July 29, 2014

No Quiet Zones for this childfree traveler?

 

English: Air Asia X Airbus A340-300 (9M-XAB) a...

English: Air Asia X Airbus A340-300 (9M-XAB) approaching Stansted Airport (STN) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By now we’ve all heard about Air Asia X’s quiet zones, seven designated economy class rows at the front of planes where children under 12 are not allowed, a point of contention for some pissed off parents and a supposed paradise for business travelers and the childfree, like me.

 

To access this frequent flyers’ Eden, you need only pay the extra $11-$35 fee might otherwise pay for apremium seat. But what do you get for your money?

 

You get a bulkhead barrier and a childfree bathroom (which is never enforced by attendants). So In the short-term, you may, if you are very lucky, get some relief from screaming and seat kicking. But I think quiet zones are actually a huge risk, and may ultimately turn basic economy cabins into a flying free for all.

 

Noise travels and reverberates and quiet zone seats do not come with complimentary noise-cancelling headphones. If you are seated at the back of the quiet zone, a screaming, kid could still be seated directly behind you.

 

You remember the smoking section? Sure, the air was worse in the back of the plane than the front, but the entire plane reeked, and sitting one row in front of the smokers was no better than joining them.

 

I shouldn’t care how people choose to spend their money, and as a childfree traveler I should probably encourage Air Asia X’s strategy, even if it is gimmicky. If they are successful, maybe other businesses will recognize the spending power of childfree travelers and exhausted parents’ need/desire for peace and quiet when they are on a date or vacation.

 

But for now, I am skeptical about QUIET ZONES.

 

I think the risks of segregated seating could ultimately outweigh the rewards.

 

I am concerned that quiet zones may perpetuate an “us against them” mentality, a friction that is not conducive to peaceful interactions in confined spaces with absolutely NO EXIT STRATEGY.

 

Also, I don’t like paying for things that should be free. Like simple consideration of others.

 

The bar for acceptable behavior in public spaces, for kids and adults, is already set so, so low. And I think setting a precedent where people have to pay extra for a little (or no) peace and consideration may lead to the bar falling to Chuck E Chees setting, where parents can sit back and let their kids go crazy.

 

Imagine yourself sitting on an Air Asia X light in row 20. A kid’s video game is chiming and beeping. He’s kicking your seat while his sister runs the aisle (even through the premium seats) shrieking. After 2 hours, you’re compelled to say something. You politely ask the parents if they might turn down the volume or put an end to the chair soccer. They not so politely tell you that you can pay up to move up, or shut up. Then what?

 

Parents are overworked and exhausted and the last thing they want to do on vacation is worry so much about offending others that they nag and scold their child until they break down completely, start crying or screaming, and offend others anyway. These are tiresome battles to fight for the benefit of others. And the value of considering those around you already appears to be waning in our society.

 

So when Air Asia or another airline steps in to set the standard for behavior in one particular part of the plane, are they effectively obliterating the societal standard for the rest of it? Are they telling parents in the rest of the plane that they no longer need to fight the battle at all? By saying, “THIS zone is for quiet people”, are they insinuating that the other section is for loud people? By defining rules for one section, are they suggesting that there are NO rules in the other (at least enough so that exhausted, indifferent or lazy parents can let their guards down and lower their expectations even further?

 

I say yes.

 

There is no reason for parents to try at all (or at least an excuse not to) when an institution defines rules that should be self evident, and effectively assumes the role of the quiet police. Even if we all know it is just a gimmick to make more money.

 

My fear or theory is: When institutions step in, many parents check out. And we all lose. Instead of being accountable to one another, we become accountable to the powers that be, even if that “power” is a profit driven company with little interest in enforcing their policy.

 

So, for me, Quiet Zones are not something I want to encourage or support necessarily. They are not effective or realistic, not worth the extra fee, and ultimately, maybe risky.

 

What do you think?

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Why No Kids? Elf on the Shelf!

Elf on the Shelf T-Shirt (Credit: Sweeneyville)

Elf on the Shelf T-Shirt (Credit: Sweeneyville)

If you’re a parent in the US, you’re likely already acquainted with The Elf on the Shelf. If you’re childfree (or childless) you might have missed out on this latest holiday marketing bonanza with eerily Orwellian overtones. Consider the following…

The Elf on the Shelf… is the very special tool that helps Santa know who to put on the Naughty and Nice list… Santa sends his scout elves out to Elf Adoption Centers. Waiting for their families to bring them home, these patient elves hibernate until their family reads The Elf on the Shelf, gives their elf a very special name, and registers their adoption online. Once named, each scout elf will receive its Christmas magic… these scout elves are the eyes and ears of Santa Claus… the elf will always listen and relay messages back to Santa. Taking in all the day-to-day activities around the house… these scout elves take their job seriously… after the family goes to bed, the scout elf uses his magical Christmas powers to fly back to the North Pole. Once there, the elf will make his or her daily report to Santa… Before the family awakes each morning, their special scout elf will fly back… to hide in the freezer… the fireplace mantle or hang from the chandelier… (Elf on the Shelf > About Us)

Spooky, right?

On the one hand, I tip my hat to Carol Aebersold, Chanda Bell and Christa Pitts who’s charm, vision, hustle and business savvy is inspiring. Bravo for transforming the publishing industry’s risk averse, survival-oriented error into an entrepreneurial success story!

The the elf story? I find it a little creepy.

Okay, when Aebersold recounts the back story, a family tradition which helps her defeat an almost paralyzing psychological defeat, I’m rooting for her. When mother and daughters team up to revitalize the magic of Christmas, I’m rooting for all three of them. And when they decide to self-publish The Elf on the Shelf because traditional publishers couldn’t quite grok the market value of a catchy product tied to the sellingest holiday of the year? I’m cheering for Aebersold, Bell and Pitts.

Elf on the Shelf Ambushed (Credit: livinglocurto.com)

Elf on the Shelf Ambushed (Credit: livinglocurto.com)

But then there’s a snag. Buy a spy? Infuse Christmas anticipation with selfconsciousness and anxiety posed by a sneaky, lurking voyeur? There’s something threatening and decidedly un-jolly about a tattletale with super powers sneaking around young children’s homes. A miniature Big Brother. Frankly this “tradition” feels a bit un-Christmas-like to me. But then again, I’m not a parent. I don’t need to threaten and bribe my tribe to behave or else…

And then there’s the potential for distorting this latter day Christmas tradition. Consider Stephen King tackling this Elf on the Shelf theme. Or Alfred Hitchcock. All sorts of terrifying Peeping Tom elf scenarios come to mind. Even the whole adoption center prologue creeps me out. Not only do elves have super powers once they are adopted, but until then they hibernate?!?! Like bears, I suppose, or rattlesnakes or laptop computers. Weird.

It turns out I’m not alone.

I hate the Elf on the Shelf. I hate his evil, dead-eyed sidelong smile. I hate that he invades innocent children’s homes without compunction. I even hate his full name. “The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition.” I hate how it sounds like it’s a threat, like, “I’m not just the Elf: I’m the Elf who will return every goddamn Christmas of your life…” I hate how he seems to become more powerful with each passing year. (Salon.com)

That’s Mary Elizabeth Williams (@embeedub), the author of Gimme Shelter and dauntless chronicler of her cancer crusade. Her article, “Santa’s evil Orwellian spy” nimbly sums up the equation.

Today, the Elf is a best-selling, full-blown industry. He floated triumphantly this year at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and he’s been all up in our faces ever since. And why not? He’s eminently marketable. Like American Girl dolls, or Cabbage Patch Kids in days of yore, part of the Elf’s allure is his customizable nature. There are girl elves and boy elves, blue-eyed elves and dark-skinned elves, all waiting to be “adopted.” Right, like I’m going to adopt a narc. (Salon.com)

Elf on the Shelf: The gift of giving... (Credit: articlesofabsurdity.com)

Elf on the Shelf: The gift of giving… (Credit: articlesofabsurdity.com)

Thank you, Ms. Williams. Christmas is supposed to be innocent and slightly goofy. Giggles and jelly bellies and flying reindeer. Christmas is about hope and forgiving and generosity and loving. Christmas is about family and intimacy. Not spying and tattling. Do we really need to infiltrate the last bastion of whimsical childhood naivety with this malicious, eavesdropping drone? Again, I defer to Ms. Williams:

Part of why I dislike the Elf is the same reason I dislike Facebook’s privacy settings — he’s an Orwellian nightmare. Let’s teach our children that privacy is meaningless! I may have grown up with a Santa who sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake, but my Santa was never lurking around in my house, keeping tabs on me for weeks at a time. I don’t know, I just find the whole concept of an advent-long period of intense scrutiny by some judgmental little voyeur in a pointy hat creepy. (Salon.com)

If you’ve concluded that Williams and I are cynical, anti-Christmas Grinches (when it comes to Elf on the Shelf, though little else,) we’re in good company:

If you are unaware of the tradition of Elf on the Shelf, it is where parents get a creepy looking little elf doll and put him all over their house to act as their children’s parole officer. The Elf then flies to the North Pole each night to report to the big guy himself on whether the kids’ behavior is good enough to land them on the “nice” list. It is a genius idea for behavior modification through gratuitous lying. (Sweeneyville)

The elf creeps me out. I said it. I said what you might have been thinking. His smug grin and vintage eyes creep me out. He’s playing tricks and sneaking around our house. CREEPY. (whitehouseblackshutters.com)

Holy crap, y’all. It was working! I had accidentally implemented a moralistic police state in my own home… That got me thinking about the other 11 months of the year…. After much consideration I’ve decided to introduce another Big Brother-type helper to our family. (Rants from Mommyland)

Would it shock you to discover that our home is not and will not ever be a haven for this little Santa snitch? … It made me uncomfortable to wield the Santa weapon over my children’s head…. It makes already anxious children even more paranoid around this time of year… And this physical representation is placed in their home! It is there to scare them into submission every day from Thanksgiving until Christmas time. It invades the child’s one safe place where nothing will harm them, the place where they are encouraged (rightly so) by their parents to feel protected from all the ‘bad’ and ‘evil’ things out in the world, the place where they are loved unconditionally for who they are and not by what they can or cannot do nor for what they do or do not do. How can this sanctuary remain so when there is something sitting there on the shelf or mantel staring at them and judging each behavior every minute of each day from November 25th until December 25th? (Lunar Wisdom)

Enough. You get the point. Why no kids? Elf on the Shelf!

Childfree Christmas

English: Christmas-themed check mark

Childfree Christmas? Check… (Credit: Wikipedia)

While Christmas is arguably the most family-centric holiday of the year, it poses discomfiting challenges to those of us Aurora Bordeaux (author of the perennially engaging childfree blog, Baby Off Board) dubs “Childfree martians”.

Being surrounded on all sides by kids kids kids makes you a little raw by the end of the day. Kids don’t bother me most of the time unless they’re being loud, but what nags me is… [that] I begin to feel like a Martian…

This is something I go through every year, but this year is different… I’m more adept at dodging or ignoring questions about the status of my aging uterus. I am more comfortable with who I am, plus I have this widely read blog to sound off on. I may be temporarily out of my element, but the minutes tick by a lot faster when I consider that tomorrow I’ll publish this and at various points across the globe, other people who I’ve never met may identify with my Martian status.

So, fellow childfree Martians… You’re not my family, but that doesn’t mean you don’t mean a lot. I’m glad you’re there, wherever there is, because when I’m in the midst of the in-laws, deep down I can remind myself that I’m not the only one of my kind. (Family Vacation, Part I: I am Martian)

Bravo, Bordeaux! You nailed it. Christmas remains one of the most un-childfree times of the year. Or maybe the most childfree misunderstood times of the year. I suspect that much of it hinges upon the conventional understanding of what constitutes a family.

Is a childfree couple a family? Hell, yes! (Sorry for the profane affirmation, folks, but the sacred is always sexier when coupled with the profane, no?) Childfree families are no less families than divorced families or deceased grandparent families or gluten free families or homeless families…

And yet my bride and I are frequently told, “Well, you don’t have a family, so…” Read: no kids equals no family, and no family equals no real Christmas. After all, Christmas is all about the children, right? Perhaps. At least for parents who sign a pledge the day they reproduce that they will henceforth live through their progeny; they will henceforth sublimate their whimsical, carefree desires while bending over backwards to provide same for said offspring; and they will henceforth swear that they’ve known no greater reward than sacrificing for their mini-me’s (usually expressed after a lengthy vent about their baby “buyer’s remorse”.)

Childfree Christmas Secret

So, yes, perhaps real Christmas is for children. But the really cool secret of childfree families is that we’re still kids. No, not all the time. We’re card carrying members of the adult club — in fact, we’re afforded a boatload of VIP only perks denied to parents — but we’re also lifetime members of the kiddy club. Which means, Santa Claus and the Easter bunny (and sometimes even the Tooth Fairy) still believes in us and vice versa. And trust me, this is good. This makes for much anticipation leading up to Christmas and one heck of a romantic Christmas morning. Unfortunately, parents, we childfree families also sign a pledge that includes the clause:

We do solemnly swear to keep mum about the emotional, erotic and mysterious indulgences of childfree Christmas eve and morning.

Sorry. We don’t want to upset the social balance. After all, we depend on parents to keep the species around, the economy up and the childfree lines short. We depend on parents to soak up the stress and cynicism so that we have room to dream and fulfill our dreams. I know. Selfish. We hear that a lot. Yes, at Christmas too. While we do have a few opinions about who’s being selfish in the grander scheme of things, Christmas isn’t the best time to sound off. Parents are fragile right now. We get it. We’re sympathetic. We’re grateful.

Childfree Christmas Wishes

English: Santa Claus with a little girl Espera...

“Pretend” Santa Claus Photos (Credit: Wikipedia)

So we’re giving you a free pass now, but there are a couple of matters we’d like you to consider while we’re celebrating Christmas among childfree families. Cut us some slack in the “You’re not a family” department. At least until after New Year’s. Scratch that. Until January 2nd, because childfree families really like to party on December 31! Check out Laura Carroll’s “The Art of Childfree-Parent Conversation at Holiday Parties” for some pointers.

We’re coming into holiday party time, and as the childfree know, at these kinds of gatherings often people’s kids are a major topic of conversation… Parents often talk a lot about their kids because it is secure social conversational terrain for them. (La Vie Childfree)

We’ll talk junior news for a bit, but let’s find some common ground after you’ve covered the basics. It’s one thing if we dive in, ask questions, encourage you to wax on about Jillian’s poopy progress or Preston’s playground prowess. But if we don’t, if our heads begin to bob and our eyes glaze over, try something else. What are you reading? Seen any interesting art lately? What about concerts, opera, foreign lands, exotic restaurants? You get the picture. Almost anything!

And a closing thought, again culled from the bodacious Bordeaux.

The Santa experience doesn’t seem to be as much about the child now as it is about the photograph… Many parents seem obsessed with creating a magical photo that outshines the season, one that’s concrete proof that their precious little one experienced the whimsy and grandeur of the holiday rather than waited in line for hours with a bunch of other crying kids with H1N1 who don’t understand what the hell is going on. (Baby Off Board)

Childfree families really, really don’t get this ritual. We’re not judging, but it’s totally antithetical to the way we live. As outsiders, parenting sometimes seems to include a lot of “pretend” moments immortalized in photos and anecdotes. Pretend we love being parents and don’t ever regret it. Ever. Pretend that photo of a catalog-perfect family wasn’t taken after a 15 minute tantrum, a slew of bribes and a gangplank of threats. Pretend it was worth wasting a sunny afternoon that you could have spent skiing or quaffing vin chaud to get that darling snapshot of Jillian and Preston on a red nosed Santa’s lap.

Again, we’re not judging. But a quick glimpse is plenty. Even no glimpse if you’d rather share with another parent better attuned to pretend pictures.

A very merry, holly jolly childfree Christmas to you!