Dear Woman Who Told My Baby to Shut Up
Last week we flew to England. We’ve flown many times before and never had any problems. My older daughter was always an easy traveller, even as an infant. She would sleep for the majority of each flight (usually 2 or 3 connections to get to our destination) or play quietly in her seat. She spoiled us with her easy going, jet setter personality.
Last summer we flew domestically for the first time with the newest addition. She was 6 months old and it was only 2 hours, but she was restless. I spent the duration of the flight rocking her while walking up and down the aisle and she charmed everyone with her cooing and smiles.
Two nights before we were due to fly overseas this time, she was diagnosed with an ear infection after nearly 4 days of fever that just wouldn’t quit. The ER doc gave us antibiotics and cleared us to fly, just warning us it would be painful for her during take off and landing.
So we did all we could to make her comfortable. But she wasn’t. And she screamed. And it broke my heart.
The first flight, which lasted 3 hours, wasn’t too bad. I got her settled and people were quite understanding. However, the second flight (7.5 hours) was a different story. Not only was it a bigger plane and a longer journey, but it was also an overnight flight.
Exhausted and in pain, my wee girl screamed and shouted for most of those 7 hours. At 18 months, there wasn’t much we could do to entertain her, nor help her to understand what was going on. So we took turns to distract, comfort, rock, walk, you name it. Nothing worked.
And about 6 hours in, just when I was at my wit’s end, I heard a voice from behind me say, “Oh baby just shut the hell up.”
I stood up, baby draped over my shoulder and turned to the woman behind me. She sat in her seat, and smiled up at me as though nothing happened. Did I imagine it? Definitely not. But what could I say? I looked around and was met with many unhappy faces and accusatory glances.
I understood. I understood all too well. And I think that’s what they didn’t get. I was living every parent’s fear, and I understood.
I longed to say something to that woman, but I was so tired and emotional and frustrated myself, that all I could do was to hold back the tears. I could feel my body getting hot, I could feel the anger coursing through me. But all I could do was stare.
I had joked with friends before leaving that I didn’t want to end up on someone’s YouTube or Twitter feed as “that” mom with “that” baby. I had it all planned for what I would say and how I would handle it if someone said something or if she cried.
But the truth is, it all goes out the window. We parents know how difficult it can be to comfort a crying child, but a child in pain? One who can’t communicate their frustration or feelings? Throw in several hundred angry adults and it’s a nightmare scenario.
So to the woman who told my baby to shut up, I get it. Believe me. There were moments when I wanted to tell her the same thing. When I wanted to shout at her to shut up, stop screaming, stop crying, settle down, listen, focus, behave... but she’s a baby. She wouldn’t have understood.
She was in pain. Bad pain. Have you ever had an ear infection? A toothache? A bad migraine? Grown adults barely cope but we expect children to take it in their stride. It’s so difficult to comfort a child in pain. All you can do is be a steady and loving force, stay calm yourself and let them feel secure in that moment.
It was a new environment, too. She was away from all she recognized, all she knew. Everyone around her was a stranger. She wanted her bed. She wanted to get out of the seat. And she was in pain. I’ve known adults who behave worse in new environments, and yet we expect a baby to adapt immediately.
We were doing our best. And that’s the thing most travellers don’t realize. Parents never want their kids to be the ones disrupting a room full of people. We don’t want our kids to be the ones having full blown tantrums in grocery store aisles. We don’t want our kids to break something at a friend’s house. We don’t want our kids pushing another child at the playground. We don’t want our kids to be “those” kids. So we do whatever we can to ensure it doesn’t happen.
But sometimes it does. And if it frustrates you, imagine what the parents must be feeling. Imagine how many emotions are going through them as they tend to their child. Frustration, fear, anger, exhaustion, sadness, helplessness.
Helplessness. That’s the worst feeling of all. Because there’s no manual for this. There’s no rule book. No “if this, then that” app. Sometimes we just don’t know what to do to make it better.
And never forget that babies are people, too. A long haul flight isn’t easy for anyone, babies and grown ups alike.
So I am very sorry she disturbed your sleep. I am very sorry she cried the entire flight.
But I ask on behalf of parents everywhere that the next time you’re confronted with a crying baby in an airplane, at the checkout, in the mall, at the park... anywhere... please remember...
We are doing our best. Babies are people too. We are frustrated as well. And we are doing our best.