Back when Vedu was just a couple of months old, one of my trainees jokingly wrote on Facebook about how he seemed to be cursed in regularly finding himself on flights with babies. I replied, “I used to believe in this curse; now I am the carrier of the curse.” We had a laugh about it and that was that. I could laugh about a simple joke instead of getting offended as a new mom, because I could understand how, for those without kids, it would be a much crazier experience listening to a bawling baby for a long time, when it is not an experience even parents themselves really look forward to. When my girls were infants, I would keep worrying if they would start screaming loudly inside the plane, and Hari would calm me down by saying with a laugh, “One and a half hours of shame. That’s it”. Thankfully, we have never faced that.. yet. :-/
When I look back to my childfree days, I remember being wary of kids around me in public places. I was happy to pamper infants, but maintained a very safe distance from kids above one and a half years or so, when they moved to the status of toddlers. My problem was never with crying babies; it was with toddlers and elder kids wreaking havoc in public and making it a hellish experience for others present. I hated (I still do) those parents who literally ignore or laugh about the nuisance that their kids cause as if it is something to be enjoyed – jumping over others, running like the wind and bumping into everything and everyone, grabbing others’ stuff, shouting at the top of their lungs, kicking others’ seats, invading personal space and boundaries, forcing uninterested strangers to talk, and in general leaving others helpless and wanting to scream “DO SOMETHING!!!” to the conveniently clueless parents. At the cost of being looked at as someone judging fellow-parents, I really have to say that such parents suck, big time! You might not be able to do much sometimes; but at least don’t encourage such behavior; at least pretend to try so that your kids don’t grow up as entitled brats.
However, even in those days I remember being sympathetic towards parents who were really trying to do something about it, but were not able to. While I used to shoot an angry stare towards the “little monsters” so as to keep them away from me (that normally worked in protecting my personal space and my belongings), I wouldn’t show even a flicker of annoyance towards the parents who were already at their wits’ end, trying their best to control their kids. The point is that, even as a person who wasn’t very fond of kids, I was mature and sensible enough to understand when parents were helpless and exhausted, having tried everything to have their kids behave.
The general blanket rule of “good parenting reaps good results” doesn’t always work with every kid. I have seen extremely hyperactive kids who end up being a handful despite their parents being absolute role models as parents! That’s mostly just a phase some kids go through; sometimes there could be a medical reason behind it, and more often than not, they calm down as the years go by. Hari and I were laughing with one of his nephews only the other day about the kind of scary monster he used to be in his younger years. He turned out fine. But back in those days, I have seen his poor mother moved to tears by the harsh words of others around, after failing miserably in somehow getting him to even sit somewhere for five minutes. Even when I was secretly scared to have the kid around, I used to feel really bad for her too, because I could see just how much she tried.
But forget being irritated by kids who misbehave in public or joking about crying babies. Imagine feeling the need to scream at a tiny baby’s parents just because the little one couldn’t stop crying! One of the viral news pieces I have been coming across for the last couple of days is of a grown-ass man screaming at the parents of an infant who was crying loud for 40 long minutes on a flight. What shocked me even more was the sheer number of jerks who kept justifying his behavior with comments like “If parents can’t calm their kids down, they should take them out and not bother others”, or “Stop using flights and take your kids in your own car, instead of pestering other passengers who have paid the fare to enjoy a peaceful flight and not to listen to screaming babies.” The level of insensitivity and entitlement in these comments, not one or two, but countless ones, was pathetic! I would totally understand if someone asks parents to take a bawling kid out of a movie theater or from a function where attendees and those on stage can be distracted by the loud noise. But to say that parents with babies are a nuisance who shouldn’t even take public transport so as not to cause inconvenience to others? Like many others asked these entitled brats – why the hell does this “logic” and “solution” not apply to you? Don’t want to listen to a baby crying in public? What’s stopping you from staying indoors or using your own private transport? And what the hell does “taking the baby out” even mean in this context? Put on a parachute and jump out of a frigging plane with the baby??!!
Even as a childfree youngster, no matter how loud a screaming baby had been, I only used to feel bad for the baby and equally for its parents who had exhausted every soothing technique in the book. It doesn’t need one to be hyper-sensitive, hyper-compassionate or hyper-sensible to understand that babies cry – sometimes seemingly for no reason. But trust me, babies aren’t crying like crazy because it’s super fun for them. They cry because they can’t do anything else about whatever is troubling them. And it’s not like parents have a magic pill they can stuff down the infant’s throat to soothe them in no time, or a switch they can flick to make them stop crying. Parents try everything – feeding, burping, diaper change, rocking and walking around, singing, and if on a flight, providing something to suckle on in order to avoid pain in the ears – name it, and they have tried it all. But there is no guarantee that any of this would work with a baby every single time. Sometimes all the poor parents can do is try, and cry silently along with the baby. I have done that too. But becoming a mother had nothing to do with this basic level of compassion, and if I may say, humanity that I thankfully seem to have inside. Even if I didn’t have kids of my own, I would still write this blog. You just need to be a little good in your heart to know that whining about a crying baby on a flight, let alone screaming at the baby’s parents, makes you a total jackass!
I remember a simple, yet priceless gem of wisdom from a pediatrician when Vedu was a colicky 1-month-old who could scream for hours on end without a break. When I cried and asked him to do something so that she would stop crying and I could put her down for 5 minutes, he smiled and said “She is so new to this world. Everything here is strange for this little one who was comfortably living in your womb till now. We get her out and expect her to adjust to this big world and every discomfort that she faces here right away. That’s not fair to her. Give her a little time; let her get used to this world and its ways.” Every time I have felt even minutely irked by my babies crying nonstop, I would think of these words. If these little ones can go through so much of discomfort, we can do our bit by not making it more difficult for them, and more importantly for their parents. They are exhausted and even when they don’t have to be, embarrassed too. If you can’t show compassion, at least refrain from showing outright cruelty.
Also published on Medium.