I recently returned from a trip to Florida to spend what would have been my Dad’s 68th birthday with my mom and my brothers. Now being the only member of my family that lives on the west coast, flying to see any of them is basically an all day affair, between the distance and time change it is impossible for it not to be. Another wrinkle to the entire travel thing for us difficulty finding direct flights to Florida (or many other places), so there is usually a layover, which is not particularly fun with a child (hell, it is not even all that much fun without a child!).
So why am I talking about this? Bear with me, I will get there. On the return trip home I was queued up in line to board the plane from Tampa to Houston and there was an older couple behind me. When I say older, I mean grandparent-ly older. perhaps early seventies if were to guess. The woman looked around and said to her husband “I don’t see a lot of kids.” The husband replied “you are right, there aren’t many to be seen.” The woman then said “smart people”.
Her last statement made me see red. It took every ounce of self control to hold my tongue and not say what I wanted to say. To tell this old bag off, and stand up for parents everywhere who have ever taken their children anywhere. Even though I was travelling alone this trip, I was offended by this perspective as a parent who has travelled with a young child.
In the past, in my previous life (before Xavier), I would travel often for my job. I used to think “god I hope I don’t end up near a crying child’. Much like everything else, my perspective on this has changed after becoming a father. When I think back to my own childhood, we never flew as children, so I would love to have had the opportunity as a new dad to ask my own father what his perspective was on this. The phrase about not knowing someone or something until you have ‘walked a mile in their shoes’ rings true here. We have taken Xavier to Chicago once and Tampa three times. I have to proudly say he did great on the plane, but he was less than 18 months every time, and it has gotten increasingly difficult every time as he gets older and more active.
There is a stigmatism attached to young children flying. I saw it twice on this trip and in the past have experienced it first hand. You can see the terror in peoples faces as they sit in your row, seeing a baby with you. you can almost read their mind ‘god, a baby, this flight is going to suck’. People almost try to not acknowledge you. On my most recent travel heading out to Florida, a woman travelling with a four year old and an seven month old infant was struggling in the jet way getting the infant out of and collapsing the stroller . This schmuck in front of me, directly behind this woman just stood there looking at her, I wanted to scream “help her you ass!” but he just continued to stare, not caring about the struggles this woman who was doing this travelling on her own was experiencing. I bent around the ass, and said “let me help you” and ended up carrying quite a few items to her seats. On the way out of the plane, I helped her as well. You could see the gratitude in her eyes that someone took the time to help her. I really wanted to smack Mr. indifference, but it also made me see exactly what I am talking about here, this guy would just have rather that this woman and her children never existed, or at least were not on the same flight he was about to take. The second time I observed this I described earlier with grandma observant in line.
Traveling is not easy. There is so much preparation that goes into it, even more when you have a child. But at the end of the day, these parents paid for those tickets, just the same as everyone else. Parents are just as petrified as you are when they get on the plane, thinking “I really hope my child behaves or is not difficult during this flight”. Realize when the cabin pressure changes and your ears pop or hurt, that infant just went through the same discomfort and does not know to yawn, or swallow or whatever your remedy is to relieve yourself from that discomfort. Families have the same right to go on vacation or visit loved ones (or go to say goodbye to loved ones) the same as everyone else.
I hope that the next time you travel and see a child on your flight, remember this post. I hope it has changed your perspective, much as my perspective has changed, “walking that mile” as a travelling parent.