I step onto the plane, walking my way down the aisle with my baby being worn nice and cosy on my back. As I search for my seat, I can see the relief in passengers' faces as I pass their row. "Phew, she's not sitting next to me!" they must be thinking.
When I finally reach my assigned seat for the international flight, the eye rolls begin. People are already dreading that they will be flying near a baby on board and I haven't even sat down yet!
This continues- the stares, the glances, the consistent murmurs, shaking of heads as my baby occasionally cries, groans or makes any sort of sound. It feels impossible to fly with a baby or toddler on your lap without multiple signs of disapproval from others aboard. Sometimes the displays of disapproval are rude and disheartening during what is often an already incredibly challenging time for many parents like myself.
And here's the thing, Karen, or whatever your name is in row 12... no matter how miserable my baby might be making you on this flight, they are making no one more miserable than me. I can promise you this!
The change in routine is already impacting my child before I step onto the plane. I have done all I can to prepare for the flight, bringing my baby (now a toddler's) favourite toys, snacks and I've made sure I'm wearing a top that makes the boob buffet easily accessible at all times.
I have thought about this journey for months and have prepared to create the easiest travel experience for myself AND my child.
With all my packing and preparation... let's still be real here- most airplanes are not exactly baby friendly. The seats seem to keep shrinking in leg room, the loud announcements, bright lights and long lines to board and exit are enough to make anyone irritable. As adults we can understand these changes in routine and experiences. Young children and babies really have no clue. All they know is they are tired, cramped and restricted in movement to the max. They are also often sleep deprived, hungry and bored to pieces. Parents like myself are doing all we can to navigate circumstances that 99% of adults find annoying.
And sometimes babies and children cry. It may be their only way to communicate or they have simply reached their breaking point. I become extremely self conscious when my children cry on planes. I can feel the tension and agitation rise amongst other passengers. I can also see heads starting to shake in disapproval and the murmurs begin. I frantically try to give my baby a feed, a cuddle, start shushing and offer a new snack for novelty's sake. Shit- I've dropped the soother/pacifier! Where the hell is it!?
As my child finally drifts off to sleep and other passengers begin to relax, I realise my battle is only half over. The rest of the flight entails me trying to keep my child asleep while other kids cry, passengers make noise, flight attendants pass by trying to sell booze, cigarettes and even lottery tickets. My ass is numb from having to stay in one position because if I dare to move, my child could wake. I have to pee, but again, I must keep baby asleep, I must keep baby to sleep. I can't risk drifting off to sleep myself should I drop my child or wake them up.
While everyone else is asleep or finding some other way to pass the time, I'm exhausted, sweaty and bored to tears with a baby in my tired arms. Remind me again who has the tougher gig?
Sometimes I wonder if disapproving fellow passengers have kids at all, if they ever travelled with them or if they have forgotten how difficult it really can be. I willingly accept the struggle of travelling with young children. I know what it entails and I'm up for it about once a year. I want others to remember this- travelling with young kids is tough enough. With a little more empathy and a lot less attitude, parents might have just a little bit easier of a time. We deserve to travel and make awesome memories with our family just as much as you do.