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.