A request on behalf of the tired, frustrated parent(s) trying to quiet the screaming toddler who is making the entire airplane pissed

Dear people who are stuck on or near airplanes with crying/tantruming child(ren):

As irritating as the situation is for you, try to keep one small part of your heart open to how horrible it is for those parents. Offer them a smile, even if deep down you are imagining throttling that kid if s/he kicks your seat ONE MORE TIME). Hell, offer them a drink! Believe me, when it’s your kid screaming, you want to die sometimes. And it is one of the most stressful things I’ve ever lived through as a traveler.

On one four-hour leg from Seattle to Anchorage, my toddler started an epic tantrum that lasted at least one full hour (not counting build-up or aftershocks) and was so bad the flight attendants came over. My kid crawled under the seat in front of her and was screaming and thrashing. If we even touched her she violently hit and kicked all her limbs, while also going noodley and slipping through our grasp. We’re talking two grown adults could not soothe or wrangle a three-foot-tall child. She’d had it and that was it. We were helpless, trapped, judged. We were those people. I wanted to simultaneously cry and jump off the airplane. It was hell. I would have happily gotten drunk at that point, if I had the capacity to even think beyond handling the screaming.

Remember, when the ride is over, those parents are stuck with that little asshole (because all kids are little assholes sometimes) and have to figure out how to get them to just be quiet and go to sleep already. And you do not. And that’s a great thing about your life at this moment. Get yourself a drink and be glad this too shall pass.

And later, if the frazzled, exhausted, humiliated parents offer you an apology by baggage claim? Be cool. Lie and tell them it was no bother cause kids will be kids. Those parents will know you’re lying, but they will be SO GRATEFUL you did. It’s a lie that is a great kindness. And we parents love you for it. Because we were there. We know it was a big deal. And we feel like failures and jerks that it was our kid who was the asshole this time.

This goes for stores and elevators and waiting rooms and just about anywhere you go and you run into CRAZED TANTRUM CHILD. Because that kid’s parent is just trying to get through the day. They’re remembering how they graduated top of their class and have or do work at really hard jobs — I sometimes flash to interviewing President Bill Clinton — and yet in this moment, they cannot control, bully, plead, or otherwise cajole a small human to just relax and be cool. That kid does not give a shit that their parent is embarrassed or getting heckled by grown-up assholes with no manners. Or even that their parent already has to navigate a world in which grown-ups have adult-sized tantrums (because they totally do). Or jerk bosses. Or unrealistic deadlines. Bills. Broken door handles that need fixing. Or the myriad other things all adults have to deal with. Because on top of that, right now as the kid is screaming on the floor, that parent just thinks, “I suck at this.” And that’s the worst feeling because the one job you really want to ace is parenting. And you are doomed to failure because only Mary Poppins is perfect and she’s only “practically perfect.”

So, have a heart. Or at the very least, don’t pile on with a snide comment or side-eye glance. We already know that shit has gone sideways. We live with this tiny tyrant. Be glad that you get to walk away and never hear that scream again.

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