How Society Judges Parents of Toddlers

By Amy Shearn, REDBOOK

I have felt strongly about news stories before, but none so strongly as this one. A family was removed from a Jet Blue flight because of their toddler's five-minute-long tantrum. Apparently, their two-year-old did not want to be strapped into her seat (my two-year-old tries to kick me in the teeth about every other time I try to strap her into her carseat, but that's neither here nor there) and had a fit before take-off. The pilot noted this was against FAA regulations and ordered them off the plane. It was the last plane out that night, so the family-oh, they also have a 3 year old, poor beleaguered people!-had to find somewhere to spend the night.

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As anyone who has ever gone anywhere with small children knows, every situation can turn into a complete disaster at the drop of a hat. It's a complete disaster when you have to wait for a table at a restaurant, a red light takes too long, a beloved scrap of felt is misplaced, a favorite snack is unavailable, or anything is out of the ordinary at all. That's because small children are animals. Some people call them cavemen, but I think that's giving them too much credit. After all, cavemen could provide themselves with food and water and make cave drawings without eating their crayons.

This is why I'm not a political pundit: Every time I watch this segment of the mother (a pediatrician!) calmly musing about whether they really needed to be ejected from the flight, I start to feel steam come out of my ears, my heart begins to race, and I uncontrollably mutter, "That is so ******* stupid! That is so ******* stupid!" As in every argument I've ever had, at least 40 fiery comebacks form in my throat, none of which says exactly what I want to say, but here's a sampling:

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"Oh, really, the tantrum bothered you? Because I'm sure the parents loved it! I'm sure they brought it on by pinching her as hard as they could and telling her Elmo died, because there is nothing parents love more than a screaming child!"

Smart, right? Or:

"Were you ever a child? Can I please have your mother's phone number? I want to find out how many tantrums you had that ruined her life on a daily basis!"

Or:

"Do you realize that in three minutes, that same child will be happily claiming to own a purple dinosaur-bunny as a pet? Just wait one minute, will you? Nice temper tantrum there... pilot-face!"

Whatever. It's all part of a larger, strange issue known as, "People don't seem to understand that small children are absolutely crazy." When I was getting dirty looks because my daughter Harper was crying on my own fateful flight (and I was pregnant at the time-man, was that miserable), I coped by muttering, "She's basically a baby, you know. She's still in diapers. She barely knows words. What am I supposed to do, explain to her about air-traffic patterns and flight delays? Show her a diagram of how sleep affects the brain, explain how missing a nap can cause a spike in bad-mood-hormones or whatever?" I mean, toddlers that age can't even be bribed. They are ruthless. They give nary a hoot about stickers or even candy. An eight-year-old throwing a tantrum, okay, I can understand dirty looks-but even then, honestly, how do you ever know what someone else's story is?

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Here is when I think it's okay to give a parent dirty looks:
1. When her kid is having a tantrum. At a bar. After 9 pm.
2. When her kid is drinking Diet Coke out of a baby bottle on the subway. After 9 pm.
3. When her kid kicks your seat (on a plane, train, at a restaurant, etc.) and she exclaims, "Good one! Next time aim for the head!"

In most other circumstances, I think it's a pretty safe bet that the parent of the screaming child is more mortified and annoyed than anyone else in the world. Also, I would like to reiterate that parents can try all they want to control their kids, but kids tend to have the annoying habit of being their own people with their own ideas about things. Even the best-raised infants and toddlers will have screaming fits at inopportune times.

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In conclusion, just before hearing about this story I booked a flight for me, my now-almost-3-year-old, and my almost-1-year-old-on Jet Blue. Now that I'm a more experienced parent, I can only hope that when both of them start screaming loud enough to set off nearby dogs howling, that people look at me, alone with these little beasts, with enough disdain that I lose my stage fright and unleash one of my by-now perfectly honed comebacks in my defense. Like, maybe, this one-"Are you...? What the...? WAHHH!" [throws self on floor, kicks, screams, then falls asleep].

Amy Shearn is the mother of two small children, and is the proprietress of Household Words, a blog about babies, books, and Brooklyn. She also writes for Oprah.com and MommyPoppins.com. Amy is the author of the novel How Far Is the Ocean From Here (Shaye Areheart/Crown 2008) and a forthcoming novel about, what else, a Brooklyn mother, which needs a title and will be published by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, in 2013.

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