Tuesday, June 14, 2011

True Story: An Elderly Woman Called my Child a Brat on an Airplane

We are back from our quick trip up north.  We spent a lot of time with family, met up with my childhood best friend, and managed to squeeze in quite a few activities.  We had a wonderful time.  I have photos to share and stories to tell, but not before I share this one.  The one that weighs on my soul like a paperweight.

It is 4:00 pm when we board the Allegiant flight headed south from Rockford to St. Pete.  We didn't purchase seats so we board toward the end when they open the seating up to families flying with small children.  I am happy to find seats toward the front of the plane, close to the lavatory making us the first people off of the plane.  We sit in the third row and Camdyn selects the window seat.  We settle in, we color until we are instructed to put the tray table up.  When we are at cruising altitude Cam takes out her DVD player and she watches a movie, while I delve back in to Water for Elephants, it would be awesome if I could finish this book before we land. 

About an hour in to the flight Cam announces that she has to go potty.  The lavatory is occupied so I instruct her to go up there and wait and I'll come up when it's her turn.  She's standing just two rows ahead of me.  She begins to tinker with the woman's armrest who is sitting on the aisle in the bulk head row.  I instruct her to stop, and she does, and then she waits her turn, doing a mild version of the potty dance while she waits.  When it's her turn, I get up and help her in to the rest room, I wait outside the door to help her when she needs it.  I notice that the woman in the middle seat of the bulk head row is staring at me.  I smile warmly.  I figure she is curious about Cam, or is interested in how we are juggling the bathroom routine.  She stares the entire time I am standing there.

We take our seats and Cam watches her movie until we are instructed to put the DVD player away and prepare for landing.  At this time Cam notices that there is a little girl sitting directly behind her.  They start talking and laughing and playing an "Eye Spy" game.  On one occasion I remind Cam to use her inside voice.  They continue to giggle and shriek and Cam announces that she just can't wait to see her Daddy.

We land.  I begin to get my bags together and I realize that someone is yelling, so I look up, just in time to connect eyes with the elderly woman who was sitting in the middle seat in the bulk head row.  She says, "You have the most annoying kid on the planet."  My heart starts racing, my mind begins to swirl.  Is she talking to me?  I look at Cam, her dark almond eyes are wide, but she says nothing.  The woman turns around, so I try to dismiss it.  But, she wasn't done.  She turns around again and declares, "Oh My God.  She has 3!"  What?  She begins chattering with the women next to her, apparently mistaking other children in the aisle for my children.  My heart is thumping.  I'm not good with verbal confrontation, but I feel a need to stand up for myself and my daughter.  Everyone is watching.

She connects eyes with me a final time.  She lifts a crooked, gnarled finger, and points it at Camdyn and says "Your child is a Brat.  A Brat.  That's all she is.  A Brat."  I have a lump in my throat and tears welling in my eyes.  When I finally speak my voice is an octave higher than it normally is.  I manage the words.  "She is a child."  And, that's the best I can do.  I offer no apologies, I do not ask questions, I do not berate her, I can say nothing more.  I look at Cam and her eyes are wild, there is fear behind them.  The woman retreats off the plane.

I feel a warm hand on my shoulder, "Don't let that ruin your trip, doll."  "I won't" I say, but it already has.  I know me.  I know this will weigh on my heart.  I know I won't be able to shake this off.  This was a direct judgement on my parenting skills, or lack of.  My mind is swirling.  How did we manage to make this woman so angry?  We were sitting 2 rows behind her and across the aisle - How did this happen?  Was everyone annoyed by my kid?

We gather our suitcases and head down the Jetway.  Another woman approaches me and says "it's hard to keep little ones still and quiet the whole flight."  I know she was trying to help, but it didn't.  She was still and quiet for 90% of the flight.  She was only talking for the last 15 minutes.  My stomach churns.

When we are back at the car, I pull Cam in to a hug and tell her that she did a wonderful job on the flight, and that she was well behaved.  She said, "Momma.  That lady was mean to you.  She was a bully."  You know what, she was a bully.  For some reason pointing fingers and calling a 5 year old names made her feel better.  Maybe she felt validated by her judgements, or more important.  The whole spectacle must have given her some sort of perverse pleasure.   I explain to Cam that some people don't find children's laughter enjoyable, and that some people have hearts made of stone.  "It's not our fault, Love." 

We have an hour car ride home and I replay the situation over and over in my mind.  For a split second I wish that Cam wouldn't have gotten so excited toward the end of the plane ride.  I wish she was a quiet, demure child and I almost wish her exuberant energy away.  Immediately, I hate myself for thinking such thoughts, even for a split second.  Those are the qualities about her that I adore.  That is who she is, and I love her bubbly energy and her zest for life.  And, then I start tearing in to myself, why can't I stand up for myself, why can't I think on my feet in a confrontation, why do I slink down with my tail between my legs unable to offer a defense.  Why am I so averse to confrontation? 

And then I realize, although God did not grant me the gift of verbal eloquence, especially in a confrontation, he did grant me the gift of composure.  After a call to the Bestie and a few tears later, I realize that I set a good example for my daughter.  Caught in a hard spot between being a role model, respecting my elders, and standing up for myself, I did the best I could. 

Looking back, I realize that woman was glowering at me while Cam used the restroom half way through the flight.  She had it out for her then.  She wasn't looking at me out of curiosity or because Cam was dressed nicely, she was giving me the evil eye.  At that time, the only thing Cam could have done to set her off was tinker with the arm rest on the aisle seat (it wasn't even her arm rest).  Her reaction to that slight disturbance was uncalled for and unjustified, and I don't care what a child does, there is no room for name calling.

I prayed for that woman last night.  I prayed that the Lord would soften her heart, that he would ease her pains and her frustrations, and whatever ailments she is facing that make her world such a dark and hurtful place.  And then I prayed for myself, that God would lift these judgements from my heart, that he would give me peace and restore my confidence in the human race and my own parenting skills.  And, then I offered thanks for the fact that my husband was not on the plane when the incident occurred.  As deficient as my verbal skills are, my husband makes up for it ten fold.  He cares not what people around him think.  His words are quick and on point.  Had he been there, it would have gotten ugly.  The woman would not have gotten the last word, and I'm sure that the Hubs would have ended up zip tied to a chair and Camdyn probably would have been terrified by a confrontation of that proportion. 

I expect after incidences like this one, and the one at Chick Fil A last June, I will eventually find my voice. 

No one ever said it would be easy.


LeeAnn said...

It's a good thing I wasn't there! I may have just punched her! LOL Truth is, I'm not great on my feet when someone just springs something like that on me. I know I would have gone off on her, but I would have been crying the whole time, because you know I have no control over that. I cannot believe that even happened!!! How can someone just sit there and berate a child like that?

It sounds like Cam did a very good job on the plane, and you should be proud of her. You are absolutely right...that woman must have a heart of stone.

I hope you guys had a great trip otherwise! We have some serious catching up to do. :-)

t.bird said...

gah- you were much nicer than i would have been.

freaking people. <3

Cole said...

Wow, what a cranky lady! We are headed on a plane ride in a few weeks and Mommy can only hope that I am as well behaved as your description of Cam... but we're lucky and travelling with Daddy and Grammy Boo and Coach, AND Uncle Matt, so we have reinforcements.

Liz said...

I'm glad we talked on your way home from the airport and that we were able to turn tears into laughs, even though Abby was pulling my hair so hard it hurt!

You did the right thing. You didn't lose your composure and you were the bigger person in that situation. Cam has a great role model in you ... you are such a wonderful Mama and that lady clearly didn't even take the time to notice that.

Hang in there! :)

Ashley said...

Ugh this makes me sick! I can only imagine how you felt, I would die. How awful are people? Cam sounds like she did great on the flight. That woman would have really been a mess if my kids had on the plane. You did the right thing by just praying for her. What a sad, horrible life she must lead. Can you imagine being that bitter and angry to be mean to a child? I'm so sorry you guys had to go thru that!

themrs said...

this makes me so sad for you :( i am so impressed with how you handled it though! i am quick on my feet with retorts and confrontation and all it does is get me in trouble! i wish i could stay calm and composed like you did. it would serve as a much better example to MY children then when some man was staring at my son for crying in walmart and i looked him dead in the eye and said "do you have a suggestion or are you just staring because i'm so beautiful?" your children will grow up to be calm and composed and mine will be smart asses :)

Rochelle@AFamilyofLooneys said...

Please, please don't beat yourself up. You and your sweet daughter did nothing wrong. Some people are just mean in this world. They get off on hurting other folks. You are a considerate and thoughtful person and I hate that you had to go through this.

I know how you feel. I have a hard time standing up to folks also. I hate to fight back. It is such a hard thing to do. I am proud of how you acted and what you said to that hateful women.

Ashley Sisk said...

I used to be a frequent flyer and I'll be the first to admit that I try to avoid small children on airplanes, but kids are kids and I couldn't imagine ever telling a parent that her kid was a brat. It sounds like Cam was a doll and this woman should have been thrilled that she wasn't a screaming baby (it could have been worse right). Don't beat yourself up. I think you have the right attitude. Pray for her and move on. HUGS

TV's Take said...

What a troubled soul. Sounds like you handled it perfectly, you are after all the better person and your child was indeed watching. Cute how Cam identified that the older woman was the bully. Sadly we will all have more incidents like these and you'll be happy to know your not the only one who's gone through this. I did one of my first and only times at Red Robin (which I thought was a family joint) - people are wacked. Remember she isn't worth all the energy your giving her or the incident. Welcome home!!!

Jennifer said...

Carol...I think you did an amazing job of handling the situation with class!! I have to say, I don't know that would have been so calm!! But when it comes so unexpectedly, you kind of get thrown off guard. Acting crazy and yelling would not have been good for anyone. You taught Cam to act like a lady and ignore the situation. She is a kid...and that is it. She is not a robot that you can program to stay quiet for any amount of time. I think she did great on the plane by the sound of it!! I am sure I would have gotten upset too....but don't let it get to you. You are an amazing mom and some oild lady shouldn't let you think any different!! I hope the rest of the trip was good :)

Mari said...

Don't be so hard on yourself.

In that moment, feeling as you did, it would have been dangerous to speak up. Your emotions were so involved, and your little girl could have been influenced by those words.

Your little girl was great on the flight. But what if she hadn't been? Would that have given her permission to be rude to you? The answer is NO.

Your answer is correct. She IS a child. And as such, still learning to cope with uncomfortable situations that adults have learned to cope with. So, Cam behaved BEAUTIFULLY! But even if she hadn't, it wouldn't have meant she was a BRAT! It would have meant she is a child. A little girl who is still learning!

So, stay strong, momma. You did good!

Sassy said...

Seriously?! What crawled up her hooha?

I very much admire your composure Carol. I'm afraid I would have let my emotions get the better of my common sense! :(

You are a great mom with great kids! You and Cam should both be proud of how you handled yourselves!

Love you!

Mama Hen said...

I am proud of you Carol for remaining composed. I have had a couple of confrontations that I did speak up for myself and my daughter. I kept composed and kind, but I defended us. The last time I was in a parking lot and went to open my daughter's car door. It was a very windy day and the door got away from me. I am always very careful, but it still bumped into a guys Porche. He was walking to his car and I rubbed at the spot and it came right out. There was no damage, but the guy started telling me I was stupid and so on in fron my my daughter. I was in tears. I closed her door and said that he needed to lower his voice and not use harsh words in front of my child. I said there was no damage, but if it would make him feel better I would pay him money. He would not stop and was pointing the finger. I said I did not want my daughter to hear and he said, "Maybe she will learn something." I took her out of the car and went into the store crying. She asked me why that man was so mean. I said he was being unkind and was having a bad day. The guy in the store asked me if I was alright and I told him what happened. He said, your daughter did learn something today. She learned that people can be very mean. You are good to pray for the woman. I always try my best to stay calm and kind. It can be hard sometimes. Hang in there my friend! have a great day!

Mama Hen

Mama Hen said...

I think Cam did great! :)

Mama Hen

Nessa said...

I think your response was the best... she is a child, a wonderful child. Someone who calls a little one, any little one a name has bigger problems that any of us do that is for sure.

Lexie Loo & Dylan Too said...

I think your response was perfect, but you were much nicer than I would have been. My temper was flaring just reading about it. What a cranky, miserable woman.

Casey Martinez said...

I am so sorry that this woman was so rude to you!! I read this post and then told my mom about it and we were both floored. Plain and simple this person is unhappy, rude and has lost their joy in life and they thrive off of sucking the joy out of other people. How sad that she is so miserable that she had to say something so inappropriate and untrue. Your daughter is a doll and any child that can get through a flight deserves snuggles and praise in my opinion...I can barely get through a flight. You are an amazing momma to respond so graciously the way you did. In fact I think your response is perfect and a lot of people could learn from you. Hugs to you momma. You are amazing!!