August 01, 2007

Other People's Children

In childfree circles Other People’s Children, or OPC, is sometimes used to refer to the progeny of parents, often in a negative way. For example: A perfectly good meal can be ruined by OPC.

However, I’m a people watcher. Imagine the fun I would miss if I weren’t surrounded by children in many of the public spaces I frequent.

For example, I was sitting in the Buffalo airport recently watching families load their kids on planes. I was amazed at all the stuff parents have to bring: car seats, stroller, diaper bags, blankies, the treasured stuffed animals, the snacks, and the sippy cups. Getting these kids onboard can be like herding cats onto the arc, so US Airways gives priority boarding to people with children.

Do I resent that parents are invited to load first? Absolutely, not. I want them to get the extra time they need to get seated, strapped in, reassured, and comforted with toys and goodies. Because I have to share a plane with them.

Happy kids are fun to fly with. They laugh, they remind us how wonderfully awesome clouds are, and sometimes they make honest, and hilarious, observations about things adults don’t like to talk about. Like what happens when the toilet flushes—where does it go?

On the other hand, unhappy kids are not fun to fly with.

On the trip to Buffalo, I shared a row with a man and his son. Fifteen minutes into the flight his seat was being kicked by the child seated behind him. He very politely, but sternly, requested “Please, could you stop kicking the seat.” The child stopped but then started up again about five minutes later. Again the man asked, quite a bit louder this time,“Would you stop kicking the seat, please? “ I was surprised that the parent accompanying the child behind us didn’t disapline her child, but the child did stop kicking.

I thought, “Wow, it worked.” Later, he offered a snack to the child behind us, the former offender. Very charitable, I thought. Then he started talking to the woman seated behind me. Clearly they were married. The kid who was kicking the seat was his son.

Hmmmm. Could it be that parents are just as annoyed by their kid’s behavior as non-parents are? I watched this man clean up after in-flight snacks. The cups was emptied and dryed with the napkin. The slightly damp napkin was used to sweep up stray pretzel crumbs off the trays. I began to suspect this man liked his surroundings to be kept neat and tidy. Yet with two young boys, I doubted they were.

Childfree people have an enviable automomy. We lead relatively self-directed lives. We don’t have to worry how a child’s behavior might reflect on us, or how we will manage to clean up the messes, or get two kids and all their stuff cross country. We can avoid OPC if we want to. Parents don’t have that luxury.

Yet, this guy appeared pretty happy with his lot. We chatted. I found out he was on vacation with his family, flying to Western New York. He was headed for Cooperstown, NY, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, to attend a softball tournament and cheer on his son’s team. Every father’s dream…

So I was left thinking, “These are the joys of parenthood. This is what makes up for the all the hardships, worries, kicked seats.” Perhaps that is why the childfree occasionally complain about other people’s children. We get the inconveniences but without the benefits.

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Alaskanmama said...

Yes, we are just as annoyed by our own children. (by "we" I mean self-aware considerate human beings)

I HATE travelling with my kids. I avoid it all costs. I figure if it's annoying me, then it's really pissing someone else off. ha ha

Feh23 said...

I'm going to have to disagree here. As a childfree woman who does enjoy children at times, I feel I get ALL the benefits with NO inconveniences. Yes, in public when some stranger's kid is acting up with no corrective intervention, it is annoying. However, with the children of friends and family, I get to be super fun Feh who knows about bugs, eyeballs, boogers and has pocketfulls of candy to dole out. I only have to say no when the child is doing something dangerous, and I can give them back when they get too loud, cranky or sticky for my liking. The parents calm or clean them, and I get them back for more wacky fun. I never have to schlep tons of stuff to get from point a to point b, and I'm never in charge.
Unfortunately, it seems that some parents don't understand that my biggest joy with children is that I can give them back and return home to my usual child-incompatable life.

mother_of_none said...

This entry reminds me of a story. One time, a childfree man friend of mine and I were at Yankee stadium. A little girl behind us kept swinging her feet and hitting the back of my friend's seat. First, he turned around and playfully grabbed her toes and said, "Can you please stop kicking my seat?" When she persisted in doing it, he turned to the mother and more forcefully said, "I wish you would tell your daughter to stop kicking my seat." She immediately became enraged and said, "This was her first time at a ballgame and you have ruined it! You must not have kids!" She was so angry and looked just mortally wounded. Sorry, she may be the center of your world, but not ours!