BOOK TOUR BABY – Part 6
This last flight leg is a small prop plane. We are delayed an hour and by the time almost everyone has boarded, a family straggles on. They are Pakistani from what I can tell. They are exhausted, two kids in tow, one an infant and the other about three. I silently close my eyes and recite the airplane mantra. “Please don’t let them sit near me, please don’t let them…..”
Lo and behold they are seated somewhere else. I relax. But no. A skirmish ensues. Two people have the same seat and now the flight attendant bustles by me with a withering glare. They go back and forth in high anxious voices. The family claims they bought four seats, one for the car seat and infant. The flight attendant says no, you didn’t. You can feel the tension on the airplane rise. It’s humid outside and the air conditioning isn’t working while the plane is grounded.
“No one is moving”, the flight attendant announces, “until somebody comes clean!” She glares over at the Pakistani family and at the slight man with the gelled hair and wire rims who has been claiming the seat is his. Someone who was on the waiting list has gotten on board, which is completely possible given the chaos of boarding all these regional flights from the same gate just minutes apart.
Finally, a student-type with a pony tail and back pack slinks off the plane, and the Pakistani family settles in. The father is way up front separated from the other three, who are now, naturally, seated in the row directly behind me.
The three year old immediately begins kicking. The mother has the baby on her lap and the car seat, gets its own entire seat.
Separated from his father by a half a plane and from his mother by an aisle, the three year old begins crying, and then screaming. The mother, inexplicably begins to reason with her three year old. “You must stay in your seat,” she says in stilted English and then switches to her native tongue. “Stay there. We are taking off….. this is the law— you must obey….big boys obey the law.” These are some of the phrases I hear and I cringe, knowing they wouldn’t work on my teenagers, let alone a sobbing three year old.
The father, about ten rows ahead, seemingly oblivious to the rest of us on the plane, begins yelling at the top of his lungs back at the child with what appears to be his name…….”Dooda, Doo Da”, he screams. And then he barks something unintelligible in his native language. The rest of us are stunned into silence, blinking, as we flinch at the sound of the yelling and stare straight ahead during the runway taxi.
All of a sudden the man begins to rise and head back toward his son.
“Sit down” screams the flight attendant. She has the simmering “pleasure in pain” look of the Ukranian lady at my nail place, just before she rips off the hot wax. That kind.
The father is now torn, follow the law or get up to console the screaming Dooda across the aisle from his wife and ten rows back. His wife continues to numbly repeat airline regulations to her son, who is now kicking the back of my chair as he screams so that the back of my head comes off the seat and flops back down
Where are the happy meals, the teething rings, the bag of Skittles? This doesn’t look like a Skittle kind of family but when you are packing for a flight with multiple young children you bring freaking syringes filled with morphine if that will help. I don’t care if you are vegan, you bring a giant box of Pop Tarts and chewy bars and a Costco sized bag of goldfish or lollypops. When you are on a plane with a child you bring any forbidden food that will shut them the hell up. You break every rule because this is a COURTESY thing. This is an issue of YOUR sanity and the people around you in a confined space.
Now the little boy is crying so hard he is choking on his own snot, making disturbing, gulping sounds as the mother keeps trying to reason with him. She still doesn’t seem to have produced one toy, one book, or one distraction. She is sticking with the airline regulations bit, hoping logic might still work. All I had wanted was a 15 minute nap and as my head continues to rocket forward with each kick of the kid’s sneakers I can feel my blood pressure rise. I try to channel my own days, my own mortifying moments when an entire plane looked at me with the “why can’t you control your own child” glare.
Now the mother is yelling at the father to come back, the father is yelling back to her, as if none of the rest of us exist. It’s time for an intervention. I can’t believe I am about to do this but all of the other passengers on the plane seem to have been turned into zombies. There is an undercurrent of ill will for this family amongst the other travelers that borders on insurgency. If this was a reality show, this family would be voted off the island first.
“Let me have him,” I blurt out as I swivel around and face the miserable mother. She hands me the infant on her lap so that she can console the boy behind me, across her in the aisle.
“He misses his father,” she says simply. I fight the urge to take out my own keys to find an old piece of gum, anything to show her the technique of distraction with a small child. I have nothing.
The seatbelt sign comes off and the father now bolts for the back. He has the sudden erratic movements that in a post- Sept 11th world remind all air travelers of a hi-jacker. You can see the other passengers startle in their seats as he races past them all and dives for his son’s seat.
The son quiets. The baby on my lap, whose diaper is so wet my fingers leave indentations under his clothes, begins to realize that I am not his mother. He scrunches up his face preparing to cry and emits a blast of gas that sounds somewhat like a muffled gun shot.
After I hand the child back, I silently thank Jesus that I made it out of that part of my mothering life alive. As the plane begins to prepare for its descent, I can see the many twinkling lights of the New York metropolitan where I live. I’ve made it. Made it on the plane ride, on the book tour, made it almost home. And when the taxi finally pulls into the driveway, there is that moment after I get out, before my nostrils fill with the familiar scent of my house, before the kids and the dogs and my husband see me and come running to greet me, that I will fight the urge to fall upon my knees, like along-ago arrival to Ellis Island, and kiss the asphalt.