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Babies on a Plane

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Summer is here, and some brave (or foolish) families are going to be traveling with their kids. They'll board trains, buses, and cruise ships. More troubling, they'll get on planes. And while children on a plane are not quite as horrifying as, say, snakes, their presence does lead to a certain amount of hostility from other travelers.

Babies wail during take-offs and landings. Toddlers kick the back of your seat, talk too loudly, spill drinks, sneeze, and get in everyone's way. Older kids fight with their parents, complain, and drown out their irritation at being forced to go visit a national park by cranking the volume on their iPods.

Parents anticipate this. We know, before we ever step on a plane that the other passengers hate us. They will roll their eyes, sigh, judge and glower. They dread being trapped in a metal tube at 30,000 feet with the under-21-crowd for any length of time. I have seen the disappointed looks of my flight-mates when they notice Little Dude sitting near them. I've read the stories of children being kicked off of commercial flights. I even watched an episode of a PBS cartoon in which a woman on an airplane sighed and irritably requested that the family sitting across from her do something about their crying baby. When PBS thinks you're a pain in the ass, you know there's a problem.

To appease our fellow passengers, we parents consult travel guides, websites and blogs looking for tips and tricks to keep our offspring happy, calm, and, most importantly, quiet. Some of those ideas are useful: bringing new toys or books along, downloading movies or TV shows on iPads or DVD players, planning for snack and naptime. Some suggestions are horrifying. Like the advice to buy our fellow travelers drinks, offer earplugs and apologize over and over and over again to minimize the hatred coming at us from all sides.

Seriously? I already feel guilty. I'm weighed down by a carry-on filled with sippy cups, fruit snacks, board games, toys, crayons, stickers, coloring books, electronic babysitters (by the way, HUGE shout out to Steve Jobs for the iPad. I owe you about $5,000 in babysitting fees), blankies, pillows, stuffed animals, and my own earplugs. Now I have to carry 30 extra pairs and a cash reserve to get everyone else drunk so they don't throw my kid out the window? These are my options?

I am not saying you have to tolerate out of control kids. As a parent, I try to keep Little Dude in his seat for his safety and everyone else's. I teach him to be well-mannered and polite. Parents who don't do that get no sympathy from me. I apologize when he misbehaves and I make him do the same. I understand that you want to travel in peace. So do I.

I am not, however, required to turn my kid into an automaton. I'm tired of feeling like I have to grovel for forgiveness every time my child doesn't behave like a pre-programmed robot or a mini-adult. The expectation that parents owe our fellow passengers a flight devoid of any minor interruption or irritation makes me crazy. Society is comprised of all its members, including its messy and noisy children. Everyone gets to participate. Until we can all afford private jets, we're going to have to learn to get along.

Believe me, we don't want our children screaming either. However awful you think it is listening to a baby howl a few rows up, it is a thousand times worse for the parents. Not only are ear piercing cries louder when you're the one holding the baby, but we know you hate us. We are embarrassed, harried and exhausted. We want it to stop. So give us a break, we're not doing this to ruin your day. Instead of an eye-roll, how about some sympathy? Or a drink. Make mine a margarita.

I shouldn't have to keep my kid at home because it might inconvenience someone who would prefer to travel in an adults-only environment. Besides, hasn't anyone else endured adults who haven't yet learned to play nicely with others, use their indoor voices or speak only when spoken to? Bad behavior isn't limited to kids. I've smiled through my share of snoring, drunken babblings and near-concussions from getting hit in the head by suitcases that are NOT going to fit in the overheard compartment. I've closed my eyes to inappropriate public displays of affection, sat through two-hour monologues about business deals, and been privy to fights and disagreements that could have waited until we landed. I've choked on cloying perfume and overpowering aftershave. Give me a dirty diaper, a kid playing peek-a-boo or dropped toys any day.

Little Dude does the best he can and so do we. Sometimes he gets restless, antsy or bored. He may talk too loudly, or need to burn off some energy. I'm not going to tie myself into knots trying to stop that. He's a kid. That's what kids do. So when it comes to normal, ordinary and sometimes noisy or messy children, I have only one thing to say.

Deal.

Oh, and buy your own earplugs.