Sometime in the last couple of years, I was boarding an airplane to travel for business. A child of about the age of 5, clearly did NOT want to get on the plane. The result was the parent forcibly carrying her in a full body hold onto the plane while she repeatedly screamed, “I don’t want to go! I don’t want to go!” It was quite a scene. As I waited to board and could hear this commotion going all the way down the ramp in front of me, I actually wondered how long it could continue before the flight personnel might have to ask them to leave. Then my attention was grabbed by a couple standing in line ahead of me. They were probably in their fifties, and the woman actually said to the man, “Seriously, why doesn’t she just tell her to BE QUIET?!” I almost laughed out loud and then almost choked due to trying not to laugh out loud.
Before kids, I hated flying with children around me. I would rather die than end up next to the unaccompanied 8 year old who wanted to converse about the various qualities of ninjas. To be sure, I was a very well-rounded misanthrope — I pretty much hated talking to anyone on an airplane, ever. Maybe it is because my parents were divorced when I was a toddler and we were always living quite a distance apart. I ended up spending more time in the air under the age of 18 than most people do in their entire lives. What I learned about more than anything during those years (aside from the true absurdity of a “non-smoking section” that ends the row behind you) was the distinct incapability of the general public to pick up on social cues. And boy, have I worked on honing my cues.
For example, maybe a decade ago I was on a totally full 4+ hour flight, and all the seats were assigned. I was on the aisle in the back, so I got a very clear view all the way to the front as I watched a woman and 6 children under the age of 10, all frazzled, and the last to board. She ditched one child after the other into their scattered middle seats that took up the span of the airplane. All I could think (with an empty middle seat next to me) was, “Seriously? What insanely incompetent mother travels alone with 6 children and then doesn’t even have the foresight to get seat assignments so they could all sit together?!” Well, you know how this ends. Not only did she have a three year old and a baby left with her when she got to my row, but then I noticed there was an empty middle seat in the row in front of me. I knew then that I was going to get asked to move so they could have the two seats together, and I was ticked. However, I am also conflict-avoidant, so yes, I moved. When she thanked me profusely, I didn’t say, “You’re welcome.” I didn’t say anything, because what would have come out if I had opened my mouth would not have been very nice. I just used my social cues.
So there I ended up one day, on an airplane with a baby and a toddler, knowing the less than stellar karma I had built up was about to get me back. While planning the trip, friends and family were very quick to congratulate me on the fact that at least one child was under the age of two and therefore his seat was “free.” Actually, no it wasn’t. It was MY seat that I had PAID for and this little do-no-gooder was along for the ride on my lap. In reality, the worst of it wasn’t that. It was the fear of the other people around me, who might be like I used to be, and would spend the whole flight judging me or being irritated with me. Suddenly, my pride in being funny and judgmental (I like to think being judgmental is a requirement for being funny) evaporated. I was terrified. All that was left to hope for was a screaming baby in the next aisle, to totally overpower any poorly-timed tantrum my toddler might set his sights upon.
At the end of the trip, while it wasn’t great, it wasn’t horrible. And it hasn’t been horrible on many other trips before and since. I swear there is something about having a child with you that enters you into a club of nicer people. I started noticing them when I was pregnant, and continue to notice them more as time goes on. And on the bright side, I work harder to also try to BE one of the nicer people, especially when children are involved. I think it is the least I can do.
Seven years ago, I might have agreed with the “BE QUIET!” woman. Now, I find her nothing short of ridiculous. Even though I am striving to be a nicer person, next time I am going to laugh out loud.
Erika is a recovering workaholic turned at-home mom of two boys ages 4 and 6. She is married to a recovering chemical engineer turned firefighter. Erika is slowly discovering what she likes to do now that she has time to do it.