I often have musings about child travellers. You know, kids on planes and stuff. When I say kids on planes, I’m not talking about sullen, smelly teenage boys who look like they haven’t used the cake of soap in the shower for its intended hygiene purpose since the onset of puberty. I’m talking about the ones under ten, and more specifically, the dwarf variety – the ones under about 60cm tall. Those small people who haven’t yet started school on a full-time basis at the very least, although those ones can be interesting too. If you’ve ever been on a flight, especially if you’ve been trapped somewhere within a five seat radius, often much, much wider, with one of these mini adventurers, chances are high that the memory of it may set your jaw to rock.
Before I get too much further in, let me establish here and now my own qualifications to comment about this topic. I quite like children. In fact I like them well enough to have had some of my own. When Princess II arrived in the world I even found myself the mother of three kids under three, and by the time she was 19 months old and the Deadly Duo – twins The Firstborn and Princess I – were 4, I was officially a single parent. So I understand completely the joyful highs and Marinas Trench-like lows of kid wrangling. And yes, they’re my babies and, as my mother always reminds me, your babies are always your babies no matter how old they get. Though to be quite candid with you, I’m the first to admit that it seems I bred flawed individuals. It’s true. Unlike some other families apparently, my children take after me and the rest of my ancestors and must have been otherwise distracted when the perfect gene was being given out so liberally. Sadly then, the tedious, thankless and time consuming task of pulling them into line when they needed it, and monitoring their behaviour in public (and between the ages of six months and 17 years old they needed it a lot), was left to me: The Parent.
Come on, let’s not try and pretty it up people. Really, I mean it. All jokes aside. Let’s get serious here. I don’t know about you but it seems to me that there are a lot of folk who need to pull their heads out of their collective butts and get back in the game. No matter how much you love your children – and I love mine as fiercely as the next person – they can be complete pains in the arse. Yes that’s right. Your little darlings, those CUTE little buttons with those adORable lashes and cheekylittlesmiles, can be absolute, hell-raising, seat kicking, food throwing, snot wiping, tanty chucking, biting, pinching, spitting, vomiting, whinging, whining, moaning, nagging, lying (gasp!) shits. It’s only fair. You were to your parents. Didn’t we all hear it from the Olds? “I can’t wait until you have kids!” and all the variations on this theme? Worse still, for those with children in the appropriate age bracket, haven’t we found ourselves spewing those very same words in their general direction ourselves, even after signing the blood oath as teenagers that we would never say that to OUR kids?
It’s ok. Have another drink.
So I come back to the kids on planes scenario. I choose this as it’s is the one with no escape. You can’t walk to another carriage. You aren’t safe in the knowledge that it’s just a quick trip that will be over very soon. You can’t open a window and get some fresh air to at least dissipate any headache induced nausea or to distract yourself. You can’t ask the driver to caution the passenger with the threat that they’ll be put off at the next stop. No. There you are – a complete hostage in the bowels an air born iron demon, being tortured by a two year old – with no hope of escape.
And the airlines need to fix their policy on allowing these fallen angels to fly solo. Teenagers can’t get into a theme park without “suitable adult supervision” (aka The Parent), so why are these Harry Houdinis of horror left to board a plane on their own? Well they must be right? The large person they’re seated next to clearly isn’t related to them as they pay these misbehaving beasts zero attention. In fact they seem so immune to any and all shenanigans you have to assume they’re deaf, blind and obviously mute. The strange doppelganger-like similarities they have to each other in appearance is just a twisted coincidence. While this kid plants his size 3 mini-Croc encased feet rhythmically in the back of your seat like a striker for Brisbane Roar or Manchester United, throws various items of airline food over the back of your row and screams “NO! I want nuggets! Nuggets NOW! repetitively until a man across the aisle give the screamer The Look and said screamer switches the scream to “No man! Go way! Go WAY! – the adult seated with the child does and says absolutely nothing. If they do respond at all it’s a muffled “sshhh” or a vague (ok, piss-weak) “please don’t do that.”
Please don’t do that? Please don’t DO that? Dear God. The truth of it is that every other person on that plane has something rather more severe than please don’t do that bouncing around in their head, and it’s a toss-up who they’d like to take out first – the child or the negligent parent. Ooh it gets my dander up. How dare they subject other travellers to their display of disengaged parenting and its monstrous outcome. The worst part of it is that the anxiety levels of fellow passengers have been on the rise since the departure lounge. It was here that there were early indications of the torment that lay ahead as Buggerlugs was surreptitiously noted by others as he/she tore up the lounge area, climbed over cabin baggage, livened up seating fabric with a collage of melted chocolate, chips, masticated cupcake and chicken nuggets, bit and slapped The Parent and rifled through several handbags carelessly left clutched on the laps of their owners.
I’ve devised a plan that I think may help overcome this problem for the majority of travellers. It could also have the added social justice side effect of reconnecting particular adults with their responsibilities as parents, and may give some small sense of vindication to travellers who paid for a ticket in good faith, believing their transport would come without being bushwhacked by unrestrained, marauding ankle biters. Literally. It works fairly simply on the ‘pay now get refund later’ principle. Basically, a seat booked for a child should come with a premium surcharge that can be refunded later for good behaviour. A reasonable surcharge should probably be, oh I don’t know, let’s say about $1000 for your typical Melbourne to Brisbane length flight and work on a sliding scale for longer or shorter flights. Anyway, that seems about the mark to me. So then, from the time the child boarded that flight until the time they got off, the child and the parent are on the meter. For instance, whinging and whining at low levels that are very brief: automatic deduction from refund of $25 per incident. Ongoing nagging at mid levels: automatic deduction from refund of $50 per incident. Any kicking of seats by child: automatic deduction from refund of $100 per incident. Any tantrum throwing, especially involving high pitched screaming: automatic deduction from refund of $250 per incident. Throwing of food or other items: automatic deduction from refund of $250 per incident. Vomiting: instant loss of complete surcharge. To make things fair, any instant, firm and effective intervention by the parent that results in no further incidents of any kind for the remainder of the flight, should result in a reversal of the most recent deduction.
Is this a bit steep? Not at all. I know kids can be hard work. That’s my point. Unfortunately, in Western culture we don’t embrace the ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ ideology and usually get a bit miffed if someone chastises our child in public. People tend to get pretty engaged then I’ve noticed, and turn into Superparent at warp speed to put the chastiser in their place. Well get on it with the kid! I know some parents who (now you’re not going to believe this) can actually take their children to restaurants and have a meal like sane people without junior terrorising the joint and making life Hell for everyone. They can take them on planes as well. Their children are well behaved, not perfect, but generally well behaved and engaging kids. I know more than one set of parents who have kids like this. And no, they don’t beat them, lock them in rooms or torture them in other ways. What’s their secret? They all tell me the same thing – they’re on the case 24/7 whether they’re exhausted or not. And they’re exhausted a lot.
I remember the days when flying wasn’t so cheap and families had to pack, sardine-like, into cars and drive from one side of the country to the other. Those were the days when the crap that kids dished out was completely limited to harassing the people who chose to bring them into the world, and their own siblings, within the confines of the family car. They had to deal with it (or not) but the rest of the population moved about dealing with their own travel arrangements , more or less in peace. Don’t like to pay extra and then be responsible for your child’s behaviour among others who are powerless to do anything to improve their personal comfort levels? Go old school and drive.