Timeout: Adults can be babies too

Times Staff Writer

There are a lot of people in this world who find most children obnoxious, destructive, irritating, loud, sloppy and rude. This is not too surprising because most children are, at times, obnoxious, destructive, irritating, loud, sloppy and rude.

As it turns out, humans don't emerge from the womb knowing that you shouldn't throw a baseball against a window or tell a stranger she is fatter than "even Mommy." This is one of the great shocks of parenthood and why so many of us twitch and repeat ourselves.

More surprising is the number of people who take their opinions one step further and decide that children therefore should not be allowed to travel. Or at least no farther than the beach, the playground and presumably Disneyland, although I have heard an adult woman standing in line for the Peter Pan ride complain that there were too many strollers. Oh, wait, that was me before I had kids.

When you write a column called Kids on Board you will hear from some of these people, who relate, with varying degrees of impatience, how kids kicked their airplane seat all the way to London, bickered loudly through dinner at the nice restaurant and ran amok during the art tour. All of which was undoubtedly annoying, but the conclusion — that people who take their children traveling are bad parents and questionable citizens — seems to me a little extreme.

(The meanest responses I have seen on the subject were directed at a colleague who wrote about the trials of taking a baby and a toddler on an airplane. Although no adults were harmed in the writing of that story, many howled in protest that the parents involved were all but criminally negligent and that babies should be banned from domestic and international aircraft.)

I don't get it. I used to travel a lot before I had children. I had my seat kicked and tried to ignore the babies screaming because their ears got plugged during flight. I had an ice cream cone dropped down my shirt on a London train and my silk shirt splashed near an Italian fountain. I gritted my teeth while a brother and sister in new cowboy boots stomped up and down the Impressionist gallery in the Metropolitan Museum of Art while I was trying to impress my new boyfriend with my refinement.

But do you know what? I noticed a lot of adult behavior that was much more troublesome than hearing a kid in line behind you saying "poop" 20 times in one minute.

On airplanes, I encountered guys who thought being assigned a seat next to yours was a form of foreplay and women who talked about their divorces and surgeries from one coast to another. I had fellow passengers who snored so loudly I feared for their health, whose girth required that I raise the armrest or whose personal hygiene was not what one would have hoped for.

On a train from New York to Baltimore, two young men sat behind me with a pornographic magazine and a cooler full of beer and proceeded to describe what they felt inclined to do to the various models. (After threatening a young mother who was the only one in the car brave enough to tell them to shut up, they were finally escorted from the train.)

While traveling, I have heard couples fighting, often profanely, in restaurants, hotel lobbies, museums and on cruise ships; stood in lines stalled by older patrons arguing over a restaurant or hotel bill that they simply didn't read correctly; wandered galleries and churches along with the hard-of-hearing who hollered their comments to their companions; or been trapped by tour groups so large and slow they blocked entryways and exhibits for hours.

My husband spent a full day in Florence trying to propose to me, foiled at every scenic spot by a fellow tourist's cellphone or a request that we take a family's photo.

I have stared resolutely at the ground while couples engaged in passionate make-out sessions in front of historic landmarks and on buses, and flinched watching angry Americans berate waiters, tour guides and flight attendants. I remember one middle-aged man who had missed his connecting flight to Dallas pounding on the counter and screaming at the gate attendant to "turn the [insert curse word here] plane around."

My children at their absolute worst have never acted in such a way.

I myself have behaved badly when traveling — on one flight to my parents' house, I had one too many cocktails and burst into sobs over a recent breakup, much to the great discomfort of the men sitting next to me.

So is the logical assumption that men, women, lovers, seniors, the deaf, the overweight, the hygienically challenged, the profane, the brokenhearted, the unhappily married and the chatty be banned from traveling? If so, we'd better start figuring out a way to bail out Hawaii and the European Union.

Here's a news flash: People are irritating. In large groups or confined spaces, they can be very irritating. Add to this the fact that travel often entails large expenditures and sometimes perilously high expectations, and it's easy to think that you deserve to be surrounded only by those who can guarantee you a stress-free vacation.

But a tenet of democracy, and most major religions, is that we should cut one another some slack. Even when we're on vacation. Especially when we're on vacation. Part of the adventure is to meet new people, even if we don't necessarily get to choose only the serene and quiet ones.

Children are easy targets for general crowd annoyance because they don't sit up straight, don't pay for anything and think the fact that they are thirsty or hungry or have to use the bathroom is of immediate public interest. But every person has, at one time or another, required a little patience and tolerance from the crowd while traveling. If you're at a stage in your life where you don't need any help boarding or seeing or hearing or finding the bathroom or understanding what is expected of you in a new situation, well, lucky you. The rest of us will do our best to stay out of your way.

Meanwhile, let's keep in mind that children are people. Not wild animals or beings from a strange universe. Just young people who don't understand all the rules yet. So tolerate their less-than-ideal behavior as much as you would tolerate an adult's, and when you can't, tell them to quit it. Nicely at first and then not so nicely, if required. Just as you would with an adult.

And if that doesn't work, send me their names, and I will.

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