“Will someone shut that kid up?!!”
My husband says it was “Shut that f*cking kid up!” but that’s not how I remember it. We’re on an AlItalia Flight from Boston to Rome. Despite months of planning in advance and multiple calls to the airline and fruitless exchanges with representatives at the airport, this airline can somehow never seat my family together. My family includes myself (a college professor and artist), my husband (a humanitarian worker for the UN), and my two sons, ages three and one.
The person yelling at us is rows ahead of us and anonymous. All I could make out was that he sounded like a guy in his late teens/early twenties and appeared to be part of a group of loud, raucous travelers. “Frat boy” was my first general impression. (Here I would like to make a disclaimer that surely there are nice, conscientious frat boys out there with good grades, consistently flossed teeth, and who help little old ladies across streets and such. I only use the term because of the cultural stereotypes commonly associated with it.)
My three year-old son looks up sheepishly, having just learned what “shut up” meant from overhearing adults during our yearly visit to family in Massachusetts. I have my one year-old squirming on my lap as we are making our descent and I can see his ears are bothering him. Still, he is not loud, just slightly whimpering. I close my eyes. This has been an exhausting eight-hour flight. We got our three year-old to be mostly quiet by letting him play his father’s Ipad nearly non-stop. At home he is lucky if he gets an hour a day of screen time. This was essentially a week’s worth in one sitting. (Bad Mom. Good Passenger.) He got no sleep and now his body thinks it’s 1AM and we are taking away the beloved glowing screen because they are not allowed during landing. We actually TRIED to put him to sleep earlier, but every attempt to peel the Ipad out of his hands resulted in howls and desperate protests. I can see how this would annoy passengers, but it was no more frequent than Bro and his Frat boy Crew yelling and laughing in exuberant giddy outbursts.
My one year-old, I was able to get to sleep for nearly five hours. FIVE HOURS! Of course no one on the plane notices when you are able to keep your kids quiet for long periods of time. Actually, before he fell asleep he was cheerfully waving “bye-bye!” to all the passengers as I rocked him back and forth in the tiny area near my seat. A female flight attendant arranging the seating for resting crew members barked at me, “Do you HAVE to do that?!!” After two and a half hours of intensive child-shushing and entertaining in a confined space, I was surprised to hear myself yell back, “I am TRYING my BEST!!” My voice sounded ragged like a wounded animal’s.
“Yes. But do you have to do that HERE?” she replied.
“This is my assigned seat!” I said.
So fast forward now to the end of the flight. The light at the end of the tunnel. Almost an escape from the dirty looks and rolling eyes of the people traveling without children who have no idea what it means to try to control and suppress other human beings’ outbursts for eight hours in a row. Of course you don’t do it for yourself but for the good of the entire airplane. I’d much rather let them loose in a Children’s Museum where they can touch everything and be loud and otherwise adored.
“Will someone shut that kid up?!!” Bro yells out.
“See?” I say, albeit a bit stunned, to my son to emphasize for the hundredth time that his loud voice is annoying other passengers.
“That’s not nice!” I hear my husband yell across the aisles.
“That kid needs better parents!” Bro or Bro’s Friend yells out. (Pause here to listen to the sound of my heart breaking into a million pieces like shards of glass spilling on the floor. Words really can hurt me.)
“Are YOU a parent?!” my husband so rightly asks.
“Can’t Wait!” says Bro. (Me neither! I hope he gets hyperactive 14 month-old twins and has to fly to see his in-laws in Hong Kong. Let’s sprinkle in a layover or two as well as a nice in-flight vomit session.)
So this all happened almost an entire month ago and yet I don’t think I can fully put it out of my mind until I write my little rant. It was by far the most hostile flight I’ve ever taken and we are fairly seasoned travelers. We have flown many times now with our babes at various ages and life stages and the people seated near us are normally helpful and sympathetic.
Usually after the flight people come up to us to say how cute our kids are or how well-behaved they were. Our sons are normally quite polite, dynamic, funny, and friendly even with strangers. Though I would describe both boys as VERY energetic and “spirituoso,” they normally are not too loud on airplanes unless they are overtired. You see, most people don’t realize that people walking back and forth, glowing TV screens, and all that noise and activity makes it near impossible for some toddlers to fall asleep. Heck, I can’t sleep on an airplane either.
Sometimes on a random normal day after school, my oldest son will ASK me to please give him a carrot and then say, “Thank you Mamma!” as he enthusiastically bites into his nutritious vegetable. Do I get to have an audience to witness my good mothering moment then? No? Bugger.
OK. So I didn’t respond to Bro on the flight from hell. My husband later said that he wished he had gotten up and punched the guy out, though honestly it was just better for our entire family that he didn’t. Of course later all the things I shouldda, couldda, and woudda said popped in my head. Things like, “Should I judge YOUR parents based on how you are acting right now?” And, “I hope he grows up to be just like you.” And, “Oh. I’m sorry. Did my son interrupt your third viewing of Hangover 3?” I also thought a few things I would have liked to say that are not fit for print.
Anyway, a month has passed and I wonder if Bro and his Buds are still in Rome. He could even be one of my current students this semester. Luckily for Bro, I practice the Golden Rule. Too bad more people don’t.