Children on Planes

March break sees a decent exodus of Canadians flocking to warmer climes (although this year we might all have just saved our money at stayed put, no?).  For the first time, my family joined this wave and went down to Florida to join my in-laws at a rental home.

The trials of air travel with young children are evident to everyone – the children, the parents, the previous selves of parents, the fellow passengers.  A (childless) friend of mine, who happens to be an anaesthesiologist, told me that she once wanted to offer to sedate a screaming child on her plane.  “It wouldn’t hurt her,” she pleaded/reasoned, even in retrospect.

However, I have unabashedly brought my babes on lots of planes, all over the world.  They’re good little travellers; they don’t cry much and when they do, they are easily settled.  I’m much more accustomed to doting than disdain on a plane.

Which is why it surprised me somewhat on our late flight back from Florida to receive a complaint from the woman sitting in front of my 3 year old’s seat.  I couldn’t quite see her through the seats, and when the top part of her face and her silvery crown appeared over the head cushion, it took a moment before I realized she was trying to get my attention.  I pulled my earphones out so she could say,  “Your son is kicking my seat.”  There was a turned head and some movement from her seatmate; apparently her seat too was being kicked by my 5 year old.

I wouldn’t let my kids do something like that had I seen it, but I hadn’t noticed anything.  As far as I could see my boys were sitting mesmerized by the miniature TVs  in front of them as they don’t often get to watch.  But I leaned over to both of them and told them they were disturbing the women in front of them and to please stop.  They were sort of sleepily surprised – by then it was about midnight – but they listened and said they wouldn’t do it anymore.  And they didn’t.

But at some point, both of them needed the washroom, and this required some jostling due to the economy class seats and the baby on my lap in the aisle seat.  On his return, I saw my 5 year old give accidentally bump the seat in front of him as he tried to climb back into his own seat.  Before I could say anything, a knobby, wrinkled finger jab through the space between the seats in front of my boys and, wagging up and down, it snapped  “Little boy!  Stop kicking the seat!”  My son pressed himself as far back on his seat as he could.

Now, I have a good dose of mama bear in me (I once ran, yelling, after a car that had just rear-ended my family on the Don Valley Parkway and pounded on the driver’s window because I thought he was fleeing the scene – he (claimed he) was moving his car to the shoulder).  I am open to other people guiding my kids if they are using gentle discipline, but I find this can be a big if, and I perceive a certain roughness to be far  more common in dealing with boys than girls.

So I was surprised that my reaction to this stranger yelling at my boy was, simply, mild.  I really did see her point of view.  Firstly, of course it’s annoying to have one’s seat bumped from behind on a plane.  Secondly, this woman was kind of surrounded by children, and there was a toddler on the other side of the aisle who did cry for most of the trip, poor thing.  Thirdly, it was late, and the woman was probably leaving her vacation, which can be a downer for anybody.

Did I think she was being kind of mean to my son who was basically being reprimanded pretty much for being young?  Yes, I did.  Did I lean over to let him know he hadn’t done anything wrong and make sure that he wasn’t very upset by her?  Yes, I did, and no, he wasn’t, which I’m sure in turn allowed for the mildness of the reaction.

And so I let it go.  Once I made sure my son was okay, I was mostly left thinking about this woman and the girl she had once been.  About how many bony old fingers had been wagged in her face (and worse) when she was small.  What she had been told about what she could and couldn’t do,  whether she was good or bad, what responsibilities she may have been given before it was time, how she might have been treated when who she was didn’t suit the adults around her.

And I wondered what she looked like.  When the plane touched ground, I made a point of trying to catch a glimpse of her (and wondered if I would get a glare).  She was seated for a long time.  But somehow, after doing whatever it was I needed to do, and even though I wasn’t slow, I looked back up again in surprise to find the seats before us empty.

She was gone.  I was left with just the wagging finger through the blue airplane seats, and my sad and sorry feelings for it.