Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Sometimes It's Bad Luck...
...and sometimes it's just bad parenting.

I wasn't there, so I can't guess which camp this falls into. Big local news story, a Worcester family was on vacation in Florida and got kicked off their plane before take-off because their 3-year-old refused to sit in her seat and was having a huge tantrum. Now the parents are outraged and making national news.

Let's dissect this, shall we?

First, 3-year-old. THREE. Not a tiny infant who is unable to understand or cope with the pressures of travel. I recognize that travel is stressful and often brings out the worst in people, but this is a child who is old enough to be reasoned with and, if necessary, threatened into submission. Jacob is two and a half, and you're darn right he would never, ever behave like that in public. Both of my children already understand, quite well, that I will tolerate a certain level of poor behavior at home, either with benign ignorance or with whatever ideal and perfect parenting response is required by the situation. But in public, my tolerance for crap goes way, way down. Make me look bad, and I will retaliate. Not with beatings (those are for home), but I actually will leave a restaurant, not leave the car, depart from a party, if the behavior dictates thusly. My kids believe me, they know their limits and my own, and I simply cannot imagine a circumstance where they would get so far out of control, in public, that I couldn't fix it.

Which means that most people who meet my children believe them to be very smart, polite, well-behaved, well-rounded individuals, and I don't disabuse them of that notion. They don't see the screaming "I don't WANT a bath" tantrums (post on that to follow), and I'm content with pretending they don't happen. Sure, that makes me an arrogant parent. Some things, I do pretty well. Sue me.

That's the first thing. The second is, think back to the times you've been on some form of mass transit. A plane, a train, a bus, whatever. There are always kids having tantrums of some sort, and planes are worse with the depressurizing (or is it over-pressurizing? I never remember) and the cramped spaces and frankly boring surroundings. Most parents prepare themselves to the gills, with snacks and toys and books intended to last a 3-hour flight but actually able to distract the child for about 43 seconds. So, tantrums happen. It's part of parenting, it's part of being a toddler. We've all sighed and felt either pity or scorn, maybe both, for the afflicted family. And we've let it pass, because what else can you do?

So, then. How BAD must this particular tantrum have been? Seriously. It must have been cranked right up to 11 on the dial, you know? Official news reports refer to the child as hitting her parents and crawling under the seats. After being asked to sit, repeatedly, and being unable to contain their 40-pound travel companion, the parents and spawn were escorted off the plane. I cannot imagine.

Third, at least they were escorted off before the plane took off. It would have been so much more inconvenient for the family if the airline had asked them to leave shortly after reached cruising altitude.

So, yeah, this has been stuck in my head today. I was willing to give these parents the benefit of the doubt, maybe their kid was getting sick or has a disability or is in some other way unable to control herself; maybe the parents are sick or disabled or in some other way unable to control her. But I saw their interview on Good Morning America this morning, and by all appearances, the parents are of normal functioning abilities and don't place heavy emphasis on discipline or communication with their offspring. During the television interview, for which, presumably, they had some time to prepare, the child was lolling around on her mother's lap, whining, and generally begging for a little structure. And not getting it. Fine, so, maybe it's not bad parenting, but it's not model parenting.

And while we're on the topic, if you and your significant other are sitting in a parked pickup truck in the parking lot, two spaces away from me, with the window cracked open a bit, and are smoking so heavily that I cough on it, then I will be turned off and unimpressed. Sorry, but smoking doesn't rev my engine. But we can coexist. But if you have a child small enough to be in a full five-point carseat in the cab of the truck between you, then we'll downgrade it to outright disgusted. That kid's lungs just don't even have a chance.

Two clarifications on the plane thing: from what I've read, it sounds like the problem wasn't the child's tantrum that was the cause for the family's removal; it was her unwillingness, and parents' inability, to secure her into her seat safely. None of us grown-ups get to float around the plane unseatbelted during takeoff, why should she? If anything, she's LESS safe than us. And, two, I don't think it was the kid's fault. Kids aren't expected to be in control of very much at that age... but the parents are.

Just, seriously, please. If that happens to me, kick me off the plane. Twice.