Pre-marriage and pre-baby, I remember a story going viral about a couple who, when traveling by air with their baby, would hand out goodie bags to the passengers who were seated nearby. The bags would include earplugs, candy, and other compensation for the misfortune of being seated next to a child too small to be expected to be a pleasant seatmate. Another couple told about how they would hand out envelopes with a note of apology and cash, urging their fellow passengers to “have a drink on us” as soon as they landed. At the time I thought this seemed like a great idea. Let’s face it: Being stuck in a claustrophobia-inducing metal tube at 35,000 feet with a screaming baby is not fun. If parents want to buy a little goodwill and understanding with some token gifts, why not?
Fast forward to present day. My brother got married last week. We live near Portland, OR. The wedding was in Detroit. We have a 15-month-old. The time which every modern parent fears had come: We were going to have to do air travel with a toddler.
I did everything I could to minimize the likelihood of a total meltdown. We brought 5 different types of snacks. We brought her favorite toy (a plush doll we affectionately call “Porkina” with magnetized pacifier and baby bottle). I timed her pre-flight nap for optimal cheerfulness. We gave her Benadryl, hoping she would sleep through the 4-hour red-eye. But she did not.
Our baby is not a brat. Actually, she is universally known as a remarkably pleasant child. But even good-natured kids can be pushed too far. For the first 2 hours of our flight, she was cheerful and vivacious, alternating between playing with the touchscreen on the back of the seat in front of us and flirting with the gentleman* to our right. Cheerfulness eventually turned into slap-happiness, and slap-happiness is what comes before the storm.
+I want to mention that the passenger next to us was the person every parent hopes they will be traveling with when a baby is involved: he was a father and a grandfather, he exclaimed enthusiastically and repeatedly about how cute she was, swapped traveling-with-children stories, responded graciously every time that she coquettishly threw her pacifier or bottle on his side of the bench, and slept (or pretended to sleep) all through her cranky period.+*
As I spent the rest of the flight watching our daughter flail herself between mine and my husband’s laps, crying in frustration because it was 3 a.m. and she desperately needed to sleep but didn’t know how to do so without being at home in her own crib, I didn’t have energy to feel sorry for the adults who were having to share airspace with her. I was too preoccupied with feeling sorry for my baby, who was miserable and didn’t understand why we were putting her through this, because she is, after all, a toddler, and doesn’t have the maturity to understand concepts like why it would be worth it to be stuck in a 6" x 6" airplane seat for four hours. She’s a baby. I don’t expect her to handle the situation with maturity, because she’s not mature.
I do, however, expect maturity from adults.
Babies are a fact of life. The fact that they cry is also a fact of life. If you reach adulthood and have not accepted this, you might be the one with the problem. And I have news for you that I fear may blow your mind: If you are a human and you are alive, you were a baby once and you cried.
There is not one person that has sat on a plane and cursed “that screaming kid” who wasn’t “that screaming kid” at some point in their life. Even if you choose not to have one yourself, you aren’t entitled to a baby-free world. This is how the human race gets propagated, you guys. I’m sorry that it causes you 90 minutes of irritation that someone else had the audacity to procreate, thereby creating a Thing That Cries and bringing it into your presence when it’s not behaving like the freaking Gerber baby, but welcome to real life, buddy-boy. In the immortal words of Shakespeare: “The world must be peopled!” (Much Ado About Nothing, Act II, Scene III) And in order for it to be peopled, some of us have to push babies out of our bodies, feed, clothe and parent them, and also occasionally take them in public spaces — even airplanes.
So if a parent decides that they want to spring for drinks for every passenger within earshot of their baby, that’s nice of them. But they shouldn’t be expected to compensate grown adults for the persecution of being in the presence of a crying baby for a few hours of their life. They shouldn’t be expected to apologize for the existence of their child or for when their children act in a way that is completely appropriate to their level of development. I call on my fellow grown-ups to put on their big boy/big girl pants, remember that they too were once little boogers, and show themselves worthy of the title “adult."