The Helicopter Parent

flying, life, travel

Helicopter parents on flights might be a worse encounter than a screaming child. I haven’t decided yet since I had both on my flight back home to Pittsburgh last year. The screaming baby in front of me and the helicopter dad behind me. At least the kid would quiet down periodically. I had no such luck with the dad. I had to endure, for the entire five-hour flight, a constant stream of “teaching moments and learning opportunities” targeted at his two-year old daughter.

Helicopter Dad: “Fisher, look at Daddy. Fisher. Fisher, don’t pick your nose. Fisher, honey, when Daddy is talking to you it’s rude not to look at him. Fisher. Fisher. Fisher, look, do you see that door at the front of the plane? That’s the cockpit.”

Since I can’t see the row behind me, I imagine Helicopter Dad being met with a blank stare from little Fisher, who most likely just wanted to continue picking her nose and eating her boogers in peace.

Helicopter Dad: A cockpit is a little room where the pilot sits. Fisher. Fisher honey, are you listening to Daddy? A pilot is a man who flies the plane in that little room. Fisher, do you understand? A pilot can also be a woman. Because women can do just what men can do. Ok? You can be a pilot and fly planes when you grow up.

Really, a lesson in gender equality for a two-year old? Can’t we just let children play with their seat belts, have independent self-discovery with the ice cubes in their drinks, and pick their noses and wipe their boogers on the seats, without a parent hovering over their every move and narrating every damn thing? And I mean, EVERY damn thing.

Helicopter Dad: Fisher, don’t put those headphones on yet. Mommy needs to check to make sure they are not too loud first. Fisher, did you hear me? Fisher, we don’t want your ears to get hurt if the music is too loud, ok? Fisher, be careful, the arm rest is a little sharp there on the bottom, I don’t want you to bang your head against it by accident and get a boo-boo, ok?

I’m pretty sure little Fisher was one step away from voluntarily banging her head on her arm rest and I was too at that point.

What happened to the good old days, when children were just a three-dimensional accessory to one’s life, instead of being the all-consuming focus? Kidding!

For Helicopter Dad, his focus was so honed on little Fisher, that the poor girl had no room to breathe let alone do anything on her own without constant scrutiny and “opportunities for learning.”

Flashback twenty-four years, when my mother, my baby sister Dasha (who was one) and me (seven) were flying from Moscow to Chicago to join our dad in the U.S. This was a ten hour flight and I remember two things – my mom leaving me alone to stare out the window and my little sister to personally greet every passenger as she waddled up and down the length of the plane. My mom’s one “teaching moment” came when I asked if she thought the sharks would eat me if we crashed and had to get into the emergency life rafts in the ocean.

Mother: If we crash, that is the least of your concerns.

Being seven years old meant that my mother could leave me alone for the most part without supervision or entertainment. I assume I daydreamed the entire flight, but either way, I didn’t burden my mother. Dasha, on the other hand, was a terror on midget legs. She had just learned how to walk and her activity of choice was to walk up and down the aisles for the duration of the flight. She was a cherubic blond child with big blue eyes and the fellow passengers doted on her. One European couple may or may not have slid her some alcohol-filled bon-bons.

Back to the walking. When I say duration, I mean duration. This little hamster was scuttling up and down the aisles during the actual landing, because walking was the only way to keep her quiet, and after a ten-hour flight, both my mother and the beleaguered flight attendants had given up. No helicopter parenting here – I’m fairly certain that phrase didn’t even exist in 1991. There were no targeted teaching moments and learning opportunities. There was no constant stream of chatter directed at Dasha. That munchkin explored her surroundings on her own, and so what if she might have bumped her head on an arm rest? That noggin is resilient.

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