My interminable flight with a crying child

We yank toddlers out of their playpens and put them on vacation-bound planes so they can appreciate the glories of the London theater. Why?

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7:50 a.m. Two apparently nice parents are attempting to quiet their wailing child. They have not been successful. This is unfortunate, not only for me, but for the other 121 passengers on my “it’s going to seem much longer than six hours” flight to San Francisco.

I could try to ignore the caterwauling darling by squinting at a film on a two-inch screen four rows ahead about a family marooned on a desert island with only a soufflé-making orangutan to keep them company. A film that will, I hope, self-destruct at the end of this flight. But so far I have chosen not to strain my eyes while the child continues to be really, really mad. (Perhaps it’s seen the film already.)

Now, I promise I have nothing against children. I have one myself, even though at 6 feet, 5 inches, he’s difficult to burp. It’s just that I think it’s time to accept that we are taking our little ones to too many places they don’t want to go.

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No wonder they’re upset. We yank them out of their playpens and peaceful cribs, leave their favorite toys behind, and put them on vacation-bound planes so they can appreciate the glories of the Musée d’Orsay or the London theater. (Believe me, kids love nothing more than a four-hour production of “Coriolanus.”)

We never ask them, even when they can speak, if they want to be voted the most sophisticated child in their play group. Instead we fly them across the continent to watch a lot of water cascading down Yosemite’s waterfalls when they would be far happier splashing water all over the bathroom.

9:12 a.m. The crying has reached a high-decibel level, leading me to hope the screams will soon pass the speed of sound, thus propelling them miles ahead of the plane.

It seems these days parents wait until their offspring are barely out of the womb before unleashing them on unsuspecting people (like me), who are forced to fly with, dine with, and sit in $100 theater seats alongside the toddlers who are crying (literally) to watch cartoons at home.

One solution to this “I’m velcroing the child to my body” generation is to stop letting parents get away with children’s fares. Why should those adorable ones pay less money to get into a film we will be unable to hear because they are crying over their spilled M&M’s? (Trust me, they always spill.) Why should kids under the age of 2 fly free on airplanes? And if they do, shouldn’t we institute a decibel charge?

9:53 a.m. We’re now flying over Terre Haute, Ind. I can honestly say that I wish I lived there. The cries unfortunately have not reached the speed of sound, thus remaining inside the aircraft. And, shudder, there are four long hours to go.

I consider asking for a parachute and try to stuff my ears with breath mints. Nothing works. So, as the sound bounces up and down the aisle, I close my eyes and dream the dream the miserable child and I share: that we never left home.

Chuck Cohen writes from Mill Valley, Calif.

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