BLOGS: I am the mother of that screaming kid on the airplane

Julie Maclellan

I am the mother of that screaming kid on the airplane you’ve been reading so much about.

You know, the one whose “demonic” wails tortured passengers on a Lufthansa flight from Germany to New Jersey last summer. The one who’s the subject of the now-viral video that’s gotten some two million views (and climbing) on YouTube. The one whose story has now been picked up by a variety of media outlets around the world and spread to pretty much everywhere.

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Before you get all excited, let me be clear: I am not literally this child’s mother. I do not know this child, or the child’s parents, and I have no personal role in this story whatsoever.

What I am, though, is a mother. And a human being. And right at this moment, I feel compelled to step up and say: I am the mother of that screaming kid on the airplane.

Because I very easily could be. And if I were, and if it were my child whose face and wails were travelling around the world to be mocked and devoured by trolls, my heart would be broken. And I would want someone else to step up and say: Stop. Just stop. What in the heck are you all thinking?

There are so very, very, very many things wrong with this whole story that I just don’t know where to start.

First off, the vast majority of the two million people who’ve seen this video have no context for it whatsoever. We have no actual, verified facts beyond what’s presented to us in the video.

Yes, we are left with the impression that this small demon spawn in fact screamed non-stop for the entire eight hours of the flight – but we don’t, in fact, have any idea if that’s true. (The fact that the maker of the video helpfully inserted little titles to supposedly track the hours passing means nothing; anyone with editing software and a bit of skill can paste any sound and video together with some words to say pretty much anything they want.)

We’re also left with the impression that the child was left to run amok with no parental interference whatsoever. Again, we have no idea if that’s true – though I must say it strikes me me as unlikely that flight attendants would not have intervened if the child was really causing that much disturbance, since it would have to be considered a safety risk to have a passenger of any size running wild. And I haven’t seen at this point any attempts by anyone to contact the airline for a response (though I may have missed it).

But even assuming that this whole story is all actually literally true – that the child wailed, screamed and ran amok for the whole flight – we still don’t know enough to have the kind of hateful, intolerant responses I’ve seen all over social media.

We have no context for the child’s outburst. We don’t know what led up to it, or how long it lasted, or what it was about, or what the parent or parents tried to do about it. We don’t know anything about this family’s history, situation or circumstances in this moment. We don’t know if this child has another issue that wasn’t necessarily visible to onlookers. I hesitate to label any child I don’t know, but it strikes me as unlikely in the extreme that any healthy, neurotypical child would in fact produce the non-stop “demonic” wails that are presented in the video for eight hours running. Sure, kids have tantrums – but for most, 15 or 20 minutes of wailing would constitute a major meltdown. And, while I get that for an onlooker (and especially for an embarrassed and stressed-out parent) that 15 or 20 minutes can feel like a lifetime, it’s a far cry from eight hours.

What hurts my heart about this whole thing is how many, many thousands of people with no stake in this story are so remarkably quick to judge. They’ve taken this video and run with it as proof of all kinds of things – primarily that kids today are out of control because of overindulgent parenting. The maker of the video himself inserted the helpful suggestion that “some believe this is proof that digital devices cause this.”

(It hurts my heart even more that, on my hunt to watch the original video before passing judgment on it, I Googled "child has tantrum on airplane." The results? Well, suffice it to say it's awful, and saddening, how many times people have recorded strangers' children having tantrums and posted them on social media for all the world to judge.)

And while all the armchair parents are passing harsh judgment on this situation they know nothing whatsoever about, somewhere out there is a mother with a small child who had their really crap day captured on film and immortalized forever for all the world to see in the most shaming possible way.

What, exactly, was the point of filming this whole scenario? Did the maker of the video (a New York-based artist named Shane Townley, according to YouTube) have an agenda beyond just sharing his personal story of his Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day for the rest of the world to see? I will note, somewhat cynically, that a typical video on this particular artist’s YouTube channel has a couple of hundred views. One video he apparently shot of a woman screaming at people on the subway has something like 13,000. This one? Yep, two million and climbing by the minute.

In fairness, the artist may not have had anything to do with the video getting picked up by other media outlets. So I shall give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he just posted the thing on a lark, not in any calculating way but simply not thinking about what its impact could be.

Either way, it’s clear that somebody’s desire for “hits” (be that the original posters or the media outlets in question) far outstripped human compassion on this one.

The whole scenario doesn’t say anything pretty about us as human beings.

But you know what? Just when I had started to lament social media’s powers to bring out the worst in people, I ran across this post, shared in the New West Moms Group on Facebook (a place that regularly restores my faith in social media, by the way). And I thought, yes. This. This is how you respond when you’re stuck somewhere with a tantruming child and a parent who seems in that moment powerless to do anything about it.

You step forward and you offer to help. You sing to the child. You share a snack. You distract with a toy. You offer help and comfort to the mom who, just then, is beyond her ability to cope and overwhelmed by the stress of it all.

That’s how you show compassion. That’s how you act like a human being.

That’s what was missing in the original video. I hope that it just wasn’t filmed. That somewhere on that infamous Lufthansa flight there was someone who extended a hand – who offered a snack, or a toy, or a kind word to the parent, or who tried in some small way to intervene with compassion. I hope that’s the moment we just didn’t see. I have to believe that somewhere on that plane, someone showed kindness to a family who needed it.

Here’s my suggestion to every single person who has a strong opinion about this situation: Next time you see something like this happening, try being less like the Lufthansa passengers and more like the kind-hearted women at LAX. Try to think of some way, however small, that you might be able to make someone’s day just a little better.

Failing that, just butt out. If you can’t bring yourself to try to help, then please, don’t sit there surreptitiously recording the whole thing on your iPhone so you can shame the parents later. Just put on your damn headphones and watch a movie and do your best to pretend nothing’s happening.

And try, just try, to hold just one small sliver of compassion in your heart for the fellow human beings who, right in that moment, could really use some kindness.

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