As I boarded my recent flight from San Francisco to Orlando, all seemed right in the world. The sun was shining, I was thankful to actually be on board my nearly missed flight, and I was excited to see close friends when I landed. Unfortunately, all this positivity came to an abrupt halt as I made my way down the aisle towards my assigned seat. Utter panic set in as I realized my seat was smack-dab in the middle of Disneyland. What the hell was going on here?? Was this a mile-high daycare center, or a religious commune relocating from California to Florida? My inner survivalist immediately kicked in, and just as if I had come across a bear in the woods, I started to slowly back away. But before I could retreat more than just a few steps I bumped into the person behind me. I heard a man’s voice authoritatively say, “This is a one way street, darling, proceed.” Sigh… I knew he was right; there was no getting off the flight at this point. I briefly entertained faking a medical emergency, or attempting to rile up TSA with the threat of some sort of white girl jihad. Ultimately however I decided I’m not at the place in my travel career where I can afford to be put on the “No Fly” list.
I strive to be a person whose knee-jerk-reaction is one of grace and compassion, and not disgust and judgment. So I swallowed my preconceived ideas, took a deep breath, and warmly greeted the little people that were about to invade my next five hours. After the I-want-to-shoot-myself sensation wore off, I was able to get an accurate count: there were a grand total of seven children in the few rows surrounding my seat. Five belonged to one couple, and two belonged to another. These families did not seem to know each other, yet somehow they still managed to end up grouped together in one section of the plane. Had I stepped through some sort of throwback wormhole where we tolerate segregation? And more importantly, why the heck had I been grouped with the family circus?? Had I accidently said I was nine years old, instead of 29??? Ugh. All questions for another day I suppose. Immediately, the children were fighting over toys, mad about seatbelts, and crying- before the door was even shut. Realizing their shrill screams would at some point translate into me having a panic attack, I desperately looked for the flight attendant and mouthed “vodka” to him. He nodded his head and gave me a compassionate knowing, yet somewhat delighted smile. Kind of like, “You’ve just entered the 8th circle of hell, lady.”
After the doors were shut, but before we had started to push back from the gate, Mama Bear (of the 5 pack), suddenly stood up, and gathered the attention of her five children- all of whom looked to be under eight years old, including one set of twin boys who looked as if they were three years old. Mama Bear asked/demanded that the children all look at her, and then launched into a flight attendant type speech with them; including props, hand motions and directing the little monsters to their toys in the seatback pocket in front of their snotty little faces. “Well, this is interesting,” I thought to myself… Mama Bear might be in dire need of some highlights and a lip waxing, and Lord knows her clothes have to be burned in the nearest dumpster, but she sure knows how to herd her flock. I was now totally engrossed in Mama Bear’s address, as were the other adults (who had to be wondering what they did in a past life to be confined to toddler purgatory). Then, out of nowhere, Mama Bear pulls off the most brilliant proactive parenting tactic I have ever seen on a flight. She reaches into her fanny pack, no doubt obtained at a homeschooling expo, and pulls out a bottle of pills. Next, she passes said pills to all five of her children and ever so lovingly says, “Ok babies, remember what we talked about, airplanes can upset your tummies, so take this medicine so you feel good and can watch your movie.” Whhhhaaattttt??? It took all my strength to not stand up and start applauding and give a tearful “hallelujah!” And then just like clockwork, the moment the plane reached 10,000 feet, she stood up, lifted the armrests, folded her children on one another like dominoes (using their coats as pillow & blankets) and started their movie on the center tray table. Minutes later they were all sound asleep. I asked myself, “Who is this woman and why isn’t she in office?” I became so relieved that I decided to pass on grinding up a month’s worth of birth control and snorting it like a line of coke on my tray table. Who knew, maybe I would even be able to read my book or sleep??
Unfortunately, just when peace was washing over me, the greater tragedy of this cross-country flight reared its ugly head. The other two children sitting in Playland were NOT sedated. This became clear as the tyranny of these two monsters began to stretch from first class all the way to the rear lavatory. The incessant screaming and kicking and whining was beyond ridiculous. In one moment I came to regret, I even let the evil three-year-old play with my phone when she asked, naively thinking it might help her shut-up for ten seconds (BTW mother of the year, why are you letting your child ask strangers for their iPhones???). I should have known the next several hours were going to age me several years when the flight attendant told me my cocktail was on the house. He knew. He was a master of flight and could obviously sense that the only way these kids would be silent was if we nose-dived into the vast farmlands of the Midwest. If this was pre 9/11, and I had my metal manicure kit, I would have headed straight to the bathroom, and tied my own tubes. There is just no sense in risking bringing anymore demon children into the world.
Don’t misunderstand me; I love children, and I know children are a blessing, and that occasionally they are going to melt down. But I can’t wrap my brain around how a parent thinks they are going to fly from the Pacific to the Atlantic without a game plan to occupy their horrid offspring. I don’t even take my dog to the park without bringing him a toy. I understand that the blessing of my company is just not enough to keep him entertained.
Similarly, I don’t know why more parents fail to take the “we do not negotiate with terrorists” approach. Growing up, my family traveled all of the time. My dad was an airline pilot (back when airline captains were treated like celebrities), and with that career choice came the privilege of flying for free. For whatever reason, air travel was a lot bigger deal then than it is now, and people respected it more. For my family this was especially true because we were flying as a “non-revs” (the term airlines use for you when you are a non revenue-generating passenger). Not only did you travel on a space-available basis, but you also had to show up insanely early, dressed in Sunday’s best. Being a family of six made the space-available option much less available and much more challenging. Sometimes we would be split over multiple flights, other times we’d be on the same plane and spread out from front to back, and there were even times where we’d be stranded in an airport for extended periods because there were simply no seats. For me, it didn’t matter whether my parents were in the seat next to me, or whether they were on an entirely different flight, I would NEVER dare to be anything other than a grateful angel who was practically mute. Seriously, these trips reduced my rather extensive vocabulary to nothing more than a gracious “yes please” and a humble “thank you”. I was given one toy or coloring book option, maybe a Walkman, and if I had nothing else to do I would sit there and read Sky Mall like it was the adventure novel of the century. Under no circumstances were my brothers and I entitled to an opinion, rights, or any behavior that would be fitting to a child our age. My parents were not unreasonable tyrants (generally speaking), if we wanted to run around like wild banshees at home that was fair game; but anytime the general public was involved, especially the sanctity of flying, there was a clear zero tolerance policy. Any hints of a whine due to hunger, exhaustion, or general fatigue, quickly vanished as a picture of our dad’s bulging forehead vein came into view. The threat of the angry German in him coming out to display his wrath kept us in check. We understood that this was not a democracy, and that we had no rights. All of which makes me wonder why American children today are so pampered and catered to. They are allowed to actually feel that their opinion matters, anytime anywhere. I would have never crossed my parents in public. Not only because it would have meant the premature end to my soon-to-be-spectacular life, but more so due to the fact that this just wasn’t something you do.
I managed to control my tongue and the majority of my body language throughout the duration of the five hour flight across the glorious US of A (with a little help from the two complimentary Absolute bottles I received from my sympathetic cabin attendant). I did however give into temptation a bit as we landed and were preparing to deplane. I stood up and noticed that directly in front of me was a little girl, probably around 4 years old. How could this be??? I leaned over the seat, said hi to the angel, and then I turned to her mother. In a loud projecting voice I complemented her on what a well-behaved daughter she had, and explained how I had no idea there was even a child in front of me. I made a point to carry on about how I wished I had a toy, treat, or tiara to give her “fabulous” daughter. She laughed and said, “She is a good girl, and she wouldn’t want to do anything that would keep her from seeing Princess Aurora at Disney World.” Brilliant! I quickly shot a glare back toward the parents of the two troublemakers, in hopes they were shamed. Fittingly, they looked away.
As I departed to head on my way, I used the last swig of my cocktail to wash down two extra birth control pills, deciding the stomachache it would cause would be well worth it.