There is no right to a child-free existence

Published Apr 6, 2013 at 05:00AM

I remember the first time I traveled by plane with an infant. I flew to Montana with a 6-month-old and I was full of worries: Would the descent and change in air pressure hurt the baby’s sensitive inner ears? Did I have enough bottles of milk for the journey? How would I manage a diaper change in the tiny airplane lavatory?

It wasn’t until four passengers seated nearby asked to be relocated to baby-free areas of the plane that I became aware of what the child-averse seemed to think should have been my primary concern: Would my infant annoy other passengers?

As it turns out, the baby slept the entire flight. Didn’t make a peep. But if he had, should I have been wracked with guilt over my baby’s vocalizations? Should I have been abjectly apologetic that my infant did what all humans did at one point in their lives?

More recently, several friends have planned travel with babies or toddlers and expressed concern not about managing the needs of little kids during long hours of travel, or the potential discomfort of their babies in the pressurized cabin, but about how their fellow passengers would react to having a baby on the plane. They feared the scorn of other adults exposed to a potentially crying baby.

Why? Allow a few Internet comments to shed some light on the subject:

A February incident in which an Idaho man was accused of slapping another passenger’s crying 19-month-old son on a flight to Atlanta generated the following comment on a news website: “I wish I had the backbone to slap a crying kid on a flight. I pay money for my ticket. I expect a pleasant flight.”

Elsewhere on the Internet, a man’s YouTube rant against babies on airplanes generated comments that suggested a baby-disposal tube for airplanes that would dispatch crying kids to the outside of the plane, or that babies be fitted with gags to prevent them from making any sound at all.

In the real, non-hyperbolic world, we’ve all heard people who have complained about being forced to endure the presence of infants in airplanes, children in restaurants, kids on buses.

And who can forget the squabble several years ago between a Bend restaurant owner and local moms at odds over whether it was appropriate to bring kids into a restaurant?

I have friends who are afraid of doing that, too. They fear dirty looks from servers if they dare bring their kids to dine out. They fear eye rolls from other customers. They fear the judgment of everyone should their baby let out a squall, should their toddler make a mess, should their kid throw a fit.

I get it. Really, I do. Hearing babies cry isn’t pleasant. Sometimes kids are annoying. And there are appropriate and inappropriate places to bring your young kids. Inappropriate: A romantic fine-dining restaurant after 7 p.m. Appropriate: Red Robin, anytime.

There is appropriate and inappropriate behavior by children in restaurants and other public spaces. Good parents know the difference and teach their kids the difference, too (a lesson, might I suggest, that is difficult to teach if parents are expected to never burden the general traveling or dining public with exposure to their children).

But even if kids behave less than perfectly in public, or cry on airplanes, the compassionate response (assuming the parents are at least trying to do something about it) is tolerance. Why? Because we are humans. Childhood is a necessary and unavoidable point in the lifespan of a human being, and part of our social compact as a species is to accept and nurture the young (who, incidentally, will eventually be paying for your Social Security).

You, airplane complainer, restaurant eye-roller, don’t have the right to a child-free existence. Even if you choose not to have children, you can’t expect to live a life free from exposure to kids. The job of a parent is hard enough without having to feel bad for the mere existence of their children in public places.