Thoughts On Being "That" Mom

Picture this: I’m en route to the East Coast from Arizona, traveling with my son Henry for the first time, and five minutes before takeoff, my sister looks down at our tickets and realizes that we are in the completely wrong seats on an almost full plane.  As we start to look around and try and ascertain if we even have to move, a final surge of last minute passengers from the gate begin to hastily move down the walkway towards us.

Now, a mistake like this is no big deal, but for a new-ish Mom, with a new-to-flying baby who has already gotten comfortable and who has already stowed the over-the-two-bag-limit 4 bags under and above the seats and has begun to nurse, this is absolutely a big deal. We quickly try to get up (me, hurriedly shoving my boob back in my shirt) and get our bearings as we hear a man with a Southern accent tell the flight attendant, “Uh ma’am, these two here are in my seat. These girls are in my seat! I’m 14F and she’s 14E, ma’am.”  My anxiety level starts to creep up a bit as I stumble out into the aisle, holding tight to Henry, two of my four bags in tow. (Where are the other two?) My face turns a deep shade of red as the flight attendant tells us we need to move (NOW) if we want to make our departure time (NOW ladies, let’s get moving). All eyes on us. Sympathetic glances. Sighs. Henry starts to get a little fidgety and suddenly I’m “that” Mom, the Mom with the baby on the verge of crying, too many bags, too little room, holding up the plane.

Flashback to five years ago.  I distinctly remember boarding a similar plane headed to JFK, to visit my friend in Brooklyn. I had one carry-on, one checked bag and I spent a large portion of the flight listening to my iPod and probably browsing through a couple magazines. I don’t recall what I ate or drank but I’m sure I was able to use my tray table and enjoyed some ice water and maybe a bag of peanuts. I also vividly remember there being a little boy behind me, probably around a year old, who made that flight a living hell.  Incessant seat-kicking, his portable DVD player’s volume somehow even rising above the music in my headphones, occasional whining and the crying… oh, the crying.  At one point I remember standing up in my seat, turning around and giving the little angel’s Mom the worst stink-eye I could muster up. I didn’t resort to words but my glare said it all. How dare this woman bring a child on the plane, on my plane? Didn’t she know that my peace and quiet was most important thing here? I recall sitting there, so irritated at this baby – actually hating the baby – and vowing that I would never, ever be that Mom.

Well, guess what, 2006-self?  Here you are. You are a Mom and even more so, you will absolutely be that Mom one of these days. And let’s be honest, I was pretty much “that Mom” on that flight to Boston.  And it’s so interesting now to be in these shoes after being so annoyed by kids and other Moms in the past. I do feel like I am a bit more sensitive to how Henry acts in public settings but it’s still difficult when you can’t control how your baby will react in various situations.

Later on, after we found our correct seats, Henry became fussy an hour or two into the flight.  My sister was dead asleep and I didn’t have much room to move and before I could realize what was happening, Henry began kicking the seat in front of us. My iPhone clattered to the floor as I tried to reposition but I couldn’t quite reach it. Yo Gabba Gabba loudly rang out repeatedly, “There’s a party in my tummy, so yummy, so yummy!” and Henry began to get agitated, his beloved in-flight crutch out of reach. In the midst of this craziness, the woman in front of me stood up, just barely missing getting her hair pulled by my fidgeting son, turned around… and smiled. She handed me my iPhone and said, “This is the first peep I’ve heard out of that boy all flight, you’re doing a great job!” and sat back down.

I smiled to myself as I realized what a role reversal this was, except that woman wasn’t a big meanie like I was five years ago. Lesson learned. Henry may only be 8 months old and we may have a whole lot of “that Mom” kind of moments on the horizon but they aren’t so bad when you have nice, understanding people surrounding you. Now, granted, that isn’t the case 75% of the time, but it inspired me to be a little less irritable, a lot more understanding, and much more compassionate to anyone who may be having a bit of a rough time.  ‘Cause really… you never know when that could be you. Hear that, 2006 crabby self?

Image via The LA Times

  • Barbara Bullemer

    Haha, this reminds me of a flight I had from Atlanta to San Diego with an almost 1 year old. That’s a 5 hours flight. The only pants she had was the one she was wearing, and during take off, she literally exploded in her pants. It ran down her leg and all over mine. Luckily, the flight attendant saw me panicking and asked if I needed help. When it was safe, I went to the bathroom changes her, and the attendant gave me a blanket they reserve for first class passengers. Oh it was horrible, but that flight attendant made everything so much easier! I think babies sense panicking and frustration, so if you’re calm, they’re calm.
    My husband and I are about to do that flight again in November. This time with a 2 1/2 year old and a 2 month old. We’ll see how that goes.

  • Rachael Berkey

    I was on a flight that was a twice delayed, sitting behind a woman juggling a toddler and infant by herself and was amazed at her ability to keep things under control. Those kids were only whiny when the plane got hot b/c we sat on the tarmac for an hour. And when we finally landed at our destination well past midnight, the people around her, myself included, helped the mom get her bags, and her row mate (who was not her husband/significant other) shouldered one of the kids off the plane for her. It was really touching.

    I try to give the benefit of the doubt to moms with kids on planes. I know how much it sucks. I have traveled with siblings and their children. That being said, why did you have 4 bags? Because as someone who recently lost her luggage because it was put on the wrong flight when the overheads were filled on my flight, I’d be pissed as a fellow passenger if my luggage got gate checked and then I saw someone lugging four bags around while they changed seats.

    I have the utmost respect and tolerance for traveling moms and their kids. I get upset when people obviously break the rules and it makes my life – not just my flight – more difficult as a result.

  • Katie Haddox

    Oh Danielle! You have no idea how much I loved this blog! (article?) I used to hate children. I vowed I would never, ever have them and nothing made me more irritated than babies on planes. One surprise pregnancy and 27 months later, we were flying from Maryland to Arizona for Christmas. Everyone is grumpy when it comes to flying during the holidays. Paisley was fidgety before we ever got on the plane. Steven started taking her on “walks” up and down the aisle every 10-15 minutes. But one time, when she came back she started screing! She didn’t want to be confined to a seat anymore. And then she started SCREAMING! she screamed fOr about 55 minutes straight, at the top of her lungs. Nothing glee did could make her stop. We had people move to different seats, after giving us the dirtiest looks. We had a really old grandma tell us that Paisley didn’t know we loved her because we weren’t holding her. (we had tried holding her, but she wanted nothing to do with us.) we had flight attendants offer to take her on more “walks” but we turned them down because we knew coming back to our seats would make her cry even harder (if that was possible.) I think every single person on the plane HATED us. I was worse than “that mom.” Paisley finally cried herself to sleep and slept for about 45 minutes. Once she was asleep for 10 or so minutes, I started whispering to steven about how everyone must think I’m the worst mom ever and how I really felt like that. I started crying too. The lady sitting next to me (across the aisle) turned to me and told me that I shouldn’t let people bother me. It’s hard for grown ups to sit still for 5 hours, it’s even harder for little children to sit still for that long. I can’t remember everything she told me, but it made me feel so much better, and she did it all was the most soothing English accent. When we got off the plane and went to get our luggage, almost everyone gave us the worst stink eye. They still hated us. It turns out, Paisley had an ear infection, and we had no idea. So it was hurting incredibly bad for her during the flight. Do I think people would’ve been as upset with her (and me) had they known that? Sure, I think some people might’ve been more sympathetic. But I still think most people would’ve hated us. Thank goodness for that English lady. Or I would’ve been hard on myself for something that was really out of my control.

  • Anne-Marie Schiefer

    Great post! As a mother of 3 about to take a cross country flight I can say I have all those anxieties about being “that mom”, but your article was encouraging.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve never flown with my twins, but I have had many similar situations come up since they were born 14 months ago. I am much more patient with the crying and rambunctious kids at church, in restaurants and stores. I don’t think all parents handle their kids well in “that mom” situations, but it is rarely the kids fault and often isn’t the parents’ fault either. This is a great post. Thanks for saying what I have thought so, so many times!

  • Ana Marie

    I have never been on a plane with a baby before. I have only been on a plane for one round trip from Seattle to San Diego. ever. lol. But still. I can only imagine how people must react to crying or screaming babies. I’m sure people are worse because it IS hard for adults to sit there that long, so the slightest annoyance is magnified. But now that I have friends with small kids, etc, I find that I am MUCH more sympathetic than I used to be. I distinctly remember never wanting kids and getting so irritated with crying babies in restaurants, etc… This is definitely a good reminder to not be a big meanie to people who are obviously having a tough time!

  • Erin Carriker

    Oh sweetie! Living in Alaska and having all our family in CA I feel like I am constantly that mom! I have learned some tips I will share with you when Henry’s older; just wait until he’s two like Logan ;). But, surprisingly even when Mike and I think that our kids our at their worst we always seem to have the nicest families around us with older children who compliment our efforts and it makes us feel so much more relieved. Even if we know they’re lying! :)))

  • Kelly Hartley

    I love this! I don’t have kids, but I’ve been working at a pediatric office now for 2 and a 1/2 years and its much easier to be sympathetic than it was before I was around small children. Babies cry, end of story.

  • Jinni Maybush

    Once upon a time I was most definitely the former you. I would think to myself, just like everyone else, “Why is that mother allowing that child to scream and cry in public?! People who can’t control their children should not have them, or at least not bring them out in public!”
    Harsh. Irrational.
    When my son was first born I always worried I’d be THAT mom. I cared too much about the staring, eye rolls, and judgement I could just FEEL from strangers in stores and public places. But once my son was diagnosed with Autism, I had to learn to get over my own insecurities and tune that all out. Smile, shrug my shoulders and help my son soothe himself as best I can with all of his sensory issues. If I cared about what everyone thought of me as a mother, I’d be neglecting my son and what he needs from me as a mom. Which is patience and understanding.
    Since becoming a mom I find that we moms need to stick together, neurotypical babes or not. Every little babe and kid cries in public and it’s not going to happen when you’re feeling 100%, looking amazing, and able to drop everything to fix whatever it is that may or may not be wrong. If we could just give each other knowing smiles, or eye-high fives…I think the world would be a better place!

  • Sarah Hendrickson

    I loved this post. My mother-in-law got our family tickets from Phoenix to Maui two years ago, but on buddy passes. The buddy passes did not allow me to sit next to my 3-year old. I began negotiation seat changes with the other flyers. Only to look behind me and see that my negotiations had created a huge line of irritated people. We hadn’t even left the airport and I was already “that mom”. It only got worse with the crying and the seat kicking. Then the woman sitting next to us decided to inflate a beach ball and use it as a pillow. I spent the next hour or so telling my 3-year old not to touch her beach ball. That was painful for everyone. I hope some day I have an opportunity to help a mom on a plane because flying with kids is the worst.

  • Lauren Hart

    oh, this brought a tear to my eye. i also have dealt with this same situation, since my entire family lives in salt lake city, and we are in raleigh. it takes nearly an entire day to fly home for a visit, and it is awful. plus i flew to CA twice with just malcolm and alanna (disneyland!) and once while malcolm was 8 months old too… so i know what it’s like to travel across country with a little one that age. i wish i could say that it gets easier, but so far, not so much.

    also now that i am working in retail again, i am always so careful to be kind and patient to the women out shopping with their little ones. i know how frustrating it is to shop for a gift etc, and have to deal with a whiny, naughty baby at the same time. i hope that i help to brighten their day maybe? <3

  • Laura Mendez

    Earlier this summer my 12 year-old sister and I flew solo from Newark Int’l Airport in NJ to Bogota, Colombia. The flight normally takes 5 1/2 hours. Which is horrible in itself. Add a single mother of a five-month old little boy, who is carrying waaay more stuff than she can possibly handle, and a three hour delay ON THE RUNWAY. Not only was she ignoring her poopy-faced baby, but she decided it would e in everybody’s best interests to have a mental breakdown over the phone, thus agitating her already stressed out son. The worst part(s) of the flight were the ones when she did mind her child. She CHANGED his diapers right on the tray table. In the cabin. I ended up smelling the baby’s poop for Hours after the plane landed…

  • Christina Soletti

    wow such a great post…i love how motherhood has helped me be less judgmental…xx

  • Kristina Flathers

    I try not to be that Mom, I guess the people around me could tell you how successful I have or have not been in that endeavor. I do work in a children’s hospital and I see children in all sorts of states of pain, joy, health and sickness. No one here flinches when a kid is in meltdown mode, as long as they are ultimately healthy. I can tell you the best advice I have heard from one our pediatricians: “Kids are just learning how to control their emotions and responses. You are the adult, you should already have your emotions under control and should be able to react accordingly.”

  • Tracey White

    To me, “that mom” is one who doesn’t even try to take care of her child in a particular situation. I don’t mind so much a kid kicking my seat if I hear the mother ask him to stop. I don’t mind a baby crying if mama is trying to comfort her. You sound like you’re doing just fine. :)

  • Carly Anne Lockman

    I agree with Tracey entirely. That baby can scream to high heaven so long as Mama is doing everything she can to help him.

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