My kids are seasoned air travelers. Poppy, 8, and London, 3, know how to load the x ray conveyor belt with their gear and to hold their arms up for a full-body search. We carry plenty of snacks, toys, and sedatives.
Flying alone with them recently, I grabbed a few extra pillows and blankets to aid sleep and in case I had to muffle cries. Poppy buckled herself in by the window. London, in the middle, checked out our tray tables. Two adults sat in the emergency-exit row in front of us and giggled conspiratorially about the extra legroom they’d received for agreeing to save our lives.
London wasn’t so lucky. Being a vertically challenged guy in a grown-up seat didn’t allow him to bend his legs. Therefore, the soles of his Buzz Lightyear sandals rested against the tray table when it was in its upright and locked position. While waiting for takeoff, he hummed the anthem from Bob the Builder, lightly tapping his feet, almost in time. The balding man seated in front of him turned around and popped up so we could see his face.
“He’s kicking my seat,” he explained to me, smiling that phony smirk my son surely recognized from great villains like Scar in The Lion King and canine-seamstress Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmatians. I apologized and pointed out to London that his tapping foot might bother the man.
Once in the air, the beverage service and in-flight movie arrived concurrently. As London fumbled with the headphones and I lowered the tray table, his feet brushed the seat back just above the pocket that held an America West magazine, emergency instructions, and a barf bag, an item any parent worth his salt knows is really 20 minutes of puppetry waiting to unfold.
Chrome Dome unbuckled, stood upright, and faced us. “He’s kicking my seat again,” he sang angrily. The lady next to him peered around at me. “I’ve got a bad back,” she declared. London began to cry. The pair remained unmoved.
I generally avoid people who forget they were once children — adults who, upon seeing a child, wince or recoil as if these small humans are really tiny lepers with bad haircuts. But on a plane, I’m stuck with them. “I heard you,” I said through my teeth as the notebook-size screens lowered and the movie began. I did my best to console and distract my toddler even though I was fuming inside. What London had done with his tiny feet had far less impact than what adults do all the time with full-size legs, knees, and pointy laptop computers. It was clear they were attacking him because of his age and size. If an obese senior citizen or college basketball player was bumping into them, they would say and do nothing.
From Daddy Needs a Drink, by Robert Wilder. ¿ 2006 by Robert Wilder. Published by arrangement with the Bantam Dell Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.
Dealing with “the meanies”
Besides causing my son to cry, they had also spoiled the only film without cartoons I would be allowed to view in months. I started to entertain thoughts of retaliation and revenge. Trying to turn down the air above my head, I pushed the jet a bit too far forward and realized I could point all three geysers at the pair in front of me. I opened the floodgates and let the cool air flow.
When the flight attendant came by to collect trash, the lady with the psychic sciatica whined for a blanket.
“Sorry,” she said, “they’ve all been handed out.” I glanced over at Poppy, who had constructed a tent out of hers.
“Try to get some sleep,” Baldy advised his miserable partner.
That was my cue to turn on all three of our lights and swivel them toward the object of my karmic lesson. Soon, light and air were not enough. I swatted imaginary flies. London and I clumsily visited the rest room about four times. I wasn’t just doing this for my son, I figured, or for my own guilty enjoyment. I had a cause. This was for all the parents who worked hard to keep their children from annoying adults on public transportation and were still persecuted for it.
The woman moaned and complained to her man, who said, “I know, I know,” like a congested turtle. But every time they looked back, London was either on his knees like an altar boy, playing silently with his train set, or his Lilliputian legs were harmlessly crossed.
“Miss, can I move my seat?” Wailing Woman called to the attendant.
Visibly annoyed, the flight attendant answered, “No, but you may ask your neighbors to switch.” She gazed toward our row. My daughter peacefully slept, her head against the window, while London quietly connected Thomas and Percy.
“You have the most well-behaved kids,” she said to me and smiled.
“Thank you,” I answered, and kicked the seats in front of me.