Trans-Atlantic Flights with Hyperactive Kids
I’m sharing a 12-hour flight with a few hundred folk, one of which is 3 years old and has either been wiggling or screaming every minute of the flight so far. Before we even took off, my wife nodded in his direction and whispered, “Future patient.” We still have six more hours to go. Did I mention that he is sitting only two seats away from me?
His mother is exhausted. She hasn’t stopped attending to him, because she cannot. He moves from task to task. She invents new ones every minute or two to engage his interest and keep him from running down the aisle. He hops on and off her lap every few minutes. Sometimes he wails for no clear reason. Sometimes he hits or head-butts his mom. She is attentive and gentle. I can’t understand her language, but her voice is kind and low.
Airplane travelers don’t have much sympathy for kids behaving badly on planes. 71% sided with a Jet Blue pilot that removed a family from a plane when the two-year old threw a tantrum about buckling in for take-off. I’d like to know why the professionals who design cramped airline seats and chaotic boarding regimens aren’t kicked off flights. What they did ruins my flight experience far more than the normal behaviors of little people.
Mr. Wiggles is wailing again, but it doesn’t bother me. I feel for him. Being a parent has changed me. Twenty-something years ago when I had no actual parenting experience but lots of opinions, I would have hated the little guy and the mother unable to control him. I’d have been leading the 71% charge. We’re flying over Greenland at the moment and it’s easy to tell from the irritated glances in our area that 71% would be happy to swoop down and drop him off.
Now, after parenting several children including two with ADHD, I have deep sympathy for this mother and young boy. The middle seats of jumbo jets were crafted around the needs of businessmen and tourists, not active preschool people. I’ve sat in those seats with my own young children.
We learned not to fly with our own kids during a single cross-country flight with our first son when he was three. My wife and I together couldn’t keep him belted in the seat. “Not turb-oh-lent” he announced as he slid under his seat-belt onto the floor. 35,000 feet above Denver, our pilot was busy fighting turbulence and charitably allowed him to stay on the plane.
Our son was indignant that his kid meal burger and fries came without a Happy Meal toy. One flight attendant dug up a little United Airlines 747 to mollify him, but it didn’t transform into anything, so he threw it at her. I wore a lapful of his chocolate shake from somewhere over St. Louis to our destination an hour outside Portland, Oregon. He wailed for most of the ascent and all of the descent. Five years later, he was diagnosed with ADHHHHHD.
In the seat directly behind Mr. Wiggles on today’s flight, sits the sweetest, most well-behaved little girl you could hope to share a journey with. She appears to be three as well. She plays quietly with little attention or redirection from her parents. At one point, she looked at picture books for over an hour. Her dress is neat as she lies with her head on her mother’s lap and entertains herself with the beam of a flashlight.
Her parents are relaxed. Every 20 or 30 minutes, they’ll offer something to do which she does quietly. Life in the row behind would be serene if not for her cough. It comes in waves every couple hours. It has the wheezy, wet sound of an early bronchitis. Two flight attendants express their concern and offer of assistance. No need, says the mother. It might be allergies. The flight attendants are very professional and very concerned. They will stand by to do anything they can to help.
The flight attendants haven’t offered any assistance to the exhausted mom with the hyperactive boy. (That’s an observation, not a diagnosis, by the way.) She’s in the middle of a nonstop 12-hour parenting shift that butts up against another and another for 18 more years.
Both three year-olds have biological conditions that are public and obvious in this hushed sea of tourists and business travelers. Neither child is doing anything other than what genetics and metabolism compel. One mom with very little to do is offered sympathy and help. The exhausted one with the impossible job gets dirty glances.
Kids who might be diagnosed with ADHHHHD in five years have one speed, named top. They walk 50 yards by sprinting-stopping 5 times. They stand still by spinning. They move incessantly or they fall asleep with no in-between options. They cannot dial it up or down. Nature hasn’t given them that option yet, if ever.
It’s a hard life in the middle seat of a jumbo jet for 12 hours when you can’t stop running, and there’s no sympathy for the exhausted mother.
Maybe she could teach him to cough.