Traveling with Small Children

Posted by Naomi de la Torre on Nov.02, 2009

© - stevecoleccs

© - stevecoleccs

Traveling with small children is like taking a shower, fully naked, in front of a room full of strangers. All your defects are fully exposed and open for mass criticism. It is hard enough to keep small children entertained and out of trouble in your own home with buckets of toys, books and games. But try keeping them not only entertained, but quiet and seated, for three whole hours, while dozens of people watch you, sneering and rolling their eyes at any misstep or infraction.

I will never forget the time I traveled by myself for the first time with my six-month-old son Nino. The plane was overbooked and not a single seat was empty. I was seated next to a young couple who might have been nice and made pleasant small talk with me if I hadn’t been traveling with an infant. But from the minute I rolled up with my baby, they were rolling their eyes at each other and acting like I had brought a bucket of toxic garbage into their row.

Truly, I do understand. Nobody wants to be trapped in a small space with an unpredictable, loud and potentially smelly creature. I had brought an entire bag of toys and books in attempts to keep my son happy and quiet, but there is no getting around the fact that babies and small children are loud and want to move around.

At six months, Nino was in the stage of development where babies enjoy throwing things on the ground. Experts say that this is the age where babies learn about cause and effect. The world is a big experiment and they are little scientists.

In our case the experiment looked like this: Baby chucks 800 toys into plane aisle while happily shrieking and squealing. Effect: Mom has semi-nervous breakdown attempting to pick up 800 toys repeatedly while simultaneously trying to prevent baby from leaping into the laps of random strangers.

The lady across the aisle from us was traveling with an adorable fluffy dog, which was wonderful for the entertainment factor but not wonderful because it made Nino insane with desire to make-out with the dog in question. If he could have, Nino would have happily leapt into the lady’s lap and spent the entire trip in a love fest with her puppy.

Meanwhile, going to the bathroom on the plane with an infant is nearly impossible. The bathrooms are tiny and there is nowhere to put your baby down safely. Fortunately, I had my Baby Bjorn with me, so I put him on and was able to wear him while I peed, but not without accidentally peeing on his leg a little. (Gross.)

Later in the never-ending flight, Nino pooped. I gathered up all my diaper changing things and headed for the bathroom, only to find that there was no changing table. Confused, I asked the flight attendant and she confirmed that no, there was, indeed, no changing station on the entire plane. And she didn’t offer any other options.

So there I was with a poopy baby and nowhere to change him. My seatmates were already obviously irritated with me, so I didn’t dare change him right on my own seat. I checked the time and decided we could wait the last half hour of the flight and I’d change him at the next airport.

Besides being poopy, Nino was also getting tired and began to cry. The couple beside me began to talk about us as if we were not there.

“What is going on with this lady?” said the woman in a fake whisper.

“I don’t know,” replied the man, continuing the fake whisper charade. “Why won’t she change her baby? Can’t she smell him?”

“What is wrong with her?” responded the woman, her voice growing louder. “Tell her to shut that baby up. Stat.”

I was momentarily frozen because I couldn’t believe what was happening. Did these people think they were living on a TV sitcom? How could they talk about me when I was right here next to them?

I looked over and said, “Excuse me. I’m not sure if you realize this… But, I can hear you.”

The couple looked completely unfazed and indignant. “Then why won’t your baby stop crying? Don’t you have some Benadryl?”

It took me a full 30 seconds to process what they meant. Benadryl? Did they want me to dope up my baby so they didn’t have to hear his crying? Now I felt like I was living on a TV sitcom. Do people really say these things to one another?

I wish I was witty and faster on my feet, because I would have told them, “No, do you need some?” But it took me until much later to come up with that response as I ran the whole incident over and over in my mind throughout the rest of the day.

Instead, my eyes filling with tears, I told them that my baby was poopy and that there was no place to change him on the plane. Fortunately, they decided to take mercy on me and stood in the aisle so I could change my baby across the length of our three seats.

Unfortunately, the whole incident made me realize just how terribly inconsiderate and beastly people can be when you are traveling with small children. It’s like the plane becomes some sort of alternate universe where social norms are thrown out the window and people feel capable of saying anything because we are all trapped in a small space together.

The other revelation I had during my unpleasant travel experience is how little our society really understands about children. The idea that children are like trainable dogs seems to be the reigning mentality in the public eye. If they aren’t fully trained yet, then you simply shouldn’t bring them out in public.

But here’s the catch. Children aren’t dogs and you can’t board them at a kennel while you go visit the relatives at Christmas. They are people and part of the training is that you have to take them everywhere and learn how to be a parent even in awkward situations where people are sneering and eye-rolling and offering you Benadryl.

Children are probably the most magnificent creatures on our planet, because they are so joyful and sincere and real. They love the world and their love is palpable. They see the beauty in everything and they want to experience every single moment in the fullest way possible. This may mean that they want to roll on the carpet in the middle of the plane and hide under the seats and pour your drink into the chair pocket and rip up the magazines and taste the toilet paper and make-out with the dog across the aisle. It doesn’t mean you have to let them do these things, but they are not bad because of it.

The beauty of parenting is in how it humbles you. Before you are a parent yourself, it is so easy to criticize someone who is having trouble keeping his or her child under control at a restaurant or on a plane. But when you are the one who is having trouble and everyone is looking at you like you are Satan’s biscuit, you begin to realize that not everything is under your own control. And you begin to surrender. Your children are not robots that you can program to behave. They are little people who are learning. They are doing the best they can. And you are very, very proud of them.

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Posted under Family, GDM Baby.

Article By: Naomi de la Torre

Naomi de la Torre

Profile: Naomi de la Torre is a stay-at-home-mom with two delightful boys, ages two and five. Naomi has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona, is a self-proclaimed salsa diva and can make a killer octopus out of a single hot dog.


Latest posts by Naomi de la Torre

4 comments for this entry:
  1. Vivianne

    This was lovely Naomi. I am really enjoying your writing. It’s very thoughtful and humorous.

    I hate to say I was one of those people before I had children. I thought I was a hotshot career woman and children were annoying. That is, until I had mine. I later realized I just didn’t have a clue! I much prefer being a mother now even though they make me cry sometimes! I guess we just have to grin and bear the scorn of the childless, because they don’t have any idea. You have to be in it I guess…

  2. Swati Bharteey

    Hi Naomi:
    What you describe is so accurate! I remember traveling with my daughter once when she was 4 months old and I was next to a 30 something guy in a suit. Just as we moved from the gate (which means at least 30 minute to cruising altitude, which means no getting up), my daughter POOPED and she had and upset tummy. Naturally, she wiggled ALL over and got it up and down her shirt, near her ankles, and on my tshirt. Like your plane, this one also had no changing table; the flight attendent took pity on me and I changed her by the door on the floor. I had to wipe her down fom head to foot with wipes (thank God I had a chnge of clothes for her) and there was nothing I could do aboout my not-so-white tshirt. The man next to me did not look happy. 7 years later, I can laugh, but I still seize up a little!

  3. Blia

    This is a wonderful piece. It really tells an important message in such a delightful way. I totally agree with you. It’s worse when you have more than one child. Since then, we have resorted to road trips, but even those are unbearing with a huge family.

  4. Jillian

    Hello Naomi,

    Oh boy, I ‘m sure most of us can relate to your chilling experience on the airplane.

    Flying home on the 40 minute leg from Denver to Aspen I had a friends once stand up and announce to everyone on the plane that she did not need or care for their advice and would they all please just let her be.

    I am so happy to be out of that precarious time where I questioned whether it was worth risking the airplane ride to get to our final destination.

    My kids are mature enough now but I still dread the close proximity to strangers. I thought you would get a kick out of this post

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