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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Is summer vacation all about ‘families’?

Ah, summer. Here on the Oregon coast, it’s sometimes sunny, sometimes cloudy, sometimes wet, but warmer than the rest of the year. The wildflowers are blooming, the blackberries are beginning to fruit, and the local bear is raiding garbage cans. Streets, restaurants, and beaches are loaded with tourists, many of them toting children. That’s what happens when you live in a vacation destination.

Meanwhile, the people who live here are doing the family thing. This is the time of year when half of my church choir runs off to babysit the grandkids, go camping with the older kids, or attend family reunions. The calendar in the music room is loaded with the names of people who are taking time off while the offspring are out of school. Which leaves a few of us to pick up the slack.

Wherever you work, I suspect something similar is going on. It’s time for family vacations and entertaining the kids. While our mother-father co-workers are running off to the water park or Disneyland, guess who’s staying behind to do the work? The childless ones. It’s a good thing we’re around, but it’s hard not to feel resentful sometimes. Right?

When my husband was alive, we used to travel in the spring, usually around our May 18 anniversary. In addition to his regular work running community centers in San Jose, he was a licensed tax preparer. From January through April, he rarely looked up from his tax forms, but come May, it was time to spend some of that money on a great vacation before the kiddos were set loose. Over the years we went to Hawaii, Portugal, Costa Rica, and British Columbia. We cruised the Mississippi on the Delta Queen from Nashville to St. Louis, visited Tucson and Las Vegas, and explored many places closer to home.

Because our lives weren’t centered on the school calendar, we sometimes found ourselves unwittingly surrounded by families, like the time we visited the Grand Canyon during spring break. Don’t do it! Too crowded. A two-hour wait for a table at any of the restaurants. And those tables were full of kids.

Ours were adult-focused trips. We liked touring historical sites, wine-tasting, nature hikes, local theater performances, visiting galleries and museums, and meals at posh restaurants, stuff that doesn’t go well with children. We were spared amusement parks, Happy Meals, and kids who’d rather play with their electronic devices than see the wonders of the real world. Mostly. There were a couple fun trips with my stepson. We had good times fishing, splashing in the waves at the beach, and playing games. He was a good traveler, still is, but mostly it was just the two of us.

Now it’s just me, but that’s another story.

As I have traveled back and forth to San Jose this summer to be with my father, I have often found myself surrounded by parents and children. They’re at the airport, the rest stops, and the restaurants. It’s their time. God bless the parents trying to wrangle several kids and all their paraphernalia through airport security!

No matter how frustrating it might be, the parents are lucky to have this chance to show the world to their children. I’m sure there were times when my own parents would have loved to dump us somewhere and travel by themselves, but they always took us along. To make it affordable, we camped, mostly in California. My brother and I both grew to love nature and its simple pleasures, the lapping of a lake against the shore, a Stellar’s Jay squawking above the picnic table, the feel of soft dirt under our tennis shoes, and sitting around the campfire under the stars.

I’m getting lost in nostalgia. It’s July. People with children and grandchildren are busy spending time together. Where does that leave those of us without children? Are you doing double duty at work? Are you traveling now or waiting until the kids go back to school? Are you sad or glad about “summer vacation?” Please share in the comments.

 

Visiting the family

Hi. I haven’t posted because I’ve been on the road for the last week. It was time to visit the family in California.

I imagine this sort of visit would have been much different if I had kids. As it was, I traveled alone, stayed with my father and went almost everywhere with him as my companion. The only difference between now and thirty years ago is that we’re both much older.

I left Dad home to have lunch with my stepdaughter. I really enjoyed that lunch. Now that we are both adults and her father is gone, it’s more of a “friend” relationship than any kind of mother-daughter thing. It’s two people with some shared history, memories of the same man, and a lot of affection for each other. We talked about school, work, money, men, food. . . She has two grown children and a granddaughter, but she’s single, and her kids are off on their own. It’s amazing to me that I have this smart, gorgeous woman in my life.

Unfortunately my father doesn’t feel any desire or obligation to connect with her anymore now that Fred is gone.

We visited my brother and his wife, who live about three hours away from Dad. Their daughter, my niece, came for a couple hours, but I spent more time with their dogs. With them, there is no awkwardness, just instant adoration.

Saying goodbye to my father just killed me. He’s very old, and I’m always afraid I won’t see him again.

If I had kids and grandkids, I imagine that would we would be one of those big groups going out to eat together, hanging out at one of their houses, talking, playing games, cooking, doing dishes, looking at old photos . . . Dad would be absorbed into this group.

Instead, we both travel solo. Last night, I got seated in the far corner of a restaurant where nobody else was eating alone. The jolly waitress called me “Hon.” I sipped chardonnay and read a book called “Going Solo.”

I should be home and reunited with my dog today. Talk to you soon.