Traveling With Strangers- Patience, Please

vintage baby and motherI read this, which begins:

“The kind act of two first-time parents went viral this week after they handed out goody bags to fellow passengers on a flight, apologizing in advance for any disturbance their baby might cause.

That’s sweet. It’s thoughtful. It’s also wrong.

Babies are babies, and sometimes they cry. Everyone needs to just accept that reality and get over it.”

I agreed with parts of it, but other parts made my spine arch like a hissing cat that’s been stroked the wrong way.

We’ve done a lot of traveling with children, including on a plane with toddlers, infants. and preschoolers on overseas flights (18 hours once or twice, 15 hours about 8 times). The worst ever was a flight from LAX to TOkyo, a brief layover of an hour or two, and then on to Okinawa. It was our daughters’ first plane ride. They were 3 and 15 mos old. The 3 year old raised a most unholy ruckus for what seems like hours. That’s perhaps an exaggeration, but I know more than one passenger offered things for her to do in an attempt to stop the banshee like caterwauling. It was horrible (it all started when we expressly would not let her run up and down the aisles and stomp on our fellow passengers’ feet).

It’s kind of a mixed bag- I understand what it’s like to be doing everything you can while also dealing with the resentful stares and grouchy attitudes of unsympathetic adults, and I also get the frustration of being stuck in public with somebody else’s loud, unhappy, and/or unruly children. We expected our children to behave in public as toddlers, and it was kind of a shock to be exposed to others who seemed not to have those same expectations.

plane with screaming woman

Planes are different, though. If you’re on the ground and things aren’t going well, you can leave. You can take your child out somewhere private and have a talk (and I mean a talk) and decompression time. On a plane, you cannot go anywhere- the bathroom is tiny and nasty and probably the scariest place on the plane for a toddler, and a hundred other people need access to it, so it would be rude to hog it even if you could get your kid settled in there. Also, speaking from personal experience, when your toddler is having a mega meltdown, people can still hear all of it even if you are in the bathroom.

There must be a lot of critical adults out in the world these days, because I see so many things on the internet from parents pointing out that babies and little ones are still little and cannot act like adults, and you were once a baby, too, and so please, a little patience, some empathy, some compassion, some understanding. We could all use a little compassion and understanding.

All of us. Including grumpy adults who seem to be impatient with the kids. That empathy should go both ways. There are people who know they can’t handle toddlers so they don’t have them. It is hard for them be locked for hours with screaming children in a metal box the shape of a cigar and not much bigger. Toddler and baby cries are designed on purpose to be annoying and blood pressure raising. That pitch is supposed to drive jack-hammers into your skull and shoot porcupine quills into your spine so you’ll get up and do something (I think it’s designed this way by God, others thing it’s natural evolution, either way, it’s not supposed to be a charming sound). Since the whole purpose of a young child’s unhappy roar is to motivate corrective and soothing action from their loving parents, of course it’s upsetting and stressful for anybody who has to listen to it (it’s supposed to be). Not everybody can handle noise and stress equally well for all kinds of reasons. Adults have bad days, too.

I understand that no matter how well you understand all that, it’s still not always possible to soothe your youngest progeny in a timely fashion, or to remove them from others. It happens. Sometimes it cannot be helped. Believe me, we have been there (we once narrowly averted a store employee on the verge of calling the police because she found the sound of the Cherub in full melt down mode horribly disturbing and frightening, so I get it, I really, really do).

But even if you can’t fix it right away when your toddler is having a meltdown or your baby is screaming, parents of toddlers and babies should also be understanding of how stressful that can be for others, sympathetic rather than resentful. You know there are times when that noise makes *you* want to scream and break things, and you love the little tots enough to die for them. Random strangers have their own backstories. Extending a little understanding and empathy their direction may change nothing at all, except your own attitude, but that’s not a bad result.

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