That Thing Kids Do

Story By
D Metta

When travel and kids, two great havocs of the senses, collide.

How many times have you stepped into a plane and immediately flinched as the sound of a wailing child assaulted your ears? Already, hours of unimaginable horror unfold before your eyes as you stand paralysed in front of a smiling flight attendant who insists that yes, sir/madam, you are indeed in the right cabin and please proceed to your seat.

What soon follows is often the manifestation of above-mentioned horror. The child wails, seemingly without any sign of stopping, and you are trapped inside a giant steel bird 10,000 feet above the earth with no possibility of egress. There is no question of sleeping or focusing on your book or movie for the noise is unrelenting. You will have to endure it—and you will have to endure it in silence, once you see how flustered and close to tears the child’s mother is.

Basically, relieved is too small a word to describe how you feel when the captain’s soothing voice finally comes through the speaker to announce an imminent arrival. But traveling with kids involve a lot more than simply tolerating a few hours of uncomfortable journey under the torture of an awful noise. Children, for one, require a lot of attention and supervision. How often is it that we see mothers looking harried and tired instead of full of pleasure during a vacation? A family vacation is a lot more complicated than simply packing a few clothes and a bag of toiletries. Meticulous planning is a must, from carefully selected accommodations to kids-friendly destinations, down to the smallest details such as a choice of relatively hygienic restaurants and a not-too-rigorous itinerary. 

Above all, constant supervision is vital. It seems to me that all parents have developed a certain kind of awareness—a sixth sense so to speak—that is solely attuned to their kids. This is even more heightened during travelling, when we are surrounded by unfamiliar sights, sounds, smells, and of course, people. Under these conditions, the horror stories of child abductions become far more real.

About fifteen years ago, there was a family who went for a holiday trip in Bali. One day, bored and unable to bear the suspense of the day’s trip, the two daughters of the family slipped away from their parents and went to the hotel lobby. There they spent hours waiting and staring at passing guests and busy hotel attendants. Their mother, half in tears and half in fury, only found them two hours later. 

I was the elder daughter. I took my sister there simply because I was bored and I enjoyed watching people and she was the sweet little sister who used to follow me everywhere. We whiled away the hours looking at tourists in colourful clothes, some with colourful hair, and waiting for our parents to take us to the next stop on our schedule that day. (Only later, I found out that the day’s trip had been cancelled.) It doesn’t make much sense to me now, but to borrow the words of poet Walt Streightiff, there is no ‘seven wonders of the world’ in the eyes of a child. There are seven million. Through this dizzying kaleidoscope of new sights and sounds, I thought of nothing but my own pleasure. A child simply does not think outside her or his own scope of interest. 

My parents were not careless. They only lay down for a moment, probably exhausted from both the non-stop tours and the duty of taking care of us, but then my sister and I saw a chance to slip out of the hotel room and took it. This is what parents have to face, even the best of them.

Then what about the rest of us—these ‘free’ travellers without any child attached? It sounds easier than it really is, but giving due consideration to a family of wailing children can never go wrong. One day, most likely you’ll be in their shoes.