Monday, September 19, 2005


Living well is the best revenge, but being considerate achieves, at best, mixed results as revenge

[See 40 Hours, Thursday, 7:00-9:00 p.m.]

When I sit in an airline departure lounge with a screaming infant or toddler, I experience the sort of inner conflict that used to be depicted in classic cartoons by an angel and a devil, one perched on each shoulder of Donald Duck or Bugs Bunny, whispering into Donald’s or Bugs’s nearest ear. Imagine me with a miniature Oscar on each shoulder – one with white wings and a halo, the other with red horns, a pitchfork and a cute little goatee. I’m trying to read and bring my blood pressure down from the airport screening protocol, when the white noise of the place is pierced by the high pitched shriek of an infant or a chagrined toddler.
DEVIL OSCAR: Goddam kids!
ANGEL OSCAR: That poor baby!
DEVIL OSCAR: What the hell are those people doing bringing a baby to an airport!
ANGEL OSCAR: I feel so bad for the parents – what a trying couple of hours they have in store for them.
DEVIL OSCAR: That shrieking! It’s going to drive me to rude behavior!
ANGEL OSCAR: I’m sure there’s an evolutionary adaptive advantage that allows human babies to emit full-throated shrieks so they can express their needs.
The drama being played out involved two kids. The toddler – Cassie – is apparently experiencing some major turf/jealousy issues which she was just acting out toward her new sister, Casey. Dad turns to Mom, who has just returned from the food concession:
DAD: I think Cassie just slapped Casey on the side of the head with her [toy thing].
CASSIE: Mommy, she just grabbed my [toy thing] but IT’S MINE.
DEVIL OSCAR: That little girl is a sociopath. She’s totally out of control!
ANGEL OSCAR: She’s just acting out her feelings of abandonment because her mother has to focus so much attention on the infant. It’s a natural and understandable feeling of loss.
DEVIL OSCAR: Screw that. Anyhow, the point is that parents who can’t control their kids in public ought to be HOSED DOWN.
ANGEL OSCAR: Parenting is hard work, and raising the next generation is an important public service. One which you’re just free-riding on, I might add, you childless roustabout.
DEVIL OSCAR: Oh, shut up.
ANGEL OSCAR: You shut up!
DEVIL OSCAR: No, you shut up! I said it first!
Cassie, her violent streak notwithstanding, turns out to be an adorable little towhead. I know this because, when we board the plane, I am of course seated in the row right behind the Cassie-Casey family.

It’s a very small plane, with a single-seat / aisle / two-seat configuration. Dad sits right in front of me in the single seat, and across the aisle, Mom has Cassie next to her in the window seat and Casey in her lap – well, crawling around and between seats and into the aisle. Then:
CASEY: (Shrieks)
MOM: Don’t push your sister, Cassie.
FLIGHT ATTENDANT 1: Ma’am, this row only accommodates two passengers.
MOM: This one will be sitting in my lap once the flight starts.
FLIGHT ATTENDANT 1: Yes, but....
FLIGHT ATTENDANT 2: Is there a problem?
FLIGHT ATTENDANT 1: (Turning to FLIGHT ATTENDANT 2) Yes this woman has a lap-sitter, and...
CASSIE: (To Casey) Lap-sitter, lap-sitter, LAP-SITTER!
The first problem is that Casey has now been branded for life as a "lap-sitter." What's more, it turns out that there are only two oxygen masks in the Family’s two seat row, but for some reason the pair of seats in the row immediately behind has three masks. (See figure 1)

Figure 1.

DAD (to Mom): Maybe the woman ["P"] behind you will switch with you and the kids.
MOM: Okay, but you’ll have to try to switch with the guy behind you (referring to me, Oscar).
CASSIE: MOMMMEEEE! Make Casey stop crawling on me!
DAD: Well, I was thinking I’d sack out for a while....
DEVIL OSCAR: "Sack out"? And leave Mom alone with the kids! That’s great!
ANGEL OSCAR: "Sack out"? What an asshole!
OSCAR: Um, ma'am? I’d be happy to switch with your husband.
Bulls eye! Boy, did Dad shoot me the evil eye. He has no choice but to say a sheepish “thanks,” and we all switch seats. Talk about instant karma for Dad!

Of course, the shrieking sounds are more piercing coming up from behind me. Plus, once the flight is underway, Casey has crawled onto Dad’s lap, thanks to my striking a blow for family togetherness, and is kicking the back of my seat. Instant karma proves harder to control than one might think.
DAD: Casey, stop kicking that seat.
And a bit later, the tray table flops open and clicks back into place. Repeatedly.
DAD: Casey, stop playing with the tray table.
ANGEL OSCAR: It’s not that long a flight. Maybe the baby will go across the aisle and sit in Mommy’s lap, with the extra oxygen mask.
DAD: Casey, would you like to go sit over there and sit with Mommy and Cassie?
DEVIL OSCAR: You know what? I’ve had it. There’s just too much traveling with young children. Why can’t these people just stay put until their kids are older?
ANGEL OSCAR: Don’t say that. How will the children be able to see their grandparents? And why should parents have their freedom restricted even more? Would you really want to tell wonderful parents of young children, people like Phantom Scribbler and Angry Pregnant Lawyer, that they can’t fly?
DEVIL OSCAR: I know! Let’s start an internet rumor. Right here on the blog: you can refer to “that new health study that suggests that repeated changes in cabin pressure from frequent flying can cause hearing loss and brain damage in young children.” Just make some sh*t up!
ANGEL OSCAR: What a terrible idea! What if it actually causes people to travel less with children? What if the airlines lose money and then track you down and sue you for fraud or trade libel or something?
DEVIL OSCAR: Oh, shut up.
The flight finally ends. Dad picks up a couple of mensch points by telling Cassie to wait for people ahead of her to get out of their seats. Cassie looks me straight in the eye and gives me the most adorable smile. I really hope she works out those issues with her sister.

Are you available for babysitting?

Btw, happy anniversary.
This is more or less exactly why I don't fly. It was tolerable with the one baby, but with two children, it's a nightmare waiting to happen.

The last time I flew with LG, when he was a little more than two years old, we were squished into the seats at the very back with even less space than regular seats. THEN the guy in front of us put his seat all the way back. Of course LG started screaming -- there was a seat back in his face. What to do? Of course, I encouraged LG to kick the seat, too.

I think the Devil Phantom got the best of me on that trip.
... just like being there. Thanks (I think),
Very funny post. I'm impressed by your self-control.

I often find myself flying alone with three children. They're perfect angels on planes, but I swear it has nothing to do with the Dramamine I dose them all with before boarding...
LOVE the diagram!!!!!!! Major graphics talent there, Oscar boy.


p.s. continental express to newark???? just trying to guess from all your various clues....
I am sending you my dry cleaning bill because I was laughing so hard I wet myself.

I need to work on finding my "Angel Mariam" more often.
And then there was my family which traveled with four children within 8 years of eachother (4 kids between 2 and 10 say, flying to Italy). That was fun.
When the husband and I (before we had our own kid, of course) flew back from England once, on the last 30 minutes of the flight a toddler was SCREAMING, "MOMMY LET ME OFF! MOMMY LET ME OFF!" Seriously. Half an hour of that. Just about 10 minutes in, husband and I were both thinking, "Yes, please let her off RIGHT. NOW."
On a coast-to-coast nonstop "redeye" flight, to Oscar and B's wedding as it happens, we had to travel with out 18-month old daughter. Since we weren't required to purchase a seperate seat for her, we didn't. The trip out was fine; the flight was fairly empty and she curled up in the middle seat of a 3-seat row, between me and her father.

However, on the way back, the flight was pretty much full - there was perhaps one empty seat about 5 rows ahead of us. My husband and I had asile and window seats, hoping for another "empty" between us. No such luck on the way home. A large burly man plopped himself in-between our husband and I, and he declined my spouses' offer to swap seats with him so that at least the family could be together. He also declined to move into the vacant seat 5 rows up.

Of course, our daughter decided that she didn't want to nap, and she didn't really want to sit on mommy's lap, or even daddy's lap. She grew restless and started kicking the guy sitting next to us. At first, I tried arranging her so that her feet wouldn't kick him, but as he stubbornly refused to give up his seat, that little devil woman on my left shoulder won out, and I let my daughter plant some bruise-worthy kicks into his thigh. For 4 hours.

We buy 3 seats on planes, nowadays.
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