Dear Mom of the Crying Baby on the Airplane,
When we boarded, I saw you. You were hard to miss with that massive diaper bag, the stroller that refused to fold down as quickly as the man behind you in line wanted it to, the burp rag on your shoulder over the strap of your trendy purse, the haggard look on your face that said you were already tired, you already hadn’t slept in hours and were now boarding an eight-hour flight to London, Heathrow. And of course, there was the baby in your arms. Pudgy, nearly bald, freshly diapered, and calm.
Red sky in morning, sailors take warning.
Red sky at night, sailors delight.
While boarding a plane …
the baby that cries will be calm while the airplane flies.
the baby so quiet will upon takeoff, create endless riot.
I already empathized with you. I remembered the flight when one of my twins came down with a fever halfway between Minneapolis and Denver. I remembered when my youngest had a cold and demanded to be breastfed the entire flight and I think all the passengers around me got full-frontal flashes for hours on end. I remembered my youngest screaming during every single take off and landing. I remembered ceaseless trips to the bathroom, scrambling over our fake-sleeping seatmates.
I watched you fish in your purse for the boarding passes and take out, instead, a packet of wipes, as though you had momentarily forgotten what you were searching for and your hand went to the default. I watched the man behind you tap his foot and shift his computer bag on his shoulder. A shoulder, by the way, not stained by spit up.
You weren’t right next to me on the plane but you were close and sure enough, when we were airborne, the baby started. First, with a kind of sporadic whaw whaw, quiet but building. All too soon, she was full on wailing.
You bounced, you sang, you played finger games. You tried milk, Cheerios, a rattle. You sighed and snuggled. It isn’t your fault the baby doesn’t understand air pressure or confinement.
Some people think it is your fault, or that is the impression they give with their pursed lips and narrowed eyes and crossed arms. I understand they are upset because they don’t want to hear a baby screaming for hours on end, they paid for a ticket and wish they could have specified: NOT BY A BABY.
But you also paid for a ticket and sometimes, when the screaming is particularly loud, I’m sure you also wish you could have specified: NOT BY A BABY. Not really, you wouldn’t really want to abandon your baby to sit by a stranger, but you are getting tired. You also need to listen to the cries and have to bear the added weight of intensely caring for this little, unpacifiable person.
I don’t know exactly what you are thinking or what the people around you are thinking, but I have been in your position. I once flew alone from Minneapolis to Djibouti with three children ages six and under. If you see me looking at you, it isn’t to judge or to order your baby quiet with my superpower eyes. It is to send you peace across the aisles. I am wishing you rest, wishing you confidence to ignore the snide looks of some. I am wishing you a helping hand from a loved one when you land.
I can see that you are an attentive, loving mother and it isn’t because your baby is cooing and happy in this moment. It is because in her crisis and distress, you are gentle and patient and present. Carry that with you, as she grows.
Your fellow passenger on this flight and in motherhood,