Airplane Journey Raises Thoughts of Children I Never Had

When the women with the wailing baby paused at Row 29 and waited for me to rise from my aisle seat to let them in, one would think my first thought would be horror. I already hated flying. I had already noticed these were the narrowest airplane seats I had ever seen. And now I had to sit with a screaming infant? 

Then again, it was better than sitting with the two very large, very rude men who had been near me in the waiting area. 

My seatmates were skinny young red-haired Spanish-speaking women, mother and aunt, and the baby. Once they were seated, the baby hushed and was an angel the rest of the flight. He slept most of the time. When awake, he cooed and smiled as Mama and Tia gave him lots of love. What was not to love? From his chubby cheeks to his tiny toes, this baby was adorable. 

Did I ache to have one of my own? Not really? Nor did I want to be one of the many parents I saw wrangling small children. Between the multiple boarding passes, multiple backpacks, toys, snacks, and the kids themselves, they were clearly overwhelmed. Some of those kids, although cute, would not be quiet. One little girl standing in the aisle of the plane insisted on showing everyone her pink backpack. She must have said “backpack” a hundred times. 

Yeah, I was too old and tired for that. I had gotten up at 4:30 a.m. Pacific time to catch my flight from Portland to Dallas to Columbus, Ohio for a poetry convention. By the time I’d gotten on the plane, I had already sworn off flying, and then the flight was delayed for an hour while they checked out a problem with the air-conditioning system. So I was not ready for squeaky-voiced kids with no filter. But that baby and mama sleeping cheek to cheek was a work of art. 

On my second flight, I shared my row with a little girl about 6 years old and her “abuela,” grandmother. They didn’t speak English either. They spoke quietly to each other and slept a lot. It was fine, even if Abuela did hog the armrest.

What really got to me was departing and arriving alone. While other passengers had people waiting for them, I landed in Columbus after dark so exhausted I wanted to weep and with no idea how I would get to the convention hotel. I would have given anything for a grown person to step up at that point, wrap me in a big hug, and say, “Hi Grandma, let me take your bags.” That’s what killed me, not having anyone call me “Abuela” and welcome me. Alone, I lifted my heavy bags, joined the crowd outside and took a taxi. I’m past the mother-of-small-children stage in life and ready for the benevolent grandmother stage, but you can’t have one without the other. Sometimes that hurts a lot.

At home in an area loaded with retired people, I rarely see small children, but go to an airport in the summer, and you will see lots and lots of families and good and bad examples of what we might be missing. 

Are you traveling this summer? Seeing lots of kids? How are you coping with that? Are you questioning your situation and your decisions about children? Or relieved to be on your own? I welcome your comments. 


If I’m going to get Covid, this would be the time. The airports were packed, the planes were 100 percent full, people were close together, unmasked, and no one asked about anyone’s vaccination status. That’s a little scary. 

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8 thoughts on “Airplane Journey Raises Thoughts of Children I Never Had

  1. One of the many reasons why I try to avoid travel whenever school is out! I always check (if I don’t know it off by heart!) when school is in/out not only in NZ, but Australia, Asia, Europe and the US. I try to travel when the kids are in school – the airports are better, the planes are emptier (if at all possible), the venues we go are not as crowded, and everything is a bit cheaper usually. (Rome in July, one of my exceptions to this practice, was not a great idea! lol)

    I’m sorry you felt alone when you got there. One of the things I liked about business travel back when I was doing it all the time was being self-sufficient. But I understand why you felt lonely. Hugs. And hope the poetry conference was worth it!


  2. I don’t have any plans to travel this summer. And, since retiring from pediatrics, I don’t see a lot of kids.

    But I did just apply for a job at a nursing home. If I get it, I might start hearing about people’s children and grandchildren as I work with them. I will probably be asked about my children, which hasn’t happened for awhile. (Funny. I just realized that people don’t often ask IF I have children anymore. They just assume that I do.)

    Your story reminds me of a time I was traveling on a plane. We were boarding and I wanted to sit at the front. I noticed two children traveling alone and asked the flight attendant if I was allowed to sit with the kids. She said I was so I took a seat. The woman behind me said I was brave and moved on to a different row. All I could think was these kids were traveling alone and needed an understanding adult sitting with them, at the very least just to relieve the flight attendants of unnecessary babysitting duties. Plus, kids are often better than adults. Just in general. Kinder, less judgmental.

    I’m a former teacher. I love kids. So I sat with these two kids under the age of ten and had a blast. The older sister was very talkative and I quickly realized her little brother had special needs of some kind. I was able to keep them quiet and mostly still and it was a very enjoyable flight. I also helped them remember all of their carryon items when we landed and got off the plane. Thanks for reminding me of that fun, happy memory.


  3. I love to people-watch, especially when we travel. It is nice to have a companion these days, but there were many times in the past when I have traveled alone, dined alone, attended social events like fundraisers, weddings, and funerals alone—it was often fun, but also very challenging. There was no one to navigate as I drove to an international airport, and say “Hey, you’re pulling into the wrong terminal!” or “It’s the next gate down,” or “Let me help you with your door, or luggage.” And funerals seemed especially difficult; facing mortality is complicated when you have no one to share your life with, even after you’re gone.

    I do not have kids, but I am married to a man who has children, we even have grandchildren now! I love them like my own, but it has not been easy—that’s just the honest truth. I am blessed to love someone who loves me and takes care of me; and as we get older, we must consider the imminent realities of adulthood, like plans for our business, personal belongings, finances, heirlooms, etc. It is hard to think that one day I will have no one to share my life stories with, or be able to pass down a family name, recipe, or pocket knife to.

    He has a family, I do not. No matter how close we are as a family, or how much we love each other—there are many things that simply will not live on after my death. It is something he does not understand, and I cannot explain. But we try. We are lucky to have one another, so we live our lives in the present…learning from the past, and hoping for the future.


  4. I am having a few operations/medical procedures this summer, so no travelling for me until the fall. I was hoping to get “home” to see my parents and sister (after missing the past two summers because of covid restrictions) and feeling sorry for myself until I started hearing all the travel horror stories out there right now…! Fingers crossed it will be better in the fall! (Even then, my husband is thinking we might be better off driving…??)


    • I’d recommend driving. Traveling alone by plane these days is awful. But maybe things will straighten out. Good luck with your medical procedures. May you be healthy and happy soon.


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