I recently returned from a short trip to Phoenix, and on the barely 2-hour flight, I endured enough noise to make me cringe! Not noise from the young children, mind you, but noise from their parents.
Women’s restroom in the Phoenix Airport. Approximately 8:40pm. A baby is heard crying in the background.
MOM (Overheard from a bathroom stall)
Oh sweetie, what is it? Please stop crying. Mama just needs to go to the bathroom! For heaven’s sake, stop all that noise! I am right here, you can see me. I am right in front of you! Look! I am 2 inches from your face! Stop! Stop crying! Why are you crying like that? I think I need to put you in daycare so you can learn to have more patience.
Inside a small plane, every seat is full. The flight has been delayed 4 hours, including 45 minutes on the tarmac. The A/C is off and the seatbelt sign is on. It is now smack in the middle of dinnertime (5:30pm). A toddler is heard, shrieking loudly.
What is going on? What’s happening? Why are you screaming like that? Stop now! Stop screaming! Here, play this game on my phone.” (Pushes a phone in front of the child and lets out a sigh of desperation as child shrieks again.) “Ok, Mommy it’s your turn, I have no idea what to do with this hot mess!
To tell you the truth, I felt like screaming on that second flight, too. I was running late to get home after a long business trip, sweaty from running through the terminal (in heels no less), thirsty (who stops for water when there’s a possibility of getting a standby seat on the plane departing 5 minutes from now, 30 gates down the concourse?) and hungry. No … HANGRY! I hadn’t eaten since lunchtime, over 5 hours ago, and instead of a nice glass of wine with a semi-decent salad in the airport restaurant, now I would be drinking crappy wine from a plastic bottle and eating pretzels for dinner.
After cracking open that overpriced screw-top mini bottle of cabernet a half hour later, I reflected on those little ones, and what they were feeling.
Underneath 5 layers of unbreathable fabric, baby is tightly belted into a carseat, in the same position for the last 4 hours. Large, rattling plastic objects create a wall of obnoxious, contrasting colors. The noise level is unbearable; bright lights, distracting sights, and unfamiliar smells are prominent. It is 2 hours past bedtime.
I am hot. I am tired. I need some comfort. I want to be in my bed. I am tired! I am really, really hot! Mommy keeps talking to me, but she’s not taking me home; she’s not even taking me out of the car seat. Now she’s yelling at me, with her nose right next to mine. I love Mommy, but I do not like this! I need to let her know that I don’t want this, and I want something else!!
Inside a giant airplane, surrounded by scary people. The seats are hard, slippery and uncomfortable. Everything looks interesting, but I’m not allowed to touch anything. It smells weird and something is pushing on my ears. Hard. That hurts! It is hot. It is dinnertime, yet there are no signs of dinner, anywhere.
I am sooooo hungry. What’s that guy doing? Can I reach the seat in front of me with my feet? My body doesn’t want to be still. Who are all these people? I am really, really hungry. I want a snuggle on Mommy’s lap. Why doesn’t Daddy want to play with me? What’s making my head hurt like this? I’d really like a PB&J. Why isn’t anyone giving me dinner?!?
We have all been there before — in the parent’s seat, I mean. (And perhaps in the child’s, too.) It is so easy to get agitated ourselves in this situation that we forget how overwhelmingly foreign, unsettling and downright scary it can be for our little ones. We get so caught up in the logistics of the moment, the rush of the travel schedule, that time either seems to whiz by or stand still, and our regular routine, a significant source of comfort and familiarity for our little ones, goes right out the window.
Looking at the situation from afar, it was clear to me that these children’s needs weren’t being met. I don’t mean that the parents were neglectful, awful parents. I just mean that the stress of the trip had consumed all the parent’s available energy and brainpower (been there!) that they had none left to dedicate to their kids. The more irritable the kids got, the more irritated the parents became, and it looped in a vicious circle. Sound familiar?
Notes to Self
So I took some “notes to self” from these situations, to help me and my family the next time I’m traveling with my children:
Consider their basic needs. Have they all been met? Are their tummies full, are they hydrated, have they had enough sleep, are their bottoms dry, do they feel safe, do they have something to do?
Consider my own state of mind and body. Am I hungry, dehydrated, tired, worried, scared, anxious?
Calm myself down so I can help tend to my kids. Deep breathing works. Stop talking, sit still, and breathe in … count to 10 … let it out … count to 10. Repeat. Sometimes, seeing this action is enough to stop my kids in their tracks. On occasion, my older son even joins in with me.
Smile. Laugh. Tickle someone. Be silly, or even a bit ridiculous. Make funny faces, smother them with kisses. It can help to instantly change the mood for both you and your little one.
Sing a song. Trust me, your fellow travel companions would much rather hear verses from “Old MacDonald” than screams from a toddler.
Have a glass of wine. It always makes travel a bit easier!
Give thanks for the place you call home. They call is Home Sweet Home for a reason, and you’ll be there soon.