We fly with the kids a lot. Our four year old just had his 12th plane trip last week, meaning if we count individual legs of each trip, including lay-overs, he’s gone through security and gotten on and off an airplane 26 times. We’ve had our share of hairy moments, but by passing him between my husband and me, along with some well-timed “behavior motivators” (a.k.a. bribes), we’ve gotten thorough it all without incident and have managed to avoid being “that family with the screaming child” every time.

Until now.

Last week, we flew with both boys to meet up with family. I wasn’t even remotely worried about how the boys would be on the plane; even our not-quite-two-year-old has been on several flights and has always been easy to calm down if he gets upset.

We got on board and saw the worst possible seating arrangement: 3-across seats. Why do I fear this set up? This means we will sit as “4 year old/husband/stranger” then “stranger/me/toddler”. The wild card of having a stranger sit with us and judge me based on how my children behave mid-flight stressed me out BIG TIME. The trip out went off without a hitch. The trip back? Well, let’s just say that our 8:15 p.m.-midnight flight and our two year old didn’t get along well.

Mid-flight, I looked over at my four year old and my husband, happily sharing some ginger ale and pretzels and flipping through SkyMall magazine, while I sat next to our younger son who resembled something from “The Exorcist”. He screamed, thrashed, kicked…it wasn’t pretty. The flight attendants came over and offered us milk, water, cookies, whiskey (ok, maybe I’m joking about the last part, but those poor, sweet flight attendants really tried everything). I tried stickers, iPod movies, books, singing, walking…nothing worked. He wasn’t having it. He was overtired and wanted his bed. We were that family. I could feel my skin turning red and suddenly felt like the temperature of the plane was well over 100 degrees. I wished I could use one of those handy oxygen masks they’re always telling us about. I apologized profusely to the passengers around us.

Then, the kind woman in our “wild card” stranger seat turned to me and said, “It’s fine! He’s a baby. There’s nothing you can do sometimes. Babies cry- it’s just how life is. That’s why I decided to sit in this seat– because I knew if he had a rough flight I wouldn’t be bothered. I know how it is. I’ve been there, too. It’s ok.”

Wow! After hearing so many negative stories in the news about rudeness families traveling by plane with young children encounter, I was blown away to be fortunate enough to meet someone who gets it. Life doesn’t stop when you have a baby. To an extent, your kids need to learn the ropes of how your family lives, and if that involves traveling, then they’ll need to figure out how to do that, too. The reason our older son knows how to act on a flight is because he’s been doing it all along. We have out-of-state family, and we like to visit them when we can. You have to press on and live life, knowing that sometimes, babies will be babies and there’s not much you can do to stop it. I had done everything you can do to calm a baby down and it wasn’t helping. However, after talking to the woman next to us, he magically settled down. Perhaps he could sense that I was no longer stressed, or maybe he just wore himself out screaming, but he finally fell asleep and was quiet.

It’s nice to come across perfect strangers who genuinely seem to care about those around them and treat them like equals, from tiny babies to adults. When my husband and I were early twenty-somethings traveling by plane, we would both cringe at the sound of a melting two year old. I would never say anything, of course, but I never really went out of my way to say “It’s ok.” From now on, I will. In fact, when I’m that seasoned mom of adult kids on a plane someday, I might just pack some stickers for the frazzled moms of screaming toddlers. So thank you, lovely woman on Southwest airlines last weekend, wherever you are! 🙂


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