"I hereby apologize to anyone flying an afternoon Delta flight from Sea-Tac to Salt Lake City today. It’s right during Caitlin’s usual naptime, and I predict trouble. Squirming if not squeaking. Hopefully no squawking or squealing. Something that starts with “s-q” anyway.
"Which reminds me: how people react to a screaming baby on a plane is, I sometimes think, a perfect mirror of the human soul. People who smile ruefully and try to help out the poor bedraggled parents are The Good. (Guess what, genius: the parents are typically more unhappy and stressed than you are about the situation, not less.) People who make a big show of scowling and rolling their eyes and otherwise venting at the parents are The Bad.
"People who stop the poor parents on the way off the plane and tell them what terrible people they are, as once happened to my sister-in-law, are The Ugly."
What do you call people who only scowl to themselves, offer no help at all, and alternate thoughts between "I'm so glad that's not me and my kid" and "Please kill me now before I take an innocent child's life"? Moderately attractive and vaguely unhelpful?
Children perplex me. Even growing up I was never a fan of kids. Babysitting was torture. Babysitting jobs usually wound up with me pretending a lethal intruder had broken in and was ransacking the children's homes. If I liked the kids, I finally let them in on the joke before I left. I didn't typically like the kids.
Since having obtained children of my own, I've relaxed somewhat around their kind. I have a vague idea of what they want, but even that is fleeting at times. I still have no idea what to talk to them about. After taking a cursory inventory of their immediate interests and pets, my mind is thoroughly depleted of ideas and I turn the topic towards the economy (which usually results in the outcome I'd initially prayed for: that they'd go away and play by themselves). "Playtime" with a child feels oddly like how I imagine waterboarding to feel like. Any positive opinion of any of the children I presently know has been gradually earned on a strictly case-by-case basis; absolutely no free passes allowed just because a creature is short and cute. I barely tolerate my own children for crying out loud and Society demands that I love everyone else's too? That's just asking too much.
Naturally, I know enough to keep children out of danger and have their physical and medical needs met. I am surprisingly patient when it comes to teaching them and other academic-like endeavours. Aside from that, I know that children in general are plotting and conspiring against me to drive me towards new levels of crazy. The perfect child, to me, is one who doesn't demand that I entertain him or her constantly (or at all, but I know that's impossible), keeps to himself, doesn't destroy anything, and asks as few questions as possible. Essentially what I'm looking for is a middle-aged midget.
So watching parents struggling with their own children on a flight doesn't bring out the kindest thoughts in me, but I don't hate them for it. I pity them with all I can muster, but I pity myself even more. Unless a parent asked me directly, or unless the child was in danger in some way, I cannot even fathom offering to help in a situation like that. The most you would ever get out of me would be a polite smile followed by me going back to whatever it is I was doing before your child kicked me. If I've ever helped you willingly with your child, without being asked (and even when I have been asked come to think of it), it is because I adore you and I'm willing to sacrifice every shred of sanity to see to your happiness.