Family / Parenting

Protective Instincts

When I studied social work, one of my beloved professors would always remind us that we needed to separate the profession from our personal lives sometimes. Yes, social work and communication skills are truly useful in the home setting, but no one wants their wife retorting back “Stop social working me!”

Apparently, I have a mental block on being social work minded when my kid’s safety is at play. I become a protective mama bear though a mama bear fights back and I didn’t during a recent incident.

Recently, my 3-year-old and I were flying home. This was the first time I had bought business class seats but after what had been a long and difficult week, we deserved the treat. Not only did we get the first row, but we lucked out – the third seat in the row was empty. Talk about luxury! My daughter sat by the window and I sat in the middle. Our flight was late, well past her bedtime, but she showed no signs of sleep.

During take off, I closed my eyes and held her hands, trying to stave off motion sickness. There was a bit of a commotion and I opened my eyes and noticed the stewardess arguing with a gentleman I couldn’t see, trying to get him to sit back down. After all, we were still taking off and the seat belt sign was on. Had he never read that handy dandy instruction sheet? Even my toddler can follow its clear pictorial instructions. She ended her argument stating, “Look, this is for your own safety. If you don’t sit down, there is nothing I can do to protect you.” He did not sit down and I reopened my eyes when he emerged from the bathroom to see who would defy a flight attendant.

Turns out, it was the guy sitting in the seat behind my daughter. I tried not to look directly at him as he moseyed his way to his seat. Shortly after that, he got into an argument with the person sitting next to him. It was loud and vulgar and I was having a hard time keeping my daughter from noticing. I engaged her in play, conversation, and books – anything to keep her from listening to the obscene argument behind us.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. Who was he arguing with?  Turns out – no one. This is where the social work side of me could have turned on. Part of my brain was thinking about mental illness and compassion but the other part was louder and angry that this man was saying these things in front of my daughter. And things then things turned misogynistic and sexual in nature.

Food came and I was thankful for the distraction. The man ordered a whiskey and I thought to myself, “Great. Now he is going to be a belligerent drunk.”

After that, my daughter and I turned to games. The man, clearly bored, also turned to games or rather, he turned to playing with himself. I know because the rhythmic knocking of his legs into my chair made me look back. If looks could kill, mine would have.  Unfortunately, all it did was get him to stop masturbating and yell more obscenities and when that didn’t seem to upset me enough, he kicked my daughter’s chair.

“Ow! Mommy, that gentleman kicked me. Why did he kick me?”

It was a good question and I had no answer, but I moved her to the aisle seat. She asked again, “Why did that gentleman kick me?” and I fumbled for words. I didn’t know how to explain mental illness to her, so I tried to blame it on alcohol which seemed easier to explain thought she still didn’t understand at all.

Luckily, he did finally fall asleep. The stewardesses woke him to put on a seatbelt for landing though I begged them not to and as we were landing, he grabbed my shoulder and I whipped around and yelled “Don’t you ever touch me.”  I felt invaded and vulnerable and I was being questioned by a toddler’s inquisitive mind, “Why did he touch you? Where did he touch you? Why did you say ‘Don’t touch me?’”

Other passengers saw me as vulnerable too. One even double checked that someone would be picking us up at the airport. We flew out of the terminal and into the car. At home, once my daughter was asleep, I panicked and shook. I probably should have filled a complaint or had him arrested but I didn’t. My daughter was watching and I didn’t.

Turns out, business class is not always all it’s cracked up to be. What would you have done in my situation?

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One Comment

  1. I’d like to think that I would have at the very least asked the flight attendant to do something, but truth be told I probably wouldn’t have done things any differently than you did. There are certain places mama bears are effective and useful but I think in an enclosed space like an airplane it might not have been the safest idea. He could have grabbed your daughter’s shoulder rather than kicking her seat or grabbing you. He could have yelled obscenities at you and your daughter rather than the non-existent person in the seat next to him. I think, giving your situation, you did fine. You kept your daughter safe as best you could and when he did cross a line and grabbed your shoulder you stood your ground (which was important for her to witness). I’m sorry it was so awful for you, but I think you did just fine all things considered.

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