Post #105: Mind Your Own Damn…

c6cef30a-994e-403d-aad6-076b68c35772So, I’m on an airplane the other day, flying with my two small sons, and the seating arrangement was unfavorable to say the least. My wife ended up in the back of the plane, the kids were together closer to the front, and I ended up directly in front of them, which, if you’ve ever been on a plane, means I couldn’t see them. At all. Unless peering through the half inch declivity between my seat and the one next to me, or craning my body out into the aisle like Inspector Gadget. At first I was unworried. Figured I’d ask the person across the aisle from the boys to trade with me so I could be next to them. No problem. So I asked as politely as humanly possible. It was just short of groveling. She refused.

In her defense, she was older and said it was because of arthritis, which I know sounds tricky and rude to dispute as an excuse, but lest you think I’m heartless, or have it in for the elderly, my seat, I’m convinced, had the exact quantity of leg room as her own. It just happened to be beside someone else, whereas hers, and her entire aisle’s, were singletons. A few minutes later, the lady, perhaps feeling guilty watching me trying to parent from such an awkward and untenable position, offered vaguely to “keep and eye on them.”

So we sat there awhile, waiting to take off. Occasionally I would lean my body around, check on the boys (they’re only 5 and 3 by the way), correct their behavior, ask how they were, get them something to do out of the backpack, or something to eat or whatever. Triage. Flying with kids is all about filling minutes.

I then, feeling a bit desperate, asked the gentleman sitting beside me if he’d trade with me so I could see my kids better. I’d still be in front of them, but at least I’d be able to see them. He too refused, rather curtly I might add, saying simply, “no, I prefer this” and making no eye contact with me. If he hadn’t been reading Steinbeck, for whom I have a blue whale sized soft spot, I might have offered a snide rejoinder. Mostly I was too surprised and pissed to say anything.

I should add here that, even though I didn’t know it at the time, he turned out to be the woman’s husband.

We got out to the runway area and then sat there. And sat there. The pilot said we were grounded for a little while because of weather on the departure route. I started to get worried. The kids were getting more rambunctious, not doing anything bad–in fact they were being amazing–but there’s something deeply unnerving about not being able to see your kids, even if they’re right behind you. And it’s hard for kids to be in a confined space like that. I had no idea how long we were going to sit there and, if it proved to be a long time, the situation was poised to go south. I could hear Leo, my 3 year old, making lip spitting type sounds (motor boat?) at Felix, and turned to see, at which point I noticed the woman frowning in consternation and wagging a finger at the boys and verbally chiding them, or at least mouthing “don’t do that,” or “oh no no” or some such. Either way, she was kind of letting them have it, unafraid to show her disapproval.

Before I could stop myself, I looked at her and said, firmly, though not rudely, “Mam, please don’t do that.”

She looked stunned.

“Umm,” she stammered, “well…I figured you wouldn’t want them spitting on each other.”

Needed Non Sequitor: They were NOT spitting on each other. They were making spitting, lip rippling type sounds. There’s a difference.

“I don’t,” I said, “but I can handle it, thank you.”

She said nothing further. I turned away and did not address her again, making sure to avoid looking at her every time I turned around to check the boys.

Now, the story ends well for me because we took off shortly after and my children behaved so well during the flight that after we landed, it took me an hour to pry the halos off their heads. But the incident lingers. I can’t decide if what I did was justified or not. Who was in the wrong here, if anyone? Should I have responded differently? Was the lady in the right? Was she, God forbid, just trying to be helpful?

I should add here that, in the abstract, I’m mostly in favor of a community based approach to parenting. Meaning, I think that we should all strive to help ourselves and the people around us behave well, including our kids and other people’s kids. This, of course, comes with a long list of caveats and exceptions. Disciplining someone else’s kids, especially a stranger’s kids, is a very tricky matter and one must exercise a great deal of prudence in doing so or one risks looking like an ass or doing it very wrong and really pissing someone off; however, I don’t have a “don’t tell my kids what to do!” type rule in life. If my progeny are behaving like assholes, someone should tell them, hopefully in a constructive way.

So what gives?

I think in this situation, it was the combination of things. First, my kids were not out of control. Nor were they actually spitting on each other. I think it was the woman and her husband denying me the ability, through an unwillingness to be mildly inconvenienced to help another human being, so I could actively parent, and then assuming it was okay to just step in in my stead, that really set me off. That I think would have set many people off. Still, I was, and continue to be surprised about how I reacted, even knowing I stayed calm and didn’t raise my voice. Conflict with another human being, however minor, is just unsettling I guess.

It’s been a few days since it happened and I’ve decided that if placed in the same predicament, I’d probably do it again. Maybe not. Maybe I’d just ignore her.

But for some reason, I’ve been second guessing myself and soul searching.

What would you have done?

4 responses to “Post #105: Mind Your Own Damn…

  1. Love this! I have some experience flying with small children as my family lives far away, but have never encountered a situation like this. Sounds like you did a great job. I think that that couple was wrong.
    A long time ago, I flew with the kids alone. Monica was not yet two which meant Max was not yet 4. She was a lap baby. I thought I would be be able to keep her entertained by standing her on my lap and letting her touch the buttons above the seat. She didn’t have the strength to actually push the call buttons, but she could touch them. She was occupied and I was happy until the stewardess came along and told me she had to sit on my lap. Monica screamed for the rest of the flight, which was short, but felt like forever. I was mortified. Surprisingly, when we landed, several passengers looked at me and said, “oh, don’t worry. We understand.” I was expecting dagger eyes and I got the opposite! You never know.

  2. I would have done exactly what you did. Given that her hubby was next to you moving wouldn’t have inconvenienced the sour cow at all except that she seemed to not want to sit with him. I am all about a community approach to parenting too and I am never upset if my kid is doing something wrong and someone else happens to notice and says something however I KNOW that I’d get my hackles up if the person in question had been impolite to me in any way first. That person I don’t want telling off my kid. Even if they are spitting.

  3. good morning, ben – bob didyoung here. we were in a few classes together at st. mike’s. don’t know if you remember, but we have four boys. have never flown with them, but have been in similar circumstances. i understand your requests as quite reasonable, but obviously the older couple didn’t. suggestion for the future: next time, maybe you could switch seats with your older son. that way, you’re close to the younger for any/every reason and your older is less likely to get into “trouble” because they’re minimally separated from each other. as for the elderly couple, it sounds like they were more sour on each other and were actually quite happy not to have to sit together. who knows?

    subscribed to your blog just recently while in the hospital. great, thus far. maybe we’ll get the chance to catch up sometime – bob

    • Hey Bob…really nice to hear from you! Thanks for stopping by the blog. Been a while since St. Mike’s days.

      Yeah, that’s a good suggestion. I actually did think about that, and if the kids’ behavior had escalated or gone down hill, I might have had to switch! But then I would have had to sit next to that lady!

      What are you up to..teaching?

      Honored you subscribed to my blog…I appreciate you reading. You said you were in the hospital recently, and I hope everything is okay.


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