Thursday, July 23, 2015

Parenting in public is scary

I was so worried I was going to miss my flight coming home from Utah. Karen dropped me off at the curb and I walked through the doors of the airport (pushing a stroller and pulling two suitcases) straight into the line for the ticket counter. The line was so long that it was spilling out into the rest of the airport; I was lucky to walk through the doors when I did because I walked into the end of the line. More people lined up behind me. It was nuts!

I was texting Andrew, trying to hold back my tears (I cry when I get stressed out sometimes), as the line slowly inched forward. I made it to the ticket counter with less than fifteen minutes to go before boarding time and I still had to go through security, the line for which was ginormous, but there was nothing to be done except get in that ginormous line and pray that I would make it through in time.

Slowly, slowly, we inched our way forward and I thought about having to take the baby out of her seat, collapse her stroller, take off my shoes, take out my laptop, take out my liquids, go through the metal detector and set everything up again. Every minute that passed made me feel more and more sick to my stomach (sometimes I get sick to my stomach when I'm stressed out).

When I was about halfway through the line a TSA agent opened the retractable belt barrier and waved me through.

"This is your lucky day!" he said with a smile. "You and this fine young gentleman have been chosen for pre-check. Right this way!"

I was so happy I didn't even tell him that the fine young gentleman accompanying me was a girl (and that's why I usually put a bow on her head). When Patrick and Josie met her at the airport (when we first arrived in Utah) they declared that she looks like Winston Churchill. I was like, "You guys! She's my beautiful baby!"

But, you know what?

They. Had. A. Point.


Anyway, I was happy to take Little Churchill into the pre-check line where I only had to take her out of her seat and collapse her stroller but could leave the rest of my stuff packed and my shoes on my feet.

The prayer I had running through my head immediately changed from "Please, please, please..." to "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" as I hurried through security and ran through the airport. I made it to my gate just in time for family boarding, a service I appreciate because people with small children really do need the extra time to get settled in their seats.

Small children require a lot of time and a lot of attention, actually. Children are a lot of work. They're downright exhausting. And our society doesn't make being a parent any easier.

I already wrote about my flight out here—the one where no one would sit by me because I had a baby with me, which was a little humiliating. "We don't want to sit by a baby!"

Goodness, no. I don't blame you. They're quite contagious.

I didn't have much trouble finding seat mates on the way to Baltimore this time around. There were actually quite a lot of unaccompanied minors on that flight so I sat by a pair of kids going to visit their grandparents. Kids don't seem to mind babies.

Me? Make noise on a flight?

I would never misbehave!

On my way from Baltimore to RDU, though, I did have a bit of trouble. Not that it's hard for me to sit while people try to find a seat they like, but it is when people are making comments. I had Zoë wrapped up in her front carrier this time and most people noticed her ("Ew! Not sitting there!") but one couple didn't and they sat by me and got all settled and the plane doors closed and the flight attendants did their safety spiel and I started to remove Zoë from her wrap (because you can't have a baby strapped to your body during take off or landing).

The woman next to me looked over and started laughing.

"There's a baby in this row," she gasped to her husband, slapping his leg repeatedly. "There is a baby on this row!"

"I know there's a baby on this row," he said. "I saw her when we sat down. I wondered why you chose this spot..."

"I didn't want to sit by a baby," she laughed. "But I saw these two empty seats and just grabbed them! I didn't even see the baby! I just didn't even see her!"

"She's a very quiet, sleepy baby," I assured her.

"I can see that," she said and then tried to regain her composure. "It'll be fine. It'll be okay."

Of course it will. Babies aren't dangerous. They're tiny and unpredictable, and yes, sometimes they're messy. But they're not dangerous.

I understand that having children was my choice, not yours, and because of that society seems to think I need to keep my children on their best behaviour at all times. But did you ever think that not having children was your choice and not mine, and therefore you should either brace yourself to interact with people—even tiny people are people—in public spaces or you should just stay home in your child-free environment?

Today I'm feeling just a little annoyed with our society because of the hullaballoo about the baby who dared cry at a diner in Maine. I shouldn't read internet comments. I know that. And yet...I did...and now I feel a little bit like the world is a crazier place than I thought it was when I woke up this morning.

Usually my children are decently behaved in public. Usually. Not always. And by "decently" I mean they do an okay-job at reigning themselves in but are a far cry from perfection. We've been working on teaching them what's appropriate and what's not for years now. It's hard work. Kids are hard. Parenting is exhausting.

Why is it that in our society we feel justified in lambasting parents when their children misbehave?

It makes me homesick for long, hot, sweaty train rides in Egypt where complete strangers would start making faces at my babies, or handing over cookies and candies, or show them pictures on their phone, or even offer to hold them for a minute. It makes me crave those shopping trips when my two-year-old who was so done with the day was offered a free banana and carted off to the alley to play with the shopkeeper's children while I finished trying to haggle in Arabic.

Where is that community?

I know it exists, but I think it's an endangered species here.

If you're sitting by a baby on a plane and that baby is screaming, don't make judgemental comments. Step up. Hand the baby a piece of scrap paper (babies love scrunching up and chewing on paper) or ask the mother if you can offer the baby a cracker or play peek-a-boo between the seats. I can honestly say that you'll end up far happier than if you just grump about it.

If you encounter a screaming baby in a restaurant and you can see the parents were underprepared (their bad, sure, but they're feeling tortured, too, I promise)* so step up. Root around in your purse for a bangle or tube of chapstick you can hand to the baby to play with. Offer it a breadstick from your table instead of sitting there thinking, "Why didn't those parents pack a snack for their kid to have while they waited?" They were already thinking that themselves.

Do something good. Don't just sit there and judge (because that's guaranteed to make you unhappy).

You might not have chosen to have children—and that could be for any number of reasons—but somebody has to have children because if everyone decided not to have children...well, you do the math.

Children are our future. Whether you have children or not you need to invest in children (or at least remember that you were once one, too).

My home teacher, Brother Brown, said to me at Rachel's baptism, "I wish I could take stock in people. But I guess that's what you do—you're investing in people. As a stay-at-home mom, you're investing in people."

Our culture needs to reinvest in people. It would do us a world of good.

*One commenter mentioned that parents might be able to tune their own children out because they're used to them screaming, but that those screams are so annoying to outsiders. Ha! I laugh! While it's true that I often ignore the noise in my own house I am acutely aware of all the noise my children make in public. And, in fact, the screams of their own children tend to bother parents more than the screams of other children. My own children screaming makes me think, "Oh, no! What can I do? I hope they aren't bothering anyone!" but when I hear other children screaming I think, "I'm not the only one with noisy kids here! Hallelujah!" Also, as my sister-in-law Emily said as she was calmly bouncing a screaming Zoë, "For some reason your baby crying doesn't bother me nearly as much as my baby crying." And it's true. Mothers are biologically wired to be bothered by their own little ones crying. For example, when my baby cries my body starts pumping out milk (because my body believes that milk solves everything) so, no, I can't ever just ignore or "tune out" my crying baby (at least not for very long). 


  1. Shout this to the rooftops and the tops of the mountains! True and true and true.

  2. On my flight last night from Atlanta to Salt Lake, I was sitting in the aisle seat when a man and his maybe 6-year-old son came to the row. The boy started having a tantrum and saying he didn't want to sit there. "I don't want to sit by her!" The dad had to physically lift him up and put him in the window seat and then sat down exhausted in the seat next to me. The boy was so upset! Once he finally calmed down, I said, "I'm not scary! I'm just a grandma!" and then he gave me half a smile. Who knew grandmas were so terrifying?

    1. Wouldn't it be funny if a baby said "I'm not scary. I'm just a baby!"

  3. Ummm, I might have been making silly faces at Benjamin during the service the other night when he looked back at me. I tried to be discreet and also keep things solemn. :)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic. Lots of great points!

    1. You are one of those sweet, helpful people for sure! :)

  4. Well people are asses I mean seriously. There is just no other way for me to say it. If you don't want to sit by babies than never be one...oh with to late for that. Some person already had to put up with you when you were terrible and now we all have to put up with you still horrible. Blah. Invest in headphones or don't fly or go with a company that has assigned seats or in the very least have this freaking conversation once you get off the flippin plane. I'm just saying....