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Underparented At 30,000 Feet
(Written July 1, 2004, enroute to France.)
Im flying Swiss Air from L.A. to Paris with my Yorkshire terrier Lucy in a leopard-print and black patent leather Sherpa bag under the seat. Yes, I actually bought my dog a $211 round-trip ticket to Paris, which seems a bit ridiculous since shes 2.5 pounds, smaller than a lot of pigeons.

Lucy on Sherpa bag.jpg

Before 9-11, and the ensuing secondary security checks, I used to smuggle her on planes constantly, in a ferret case about the size of a loaf of bread, which I stowed in my carry-on. Nobody was ever the wiser because shes quiet and well-behaved and about as obtrusive as my wallet -- which is more than I can say for the kid across the aisle.

As the plane was taking off, Way to go, Hunter! ripped through the seven-row cabin I was seated in. Heads turned. A boy, about 9, in a row with his mother, father, and his sister, about 7, was shouting at the Gameboy thingie he was playing. Ah, but boys will be boys, right? Sometimes, the imagination gets the best of them...right? Hunter, his mother cut in, "Do you want your" (the rest was drowned out by his shout of Yeah, Hunter!) Scary. The kid was his own personal cheerleading section -- belting out his own name every time he scored.

Meanwhile, the little old lady next to me wants me to find her a movie on the screen in front of her seat. Classic or new releases? I ask her. She cant hear me. Neither can I. I turn to the shouting boy, whose mother has disappeared. Instead of seething whats on my mind, Shut up, you underparented cur! I opt for a calmly-voiced Could you please keep it down a bit? Its very distracting.

I go back to helping the old lady. 30 seconds later, the kid is bellowing again -- this time, to a boy whos taken his mothers seat next to him. (The mother is still nowhere to be seen.) I turn and give the kid's father a purposeful look, put my finger to my lips and make a Shhhh sound. Now dad can take charge. Dad? Dad? It seems Dad finds Newsweek extremely compelling.

I finally get Cold Mountain to play, in English, on the little old ladys screen. Just then, Mom comes back. Apparently, Hunter tells her I asked him to cut the shouting. Mom is outraged. At me. She demands an explanation. I am incredulous. "Well," I say, "Your child was shouting, and its disturbing, because were in (look around you, dimwit!) rather close quarters!

Is she horrified? She is. By me. She turns to her Precious, and, caresssing his cheek!, coos, Dont listen to her, Hunterdont you listen to her. Caressing his cheek!

Hunters birthing unit then seeks to try me in a court of two - her opinion and that of the Swiss lady on the aisle kitty-corner behind her. (Ill refrain from calling the woman who gave birth to him his "mom" since she clearly favors the Im my kids best friend style of parenting.) The Swiss lady replies that she wasnt disturbed (are they still performing lobotomies in the EU?), and her word was enough for his birthing unit. She leaned my way and spat out a few words about what a miserable (translation: barren) and pathetic person I was, and suggested that I move to another seat if I was so bothered. (Where, maybe that nice open spot out there on the wing?)

Now, its true, I could have gotten a flight attendant to do the dirty work, but they were racing around the cabin trying to wine and dine everyone, and I know most people are not as comfy as I am coming off as a child-loathing bitch.

I told the birthing unit Id ring for a flight attendant the next time the kid got loud, and sniped that she was "a terrible mother," but I decided to bow out of what could become a cross-aisle catfight lest she and I become a bigger disturbance than her brat. I turned up my movie head phones until I drowned out most of the noise -- and probably took out a bit of my hearing. Suddenly, our meals came. Is it any surprise that Hunters dinner act consisted of refusing to eat, and "Dad" (Hunter's "sperm donor unit") coming over to the aisle by his seat and begging him to do it?! The little old lady and I looked at each other, shook our heads and laughed.

It took about an hour before the Swiss guy kitty-corner up the aisle from the little old lady and me took off his headphones, rolled his eyes, and commiserated aloud, This noise is just incredible! Intolerable! I nodded and muttered something about sad state of parenting in America.

Later, when the kid started making noise again (his birthing unit was again absent) I turned and squinted at him. Maintaining my eye contact with him, I sighed to the little old lady, How sad...that kids going to grow up to be a heroin addict lying in the gutter with no teeth. Heartless, yes...but effective!for about 20 minutes of shout-free bliss.

I think I finally got my point across to his birthing unit, too. Later, on my way back from the bathroom, I noticed her sleeping in Hunters former seat on the aisle. I bent down and barked into her ear, Dont you hate when rude people make a lot of noise and wake you up on the plane!?

She shot awake, flew out of her seat, and scurried to the back of the plane -- I thought, to report me to a flight attendant. No flight attendant ever came. And whaddya know, I didnt hear a peep out of her or her little rehab shoo-in for the rest of the flight. Lucy, of course, slept through the whole deal.

Posted by aalkon at August 2, 2004 8:24 AM


This is not meant to be a product plug, but I bought the greatest headphones this past December, which have made my plane flights so much more manageable. They are those ridiculously, expensive Bose Acoustic Headphones you might have seen advertised in the airplane magazine. But, honestly, they have been worth every penny. They totally drown out the airplane noise and they allow you to experience a much more pleasant flight. They can also be used to watch the movies on the plane and it keeps you from having to turn up the volume so loudly that you lose part of your hearing. They can also be extremely useful for drowning out noisy children.

Posted by: Jason Stone at August 2, 2004 7:31 AM

The justification one usually hears for why all property owners should be forced to pay property taxes to pay for public schools is, "well, if you don't, you'll just end up paying for these kids' prison stay instead."

Too bad we don't actually have the choice, because in little Hunter's case, I'd choose to fund his prison stay. ;-)

Posted by: RKN at August 2, 2004 10:31 AM

I'lll chip in, too...just as soon as I finish paying for those noise-canceling headphones!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 2, 2004 12:24 PM

Do you think Hunter will be shouting "Way to go, Hunter!" when he grows up and starts having sex?

Posted by: Cathy Seipp at August 2, 2004 2:56 PM

No, I think Hunter will be working for Oliver Stone. My children (who are perfectly behaved, at all times) always roll their eyes and give moderately-loud sighs whenever kids behave poorly on planes. My son always makes a big point of playing with a cranky baby and then showing the mother how easy it is to keep the baby happy. On one flight, back from London, he played peek-a-boo for about 2 hours and when the clueless mother thanked him, his sister piped up "You should pay him!". She didn't.

Posted by: Kate Coe at August 2, 2004 5:35 PM

Oh please, please, PLEASE put up that picture of the child in the cage!

Posted by: Doug at August 2, 2004 5:56 PM

Can't you put unruly children in the overhead bin?

Posted by: Sheryl at August 2, 2004 9:00 PM

The thought IS tempting, Sheryl.

And Doug...I wish!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 2, 2004 9:27 PM

Sheryl writes: Can't you put unruly children in the overhead bin?

I would opt for jettisoning them.

Posted by: Patrick at August 3, 2004 9:57 AM

How about people who bring babies+kids to the cinema? It's torture to the audience to have to bear with running/screaming kids and also torture to the kids themselves to try to keep quiet and still for 2 - 3 hours!

I once commented on it and got a nasty comment back by a parent who regularly brought her kids to the cinema, saying how they deserve to go out with their kids to the cinema and the rest of us should just bear with it?!

Posted by: Kate at August 3, 2004 12:25 PM

I just flew from Boston to L.A. next to two boys, probably brothers, around 11 years old. No parents. And they were perfectly quiet, polite, and respectful of my drooling problem.

Posted by: Matt Welch at August 3, 2004 2:57 PM

Kate, I call that "enfant oblige" -- the idea that the world should stop turning because somebody pumped out a few kids. Wrong! There's a reason I don't hang around in nursery schools; I don't expect the nursery school to come to me!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 3, 2004 3:05 PM

Matt, they were probably the children of an actual parent, such as our friend Miss Seipp. I understand that you drool very quietly these days, so I can understand why there were no complaints.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 3, 2004 3:06 PM

Kate writes: I once commented on it and got a nasty comment back by a parent who regularly brought her kids to the cinema, saying how they deserve to go out with their kids to the cinema and the rest of us should just bear with it?!

They deserve to go out with their kids to the cinema? You should report them to Social Services for torturing infants.

Posted by: Patrick at August 3, 2004 3:21 PM

Amy, are you suggesting I have a couple of 11-year-old boys I don't know about?

Posted by: Cathy Seipp at August 3, 2004 3:32 PM

No, but I'd love to see you open a training facility for the underparented.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 3, 2004 4:10 PM

I don't completely disagree with you, Amy, on this whole thing and the woman on the plane does seem like a pill, but sometimes appearances can be deceiving.

My 11 year old son is neat and attractive. He says incredibly interesting things that often charm the heck out of adults. However he has Asperger's Syndrome (an autism "spectrum" disorder) and somewhat regularly says and does inappropriate things in public.

We're not bad parents and he's not a bad kid, but we have been judged to be so by many strangers who have felt quite comfortable openly criticizing us or offering unasked for (and uninformed) advice during a bad moment with our son in public.

Quite a few of these critics have been other parents whose typical children have more easily managed behaviors. Many of them seem to feel they deserve most of the credit for their children's tractable personalities. They need some lessons in humility and Amy, so do you, because you don't always know what the parents you needlessly judge are dealing with.

Being a decent parent isn't a project. You don't just succeed or fail at it, unlike every other thing you choose to do in life. Some days you're brilliant at it and some days you stink.

Posted by: Curtis at August 3, 2004 4:54 PM

Curtis wrote: They need some lessons in humility and Amy, so do you, because you don't always know what the parents you needlessly judge are dealing with.


Any of the descriptions of her interactions with parents suggest that the parents had ample opportunity to explain the situation if indeed there were extenuating circumstances, even if they might do so in anger.

Posted by: Doug at August 3, 2004 6:16 PM

Doug, I don't owe anyone an explanation of my kid's situation, nor in the moment do I usually have the leisure to provide one as I'm too busy dealing with the problem.

In addition, my son deserves some privacy - imagine the impact of having such personal details revealed to a stranger while you are standing right there.

Also, most people don't know what Asperger's is, it's difficult to explain and many people seem to think one is just offering a trendy excuse for one's badly behaved youngster anyway. I try to promote an understanding of Asperger's when I can and at appropriate moments.

What I'm suggesting to Amy is that even if it's painful, exasperating, or annoying, tolerance is sometimes the higher road.

And I'm not completely in disagreement with her - I'm just offering my perspective as someone whose kid might drive her up the wall.

Posted by: Curtis at August 3, 2004 7:16 PM

Hooray and 3 cheers for Curtis!

You are my hero for August, 2004.

Keep up the good work. I vow for the next 28 days to try to be more tolerant.

Regarding the underparented- most of the folks I know today are overwhelmed with their parenting duties, doing the best they know how. Raising a child today is not the same today as it was 30 years ago...

Posted by: eric at August 3, 2004 10:55 PM

The kid didn't have Asperger's Syndrome, he had asshole parents syndrome. I asked very politely for him to pipe down. I was not the only one bothered, just the only one who spoke up. Heads were turning and shaking all over the cabin. I don't think it's unreasonable to expect to not have a brat shouting all 13 hours or whatever it was from LA to Switzerland. If the kid has a problem (besides his overindulgent parents) he should be sedated so he doesn't disturb other passengers.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 3, 2004 11:07 PM

All right then (whistles quietly and walks cautiously away)

Posted by: Curtis at August 4, 2004 12:52 PM

Am looking forward to the flavor of your posts when (and if) the child is your own. A 2.5 lb dogs is not quite the same, even if it seems to be a panacea for you...

Posted by: susie at August 6, 2004 6:21 AM

Number one, I'm not going to have a child. Number two, if I did have a child, I wouldn't take my chld adult places until it was read to behave in an adult manner.

Moreover, if Cathy Seipp happens to drop in on the end of this comments section, I think she'll confirm that my dog is far, far better behaved than most dogs. That's because you do a dog or a child a favor by giving it boundaries and disciplining it. My dog uses a litterbox! (why? So when I go away and can't take her, she doesn't have to be neighbors play with her in the afternoon, but she stays here and sleeps on my couch)

Moreover, she will lie down; even hide, and be quiet on command. This means I can take her to the movies and restaurants in America where she's not allowed -- instead of leaving her home. If only people's kids at the movies were as quiet and well-behaved.

It was the same for us as kids. And that's how French children are, generally speaking. In my experience, they're treated as adults, and expected to act as adults in adult situations. You don't see bratty kids at Caf de Flore, but they're at the Rose Caf in Venice all the time, having their mini-tantrums.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 6, 2004 6:29 AM

Kudos on the not having children decision-- looks like you have all you can handle.

While I agree that children are a product of their parents, I must add that I feel that you generalize. I grew up in La Seyne sur Mer (Var)and I find the Parisians to be quite a different breed. It was quite a culture shock when we moved to Paris in 1991. We lived for many years on r. Felix Faure (15 arr) and had our share of bullies and brats. Before I had children I flew frequently in both France and Italy and the US and found an equal amount of trans-continental bad behavior. And why leave the comments to children? I have found many Americans to be welcoming and warm and genuine, and some of my own countrymen to be poorly behaved. I have found French snobs, American snobs, and Italian snobs in my travels. Some closer than one would think. I think that pretension is a product of one's self, not necessary to which country one pledges allegiance.
I get the impression that you do not like children and that they are best when not seen, heard or sensed. Perhaps in Paris that is appreciated, but I can assure you that we embrace our children in the sud. My husband has a theory that the larger and more confining the city the less open and wide sweeping the movements people can take. This trickles down to thoughts and emotions, causing people to become guarded and almost myopic in their life. Yes, I found Paris to be a passionnate country, but passion on a small, studio apartment size (the perfect cheese, a well- fitting pair of gloves) since that's all that will fit in the studio- sized lives of the Parisians. If you can not tell, my family and I divide our time between the US (New Jersey) and Ste Guilhem le Desert (Hrault) and find ourselves much happier. And I no longer feel that finding the perfect pair of heels is the pinnacle of my life.

Yes, until they can find a way to grow a child and keep him in a box until he is well mannered I believe you have made a prudent decision. But thank goodness your parents did not do the same, but allowed you to flaunt your behavioral faults all in the name of entertainment.

Posted by: Susie at August 6, 2004 12:15 PM

Woooo! My "behavioral faults!" Do ennumerate them!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 6, 2004 2:32 PM

I've hung out with Amy a lot in these cafes/day care centers. The funny thing is that children actually take to her very well. I think it's because she looks and dresses like a real girl -- like a storybook girl with big tits and a nice, juicy derriere. I've seen 4-year-old kids ogle at her from across the room, totally entranced. And if they're well behaved, Amy will grace them with a few flutters of her eyelashes. Which they seem to love. How can they resist?

Posted by: Lena the Unshaven Transvestite in Birkenstocks at August 6, 2004 11:09 PM

Let me preface this by saying that I find your writing to be very entertaining. I am sure it is not your intention, but you come across to me as someone not comfortable in herself. You have tried very hard to make yourself into a Parisian, but you are not Parisian. You work very hard to devalue what you do not like, which seems to be anything you are not. I can not understand your desire to belittle your own country at the hands of your adopted one. This appears to suggest a discomfort in what you are and who you are.

Posted by: susie at August 7, 2004 6:18 AM

"This appears to suggest a discomfort in what you are and who you are."

Sounds like someone took Psych 101 in college!

Your writing "comes across to me,' my dear, as something that "appears to suggest" a certain lack of confidence in whatever it is you're trying to say.

Posted by: Lena and the Angry Inch of Manhood at August 7, 2004 9:28 AM

Amy, are you seriously equating rearing a human-being with training a lapdog whose brain is the size of a filbert?

Posted by: Curtis at August 8, 2004 8:58 PM

Why not? Both need discipline, firmly and consistently applied. Oh, sorry -- are you from the "I just want my kids to think I'm cool" school of parenting? Luckily, I couldn't care less as to how cool my dog thinks I am.

Posted by: Amy Alkon, Barren! at August 9, 2004 12:52 AM

No, Amy, I don't want to be my son's "cool" pal. I'm his Dad. I want him to have a fair shake in life and a chance to use his talents and intelligence to do work he finds satisfying and to develop good relationships with other people.

Training dogs (I have a well-behaved dog also and training her was easy peasy) isn't the same as rearing a kid. You train a dog to be completely submissive, to have no questions in their mind (such as it is) or decisions to make.

This obviously, is completely different than what one must do with a child - children have to be prepared to make constant "right" choices, to do the correct thing while facing various internal struggles and creating an individual identity for themselves. They have great big brains that continue to develop for many years.

You WILL make mistakes while rearing them. They WON'T always be perfect ladies and gentlemen of the sort that could be stowed "in a leopard-print and black patent leather Sherpa bag under the seat."

Posted by: Curtis at August 9, 2004 2:53 PM

Until they are:

perfect ladies and gentlemen of the sort that could be stowed "in a leopard-print and black patent leather Sherpa bag under the seat."

Please stow them in your (soundproofed) home. Thank you.

PS Anyone who has bratty children should consider offering Cathy Seipp a million dollars (I think that would be her rate) to take your kids on for six months and straighten them out.

PPS I think this would make a terrific reality show.

Posted by: Amy Alkon, Barren! (and loving it) at August 9, 2004 3:00 PM

My kid is not bratty, Amy. Why are you so constantly insulting to people who voice moderate disagreement to your provocative postings? I'm a fan! I LIKE to read your stuff. Why demean me as a parent because I question your reasoning on this?

Posted by: Curtis at August 9, 2004 3:31 PM

But Cathy's child was already eleven or twelve when you met her. I would expect most children of that age to have more control over their behavior. The child you "Bash" in your article is much younger. How can you compare them?

Posted by: sabine at August 9, 2004 8:01 PM

Sabine, I don't expect children to always behave perfectly. I just expect them to remain outside of adult environments until they do. My parents didn't assault others with underbehaving children. Then again, they weren't really concerned with whether they were, like, totally popular with us when we were growing up. PS I doubt Cathy's daughter could even imagine (and she is a highly imaginative person) behaving like this poor boy on my plane. And I say "poor boy" because his parents are insuring that he's going to grow up without discipline -- and thus, handicapped. Parents begging a kid to have dinner? That kid should book early for rehab and maybe save some bucks.

Posted by: Amy Alkon, Barren! (and loving it) at August 9, 2004 8:44 PM