The Public Response and backlash on this is horrifying to me. I don’t often claim I’m 100% right, but I am on this o because I've been there. Many times.
Last week, Anthony Bass, a pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays, was torn apart on Twitter because he expressed his upset over his pregnant wife being made to get on her hands and knees and clean up after her two toddlers on a United flight.
The online world did not agree that this was outrageous. From an outsider’s perspective, I can try to see some of the remedial thought processes that some may have, especially those with no personal experience here.
*You are responsible for your kids
*You need to teach manners
*Why should someone have to clean up after your children?
*He’s an MLB player and could afford to have someone fly with his wife…
Pic of Anthony's kids on flight:
I will start with that last one because I find it ridiculous. How does one’s perception of what someone else *should* be able to afford or accomplish make the other less human?
I've been on a flight (with three children) on some of the very worst days of my life. I remember that always. You never know what is happening in someone else's life.
Why can I speak to this "issue" so strongly? Because I’m a mom of three, and because my husband was gone, year-round, for 75% of every week, but often weeks and months at a time, fighting fires, I flew regularly. My kids all boarded planes before they were two months old and have been on more in their little lives than many will ever go on. I had no choice but to fly alone with young babies to get help, support, relief, and in many cases, some semblance of sanity.
If a mother has the opportunity to bring someone on a flight with her and help, she will one hundred percent take it. Always. You cannot assume for any reason that this was not considered and deemed impossible for anyone, no matter their public status.
Why does this enrage me? Let me explain the human experience of preparing for, boarding, and surviving a flight with small children alone.
The anxiety starts early. Packing is generally stressful, but the survival pack required just for a short flight with one toddler is intense. You can’t have enough distractions, and there must be last-resort options, like the biggest and unhealthiest suckers in the world.
Getting through security is awful. Remove electronics, take the baby out of the stroller, can my breast milk come on board, please stop licking that, grab your sister’s shoe, where is the carrier? I forgot your sweatshirt; it’s so much. There have only been a few times when the security check-in hasn’t been a complete horror show, even with my kids older and being great, experienced travelers. It’s scarce for anyone, TSA included, to help you or care about your plight. When they do, it’s a shock and so deeply appreciated that you will likely never forget it.
During the entire experience of checking in, going through security, and boarding a flight, you are absorbing the energy of almost everyone being frustrated that you and your pack of heathens are impacting their well-thought-out travel negatively. At the same time, they pray you’re not on their flight. You are a disappointment, just by being in another’s space while traveling with children.
With this, a mother on her own at an airport is, in most all cases, not only concerned as a parent about her children and battling her own fears, concerns, and anxiety, but she is trying to manage everyone else’s. Every person in the line, on the plane, working security, in the bathroom… everyones. No matter how strong you are, in these situations, you want your kids to be as easy as possible so that you are not impacting others any more than you should.
It is not fun. It is not easy.
This woman had a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old on board. A quick trip to the grocery store with a pair like this is a battle. Having them sit still on a flight without disturbing others, unless you’ve had two under five before, you cannot understand. Period.
The kids spilled popcorn. The mom was made to clean it up, 22 weeks pregnant, on her hands and knees. Have you ever tried to crawl between the seats on a plane for something? Likely not, but it’s not easy. Being pregnant and having two kids with you?
I’m not saying that parents aren’t responsible for their kids. Giving them popcorn on a flight, though, it was done to keep them occupied for others’ comfort. Why not a pretzel? A sucker? A sandwich? A charcuterie board? We don’t get to ask those questions…because the answer is, that’s what would work in that moment, and kids are picky little jerks. I could bring a celery stick to keep the baby occupied, but the other would need Cheerios, something even messier, and a hundred other things.
Nobody gets to question a mother’s tactics unless they involve drugs, but even then…a little Tylenol before a flight is never a bad call.
Try having no idea your 11-month-old has an ear infection until a plane starts to descend.
It’s so bad that you stop caring about those on the flight and become afraid your child is dying. You cry with them while doing everything you can to ease their pain, feeling like a complete and utter failure as a mother.
Flying with babies is a literal battle.
Were the flight attendants always over-the-top caring and empathetic? No. But most of the time, they were my only true allies, the only ones who seemed to have any semblance of how challenging the task at hand was.
Far lesser experiences than being forced to crawl on the floor pregnant and clean up popcorn have brought me to tears while traveling. This is not the same as going to someone’s house, letting your kid make a mess, and then leaving. I won’t spend time explaining that. It’s obvious, and everything I’ve already stated explains why.
Flight attendants are not slaves, but they have the tools to clean up popcorn, and a pregnant woman with two small children can be given a pass.
It’s not someone puking because they drank too much at a bachelorette (like the girl next to me on one of my flights home this year… whom my friend and I CARED for while she puked an inch away from me).
It’s not a rude, grown man leaving wrappers and crumbs.
It’s a mother trying to manage so much more than anyone should or would want to by herself. For whatever reason, she has to take that flight alone. She doesn’t need to get on the floor and clean up after her children this time. Most of us would try to, and the best thing someone could say is, “Please, don’t worry about it; we’ll get it.”
I don’t care if she didn’t try to, though. She was on a flight with two little children, alone and pregnant. There are so many things on her mind; not trying is not an indicator that she doesn’t care or that she thinks others should clean up after her. It’s just not. Anxiety causes a brain to default into fight, flight, freeze, or feign death. It’s impossible to be logical and strategic; many things, big and small, are overlooked, only to cause more stress.
The anxiety of a trip with kids doesn’t stop until you’re in a safe and comfortable place and settled with support. Most of the time, that doesn’t happen until you’re back home for two days.
Last year, my youngest and then 5-year-old developed a fear of airplane bathrooms. I had to go with him. Still, I cannot fathom the mile-high club; being in one of those things with a 5-year-old is nearly impossible. My kids were all otherwise pretty self-sufficient on flights, but it is still stressful for us 4 to fly. You never know what can or will happen with kids.
So, we were in the tiny toilet cubicle; he went to the bathroom, and I struggled around him because I figured I should go since I was there. Despite knowing better, he starts to fiddle with the handle while I’m peeing. The flight attendant thinks he’s alone and can’t get out. She opens the door for him while I’m on the toilet, which is humiliating. I’m flustered, so my brain is no longer working properly; that’s science. We wash our hands and get out as fast as we can. I forget to flush the toilet. As we walked to our seats, the attendant flushed the toilet for us, and basically, this was mortifying for me. It was like it was on the loudspeaker, and I felt more awful and embarrassed than you would expect because the added anxiety of the trip does that. About ten minutes later, the attendant brings me a smile and a Bloody Mary.
She didn’t need to clean up the popcorn. She could have been given a pass and some empathy. If I were sitting anywhere nearby, I would have stopped her and done it myself…and given the attendant a very disgusted look.
We can and should care for one another; it’s even more called for in this situation.
To the mothers and grandmothers who have sat beside me with care, saying they are not worried about my children being unpredictable and letting me know they’ve been there or playing hide-and-seek, you were few and far between, and I still remember your faces.
To the college students who have sat and talked with my chatterboxes like they are their aunt and uncle and fully invested, you are a gift to this world.
To the businessman who grabbed our luggage for us before I was holding the line up and anywhere close to figuring that step out with my baby wrestling against going in the carrier and my three-year-old wanting to climb over seats…I didn’t expect that, and you’ll never know what that small gesture did for me beyond the gratitude on my face at that moment.
Be kind, good God, be empathetic. No matter who, no matter what, it’s ok to be kind. This isn’t about whose job is what; it’s about grace and human decency.
Mothers don’t just deserve this; they need it. Probably most on flights, but always. This unpaid job was recently quoted as worth 186k a year.
We are tired, scared, and winging every second, and we could use just a little help, even if it’s just an understanding smile.
To the moms, I have many tips, and I’ll outline them at some point, but the most significant life hacks for surviving a flight are:
1.) Ergo carriers because you don’t have to remove the baby at security.
2.) Companion Pass: You can get a pass for someone to accompany you to the gate. Make sure Pop leaves his pocket knife in the car, and they have their ID.
3.) Treats: There is no shame in suckers or anything that will make them happy.
4.) Fly Southwest; they don’t treat you like this.
I wish I could be there to help you; I promise I will if I ever am.
Be kind, always.