To The Woman on the NYC to Portland Flight:

We need to chat. First, let me tell you that I love little kids. Really. Their enthusiasm, their energy, the way they can turn a few paperclips into farm animals and spend hours mooing and clucking never fails to astonish. I have a daughter, and although she’s now fourteen, she used to be younger. (As happens.) I’ve never written a letter to a stranger on an airplane before, but, after tonight, I feel compelled to.

Trust me, I know it’s hard traveling with young kids. I’ve done it and I suspect many others on tonight’s flight have, too. Young children get bored. They’re tired and won’t go to sleep. But when your five-year old screams loudly and repeatedly that she wants to watch a movie NOW, may I respectfully suggest that popping in your earbuds, turning up your iPod, and ignoring her might not be the way to go in a full airplane. Don’t get me wrong — I totally agree about not giving into tantrums. But this wasn’t that. This was not being a parent.

A little before this, when your five- and six-year olds got into a kick-the-seat-in-front contest, you didn’t say anything, even when the people who were sitting in those seats turned around and glared at you. I’m usually not the sort of stranger to say, “Hey, there! Do something! Wake up!” But, gosh, I was ready to pour you a piping hot espresso.

Oh, you’re dozing again. I’m sorry. I’d love to sleep, too, but couldn’t. Did you know that after you fell asleep, your children ran up and down the aisle and crashed into the drink cart? And that a flight attendant told them it wasn’t safe and they needed to sit in their seats? Hey, I’m totally anti-helicoptering, too. It’s just that maybe a full airplane is a good place to be a bit of a whirlybird.

My complaint is not that your kids acted out — they’re kids; that’s what they do — it’s that you stuffed in your earbuds, blew up your neck pillow and tuned out, leaving a plane full of strangers with headaches. It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes an airplane full of strangers not long to become annoyed with your laissez-faire parenting.

Look, we understand. Traveling with young ones is tough. Heck, after dealing with delays, tiny seats, and pungent bathrooms, I’m ready to bang my fists on my tray table and bawl, “I can’t take it anymore! I want legroom! I want a snack and a nice glass of sauvignon blanc!”

I have nothing but sympathy for an infant who cries because her ears hurt — and for her parents who try to help. Or for the wiggly toddler and his frazzled mom, who pulls trick after trick out of her bag, like a magician. Juice box! Crayons! Plastic animals! But that’s the thing. These parents work to engage their kids. You disengaged.

I know. I hear you. I was there once upon a time, too. It seems like just yesterday I tried to to jam my breast into my wailing baby’s mouth, while silently praying she’d latch on. I got understanding looks from some passengers and less than sympathetic ones from others who, it seemed, wished I’d open the emergency hatch and skydive off the plane clutching my bundle of joy. I was ready to rustle up a parachute. When I was a single mom, I took too many flights with a fidgety preschooler. My daughter was bored. The seatbelt, uncomfortable. The phone lodged in the seat in front of her, tantalizing. The cushions in front of her, imminently kickable. I wanted nothing more than a Xanax and to be wherever we were going, already. But I had to be on duty. I told her to use her inside voice. I doled out usually forbidden snacks and new activities. I may not have been always able to placate her, but I attempted.

I don’t know what it is, but, lately, there have been more than a few of parents like you. Is it that I’m getting older and crankier? Perhaps, but I don’t think that’s all to it. Are there are simply more people flying with young children? I’m sure this is part of it. But is it something else? Is there too much hands-off parenting in places where there should be boundaries? How can we teach kids to be respectful of others if parents plug in and tune out?

It’s not just you. On a recent trip, where a preschool-aged child in the row in front of me spent most of the flight using her seat as a trampoline and her voice as a bullhorn, a kind-looking elderly woman across the aisle asked the mom if she needed any help. The mom very sweetly said, “Oh, I don’t want to stifle her spirit.” Eventually, after the flight attendant came over to stifle her spirit, the surrounding travelers applauded.

I hope we don’t share a flight again.

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