No friendly skies for mom traveling with two small kids

July 28, 2008|By Brooke Williams

THOMASTON, Maine - I would like to thank the man who helped me during my recent flight from Maine to Orlando.

I repeat, the man, the one and only person in a sea of travelers who lent a hand as I struggled to get myself and two small children through three airports during the six-hour journey.

My aerial Prince Charming was a baggage handler at JFK who opened my stroller and pointed the wheels toward the ramp - it was the simplest of gestures, but so thoughtful that I nearly cried. "You're the nicest person I've met all day," I told him.

"You gotta be kiddin' me," he said, his thick Queens accent accentuating his disbelief. I wish I was, or that it was just an issue of men being clueless that day. But only two women openly sympathized with my struggle - an elderly lady with a cane and a mother of twins.

Let me stress that I am not expecting people to take care of me.

After nearly 20 flights traveling alone with my toddler, I'm freakishly self-sufficient. If there were an Olympic sport for going through security, I'd get the gold. I can have my stroller and son through the X-ray machine while single travelers are still unlacing their shoes. My motions are swift and economical. Traveling with a child is like running a marathon: You have to pace yourself, conserving your energy for the long stretches (and inevitable layovers).

My 4-year-old loves to fly - it's the one time I let him have his own bag of Cheetos. Believe me, there is a time and place for the synthetic orange food, which lulls him into such a dreamlike state that disembarking strangers compliment me on how well behaved my child is. But my sense of confidence about flying evaporated on my last trip - the maiden voyage as a mother of two.

Before departing for the airport, I did a practice run in my living room to perfect my travel system that involved strapping my 2-month-old daughter in a sling so one hand would be free to navigate the stroller carrying my son and diaper bag. Not until I was halfway through security did I remember one crucial point: I needed two hands to collapse the stroller.

So there I was, struggling mightily to fold the stroller with one hand, while trying to soothe a crying baby with the other. I had to use my foot to keep my son from dumping the diaper bag on the floor as he rooted for the Cheetos.

Not only did no one volunteer to help me, but a few travelers gave me the "stink eye" for holding up the line. Others watched as if I were a circus sideshow or a contestant on Survivor.

Trying not to cry, or turn into a news headline as the crazy woman arrested for throwing a sippy cup at a business traveler, I finally hurled my upright stroller onto the conveyor belt along with all my faith in humanity.

I wanted to scream, "What is wrong with you people?" Forget the village - can't someone give a mom a hand?

I'm not alone. I've heard countless stories of moms being lectured by flight attendants and scorned by seatmates.

Logic says a large percentage of fellow travelers are parents or grandparents themselves, so it's hard to fathom that no one understands how hard it is to travel with small children. Is everyone so "busy," so intolerant that we've all just become obstacles in each other's way? Or have we just watched so much reality television that other people's hardships have become sheer entertainment? Are we turning into a culture that only loves our own children, not anyone else's?

We took our son to Italy when he was 2. Not only did Italians welcome our family into restaurants, but they played with Conrad and brought him special treats. Conrad, in turn, was amazingly well behaved, no doubt because he didn't feel like he was on trial.

Next time you see a mom schlepping her kids through the airport or the grocery store, for the love of humankind, open the door for them. You might just make her day. You will certainly make the world a better place by offering.

Brooke Williams is a freelance writer. This article originally appeared in The Christian Science Monitor.

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