NYT Critique: Flying with Shrieking Infants; or THE PARENT GOODY-BAG

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 10.40.31 AM
Screenshot of the article referenced below: “Flying with Shrieking Children? Give Your Neighbors a Goody Bag” by Damon Darlin; Illustration by Thomas Pitilli

We all saw it a year or two ago: the viral picture of the sweet family of twins who made everyone on their flight a goody bag complete with drink ticket and precious note. I admit, at first I loved it. How generous! I thought. And then I thought again. While that family went above and beyond, and God bless them, my recent experiences traveling with an infant turned toddler showed me how backward the social expectation is for who needs to be appeased in the public sphere. At the moment, it seems that if you’re insensitive enough to have kids and then inconsiderate enough to drag them out into public and onto a contained prison tube up in the air, you should at least have the decency to make all the supposedly self-sufficient adults around you feel better for the few hours that their feathers may be ruffled by the activity you indulge in 24 hours a day. That’s right. The individual already responsible for caring for 2-3+ more people than themselves has now been deemed by society (including a New York Times economy page contributor – more on him later) as also responsible for the happiness of 200-300+ more people. This is backwards, and puts the burden of care on the one-caring-for-many instead of the many caring only for one. It’s bad economics and a perspective that needs revamping.

Speaking of economics, I’d like to thank a recent (Aug. 6, 2016) New York Times article by Damon Darlin (precious) for finally providing the counter-language I needed to finish this blog piece I’ve been sitting on for some time – since about February of 2015. (I quote the NYT article below for easy reading, but if you want the deepest character context, or a good, hardy chuckle for you parents, read/glance through it here. It’s short. But then come back. Definitely come back). Because of my work, I travel a lot. Because of my parent status, it’s almost 100% of the time with my kid, starting when she was 5 weeks old until now – almost old enough to require her own ticket for hundreds of dollars. First, let me say I respect the author’s passion for “social capital” and strongly agree with him that there should be some recognition of the need for it when children are on board the plane.

We just disagree whose responsibility it is to build this capital.

Tiny Disclaimer: If you’re a parent who has done or wants to do the goody-bag, more power to you. YOU do YOU. I’m all for it if it’s something you feel can help your flight go in peace, but don’t let other passengers or entitled arguments make you feel like you owe the world something in addition to the work I know you already do to get on and make it through that flight. You good already, yeah?

Let’s take a look at a excerpt from the newspaper article, arguing almost to the point of necessity for parents to give goody bags to the other passengers:

“Confined in a tight space for only a short time, never to see most of the passengers again, you need the bag to build social capital fast. You may disparage this practice as a cheap bribe, grease or even hush money. But it is much more high-minded — and common. I’ll admit that I take this pro-bag position because I take seriously the small pleasures I can find in airline travel.”


OK. Yes, sure, I agree with him. I just think he has it bass-ackwards. Let’s rip this garbage apart with a point by point “Dear Darlin” letter, shall we:

Dear Darlin,

Thank you for your contribution to the economic view in the New York Times on Flying with a Shrieking Infant. I’d like to point out some problematic points within your arguments, or rather, entire worldview.

1. Signaling, and who should be doing it.

“But you, the harried parent, use it to do what economists call signaling. You are letting the recipients know you care about their happiness, whether you really do or not.”

First, be at ease. I do care, Darlin. I really, really do. I care about you. I also care about myself. I also care about my child – but I care about that list in reverse order when flying on a plane. And it’s not just because I’m a good parent – I am – but it’s also because of the economic principle called the “spillover effect.” If I’m putting effort into caring for my child, I will be more at peace on the flight. If my child is better cared for and I’m at peace, you will have a happier experience. The spillover effect, however, works both ways – it can be negative. If I spend my time at home making 172 goody bags instead of getting sleep, prepping my infant/toddler’s own goody bag (also known as a diaper/everything carry-on), then we come underprepared, I’m distracted from her, worried about your opinions, and all you get to show for it is this t-shirt (er, ear plugs). I usually feel pretty put-together getting on the plane, albeit hands-full, but I am not – especially if “harried” – packing you and 171 of your friends snacks. This is not your school chum’s 1st grade birthday party. There are no party favors. I have snacks for my baby and for me, and our bag is maxed out. Any more items and it won’t fit under “the seat in front” as you so clearly pointed out was the airline code (you write very well, but maybe you should consider flight attending?). I hear there are free sodas on board, though, so enjoy!

I know it’s crummy, but it’s part of being an adult: you don’t get rewards just for showing up, and you don’t get gold stars by your name for knowing the rules or playing hall (plane) monitor. You do, however, get expected to behave decently and maturely in difficult situations, so perhaps your time and energy is better spent thinking how to do that with improvement.

The onus is not on parents to do the signaling, if it must happen on these short, shared expeditions. It is on the solo passengers, being at the advantage of time, space, focus, arms, who carry the burden of showing they “care.” While you think the goody bag shows the parent cares about someone else’s happiness, you fail to realize that the “harried parent” is already consumed with caring about someone else’s happiness. Their traveling child’s. By your terms of someone needing to signal on this flight that the inconvenienced are cared for, every other solo passenger should express how they want the harried parent to know the solo-flyers care, “whether [they] really do or not.” It’s simple economics in this sense: the parent is more inconvenienced than the third party witness, and the resources for expending energy go the direction of solo passenger (abundance) to parent (depletion), not the other way around. What, then, do I suggest? So glad you asked: at the end of this tape you will find the incredibly manageable case for THE PARENT GOODY BAG.* And in the meantime, solo passengers and Darlin included, if you can’t be adult enough to keep to yourself, start signaling. You can even offer a simple, “you got this, mom!” or “can I help you get that book?” Which leads us to point #2…

*Moms, dads: this is not your job.
Solo passengers see bottom of letter for how to construct the parent goody-bag.

2. Social Capital, and who should be building it.

“You set out to build social capital in so many other circumstances every day. Every gift you give accumulates it.”

Great point. But, again, the responsibility isn’t on the parents who boarded with multiple bodies to worry about, bro. The social capital responsibility is on the adults who came on board with only themselves to worry about (please read: You), even if all you offer is your ability to internally manage your discomfort. If you expect a 3-6 year old to have the impulse control to not let a leg fly and kick your seat, I expect a 36 year to be bumped in the back of a cushioned arm chair a few times and have the impulse control not to fall deeply into the narrative that he’s the tragic hero and the world owes him treats. See the diff?

Let’s be honest, the parents on your flight are already contributing “social capital” by investing in the tiny people who will one day grow into adults and hopefully write more conscientious New York Times articles. Everyone else on the plane can sudoku or sleep, which means free hands everywhere else abound. In other words, if you really want to see the inconvenienced catered to, you help out.

The adults who came on board without so much as a briefcase and bad attitude, I guarantee you, had more time getting ready and planning for this trip, so they get to put in the extra effort.

I loved your example of someone bringing in treats as a gift so there are fewer hard feelings in the case that they need to leave work early. What you don’t get, however, is that in the case of plane travel, you’re the one “leaving early.” You’re the one that gets to grab your briefcase/backpack/napkin with notes and take off as soon as the seatbelt signal dings everyone into freedom. You’re the one that no matter how closely you are seated beside the crying baby, you are never the one sat on by the crying baby. If we’re talking about economy of “peace,” and defining it by the absence of child activity on a plane, you will always have an abundance of peace over the parents immersed in the live-wire events. By your own suggestion, then, you really should consider baking all the parents cookies so they don’t resent your ability to climb over them, grab your bag with free hands, and jet while they are left behind to care for balancing carry-ons and extra bodies of people safely. I fully embrace this cookie recommendation and suggest you break out the flour next time you fly for some serious chocolate-chip-oatmeal raisin to give out, so we don’t resent you for yapping through the flight about arm-rest territory, knee defenders, and the proper way to signal when exiting to the bathroom on a Tuesday at high tide.

3. Taking time, and who’s already doing it.

“It might take time, of course. Time really is not something you have much of on an airplane, even on a long flight. Social capital is most effective when there is a network of connections to people — like an office or a neighborhood. You build social capital with co-workers and neighbors over long periods. You have months or even years. No time. No network. Just anonymous people jostling. The transience of a plane is also why people tend to be so obnoxious on it.”

If this is the your way of even subconsciously explaining why you become obnoxious on planes and turn into someone who “who strongly believe[s] we have a right to defend ourselves against rude passengers like seat recliners,” then I accept it also as your subconscious apology for your luxury of priorities and crusading behavior and encourage you to fight the good fight if it gets you through the flight. In the meantime, some advice: don’t use the “T” word with parents unless you are either their high-paying boss discussing overtime rewards or using it in the phrase “take your time.” Any other use, tread lightly so your ignorance doesn’t make you a fool. Let’s break down something for you topically in regard to the economy of time. Once again, you use a phrase – in this case, “It takes time” – in context of additional work the parent needs to be doing. Allow me to explain why this is an insensitive use of language. Before the flight event of “anonymous people jostling” even takes place, the parent’s contribution that you see so little of “takes [quite a bit of] time,” including planning, researching, possibly paying additional seats for, packing, waking, dressing, carrying/leading, pleasing, feeding, teaching, comforting, entertaining, cleaning additional human beings, the ones you saw shuffle on to this flight filled with the “tiny pleasures” you feel so robbed of.

The goody-bag movement itself comes from parents contributing to and scouring the internet for immeasurable research on the best way to fly with kids that will make the kid, parent, and other passengers happy. After digging up information, recommendations, creative ideas, we then pack extra, pack smarter, carry well, schedule, and work to fulfill the ideal flight as much as possible. We are indeed already “tak[ing] time” in preparing for a positive flight because we care and know you’re there, Darlin. Meanwhile, you and your solo passengers only research your boarding time and the destination weather. I don’t care, quite frankly – I love traveling with my baby and seeing her eyes light up as clouds meet her face at the window and explaining to her why she can’t touch the white beehive-do peeking up over the seat in front of us, and more power to you and your fast pace through security, (taking off your shoes is tough – talk about time! but so is taking off your shoes, carrier, baby bag, and getting stopped 100% of the time because of some baby lotion or bottle that flares up on the screen. We take it in stride. Because we know it “takes time.”) But I do have a problem when you demand more of what’s already being given generously, especially when the demands comes out of ignorance or a self-centric worldview. That’s not a socio-economic peace problem. That’s a paradigm problem.

4. Baby-Free Zone, and who’s all for it.

“create a child zone of three, maybe four seats away. Every seat outside that zone costs more.”

All for it, actually! Yay! See? Compromise, collaborate. Rah-rah. I don’t mind at all the suggestion that airlines designate a baby-free zone. It usually keeps parents from having to babysit not only their own children but the large (wo)man-child they never birthed or adopted who may board with a pouting bad attitude and poor chaos management who sit next to them making mental notes for their NYT airline economics piece. Maybe the flight attendant can keep crayons on board to entertain hard-to-please adults in the meantime? They already provide cross-words and sudoku. You’d think a journalist would like that. I guess some adults are so hard to keep pre-occupied when they fly. But yes, I love flying with my kid and being surrounded by other families. Because we get it. And in the kid zone, a kid can be a kid. And an adult, an adult. Which leads us to harsh truth #5…

5. Shrieking Baby on Board, and who – really – is it.

“I’ll admit that I take this pro-bag position…Creating a system that prevents fighting is of great comfort.”

Your description of both your tactic position and reason are a perfect match for how any parent deals with not a child and an adult but two children. Of course you think team goody-bag has it right. Because like any other child unfortunately spoiled by circumstance or lack of instruction, when you’re bothered or entitled you’re going to demand treats. And why? You want treats because another kid is bugging you. Not for the treats themselves, mind you, (“Certainly the goody bag is essentially worthless”), but for the attention, the affection…from the mommy. You want the appeasement and attention…from the mommy. You want a goody-bag…to know that you are cared-for. By the mommy. Darlin, this is classic kid behavior. While it may make sense in the economical exchange of favors in the business world or neighboring homes of adults sharing snow responsibilities, you fail to realize these are examples of peer or service behavior. You have just inserted yourself in a situation where you are demanding peer treatment to or similar service as…..a child. This places your emotional management level at the age of 5-7 years, equivalent with shrieks of “his seatbelt is touching my leg” coming from the car backseat in hopes of getting a lollipop or hearing the mother scold the offending child as proof that the mom cares about the shrieking child’s own sense of justice even though it’s absurd and founded in temporary discomfort and inability to yet consider others, not to mention that meanwhile mom herself is being the adult and likely more preoccupied with safely driving a four wheel vehicle and keeping everyone alive.

I get it. You’re upset. But since I assume you’re also potty trained, I’m not quite sure where to begin assessing the source of your inability to tolerate this discomfort except you have not yet registered that there are other people in this world with needs greater than your own, some with limited experience with confined spaces due to their recent arrival on earth, that you must – very briefly – share a community with. In other words, you may find an increase in comfort with adjusting your expectation of the outside world. What do you think flying with a community looks like? All adults? That’s a disturbing, privileged perspective. Maybe that’s what’s wetting your diaper. Again, being the one with free hands, you can wipe it.

The title announces the topic of “Flying with Shrieking Children” but applies better to the mindset of the argument made throughout the piece. It reads like a high-vocabulary, well-grammared letter from little Johnny on “why I deserve my own room now that I’m seven and a half.” The effort is adorable, but the entitlement understandable only when you’re actually seven and a half. Ok, ok, I’ll throw you a bone. Let’s say you do get stuck on a flight right next to an 8 year old FLIPPING OUT because the iPad battery died and the mom just closes her eyes because she can’t even right now, or worse – is wifi texting and ignoring him. What do you do? For starters, we can both agree that this child would benefit from acknowledging three simple truths: You’re ok; This is temporary; There are other people on this plane. Learning these lessons would bring better behavior and his maturity closer to becoming more civilized, more adult. But that’s where adult responsibility to also embrace these behaviors comes in. If you can’t also recognize that you’re ok, this is temporary, and there are other people on this plane, then we get to lump you in with the tantrum. That’s how it works. Because You’re an adult; You’re ok; This is temporary; There are other people on this plane. Offer your iPad or Keep Calm and Carry On.

Take a look at the picture at the top of your article (that I’ve included in the screenshot above). Do you know what that mom’s free hand should be doing? Not handing you a goody bag for one, because you’re not the one in greatest discomfort. Look at that baby’s face. It’s screaming. If all you see is an external force acting negatively in your space, you’re missing the fact that the baby is a human being with enough discomfort, confusion, and need to cry. That mom’s extra hand belongs with the baby – feeding, comforting, and caring for him or her in their own space. That is the path to the peace you so desperately crave on this short flight. Ask not what your flight passengers can do for you, ask what you can do for your flight passengers. Instead of bemoaning your lack of appeasement gift while commending yourself for proper arm-rest use, at the end of a flight with a crying baby, did you ever consider asking the parent if there’s a bag in the overhead you can get down for them? Your fight for your right as a seat passenger may actually be a distraction to the real need around you. Remember, all crusades claim to be righteous, but most are just about a single entity fighting for territory at the cost of the defenseless, over-taxed, or under-resourced.

When you’re the solo passenger who happens to be immersed in the chaos of tears or leg flurries, be comforted. It’s temporary. Someone else is further immersed than you – the families. And if you recognize your advantaged position and truly want to see social capital built, might I recommend you offer a goody bag? My kid loves to draw and I love chocolate, if that helps.

So the next “aw-whatta-sweet-passenger” or “flying with babies” article I read better feature goody bags made by some prepared solo passenger just in case parents with children are on their plane. Acceptable items include:

  • Restaurant gift card
  • Drink ticket(s)
  • Gold coins
  • Hand wipes (baby friendly organic pls)
  • Crayons + small notepad
  • Chocolate
  • Your note could be brief: “Well done, madam/sir.” “Carry On and Well Done.” “We were all babies once.” “Ignore anyone who gives you grief, they’re the big babies! LOL! *smiley emoji*.”

With love, and care, and time, and space and peace,

Auditioning (Traveling) Mom

seasoned flyers
Mid-Flight. Hands full. Heart Happy.

For the parents reading this, I’ve included here a letter you can print out for your own pouty passengers or anyone you think could use the enlightenment! (And a short note for you at the very end). It’s time to get traveling with baby tips out into the world – and into those groups who don’t have babies to travel with. Presenting:


How to Travel with an Infant (Who Isn’t Yours)

Being the good-deeds citizen that I am, I intend to correct the imbalance of expectation by providing the internet with [insert trumpet flourish here]:

Yay! Yet Another List of Helpful Hints for Traveling with an Infant.

However, this list isn’t for the parents. Ooooh, no. There are millions of those and I’m sure you’ve printed, memorized, failed, succeeded in following enough “make your prep easier” lists by this point. Blah blah blah. Noooo nononononono no. THIS helpful travel list is for EVERYONE ELSE. Eeeeeeveryone ELSE who doesn’t have a precious bundle to bundle to the gate on time. All those solo flyers who may be traveling WITH you and your amazing precious pumpkin.

Feel free to print out and share with strangers at your flight gate, family members, airport personel, etc.

Basically anyone you feel may need help preparing themselves to make this flight with you more manageable – and if there are goodies that they need, they can put on their big kid pants and get it for themselves. At this point, I think the parents have done plenty to make traveling with children as doable as possible. Now, it’s everyone else’s turn to step it up if they want to revolutionize their own travel experience.

How to Travel With An Infant (Who Isn’t Yours)
Difficulty Level: Light
Skill Level Equivalent: Grocery List
Soundtrack: We’re All In This Together – High School Musical (1)

Dear Sir or Madam Uneasy to Travel With An Infant Who Isn’t Yours,

This is not a helpful handout for kidnapping. The following helpful tips are to provide a plan of action for any time you line up to get on your plane and see that “pre-board” section fill with tiny humans. Pre-board?? They’re so lucky, right?! Let’s review:

Who’s Got All the Luck…
That family is lucky to pre-board, you say? Here’s the deal. They’ve earned every second of that pre-board. While you were patting yourself on the back for getting out on time this morning with matching shoes and coffee in your thermos, they were praying that the dog would walk himself, the last outfit of the day wouldn’t get pooped on – at least until after the flight – and no one would notice they still wore their pajama top under that hoodie.

Cup of coffee? They’re lucky to get a gulp of air in between sleeping through the first alarm and moving 3+ bodies out the door packed and dressed (enough) to fly. “Grandma’s got a nearby Wal-Mart” is the mantra of the morning as the mental checklist of things they forgot to pack last night flies through their head while they strap their hungry baby into a full-body car seat harness to make the prayerful hyper-drive to their departure gate.

But you have to sit next to a baby. You poor thermos-carrying single traveler. I weep for you. My tears are the first of this flight you have to deal with. Mine. Tears and tears and wails dripping. With laughter. Cry-laughter.

Allow me to make a suggestion that will reduce crying – at lease mine. A more appropriate response when seeing a family with an infant/kid pre-boarding would be a moment of silence, hats off, filled with admiration, and a generous, bold slow-clap. Family has more than one kid? This special event calls for nothing less than a baritone or throaty mezzo to begin a passionate, slightly hushed but insistent chorus of “Wind Beneath My Wings” in the family’s direction as they board. Tenor and soprano passengers should join immediately in a chorus of “ooohs” to put those trembling high notes to use. Keep it light, though. They’ve heard enough shrieking already today. An impromptu sway side-to-side as a waiting group is also acceptable.

“But they look happy.” You say, “this family looks dressed. They don’t even look as stressed as I feel or concerned at all that we’re all about to share a tiny space. If they can smile, I can be annoyed they brought their recently-made human.” I’ve seen Olympians smile on the podium, that doesn’t mean their recent victory didn’t come at extraordinary sacrifice to accomplish unimaginable feat and deserves less than my utmost respect. It also doesn’t mean I get a portion of their cereal box deal because I’m more miserable than they are while I sit alone on my couch. All rules of respect apply, even to the put-together families who look happy to be there.

What to pack for your own self in your travel with an infant (who isn’t yours):

  • Headphones
  • Crayons
  • Snacks
  • Neck pillow
  • Hoodie
  • A Good Attitude
  • Human Compassion
  • The family’s love and gratitude as they focus on their babies

I promise you these items may seem little, but like with any goody bag (that with this list you can provide for yourself!), they can go a long way.

Traveling Parents


My note to parents:

In my time on planes and trains, I have sat next to some amazing passengers. Cramped flights brought other moms and grandmoms, bachelors, and dudes, and all types of people to my neighboring seats as I embraced and balanced and fed and comforted and read to my lap-child. Some of these awesome fellow passengers had kid experience, some didn’t, but all the awesome ones expressed nothing to me but compassion and humor in the midst of the baby-zone. Some even helped in small ways like offer their tray as I moved to catch a book and needed to shift my drink to reach it, rang for the flight attendant when the pretzel bag exploded, or simply offered a chuckle and “reminds me of my grandson” when my toddler climbed onto the top of my head and laughed hysterically while she perched and clung to my scalp. That’s the final reason I know I can criticize the goody-bag demand presented by solo passengers. Because it’s not necessary. It comes from a self-centered perspective that benefits no one. I’ve experienced compassionate passengers, been one myself, and therefor know it to be incredibly possible.

So fly safely. Enjoy. And focus on your babies. We all want their happiness, their happiness is everyone’s happiness. And at the end of the day, they’re the only ones who deserve your goodies.



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