In The New York Times’s Metropolitan Diary feature, one reader shares the following story:
While waiting on the business class boarding line at J.F.K., I spied parents with their 3-month-old daughter.
This American Airlines flight to Barbados was going to be long, and the thought of a crying baby near me in business class did not make me smile.
What did make me smile was watching her mom, after we were all seated comfortably, distribute little goody bags filled with Advil, tea bags and ear plugs, complete with a photo of Ms. Baby to passengers in her vicinity, just in case.
The conscientious mother in the story seems to be required to apologize for taking her baby out in public. And I have no idea why it would be treated as an unnatural imposition to be around a baby in public. Being on a plane is not unlike being on a subway or a city street. Other people should treat you with respect and politeness, but that doesn’t quite crossover to library-like silence.
How can a parent be tied into a community if a baby is seen as the equivalent of an unmuted cellphone? There are plenty of possible distractions and interruptions that we accept as the price of travel (seatmates having a conversation, smelly tuna sandwiches, etc). But a baby is treated as abberational because infants are out of the ordinary for many people.
Whereas previous ages spoke of a pregnancy as the period of a woman’s “confinement” because it was a bit gauche to be pregnant in public, we find it a little much to bring something as unpredictable as an infant or a toddler out in polite society. Would it really be so much more difficult to accommodate a somewhat colicky child than it is to tolerate a cell phone conversation?
The apologetic cringe of the parents in this story and the applause they receive from the storyteller reinforces the idea that parents (especially mothers of young children) need to withdraw from the public square. And given the suburban-y, nuclear family kind of culture we live in, that can mean a retreat from adult company.