It isn’t easy flying alone with young children with special needs. I was returning back to South Africa from England where I went to pay my respects to a dear friend who died suddenly at Christmas. Though I was traveling with a heavy heart, it felt a little lighter after the short connecting flight to Heathrow.
Pudding and I had embraced a whole new level of interaction. I was writing short, simple sentences, and Pudding was reading them back to me! I’ve always kept this blog with the intention of writing for her, not just about her, and every step forward in her language development makes my heart soar, higher than…well, higher than the plane we were flying in.
My kids are great travelers, though it hasn’t always been that way. Pudding had visited 10 countries before she turned a year old, so we had our share of disoriented, overtired infant travel. But more often than not, other people congratulate me on how well-behaved my children are on flights. I just smile and nod, knowing it could just as easily be the other way.
Now though, with Pudding at 6 and Cubby aged 3, it seems easier than ever. Pudding is content to draw, Cubby likes his little cars. They both like free reign of the in-flight entertainment system, and they both even (miracle of miracles) actually sleep!
So we boarded the 747, and got ourselves comfortable. The plane hadn’t even begun taxiing to the runway when the middle-aged man in front of Pudding and snapped at her for resting her feet on the bottom of the seat in front. I was a little stunned because she wasn’t kicking his seat, she wasn’t pushing hard with her heels (both of which I’ve experienced from a child sitting behind me), but she was simply resting her toes. Though she is as tall as a 10 or 11 year-old, her legs aren’t quite long enough to touch the floor, but are too long to keep up on her own seat without her knees pushing into the seat instead.
I asked Pudding to pull her legs up and she immediately obeyed, but moments later she forgot, and they were back on. I gently moved them again, and repeat a few more times. At this time I was distracted by Cubby, who was sitting on the other side of me, next to a stranger. I wanted to remind him to keep in his personal space, and not to do anything to disturb other passengers.
I looked back over to Pudding’s feet, and saw that the man in front had reached behind to grab her ankles and throw them off. Wait, no that couldn’t have just happened! A complete stranger did not just touch my six year-old, right?
Pudding had clung on to me, and pulled in her legs. We took off, with me holding on to her legs. Cubby dropped his car, and when I went to reach for it, Pudding moved back. A few minutes later her feet sneaked back into the forbidden position, and this time I watched in horror as the man again aggressively pushed her away.
She spooned back into me and I held her legs over myself and Cubby as the aircraft reached the point where we could take off our seatbelts. I immediately took both children to the bathroom (no mean feat to have three of us in there!) to talk to them. I told Pudding that she could not let her feet touch the seat in front. Then I asked if she understood, and inevitably, she said no.
At this point, I figure my best option is to switch Pudding and Cubby’s positions. His legs were too short to cause any trouble. I returned to find the man in front has already reclined his seat, with over 10 hours of the flight remaining. I put Pudding in Cubby’s seat, and before I even get her belt on, it is too much for her. This is not her seat. Normally flexible and cooperative, I’ve crossed a line. Ten minutes of crying and screaming refusal convinces me that she could keep it up for the full ten hours. I put her back in the original seat.
She exhausted herself with crying, and falls to sleep immediately. I pull her feet up across my body, and Cubby joins her. I daren’t fall asleep myself, so concerned am I with her feet touching the chair in front again.
Pudding actually sleeps for a good 7 or 8 hours of the flight, though the man in front was missing for most of that- I assume he had found a vacant seat elsewhere on the aircraft. He returned for the last 40 minutes of the flight. Before long, Pudding’s toes had again trangressed his comfort, and he again reached behind to remove them. It was even more forceful this time, and after checking she wasn’t bruised, I took a deep breath and leaned forward.
In as calm and polite a manner as I could muster, I informed the man that she had poor body awareness due to a neurolgical condition, and was unable to help touching his seat. But he simply replied that it was annoying him!
Now, I have a long list on any flight of things that annoy me, from the constant hum of the engines to people standing over me in the aisles, or even somebody reclining their seat for an entire 10.5 hour flight even though they weren’t sitting there most of the time, but nothing had ever annoyed me as much as this selfish, ignorant attitude.
So a little less calmly, I reiterated that she can’t help it, but if an adult like himself can’t help from touching a little girl inappropriately, then I needed to call a flight attendant.
And he didn’t touch her again…until we had already begun making our descent, and calling a flight attendant was no longer possible. He and his wife gave me dirty looks, but I had the encouragement of several other female passengers in the vicinity and the man sitting next to Cubby, who made sure to tell me that there was no problem with the children on this flight, only the adults.
Because I took two car seats, I had a bit of a wait to get all my baggage. By the time I’d collected all our belongings and made our way through customs to Spectrummy Daddy, there was no sign of this passenger.
You see, while my air rage was contained on the flight, it exploded once we were on the ground. Here we were no longer vulnerable- a woman traveling alone with two small children. Whatever this man’s problem, something tells me he wouldn’t have even thought about touching Pudding had a large man been sitting in my place.
On the ground, I didn’t need to worry about the consequences of venting my anger at this stranger. I wouldn’t be separated from the children who needed me. But on the ground, I’m left with an impotent rage that this ever happened, and I was unable to prevent it.
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