying to feed their kid a cold piece of sausage before they would give him his Happy Meal.  I am proud to say that we arose victorious (alive but badly wounded) and he finally ate the tiny piece of meat that he had loudly refused for half of the day.  Then we gave him his Happy Meal . . . and some donuts . . . then he stopped eating his Happy Meal because he wanted more donuts . . . so we alternated (young parents take note).  I looked at my wife and said, do you realize we’re bribing our son to eat Chicken McNuggets . . . with donuts?  She  looked me square in the eye and said three of the sexiest words I think I ever heard her say.

“I don’t care.”

I love my wife and I love my kids and I love the story that we’re building together.  

Tomorrow we find out what happens when two year olds drink Red Bull and play with Grammagrampas duct tape.  I’ll probably blog about that.

Second best Twilight Zone ever.

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