"This time I'm really prepared," I think to myself as I board yet another plane with my now very active and mobile toddler. By the number of things I'm carrying you'd think I'm moving across the country, but actually, we are only going away for a few days. I have snacks, favorite toys, the lovey, books he likes us to read on repeat.
I will not have a screaming child on this flight. I. Will. Not.
Before I was a parent, I was one of those annoying passengers who would huff and puff when a baby started crying on a plane. I say this with full guilt because I cannot believe I was so mean. In my (tiny) defense, I used to travel A LOT for work and my time on the plane was either to catch up on sleep or decompress so the last thing I wanted to have was a screaming baby next to me.
But I am that mom now. And I wish I could go back in time and apologize to all those parents I gave nasty looks to in an attempt to make them feel bad. Because now I know, oh… I know.
Travel is annoying for everyone. Think about it: the waiting around the airport, the rushed boarding, everyone being grumpy as they try to fit their carry-ons in the overhead compartment, the tiny seats.
Now, look at it from the perspective of a child. It's a new place, you can't really go anywhere, there are weird noises and smells and you are confined to a tiny tiny place you can't really explore. Plus, you have a bunch of strangers looking at you. And the pressure in their ears. It must be really confusing when you don't know what is happening.
Recently a mom in one of my Facebook groups asked if she should bring little candy bags with a note apologizing for her baby's cries to distribute to her seatmates on a plane. The answers were all the same: Don't. Because this is the thing, we can't go around life apologizing for our kids being kids and for us being the best parents we can be.
What I do distribute when I fly with my son is smiles. He starts screaming because I don't let him play with the tray table and someone gives me a look? I smile at them.
He gets cranky because he's trying to get comfortable to take that nap he wasn't able to because of a change in schedule? Yup, I smile.
I don't apologize, I try to not get frustrated. I just let everyone else know with my smile that "I know, toddlers are a handful huh?"
Most of the time it works, and if it doesn't, too bad for them.
What we need more of, though, is people helping out parents in stressful situations (like air travel, or any travel to be honest). I will never forget the flight attendant who gave me extra packs of cookies after seeing how into them my son was. Or the person who asked people to wait for the bathroom so I could cut the line and change him out of his blowout diaper.
I will be forever grateful to everyone that cooed and smiled and said hello to my son from the gate to baggage claim. I wish I could go back and thank the woman who held my son after she saw me fumble with all the bags and the stroller so I could get everything ready without him running away from me. This is what we need more of.
We parents already deal with tons of stress on a daily basis—are they eating enough, did they have enough playtime, are they having too much screen time, am I keeping them active enough?—that we don't need the judgment of passengers when we choose to (literally) embark on an adventure with our kids to show them the world.
So next time I travel without my son, I will be that helping hand for any parent I see. And mama, if your baby is crying, screaming and kicking on what seems like a never-ending flight, take a deep breath and smile at everyone around you, you will be landing soon.