Screaming kids on airplanes

27 04 2012

So just because I love jetlag so much, I decided to go back to the States five days after I had just returned to Europe. Chicago last week, New York this week. But more about NYC another time, maybe.

Today I want to talk about children (again).

There is nothing on earth that brings the sociopath out in everyone than screeching, red-faced midgets on a transatlantic overnight flight.

I thought that my JFK-ZRH flight would be a good opportunity to get at least a few hours of shut-eye. Oh how wrong I was. Within the five rows around me there were seven kids ranging in age from about six months to 3 years.

Children in front of me, children to the right of me, children behind me.  There were no kids to the left of me because there was only a window, and beyond that, an airplane wing. And if you ask me, I would have put them all there rather than in the cabin with the rest of us.

The best place for kids: Outdoors!

Yes, attached to these children were also parents, all of whom seemed incapable and overwhelmed with the stress of parenting.

It’s bad enough when one child screams incessantly in a closed space with a captive audience of 200. But on this flight, they all screamed. Throughout the night. In a coordinated attempt to drive all the rest of us to commit extremely violent crimes.

Jethro Tull on the inflight entertainment system, at top volume, could not drown out these pint-sized terrorists.

My martyrdom (and that of my child-free co-passengers) lasted seven hours, thanks to a strong tailwind that got us to our destination faster than usual, plus 45 minutes of taxiing at both ends.

What can be done? I have three solutions:

  1. Completely child-free flights. Malaysia Airlines has the right idea, having banned infants from its First Class cabins and implementing a child-free upper deck on its new A380 aircraft from July 1. This is an idea whose time is way overdue. Folks like me who have to go from the gate to the office after an overnight flight will not stand for this kind of noise pollution much longer.
  2. An “objectionable noise surcharge,” kind of like the fuel surcharge all of us have gotten used to paying. The younger the child, the higher the tax. This would automatically disqualify families traveling with multiple infants because they would likely no longer be able to afford it.
  3. A sound-proof cabin at the back of the plane. Like a playpen, or a time-out box. Or just seal off the last five or six rows from the rest of the cabin with sound-proof glass. They used to put smokers at the back of the plane, and now we can just put kids there. Screaming (like smoking) is harmful to the environment and the health of all those individuals not currently engaged in it.

OK, time for all you parents with young kids to come at me with a machete. But you know darn well that I am right.  You have to deal with your own screaming kids all the time. You can’t escape them. (And don’t you wish you could?)

But ask yourselves this: Why must babies travel to other continents before they even know who they are? Why do you people drag them across oceans and time zones when they won’t remember any of it when they grow up? Why do you expose them to foreign germs and the misery of jetlag before their first day of school?

A suggestion that could keep all of us happy, the child-rich and the child-free: Show your kids your own country or region or continent when they are really small. There is so much to see in Europe, or North America, or Asia, alone. Then, when they turn six, or seven, or eight, when they are old enough to appreciate what you are offering them – that’s when you begin to show them the world.

Scrooge, the Grinch and me

23 12 2010

It’s Christmas and I’m not really inspired to write anything witty or, well, inspirational. Sorry. If anything, the spirit of this season-that-will-not-end has made me more cynical and bitter the longer it lasts.

I have been assaulted by Christmas decorations in stores since two weeks before Halloween. Every day I am subjected to multiple renditions of “Come, they told me, parumpapumpum …” and stupid advertising for giving the gift of liposucton or car insurance or 60-inch flat-screen televisions, sung by artificially jolly voices to the tune of “Deck the Halls” or “Let it Snow”. That is waterboarding for the soul and should be declared inhumane. Where are the activists from Amnesty International when you really need them?

This is Florida, people, THERE IS NO SNOW! THIS HELL WILL NOT FREEZE OVER! E-V-E-R! Even if all you Floridians have to get out your fleece gloves and wool caps when the temperature drops to below 65 degrees F (+18 degrees C).

So I’m the Grinch this year. Teaming up with Scrooge… and all the other literary figures that plot to steal/destroy/pillage Christmas. Fine – take it away… make it disappear.

And yes, dear happy parents, if I would have kids, it might be different – even if just for their sake. But remember, kids are often most underestimated by the adults closest to them. Your children will also figure out pretty quickly what is real and what is play-acting. And I’m not just talking about Santa Claus here.

During this festive season of communal commercial cheer (ka-ching!), it takes a lot to actually admit you are miserable. So I’m laying it out here for all to read. I can’t stand Christmas. And this year, I’m particularly sad, frustrated and upset. For myself and for those close to me who have to fight battles no one should be placed in the position to fight, especially not at Christmas. I’m angry at the injustice of it all.

If you also feel this way, its okay, you’re allowed to be grumpy this time of year, even if the rest of the world tells you you’re not. Please don’t be a pressure cooker and keep it all inside.

Just, if you do plan, against better judgment, to spend the holidays hanging around people you’re related to but barely know, it would probably be helpful if you concentrate on fileting the turkey and not each other – by avoiding emotionally loaded topics like politics, religion, unfulfilled expectations, lifestyle choices or hair color.

For me, I’m just hoping the next couple of days will pass quickly so that we can get back to normal and go on living our lives. 2011 seems like a happy number to me – those two 1’s at the end signify to me the best of the best. Number One followed by…Number One!

Somewhere between now and then I promise to climb out of this bottomless pit of grief, self-pity and sadness, and I shall return to inspire you.

Wishing you a peaceful weekend, in whatever form it may take. I will be at an Orlando theme park, escaping reality.

The bullies of Salt Lake City

14 09 2010

And once again I out myself as despicable, selfish, child-free and…much happier that way.

We were in that family-friendly of all cities, the LDS-church capital of the world, Salt Lake City, Utah. One fine and sunny morning, three small children and their two mothers were sitting in the breakfast area of the Crystal Inn. Irritating, high-pitched screams echoed through the hallway before we could even see and identify the creatures they were coming from. Shrieks, rivaling the sound of nails on a chalkboard, greeted us before we even had a chance to smell coffee.

The two rather rotund women who seemed to be the mothers of the screeching, squirming beasts sat at a table along with one mute and sickly-skinny man. (I thought polygamy was illegal…even in Utah!) Two kids were in highchairs and the third was perched on a lap. After every vocalization of 107 decibels or more, one of the women would tell her son, half-heartedly, “Jake, now stop” or “Nathan, don’t do that” as the other woman just smiled and laughed and pretended she could actually hear herself think amid all the noise pollution.

Other breakfasting guests concentrated hard on staring into and picking at their bacon and eggs, none making any visible attempt to address the great white (bellowing) elephant in the room.

And the whole time I’m thinking – if a little dog was yipping away like a maniac in the breakfast room of a hotel, would everybody go about their business as if it was nothing? I think not. The rules of society seem to be different when it comes to disruptive children. Everyone is supposed to actually enjoy the pandemonium they create.

If only one could silence such terrors with a milkbone. Soaked in grain alcohol. Or rat poison.

Here little kiddie, time for breakfast!

As the racket began to fray our tender early-morning nerves, I finally got up to ask the two mothers, obviously incapable of handling their kids effectively in public, if they would please just try to calm them down or leave because there were other guests who had paid for the right to enjoy their breakfast in peace. The childrens’ high-pitched squealing stopped for an instant as the mothers launched into a rampage, telling me that their precious little boys are just learning how to behave and little boys must also eat. And that they will grow up into competent, responsible adults. (Really? I wouldn’t be so sure about that.)

“But… how can they eat if they are screaming all the time,” I asked, which was the red flag for both obese mothers and a few other guests in the room to attack me all at once. I was surprised at the decidedly family un-friendly language used.

By this time R.’s blood was coming to a boil as well and he jumped into the discussion with a few choice words of his own. His comments betrayed his foreign accent and promptly we got a “Get outta here and go back home!” tossed our way from a white-trash, tatooed, slimy, IQ-deficient blob of body mass sitting at another table.

After an eternity the clan finally got up to leave, threatening us with a “We’ll be back tomorrow!” to which we lobbed a “Thank God we will not!” back.

Charming folks here in Salt Lake City. I don’t think I will come visit again anytime soon.

The Anti-Parent

23 08 2010

It’s back-to-school time so let’s talk about… children.

Now…I am over 40 and I am childless. No, excuse me, child-free. I make that distinction because to me, “less” implies there is something one wishes one had but does not, and “free” implies that one never wanted it in the first place. So I am happily child-free, most content to have nothing to do with kids, and to be able to keep a healthy distance between them and me. As far as I am concerned, kids = problems, noise, trouble, anxiety, stress, mess, complications, expenses, broken stuff, and an all-around pain in the neck.

As far back as I can remember I had no interest in having or just being around children. A cousin and I discussed this when we were teenagers… she said she wanted kids, but didn’t care for a husband; I said I wanted a husband but no children. (Today she is a lesbian mother of two, and I am a wife. At least that worked out for both of us.)

In my early 30’s my attitude towards kids shifted temporarily. My friends started procreating and I was briefly under the delusion that I, too, must experience that facet of life, and add the label “mother” to my CV. But thankfully that phase passed and, while currently being subjected to a second veritable baby-boom in my immediate vicinity, I am now more positive than ever that I don’t need the aggravation nor do I need to boost my own ego by attempting to create another being in my image.

I can’t imagine going through the discomfort of pregnancy and the high drama of childbirth. And those two traumatic experiences mark just the beginning of problems that will last a lifetime, with no escape.  No, no matter what the norms of society dictate, I can’t see how locking myself in that emotional and existential cage would make me happier, or a better person.

Seeing a very good friend turn into a shell of her former self after becoming a mother, and watching a marriage deteriorate because the adults have no alone-time has certainly not helped.

And in not having children, I am actually doing all you purportedly happy parents and the world a favor. I am making a significant contribution to the sustainability of our planet. There will be one less human being to feed, clothe, house, educate and keep safe for 80 or so years; one less person whose garbage and waste will pollute our limited natural resources. There will be no contribution to overpopulation, and in waiving my right to offspring I am also leaving more space on this earth for your kids to romp, make a racket, be creative, and thereby realize their potential. It’s only fair that they then help pay my pension.

So parents, skewer me if you want to – I’m used to it. I just don’t buy into the “kids are the best thing that ever happened to me” mind-set. Yeah, sure, your little bundles of joy are all wonderful – as wonderful as screaming, dominating little tyrants can be. Actually I love (your) kids… and thanks for going through the hassle of having some so that I don’t have to.