I’ve become that parent. The one with the kid kicking the back of your seat. The one with the baby who can’t pop her ears when the plane gains altitude and spends the first hour of the flight screaming bloody murder.
I can feel everyone shudder, and through the backs of your heads, I can see your eyes roll. I know you’re thinking, keep that damn chicken quiet like you’re Hawkeye Pierce and I’m the Korean refugee lady at the back of the bus.
I’m that parent now, but I used to be you. And, as the army shrink said after the bus confrontation slid the cheese right off Hawkeye’s cracker, “Now that we got that out in the open, we’re halfway home.”
How many of you who glare at me have kids of your own? Do you feel that, because you’re traveling without them, that you have the right to judge me? Do you mean to tell me that, on family vacations to Hawaii or god knows wherever you go to visit relatives, your kids behaved like tiny saints every single time?
Hell no. And just because you managed to escape parenthood by literally leaving the planet’s surface doesn’t mean you can judge me or my kid.
And you childless ones. Who never had kids but say you should, because you’d never raise squalling brats like mine. Have you ever had to manage two kids, three suitcases, a diaper bag, and a computer case through two plane changes and the longterm parking shuttle? It’s a bitch. Worse, when you have to worry because your half-senile father insists on picking you up, even though his keys and license should have been confiscated months ago but noooo, your stepmom doesn’t want to damage his pride.
Look. Everybody gets a bit cranky and judgy during a long day of travel. Human beings probably weren’t intended to spend time at velocity, and we’ve all made jokes about being crammed together in aluminum tubes. You’re probably not an asshole all the time, but believe me, neither is my kid. I hate the term “choose your battles” but every minute of every trip, I have to make a choice: Is this the moment I unleash holy hell on my toddler? Am I doing it for show, or will it actually have any effect on a little boy who is completely wiped out from all the excitement, but can’t get comfortable enough to sleep?
I want to apologize for my rant because I feel your pain. You may be the guy who scowls at my four-year-old as his foot rams into your lower spine, but I was you a short time ago. But I realize how unkind I was, how arrogant.
Because karma kicked my ass the first time I flew with one of my kids. When I realized that airplane bathrooms don’t have baby changing stations, and I took five minutes to diaper my son and fifteen to get the shit out of my hair. When I opened the door to find a line of foot-tapping, growling fellow passengers waiting for me to finish my turn. A couple teenagers playing “seven minutes in heaven” might have had a warmer reception than we did.
I promise I’ll never be the mom who lets her kid bring a harmonica on a plane. I promise I won’t let my little girl crawl over your lap and steal your peanuts. I’m not an idiot; I’m just trying to make it from here to there as quietly and inconspicuously as I can with my little family, being shamed.
And every time my kid howls, I assure you that I remember how that sound once rattled my bones and made me gnash my teeth in pre-kid sanctimonious irritation. And from where I’m standing now, I do feel shame, but not for my parenting skills. I feel shame for the asshole I was then.
Think on that for a minute as I ask you to please have patience and a bit of compassion We’re not here to destroy your in-flight experience or throw you off your game for that presentation you’re giving at your destination. We, like you, are stuck here and we’re trying to make the best of it.
Oh. And one more thing, because I have to say it: If you’re a grown-up wearing pajamas on a flight, you don’t have the right to rag on a toddler, or anyone else, for that matter.
That is all.