It’s a prayer all of us have sent up at some point in our lives: Please, God, don’t let the small, rambunctious kid sit near me on the plane.
Sometimes prayers get answered.
Sometimes, they don’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I love children, especially my own more than others, but when I’m packed in like a sardine on my way to a pleasant vacation—or even worse, on my way home from a pleasant vacation—the last thing I want is a fussy, crying, obnoxious kid sitting next to me on my journey from which there is no escape until we land. I already come to the journey on an airplane with a touch of claustrophobia each time I buckle the lap belt, recognize that there’s no getting off no matter what, and carefully consider whether or not to fight for an armrest. Truthfully, I’m not a fan of confinement, even if it’s taking me to or from a splendid place. In nonverbal communication, we call the study of the spatial requirements that affect human interaction and behavior proxemics, and quite frankly, I need all the personal space I can get to ward off anxiety.
So, what happened was this: I saw the kid coming and sent the prayer up.
Now, make no mistake—I’m not mad at God, because I know how busy He can be and completely understand the magnitude and quantity of other pressing requests and matters that must take precedence over mine. But at least give me brownie points for trying.
I had spotted the family earlier in the airport as we waited at the terminal, but we boarded before they did. I sensed that there might be a disturbance in the force, as the kid seemed to be a handful. Along with my husband and kids, we said hello to the pilot, scooted down the aisle, found our spot, and settled in.
Just as we were all positioning ourselves and getting comfortable, I looked up and saw that family heading straight for us.
Low and behold, the family sat directly in front of me with the kid, while the grandmother was seated across from them on the aisle seat. I tried to stay positive and hope for the best. Honestly, I did.
However, for the entire two-hour trip, the kid was passed back and forth from mother to father and over to the grandmother. The kid fussed, cried, screamed, wanted food, didn’t want food, wanted a drink, didn’t want a drink, and threw his blanket and toys into the aisle in a fervent fit of madness. I’m guessing he was between the ages of two and three—and he brilliantly manipulated all three of the adults like a pro. When he didn’t get his way, he demonstrated one of the most sensational temper tantrums I’ve ever witnessed with a high-pitched squeal that made the hairs on your arms go straight up. The entire plane was treated to the kid’s soprano voice, and I noticed the flight attendants, after trying to help, share worrisome glances as they tried to keep their distance from him as much as possible.
Who could blame them? I wanted to do the same. In fact, I almost offered to help the flight attendants pass out peanuts so I could escape the extraordinary octave the kid was capable of reaching (watch out Mariah Carey—he’s coming after your notes).
Needless to say, when we touched down, my anxiety level was at a 12 on a scale of 10. So much for the relaxing flight home from a fantastic vacation.
Moreover, if I’m not mistaken, I think I heard a rumble from the passengers of glee along with a quiet show of applause that we were soon to be…
Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.