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A Letter To The Person Complaining About The Screaming Baby On The Plane

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Are there ways to stop babies from crying on planes or other public spaces?

Hey, I’ve been there. I’ve been away from home all week, eating out too much, working too hard, and sleeping too little. I’m on my last leg of hours of flying that eventually leads to the arrival terminal, my car, another half hour of driving. Finally I get to take a shower, crawl into my very own bed — with just the right number of pillows — and see my wife’s smiling face.

So, I plunk myself into a window seat. I’m a big guy. It’s never comfortable, but the window seat means I can lean over, close my eyes and maybe relax. Maybe even get a few winks. My knees are in contact with the seat in front of me. Not just contact actually. I’m 6′ 4″. I’m wedged in. I hold out some slim hope that the seat in front of me will remain empty, but invariably some person (who ironically never seems taller than five foot nothing) plunks themselves down. We taxi, accelerate, and then rise into the sky. On cue, the person in front of me reclines their seat. Crushing my knees. I sigh, and begin to count the minutes until I can disembark.

Then of course the baby starts crying. And more often than not, something remarkable happens.

I smile.

Don’t get me wrong. My knees still hurt. I’m still tired. I’d still rather be home in my own comfy bed.

But when I hear a baby cry on a plane, I realize that there is a little human on the plane who feels just like I do. He’s uncomfortable. His ears are popping, but unlike me, he doesn’t understand why they hurt, only that they do. He hates the noise. He has either eaten too much, or not enough. He’s out of his routine. He’d rather be home with just the people that care for him too.

Then of course the baby starts crying. And more often than not, something remarkable happens.

That little dude is just like me. Except that I am an adult, and know what’s going on.

If I am sitting right next to the baby, I pull out my usual smile and peekaboo act that I use on babies. Under normal circumstances, it works fairly often. On a plane? 50-50. And usually not for long. So I send the smile to their parents. After all, all the things that I’m feeling are being felt by the parents too. I ask them about the baby’s name. I tell them about my granddaughter. I might even present some abbreviated version of the story that I just related above. For a moment, they realize that there is someone on the plane who understands (at least a little) how their day has gone. The baby may still be crying, but they feel a little bit better. And I do too.

My flight is over soon enough.

I’m not perfect. There have been trips where I sat back in my seat, closed my eyes, and begged to be unconscious. But the smile thing happens more often than not, and with a bit of practice, more often as time goes by.

If you have to be outside in the rain, you are going to get wet. If you travel inside a flying tin can with dozens of other people, there will be a baby who will cry. You could hope that you can stop the rain, or stop the baby from crying, but that’s pretty pointless. You are battling against a force of nature.

The solution is to change yourself.

Mark VandeWettering is a technical director, and often writes about religion, politics, and parenting. You can find more of his quora posts here:

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