Posted in children, humor, Parenting, travel

Overabundant Joy: A Travelogue of Torture

When the harried young mother boarded the plane with her toddler, I smiled and thought, Just keep walking. But the next minute, as I was knocked in the head by a plastic container of cheerios, I knew the mom was settling in directly behind me. Oh, boy. I braced myself for three hours of whining.

Imagine my delight during takeoff when, instead of the kid crying in fear, he clapped and cheered. The simultaneous sigh of relief by the closest 25 passengers caused enough atmospheric change to make my ears pop. In the next few minutes, as the kid found joy in the tiny cars and buildings below, several of us actually exchanged big grins. One older lady leaned across the aisle and told young mom, on behalf of rows 12-16, that her son was “just precious.”

Twenty minutes later I was settling comfortably into my paperback novel when a piercing squeal of glee yanked me back into my surroundings. “You want Mamma to turn the light off again?” cooed young mother.

Clap, clap, clap.



“See? Light off!”



Well, OK. So the kid was happy with the light. It was still better than crying, right? Right!

“Should Mamma turn the light on again?”

Oh boy.

I sighed and opened my novel again, but to no avail. The kid’s continual whoops of glee alerted me to the coming of the snack tray. Of the beverage cart. Of a particularly fluffy cloud. I glanced around at the other passengers. The guy beside me had cranked up his earbuds. The older lady who had pronounced the kid “just precious” was had small lines of stress around her eyes.

“Would you like to watch Elmo on Mommy’s blackberry?”

The decibel level of enthusiasm from our diminutive fellow passenger vaulted me out of my seat so fast that the guy beside me jumped. I had to get away. But where? In an airplane there’s only one place to go. So to speak.

I made my way to the lavatory and believe me when I say it’s the first time I’ve been happy to fold myself into a space that makes my linen closet seem spacious. (Side note: Perhaps we should adopt the European phrase “water closet” in this instance.) I pulled the door closed behind me, shot the lock home, and was immediately immersed in the mechanical growl of the engine—a guttural rumble that drowned out all noise from the cabin.

I availed myself of the facilities. I washed my hands. Doctors recommended singing a song while washing, to make sure the washer is doing a thorough job. I couldn’t remember the song, so I hummed Mozart’s first and second symphonies, just to be safe. I found a comb in my purse and had a go at my hair.

Having exhausted my stalling activities, I bent down to throw away my paper towel and noticed the call button below the sink. All airplane lavatories have these buttons, usually depicting a stick figure’s head and torso. The idea, I suppose, is that in case of emergency, the passenger can call forth a nondescript humanoid with a basic understanding of first aid. But this button went one better: the humanoid was carrying a tumbler. In this airplane, you could call a bartender to the bathroom.

Huh. Good to know.

Making my way back to my seat, I noticed Maniacally Happy Toddler was la-la-ing along with Elmo and the gang. Then I looked at the mom. She was clearly exhausted. Living with this tyke must be akin to being stuck in the heartwarming dénouement of a Gershwin musical. If I had considered ordering an Old Fashioned in an airplane lavatory after only two hours, this woman had to be stationed on the far side of frazzled.

Twenty minutes before we touched down, the kid passed out. As we reached the tarmac, I asked the mom if she needed help getting to her connecting flight. She told me this was her home airport and she had family waiting. She nodded at her sleeping child. “We’ve been traveling for a week,” she whispered with a gravity usually reserved for speaking of natural disasters. “I can’t tell you how glad I am to be home.”

Passengers in rows 12-16 silently agreed.

Angela Dove is an award-winning humor columnist and author of the true crime memoir, No Room for Doubt: A true story of the reverberations of murder (Penguin 2009). She welcomes feedback at



Award-winning humor columnist and author of the true crime memoir _No Room for Doubt: A True Story of the Reverberations of Murder_ (Penguin Group, 2009). Inspirational speaker on issues of survivors' rights, women's issues, and general you-can-do-it-ness. Marketing consultant.

111 thoughts on “Overabundant Joy: A Travelogue of Torture

  1. So funny! Speaking as a mother of three and having travelled with all three of them at the toddler stage, I feel both yours and the mom’s pain. Trust me when I say that the mom was probably doing her very best to minimize the annoying factor for all around her. Sometimes the best we can do is to do is to make sure the noises are happy rather than the alternative!

  2. Oh, I’m so glad you come around to seeing her side of it. Most people just glare. Glare because of all the stuff you have so that you can spend ever second of that flight trying to make everyone else’s life more comfortable, glare at you when your kid’s feet–like adult knee caps–dead end into the seat in front and can’t help but resist the containment (why can’t people just pretend it’s one of those massage chairs in the terminal?), glare at you when the kid cries because you snapped at him to stop kicking the chair in front of him, glare at you when you take a long time trying to change a diaper in a bathroom with no changing table (let alone space). So, yes, the kid is exhausting. But he’s not nearly so exhausting as the 200 other people who make their judgment–compliments and critical eyes alike–so apparent.

  3. I love kids, I mean I really love them. I’m all about them! I raised 6 myself! But when I get on an airplane??? I hate them all. (forgive me lord…)

  4. Wow ~ I can relate so well. I’ve been on both sides of scenario … the mom of the uber-happy toddler … and the fellow passenger looking for an escape pod in the restroom. Loved your post! 🙂

  5. stories like these remind me why i decided not to have children and why that was probably one of my better decisions.

    1. They’re not for everyone, Evelyn, that’s the truth. My daughter is quiet and speculative. Then my son came along and continues to rock our world.

  6. Your article was light, warm, with a twist of annoyed that was perfectly balanced by your humor. I hope to one day have a blog.

    1. Thanks, Cora. I started this thing right before school got out for my kids. What the heck was I thinking? Now I usually update it after my columns run in our local A&E magazine. Or when the mood strikes me, if it’s not one of my humor columns.

  7. I’m glad you offered to help her with her next flight.

    We moms of toddlers can use all the help we can get, especially when we are in public trying to keep them calm. (As a mom, I’m sure you can relate!)

  8. At least the happy squeals of a toddler tend to help keep the smile on your face longer than the unhappy ones. Thanks for sharing your…uh…pleasant experience. 😉

  9. You are such an honest writer and your posts are easy to read but with depth. I can relate to this post and that just shows how great you are! Keep it up! I’ve subscribed to this.

  10. Hi, Angela. I’m here from 4mothers1blog. This is a great post! Even when they are angels, they are tiring. My mother-in-law once offered to drive one of my sons to our Thanksgiving dinner, which we have with family 2 hours’ drive from home. She got out of the car at the other end and said she was exhausted. The questions and the talking never stopped. I’m sure she would have loved an old fashioned and a locked room in which to drink it!

  11. Ah, so tragically funny. My daughter, in desperation, once placed her baby in the arms of her twenty-something year old seatmate, so she could go to the rest room and express her milk. I’m sure that guy is still talking about his memorable plane ride.

  12. I don’t travel much, but I have been in the car with my boyfriend’s kids when they squeal. Use your inside voice!

    Congrats on Freshly Pressed!

  13. Congrats on Freshly Pressed, even if you didn’t feel that way on the plane!
    I’ve been on both sides of the story, and now with a second mini-me I have not even attempted to fly us anywhere. Yet.

  14. I’m told I’m a bit strange. Crying babies and little ones (either the happy or sad ones) do not bother me on flights. It’s the rowdy school age kids and the loud and obnoxious teenagers that drive me right around the bend. I’ve suffered a few flights where I would have been glad to trade the winning high school teams for a batch of screaming babies.

    1. That cracked me up. “I’ll hold your kid–there’s something waiting for you in the plane lavatory.” Thank God for the call-a-bartender button! (*snort laughing*)

  15. Ha- great post. I was there. Could feel tiny feet whacking my seatback, my ears ringing with the squeels. Oi. When, oh when, will narcotics for travelling tots be legalized? (or for passengers.)

  16. As many people have posted I have been on both sides of this post, passenger and mom (and maybe the toddler too, have to ask my parents). My daughter cried recently on on flights for the entire time that someone in the row in front of us gave my daughter her bracelet to play with in hopes it would shut her up. I was mortified, embarassed and simply felt terrible for all my fellow passengers… just like there was no escape for you, I wanted to escape as well.

    I would like to apologize for that Mom and to everyone on my flight too.

  17. Funny!! I’ve been on both sides, too. It is hard…but I have to agree, I totally cringe when I see children coming toward me, praying under my breath for them to not really be near me Oh, God!! I’ve also had a child kicking my chair the whole flight and wanted to kill myself. I guess patience is the answer, which is definitely not my strong suit. After flying with my infant sons once, and being so crowded, we drove with them for the rest of their childhood. That’s about the only answer and I guess that ain’t gonna happen, so we’ll all just have to deal!!

  18. Sweet post. I dreaded the days of air travel with my babies. My “favorite” was the time my 4 year old barfed all over herself, the flight attendant and me. I had to leave my 1 year old in the barf-covered flight attendant’s arms while I took the 4 year old to get cleaned up. By the time I came out, my 1 year old had…filled his pants in a delicious, liquidy fashion, and I began to sense the flight attendant wished she could push us out through the side door.
    Good times.


  19. I had a similar experience except, instead of 1 kid there were more than 10 tiny humans and the flight was 22 hours long! Boy, was I glad to reach my destination.

  20. I can relate to your experience. There was a baby [on one of my flights a couple of years ago] that was crying for about 30 minutes non stop.

  21. I’ve seen it in the eyes of fellow passengers when we climb on board with our kids, you described it well, that holy-crap-a-toddler/baby-is-on-board look. We’ve flown 4X with our little guy and he did so well and I thoroughly enjoyed the much nicer looks we got when people were on their way out (we wait until the end to leave).
    Congrats on being FP!

    1. We’ll be flying next month with our 5yo son who constantly narrates imaginary battles. I plan to call a bartender to the lavatory about 2 hours in.

  22. So often people make the mistake of asking themselves, How could she? Why would she? Why does she? I can’t believe she would do this? And fail to understand Love. I love my children, in a restaurant when they yell and scream, in a plane when they need something to do to relieve their boredom, in church when they say and impromptu AMEN!
    I ask you love them too!
    kids will be kids
    and we were one too….

  23. Hi Angela

    Very funny we’ve all been victim to the screaming child. I was recently in a resturant where the parents of the screaming child thought his verbal range was brilliant and applauded as the decibel level increased!
    Everyone in the resturant had asked to be placed as far away from the child as possible so there we all were huddled in a corner of the resturant whilst the child took centre stage!
    My husband had a similar experience on a plane where a child kept opening and shutting the folding table. He stopped abrubtly when his fingers got stuck!

  24. Oh, my stories of airplane trips — but one time I had to sit near a woman who said, “I RE-FUSE to change his diaper on this airplane trip!” …..

    Oh…dear ….. lord …….

    *shuddering at the memory*

  25. Good story.
    An exuberant child like this on a plane is nowhere near the torment that an unhappy, pained and bored child spreads around.
    Having taken children on planes a lot myself, I resent parents who effectively abandon their children to the pain of ear popping, without having prepared contingencies in advance. Just not fair to their children.
    The mother in your story sounds like a star.

  26. Normally, children should be seen and not heard. When it comes to airplanes, they should neither be seen nor heard.

  27. Am I the only one that’s ridden a plane and have had people tell me how WELL behaved my children were?

    People, get a clue, children do NOT have to be court jesters in public. It’s the parents that enable the behavior by not telling them to stop. It’s our job to MAKE them stop, put them in time out or with-hold a priveldge; better yet take them outside from wherever you are and let them know their behavior is inappropriate and that they can go back in when they’ve settled down.

    What people seem to have forgotten, is that when children act out, it’s their way of saying, “help…I’m out of control, I need you to reign me in!!!” Because if you don’t, you’re basically ignoring your child’s plea f’or help and you’re not teaching your child how to control themselves and where the boundaries are.

    It’s our job as parents to set the boundaries and CONSTANTLY reinforce them in a loving manner so our children feel secure. Then as they grow and develop, they inculcate these boundaries into their own self discipline and well being. How do I know, I have 3 well behaved boys who are well liked and are all straight A students. So you see, it works 🙂

    1. But you’ve illustrated the hole in your own no-doubt tidy method: on a plane, these tools we use day-to-day aren’t available! We can’t exactly “take them outside” a plane, can we? And remove a privilege–i.e. the entertainment–isn’t really viable on a plane either (don’t do that or I’ll take away the toy that is only barely keeping you from expressing how miserable you are in this fourth hour of strapped-down hell).

  28. Reminds me of “Bill Cosby Himself” when he’s talking about little Jeffrey who’s four years old. Watch it sometime. You’ll laugh. Because it’s true. 😉

  29. This is hilarious and such a wonderful read. I can empathise with you, rows 12 – 16 and with the mum! I’m glad I found your blog – thanks, Freshly Pressed!

  30. Hey, just read your post. Interesting.

    FYI though, that little button in the Lav is not so you can order a drink. (I’m an international flight attendant.) The reason why it has someone with a drink is because, it’s supposed to represent a flight attendant, who would save your life in the event of an emergency. And in future, if you’re that uncomfortable with a seat and the person behind you, ask a flight attendant if you can move. You’re allowed to. Just as long as you go back to your allocated seat before landing. Thought I’d pass that one on.

  31. I’ll just echo the very first comment. I’ve done quite a bit of travelling overseas with my toddlers. It’s exhausting! But I always did my best to keep them from bugging other passengers. It usually worked, but not always.

  32. I’ll bet the decibel level of the toddler’s reaction to watching Elmo was directly proportional to the pitch of Elmo’s voice. What is it about that Muppet’s voice that is enough to make a grown woman cry? (yes, I’m the grown woman to which I’m referring, and I can recall a few times of *actually* crying in response to having to sit through Elmo yet again…)

    Elmo and The Wiggles. I’ll bet Dante would say there’s a special circle of hell devoted to both… 😉

  33. Funny! Although I am not a parent myself, I do wish others around people who are would be a little more understanding. Even I can see how hard they’re trying.

  34. In the 70s my family traveled this country on the bus! I thought it was THE coolest thing EVER! I hope I was not a terror to any fellow passengers. I really appreciate your ‘rest of the story’ because I think to myself – what if my parents had NOT traveled with me as a youngster? My fondest memories center around those road trips and the far-spread extended family I was able to get to know because of them! The smallest kiddos may not remember the trips they were on, but the loved ones who may not have otherwise been able to share in their young lives w/o those trips cherrish the memories. I try to remember that if ever annoyed or impatient w/ the young traveler. Thanks for your tale and, thanks to FP for helping me find you today. I’m sure I will return.

  35. funny!! i had a great experience when my son was 1 and the second half of 22 flight hours (from Europe to Oz). He was now wide awake where it was night (again) in Asia. He wasn’t crying – just plainly too happy for anyone near us to get sleep. the lovely people from Korean Airlines (really) took terms in entertaining him and cunningly moved us around the plane during the flight so that not always the same rows were affected by my boy’s joyful giggles and loud brabbles… i was relieved to see the (mostly asian) passengers were so enchanted with my little Mr Happy in the morning that they passed him around, now giggling just as much as he had done all night. 🙂
    great post, congrats to your freshly pressed (me too! so chuffed!!)

  36. Love this! Better a Happy Toddler than a wailing one, hehe. I’m lucky we only had to take 1-hour plane trips with our toddler so far, and yet those trips take a looot of planning and pretty much wears us out already.

  37. The shrieking of small children makes me cringe no matter where I am and no matter if it’s joyful or not, although joyful is initially, as you found out, better. But if it goes on for any length of time I have to find a way to get out of earshot. Sorry about your experience. I’m sure I’ll have one like that soon, on public transportation or the like. Whatever happened to “Be seen but not heard”? Seems like no one raises their children that way any more.

  38. God gave Woman a higher tolerance for pain to deal with childbirth or men!
    God gave Women love to deal with us when we were under age 3!

  39. I am loving your blog, and this post especially! As a passenger without a child, I (and a thousand others) can relate to your experience; an infant/toddler/teenager is a loaded bomb just waiting to disturb the lives of everyone in the vicinity, expected or not. Thanks for sharing, I can’t wait to read more!!

  40. There were a couple of flights I took in the recent past that seemed to be overflowing with toddlers in arms. I have always considered myself to be a reasonably tolerant person but sometimes you find your control slipping drastically. Boy am I glad that I never went through this as my kids (funnily now that I think back on it) always behaved themselves in public.

  41. 🙂 *pat pat* kids are so amusing…… and exhausting…. i teach tiny ones on weekends.. and there’s always something amusing happening to talk about….

  42. i can really identify with this story! it’s happened so many times before who have overdosed on energy sources bundled up on flights..and then nobody else gets any rest or sleep!

  43. I’ve never flown. My maiden voyage will hopefully be to London’s Heathrow from either Newark or Philly. A 6 – 8 hour trip.

    Is this what I get to look forward to?


    Can’t wait.

    I will most definitely make sure my iPod is fully charged and my ear buds are functioning.

    Thanks for the heads up.

  44. I hope the mother would be only needing to do a week of travellin with her Precious only after a few years have gone by… 🙂

      1. Gladly! Thanks for writing such a great post. Many of our members can identify, I’m sure!

  45. nice post. I wish I had a button I could push in my bathroom that would have a bartender bring me a drink every time I was hiding from my family. jealous.

  46. Ahh, the perils of flying. If only I had the ability to zone-out during these occasions and put my brain in neutral. My latest post features a flight with another flight annoyance (not on the same level of noisy child) a runny noise.
    S x

  47. You are a very funny writer! This post just reminds me that, at some level, caring for children is the responsibility of everyone in society. We all have an interest in helping parents with their nearly-impossible job. We were all once those little annoyances ourselves! At the other end, we can be impatient with the elderly who are slow, who are forgetful, but one day, it’ll be US!

  48. Great post, traveling is always so stressful and seating arrangements is always such a gamble. As you take your seat and watch others board the aricraft, all you can do is cross your fingers that some people keep walking and you get a decent neighbour!

  49. Terrific writing. The pacing is perfect, putting the reader directly in rows 12-16, experiencing what those passengers are feeling: slight reservation, I guess it isn’t that bad, it is that bad, and finally relief and reluctant acknowledgement that maybe it wasn’t that bad. Great stuff.

    Congrats on being Pressed. I look forward to reading more.

    Chase McFadden

    “Some Species Eat Their Young”

  50. Oh, wow! It must be an exhausting experiences, especially for the mom. It sounds terrifying a toddler can be this hyperactive — cute, perhaps, but driving you insane. That mom sure is very patient. 🙂

  51. Great post! Yeah, as much as you and everyone else on that plane was praying for the flight to blissfully end, I can guarantee the mom was too. I flew with my baby girl on my lap and my 4 year old son next to me and brought a portable DVD player. It was a godsend. The other people on board kept complimenting me on how well behaved my kids were, like they were shocked. Elmo Rules!

  52. I suppose I’d rather have a happy manageable child sitting behind me than a screaming demon! Which has happened many times, I personally do not enjoy having my seat back kicked every 5 seconds

  53. Been there, done that. We were on a train for 9 hours with a HUGE group of kids going with their mom, grandma, and aunts to a family reunion. We got off the train at 3 in the morning after I had officially lost my mind.

    I don’t mind the kids as much as the adults. Every time the kids would settle down and be quiet or almost asleep, the adults would get them all worked up again!!

  54. having my first in December I had a nightmare about the plane flying situation last night because we want to visit family with in the first 5 months…I considering road tripping instead

    1. You know, I’ve been through this as a mom and as a passenger. Given the choice, I fly with my kids–unless we’re stopping to see cool stuff on the way. But with a 5 month old, I’d say just get there!

  55. that must have been most difficult and most stressful for the mom! i’ve traveled alone with my 2 girls, but it was just a 1-hour flight. danae was 4 and noelle was 10 months old. not an easy feat, but i was pretty proud of myself afterward. my kids were pretty cooperative as well, thank God. that was very nice of you to ask her if she needed help. i’m sure your mere question made her feel more at ease. 🙂

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