When traveling with small children there is one unavoidable, unpleasant, inconvenient eventuality: kids poop. Of course, everybody poops, but kids seem to do it at the most inopportune moments and in the most spectacular fashion: more of a pyrotechnic show than a bodily function. The best you can hope for on a long trip is damage control.
When my oldest son was 6 months old we braved a nine-hour international flight. Needless to say, I was terrified. This was my first flight as a new mom, and I wanted to appear cool, calm and collected. The three C’s of superficially successful parenting.
As boarding began at my gate, I whipped out my changing mat for a smooth, on-the-go diaper change. Like the professionals. There were plenty of empty chairs to serve as changing tables, so I laid my baby on one of the seats with his head toward the back and his legs sticking out toward me. The other passengers noted my clever display of child-traveling savvy with mild interest.
As if he knew we had an audience, the second I released the tabs on his diaper my adorable little baby let out a thundering fart and turned bright red. Anyone who has spent time with a baby knows that this can mean only one thing: Code Brown (or rather, yellow).
I turned, just for a second, to dig the wipes out of my diaper bag. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a pair of chubby legs kicking wildly as my infant began to slide, backwards, and headfirst through the gap in the back of the seat. Time stood still. I could hear the collective GASP from everyone around me as I grabbed him by one of his legs and hauled him back through the opening millimeters before his head hit the floor.
I was no longer any of the C’s.
To add insult to injury, the poop from the open diaper had smooshed up my son’s chubby back as I hoisted him up onto the seat and was now smeared all over his clothes, my hands, and the back of the chair.
I looked up at the crowd, mustard shrapnel from the liquid poop-bomb still dripping from my trembling hands, searching for someone else who saw the chair move on it’s own. I didn’t want to believe I had nearly dropped my firstborn child on his head in front of 300 strangers purely out of my own idiocy. Sadly, all I saw on the faces of those few passengers still brave enough to make eye-contact with me was a somber look of camaraderie.
They were the seasoned parents: the ones who had been in my now thoroughly stained shoes a hundred times before. They gazed at me with a heavy mixture of nostalgia, pity, and relief that for them those days were over.
I realized in that moment, while squelching on my hands and knees through curdled poop on the airport carpet, that making mistakes is part of parenting. There is no such thing as the perfectly cool, calm, and collected mom of a newborn. There are only us neophytes flinging excrement and embarrassing ourselves in epic fashion, and those who have learned to expect the unexpectable and brought along a raincoat for just such an eventuality.
I can’t promise that having read this story will improve your experiences of traveling with children. But no matter what befalls you, remember that it could always be worse and someday it will make for a great story.