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The Informed Parent

Kids In A Plane

by John H. Samson, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Nov. 12, 2001

At this moment I am confined within a metal tube with approximately 200 other human beings, hurtling through the air at over 500-mph. This is my return journey from Honolulu, after participating in my fourth son’s marvelous wedding. It was a short stay, only two days. The demands of my medical practice did not allow a more prolonged vacation.

This five-hour trip in a two-engine projectile allows me to carefully observe my fellow aeronauts. I would categorize my fellow travelers as:

  1. the single person
    a. “persimmon”-- that is, a tart, tight-lipped, narrow-eyed gaudery of self-centered propriety.
    b. “in-heat” male
    c. kindly grandparent
    d. every other loner
  2. couples
    a. loving fondlers
    b. sedate co-existers
    c. good friends
    d. two people simply traveling together
  3. groups
    a. tour groups
    b. one parent and child
    c. two parents and child
    d. two parents and children

Such an uneasy mix, at best. The main players for the in-flight drama from a person’s point of view usually are:

  1. the “persimmon”
  2. one parent or two parents
  3. the children

The “persimmon” expects the child to breathe, quietly at that. She should never cry or fuss, never move (not even a toe) and have no conversation with the parent. It is surmised that this person is usually an executive (or thinks he is). She is very busy controlling industry or fortunes (or thinks she is). And, obviously this person has arrived in or near a menopausal state, either male or female type.

The “persimmon” manages to embarrass, anger and humiliate the parents of any child who breaks his impossible pediatric code of conduct. His arsenal of weapons include: the dirty look, loud complaining utterances aimed at no one in particular, prolonged sighs, eye-rolling, and of course the demeaningly instructional comment aimed at the hard-working parent of the offending offspring.

Those of us who have ever traveled with a child or children have no doubt received many of these admonitions. How is one to handle such tyrants? A smile. A kind remark. A humble expression, and continue on as before. If one throws fuel on the fire the results may be an ugly confrontation.

This same scenario can be observed from another point of view. On this same flight I witnessed a kind young lady traveling alone. She was unfortunately seated in front of a nine-year-old whose mother was busy talking to a fellow traveler, a single “in-heat” male. Very repetitiously the child kicked the seat ahead of her with solid rhythmic strokes. This seat, of course, held the nice young lady. After 45 minutes the lady faced the mother. With a sincere smile she attempted to draw Mom’s attention to the child’s activity.

“Oh, honey, the woman in front of you doesn’t understand children. She doesn’t realize kids can’t sit still, and after all, it’s your first flight. Maybe some day, when she is a mom, she will understand. If you have to move your legs to stretch, just go ahead. She will have to remember that you are only a little girl.”

The victimized lady scrunched lower in her seat, held her head and apparently prayed for endurance. A short time later, as the same child returned from a potty visit, she paused beside the lady’s seat. With a defiant expression she remarked, “I’m ONLY nine years old, you know.”

It was at that moment I wanted to come to the aid of the patient young lady. But of course that would only have fanned the fire and the kicking would again increase. I managed to catch the eye of the lady. She returned my knowing smile with a nod. Perhaps that was some solace for her travail.

Somewhere, further up the aisle toward the coach section, a young infant was undergoing a diaper change. Dad was carefully and discreetly taking care of the matter. Five rows behind a male “persimmon” stood and approached the dad. “That smell offends me, and I should not have to put up with it!”

The dad motioned the sour man to come closer. With controlled effort I heard him respond, “When you have a bowel movement yourself, you are much closer to even more offensive fecal material than you are now.” The unhappy man slunk back to his seat.

Whenever parents travel they must be aware of what the children are doing and keep control of unnecessary irritating behavior. At the same time, they must absorb inappropriate criticism of childhood behavior that cannot be helped, such as having a bowel movement.

The child who behaves appropriately on trips does so at home, and has loving, involved and wise parents. Discipline is a daily, albeit hourly, pursuit that yields sound and confident children.

The adult who behaves like the proverbial “persimmon” in flight, acts like one at home. He or she needs a loving, kind mate at home and clearly does not have one.

Seemingly, the bottom line is, crabby at home is crabby “in air”, and undisciplined aloft is unbridled on terra firma. The only difference in favor of the child is the young person will grow up and hopefully change. The adult unfortunately will get more sour as he ages.

The next time one flies, remember this article and be not a sour adult or an overly permissive parent. In both cases think of your fellow travelers instead of just thinking of yourself.

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