How to be an aisle-seat activist

I’ve always traveled with my children. On planes, trains, buses, subways, you name it, we’ve done it and everything that comes along for the ride — diaper changes in airplane lavatories, nursing next to uncomfortable men in suits, overstuffed bags of Gerber puffs. 

I know mothers of 5-year-olds who still don’t dare take a child on a plane for fear of it being too hard and too inconvenient for the other passengers. 

Both approaches are valid. As parents, we do what we feel is right for our children from within our own comfort zones. I’m glad I learned how to travel with the kids when they were young. I’m glad I got myself to those family reunions and weddings when they were babies. 

Though I support the choice to stay home, I do feel concerned that our culture is in some way encouraging parents to avoid traveling with children. 

Does it kind of suck to sit next to a crying, pooping baby during a 10-hour flight to Madrid? Yeah, sort of. But it really sucks to be a parent stuck at home, cabin-fever-crazy over a long Minnesota winter, missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Madrid. 

It sucks to sweat and apologize while trying to sooth or feed a baby, seat-belted, in a claustrophobic coach seat. 

Remember that trend of “sorry my baby exists” treat bags on flights a few years back? Cute idea, but completely off that the mother of an INFANT (um, she’s busy) even had the notion to do this! 

Babies are citizens! They have no motive to harm and exist only to learn, love and explore. We should let them get out of the house and live a little, because you can be sure that in two years we’ll be scoffing when they’re zombie-poking at Mom’s iPhone. 

Ugh. I’d never let MY child live through a screen. 

Before becoming a mother, I had the opportunity to live in Sicily for three years. In Italy, babies were out and about — on crowded trains and in fancy restaurants. The other adults didn’t moan and groan over sitting next to a baby, but rather fawned over the baby, passed her around. Offers to burp or bounce a baby — so the parents could finish eating — were common. A village mentality of the loveliest kind! 

The result of this European baby acceptance, as I saw it, were happier babies. Less crying. Less screaming, spitting, fussing. And I know why. Babies are intensely tuned in to their parents. An anxious, tense, unwanted parent-with-child on a crowded flight will transfer those feelings to the baby, who reacts by crying out. 

I understand if traveling with your baby seems like an exhausting hassle. If you want to stay home, stay home. 

However, if you’re baby-travel curious, embrace your wanderlust. You can be an aisle-seat activist for the cause. You can spark the spirit of adventure in your child. With practice, you’ll get used to traveling with Baby. Your anxiety will soften, your routine will become nuanced and Baby will learn how to fly. 

Jen Wittes is a marketing director, writer, certified postpartum doula and mom of two living in St. Paul.