Note: An edited version of this column appears in the 7/22 issue of The Glendale Star and the 7/23 issue of the Peoria Times
There are few things that make my wife and I more uncomfortable than being the center of negative attention. I think it’s one thing that separates us from the east coast stereotype, where people take pride in not caring what anybody else thinks and act accordingly. This is one of the reasons that both us never talk on our cell phones around others, lest we become “obnoxious cell phone talker person.” (In the instance that we’re talking to each other and we’re forced to talk around others, it inevitably results in both of us whispering to the point that our voices are inaudible, and we end up getting mad at each other because we can’t hear and so we raise our voices to a loud whisper and then angrily hang up.) So, if I had to imagine our most nightmarish scenario, it would probably involve being the parents of a crying child on a five-hour plane ride.
We traveled back east recently to introduce our daughter to the family. As excited as we both were about this trip, both of us quietly dreaded the travel. Neither of us likes to fly in the first place, and now we had a 10-month-old flying companion who could cry, poop, or both at anytime. The good news was that our original fears of the plane crashing or getting hijacked were replaced by the anxiety of corralling the behavior of our unpredictable little party-animal.
Overall, she did great. We took the red-eye on the way there hoping for sleep, a strategy employed by many other parents, as there were about 30 kids on the flight. And after a rough start, she did sleep the rest of the way. Even while we were back east, we did so much traveling via car, train, and subway, and she did fantastic. She was a trooper, and we were so proud of her.
Still, we worried about the return plane ride, which would take off right in the middle of her typical morning playtime. Now, not only is she at that age where she can barely be contained, but she also fights sleep like it’s her worst enemy, and her weapon of choice is uncontrollable, I-sound-like-I’m-being-abused-type wailing. After she was finished pulling all of the magazines out of the pouch and dropping them on the floor, crawling on me and waving to the other passengers, she started fighting to stay awake.
And so it began. I should also mention that she was the only child on the plane -– it seemed to me that everyone else was the type of seasoned traveler that dreads only the crying child –- and so there was nobody to drown her out. We had told each other not to worry should such a scenario play out, but the panic-stricken looks on our faces said otherwise. I wanted to stand up, point to her, and mouth to everyone with a forced smile: “This is just how she gets to sleep! Ha, ha! Kids, right?” My wife just looked at me and said, “We are NOT going home for Christmas!”
She was –- as she often is when she’s overly tired and unable to move around –- inconsolable. There were only brief interruptions of her whining throughout, and I spent at least an hour just holding her at the back of the plane by the bathrooms, getting whiffs of delight while she patronized me by waving to the flight attendants.
After what seemed like five days, we landed. As we arrived at the gate the man sitting directly behind me stood up and said, “She reminds me of my daughter.” We turned around, taken aback that anybody wanted to talk to us at this point. He continued, smiling: “She’s 14 now, but she was just like her –- has to be a part of everything. Even her cry sounds exactly like hers used to. I wanted to call my wife to let her hear.” We talked a bit more, and thanked him for understanding our plight. He glanced around the plane and said, “Unless you’re a parent, you can’t understand.”
We walked off the plane feeling better, humbled again by parenthood and amazed that at least someone on the plane felt more nostalgic than annoyed. Eventually we reached our car, and put her in her car seat. Our unpredictable little one predictably fell sound asleep.