Mommy Wars in the Sky

You get to the airport barely before the recommended two hours and head to the check-in desk.  You tried to plan ahead and checked in online, but there are bags involved.

Bags tossed onto the magic belt, you head toward security.  On the way there, your child finds two pieces of chewed gum under a trash-can lid, touches the floor approximately 97 times, grabs a stranger’s pant let thinking it’s you and then howls in – what?  fear?  rage? At this point you don’t know and are quickly reaching the don’t care point.

Lugging the carry-on and a child(ren), you head toward the security line, where you wait.  And wait.  And wait for someone to take embarrassing pictures of you and single you out for extra touching.  While in line, your child wiggles along on the floor, sometimes singing, sometimes crying.  The snotty nose makes an appearance.  A strange smell starts to waft around the line, and you make knowing motions toward the elderly person with the walker ahead of you to try and deflect suspicion.  You know it is your child, but you can’t exactly leave the line to take care of the problem.  And everyone is staring at you with great hope that you will not be on their flight.

Welcome to flying with children.  You’ve now completed the easy part.

Sure, they're smiling now.  Give it until we're trying to file into our seats and then we'll see what the view is.
Sure, they’re smiling now. Give it until we’re trying to file into our seats and then we’ll see what the view is.

We’ve all been there – the parents that load up on the plane, offspring in tow, to an audible groan from the rest of the passengers.  We have too much luggage, take up too much space, talk too loud, wiggle too much, and smell kind of funny.

And after about ten minutes, we get very defensive.

“I have as much right to fly as anyone else!” we think, baby on lap, toddler in the seat next to us.  “And besides, the jerk in front of me is reclined INTO MY FACE.  Why do I get all the glares?”

Leaving aside the serial rude recliner (there is some etiquette to reclining seats, and the world would be a much better place if everyone followed it, but that is a post for another day), having been on both ends of the child-on-a-plane debate I can see definite points on both sides.

The screaming child phenomenon is horrendous, for the guy sitting next to you trying to relax and for the mom/dad who is nothing short of humiliated, flustered, and ready to jump out the emergency door mid-flight because they can’t get that wailing, flailing poop and barf machine to just CHILL.  Just for an hour!  OMG WHY WON’T SHE JUST STOP???

The good news is that if you’re traveling with kids and making an effort and apologize to those people you are disturbing, the vast majority of passengers will be understanding.  After all, they’ve probably been in your place as well.  And we can all take a lesson from these parents, who went out of their way to make sure the rest of the passengers knew they would try their best to make things as smooth as possible.

The bad news is this:  regardless of how well you plan and how understanding the other passengers are about mid-air difficulties, the  Mommy Wars don’t take a break just because you are 30,000 feet above the ground in a metal tube.

The latest salvo?  Car seats.  For those who choose to travel sans and attempt to placate baby in their lap, the head-shakers and tooth cluckers have come out full force to shake fingers and sigh in unhelpful indignation.

Now, I tend to agree with this author – you do what is best for you.   Does my previous sentence about clucky-sighing-head shakers make it sound like I think car seats should be banned on airlines?

Because I don’t.  I think judgmental people who make life more difficult without being tremendously helpful should be banned, even if I happen to agree with them.

But without repeating the arguments which were laid out expertly in the article I linked, I have to say that parenting is hard enough, even harder when traveling, we don’t always have a choice, and do YOU want to be on a fifteen-hour flight  from JFK to Johannesburg, South Africa with an infant who screams the entire time because Mom can’t take them out of a car seat to breastfeed or change them?   An airplane is not a car, you can’t pull over to take a travel break.  We all do the best we can and make adjustments.

There is some danger, but there is danger walking down the stairs, too.  In fact, there is more danger driving, even with the car seat involved, than there is flying with a lap baby, and you can’t control for all circumstances.

I remember one trip with my then two-year-old son from the DC area to Utah.  Our flight encountered significant turbulence en-route, and we just so happened to encounter it while my son was in the bathroom.  Three things here:  1) There are certain bodily functions you can’t stop, and that is particularly true for toddlers.  2)  The airplane bathroom is small enough for one adult.  One adult watching one toddler?  It is a nightmare.  A very stinky, sticky, messy nightmare.  3)  What on earth is the protocol?

I decided to wait the bouncing out in the bathroom, which resulted in a knock on the door from the flight attendants, who were worried we had knocked a head or flushed ourselves down the toilet or something.  But I knew my son wouldn’t have made it down the aisle.  I knew *I* probably wouldn’t have made it down the aisle and I didn’t want to be the person who ended up in the business traveler’s lap.  I am married, after all.  That’s totally inappropriate.

The flight attendants were very irritated with me.  They were very irritated with a lot of people on that trip, so I can’t claim any special status or anything, but I’m sure sitting out turbulence in the bathroom did not endear us to them.

And a car seat wouldn’t have made a bit of difference.

On the other hand, I was always a lot more comfortable when my baby had its own seat.  And my baby was more comfortable in it’s own seat, really.  Plus, you know, no fighting over the armrest.   It was what worked for us.  And that’s all I’m really saying – you will be in an enclosed metal tube with no way out 30,000 feet above the ground for the next several hours.  Do what works for you.

And for the rest of us on the flight – sometimes we need to help a sister or brother out.  Multiple times I’ve offered to watch someone’s child or hold someone’s baby while they visit the bathroom.  Is it really my problem?  Actually, yes.  I think so.  We’re all in that tube together.

Have an allergy to kids?  Don’t help.  But let’s not be hateful about it, either.  I had one seatmate who was full of complaints about a crying infant two rows back.  The same man who was complaining about the noise (ear plugs were available) smelled like a side of beef that had gone bad right after being rubbed with moldy garlic.  And I had to fly like that for eight hours.

Glass houses, stones, logs in eyes, and all that good stuff.  How about we all just stop preaching and pointing and try to get along?