As a family that travels for work quite a bit and are often on the road, one thing I notice is how people treat families with kids. I remember the days, not too long ago, when I would arrive at the airport forty-seven minutes before the flight was scheduled to leave. I’d drop off my luggage (with seconds to spare), zip through security, run across the airport, and make my plane just as they would call my name over the intercom.
These days, I arrive with plenty of time to spare, often wandering the airport with Charlotte strapped to my front or back, singing to her (or willing her asleep) in the carrier as we wait to board. And as I wait, I watch people watch me.
There’s always someone my age watching closely. As my eyes meet hers, she flushes and looks away. An elderly man, perhaps someone’s grandpa, shoots me a smile and nods to his wife. She catches my eye and her smile seems to say Treasure these moments, they go by so quickly. Another young mom runs after her toddler. As she notices the baby strapped to my chest, she smiles. Turns out everyone loves babies.
Well, not everyone. There’s always the people who make you feel like you should apologize for your baby. Recently, while on my way home from Alberta, I settled into my seat. An aisle seat, lest I should make someone stand up when I would inevitably get up to get Charlotte something. A middle-aged couple came up the aisle and indicated that they were sitting beside me. The lady shot her husband a look.
As they got comfortable, the man said to me: “You know they sell alcohol on the flight, right?” I chuckled. “For me, or for you?” He pointed at Charlotte. “For her.” I laughed it off, but I was uncomfortable at his implication. She’s just a baby. She’s allowed to make noise.
Several minutes later, the flight attendant came to me. “Ma’am, we have a few empty seats if you’d like an extra seat for your baby.” Instantly grateful, I began to gather my things. The lady next to me turned to her husband and said: “Oh good, she’s leaving.” I looked at her: “I heard that, you know.” She laughed nervously. I moved to my new seat, and the gentleman beside me smiled. “Don’t worry about her, I just got back from visiting my grandsons. Babies make noise, that’s how they tell you what they want.” Just as I got settled, a couple walked up the aisle. Turns out the seats weren’t free.
As I got up to move back to my original seat, Cranky Lady Who Doesn’t Like Babies gave me a scowl. “She’s back,” she muttered loudly to her husband. I sighed, close to tears. The flight attendant, hearing the lady’s comments, turned to me: “You can take my seats in the back, I’ll sit in the galley.” I protested. I had paid for a single seat and was content to sit in it. “No,” she insisted, “take my seat.” I did as instructed, and we settled in for a third time. Charlotte slept the entire flight.
Through all these shuffles around the plane, not a peep was heard from Charlotte. There was nothing to indicate to people that perhaps she would be screaming the entire time. She looked around, smiling and watching people. As I messaged Jonathon to tell him about the grouch next to me, I thought: “People aren’t stressed about travelling with their babies. They are stressed about everyone else on the plane.”
While waiting for our most recent flight, I had Charlotte in a hiking carrier, as we would be on our feet for most of the trip. As my friend and colleague Maaike and I walked around the departures hall, we watched people watching us. Maaike, who has travelled many times with any or all of her four children, noticed the same things I often do. People simply are not used to seeing young children.
Not only are they not used to it, but I would say that they are shocked to see a young family travelling with a baby. Perhaps it doesn’t fit the rhetoric of “once you have kids, your life ends,” or “do you want to have kids or do you want to travel? Pick because you can’t have both.” I remember being told while I was working in Tanzania to “get it out of your system now, because once you get married that will end.”
As we boarded our flight with Aer Lingus to Ireland, two women in their late twenties stopped beside Charlotte. “She is so adorable! We get a baby on our flight!” they said to Jonathon. We were pleasantly surprised that every person around us was ecstatic to see a baby sitting close to them. One middle-aged woman told me: “Oh don’t worry about changing her in the bathroom. I know how tiny those bathrooms are and we don’t mind!” I thanked her for being kind. The flight attendant cooed at her for a while and then asked: “Can I hold her the whole flight instead of serving drinks?” The couple next to us was on their babymoon, expecting their son in August. “What’s it like travelling with a baby?” the young mom asked. “Well,” I said, “you learn quickly that there’s two types of people on your flight. Those who love kids, and those who don’t. Embrace the ones who do, and glare at the ones who don’t.”
Mother’s Day has come and gone yet again, and it is a wonderful holiday to honour in a special way the women who are raising the next generation. Not just on Mother’s Day, but every time you cross the path of parents and their children, stop thinking about how these children might interrupt your day, and think about how that mother might feel. Are her kids screaming in the checkout line? I bet it bothers her more than it should bother you. Don’t comment or sigh. Help her out. Are there young kids on your flight? Don’t stress the mom out by making snippy comments about kids—smile and offer to help her with her bags. If you’re concerned about travelling with your young children—don’t worry. Kids will cry—it’s their language. They might also smile, make your day, or teach us something about being selfless. Babies, being vulnerable and dependent, tend to do that. And our world can probably use a lot more of it.