Last summer I flew on an airplane from Portland, Oregon to Southern California with a 3 yr. old and an 8 month old. By myself. Crazy? Yes. Better than driving 16 hours with said children in a car by myself? I had previously thought so. Now? I’m not so sure.
I got to the airport at 10:30 to catch my plane that left at 1:20. Okay, so that’s almost 3 hours of waiting, but I knew the getting in process would probably take longer with children and the gobs of luggage I am required to haul around for them (one suitcase was designated just for toys. Hey, we were gone for 2 ½ weeks, kids need lots of entertainment). I had booked a flight with a stopover in Oakland that didn’t require a plane change. So the total time on the plane would be 3 ½ hrs. In my diaper bag, I had a dvd player, charged and ready to distract when needed, and my Hooter Hider, so I could nurse Eli during takeoff and landing to protect his ears .
I waited in the check-in line, my 3 yr. old scooting along the ground on all fours (“I’m a spider! I’m a spider!”). I waited in the security line, my 8 month old in the stroller, crying away and making everyone around me say to themselves, “If they’re on my flight, so help me…”. I waited while they tested the diaper cream in my bag for explosive content (it passed. They should’ve checked my baby for explosive content. He’s filled with it). Finally we headed for our gate with a mere…2 ½ hours to go?!! I was not counting on those lines going so quickly; apparently airport security has gotten quite efficient at this process. My boarding pass said “Gate 13” but Gate 13 disagreed. Gate 13 was welcoming a very large, very unhappy looking group of people on flight #5243 on their way to “Salt Lake City”. Guess there was some issues with flight #5243. I finally located my flight going out of Gate 16, hiding in a little corner across from Gates 13, 14 and 15.
At the end of the terminal I found a little play area for kids and waited. At 12:30 I headed back to my gate. Alas, the board that listed the flight # and destination at Gate 16 was empty. Somebody had removed the information. No flight was listed anymore. No destination. I stood there in the middle of a crowd of people (different people than when I had been there previously) looking at the empty sign for a minute like maybe it would have little tiny letters telling the passengers of flight 548 where to go now. Nope. Had I missed my flight? I looked at the clock. I looked at my boarding pass. I looked at the little old ladies sitting down in front of me. They looked calm. They obviously hadn’t missed a flight. I left the gate and walked to the big collection of screens with all the flights and departure information.
“Let’s see…flight #548 to Ontario, CA…Gate 13 (I went to Gate 13 the first time! It was already taken by that bully, flight #5243!) departing at…2:55?!! Nooooo!!!” Now, before kids, I would have been like, “Oooh, delayed by an hour and a half. Whatever, I’m going to get a mocha and finish Les Miserables.” However, I knew beforehand there would be no “me time” on this airport adventure and Les Miserables was zipped up in a checked bag (where it had sat for the entire “vacation” because I have kids now and when in the world would I have found time to read on my trip?) waiting to be loaded into the bottom of a lazy, unavailable airplane. And with 2 kids who were already way past their naptimes? Snarl!!
A darkness came over me. I went back to the kid’s play area. I went back to the big screens, just to make sure. I went back to the kid’s play area. I went back to Gate 13. The big, surly group of people was gone. They had been replaced by new people, all calm looking. Of course they were calm, they were all self-sufficient adults caring only for themselves and their stupid, basic needs. I had a 3 yr. old spilling a box of Nerds candy all over the airport and crying because I wouldn’t take him on the “bridge” (the moving walkway) over and over and over anymore because the people in the surrounding waiting areas started looking at me like I was a nutjob.
All these calm people. There’s a cute little couple with their one child coloring in his books as his parents lovingly tell him what a good job he’s doing. Yeah, yeah. It’s a lot easier when you outnumber them, isn’t it, Mr. and Mrs. Wonder Parents? Look at little Miss Business sitting over there with her Mac and her legs-up-to-here all dressed up like she just flew in for an important meeting. I know what she’s thinking: “Look at that poor frazzled girl, just barely older than me, with her whiny children and unwashed, cracker-crumby hair. Tsk, tsk. I’m so fulfilled in my exciting career, flying here and there and wearing little tiny, just barely office-appropriate skirts while she can’t even go the bathroom because her hands are too full of kids!” Oh yeah? Well…you… you paid way too much for your cooool laptop, Leggy McMac. So ha!
My husband called me while I was bent over the ground picking up the popcorn my 3 yr. old had spilled, handing it to him while trying to tell him to put it in the trash can without letting the Wal-Mart mom voice come out. “Just…put it…in…the can…NOW,” I quietly said through clenched teeth.
“Guess what?!” My husband gushed, “It says online that you aren’t stopping at all! You’re flying straight to Ontario! It will only take 2 hours!”
“Oh yeah? Then why does the board say we’re stopping in Oakland?” I hung up and went to the counter to see if this were actually true. No, said a flight attendant with big hair, we are still stopping in Oakland and now I have to change planes too!
“But I specifically booked this flight so I wouldn’t have to change planes!” I said, trying to keep my internal pressure cooker from exploding.
“I’ll print you up a boarding pass for that flight,” said Hair, ignoring the evil gaze I leveled on her. What did she care if her airline screwed up my plans? I was at their mercy. I called my husband back and relayed this info to him through still clenched, now aching teeth. Gee, honey, thanks for the false hope!
So we continued to wait. It had been hours since my littlest one had taken a nap. He was bored. My 3 yr. old was bored. I was bored. I looked at the clock every 2 ½ seconds to see if 2:55 had come yet.
1:30, 1:45, 2:00, 2:15, 2:30, 2:45. I stood at the window with my nose smashed against the glass looking all around for an approaching airplane. Why wasn’t there an approaching airplane? I held my baby against my chest so he could look out the window as I bounced him up and down, up and down, up and down, until he finally fell asleep with his little head bobbing up and down with every bounce.
Finally, FINALLY, at 3:05 a plane pulls up and the flight attendants get everybody lined up. We board the plane and because there are no seat assignments I grab an empty row and put my 3 yr. old by the window while my baby sleeps in my lap. Meanwhile, people keep boarding the plane. There is an empty seat next to me. I will accept a seatmate that is either (A) a very skinny mute woman or (B) nobody.
I’m looking out the window when I hear a loud, “This seat taken?” and I narrow my eyes as I turn to the over-sized 50 yr. old man grinning at me with large yellow teeth. I shake my head very slowly which could be interpreted as “no, it’s not taken” but actually means “don’t…even…think about it.” He interpreted it incorrectly. As he squeezed in next to me, I glanced around and noticed there were plenty of open seats still available. What kind of half-wit would want to sit next to a mom with two very young kids on an airplane? So much for nursing my baby during the flight.
His furry arm pressed against mine and I quickly pulled it away and resumed staring out the window. I was in a foul mood. I was torn between two thoughts: “You should be a good Christian and welcome him as your seatmate” and “You smile at this guy and he thinks you’re flirting with him. Creep. That’s probably why he sat here. Ew, arm hair!”
So I kept facing the window the entire flight. After we took off, with Gabriel yelling, “To infinity…and beyond!”, Eli woke up and I had to hold him in a standing position the whole flight while he bounced on my lap, but I kept facing the window. It was very uncomfortable and it made my back scream in agony, but I wasn’t about to get chatty with this guy. Unfortunately, Eli is a very social baby and he will smile at everybody. He loooooves attention. So of course I would find him staring at this guy and smiling and mostly I ignore it, but every now and then I glance at the guy and give him an “I’m only smiling because my baby is cute. You’re not cute,” half-smile.
As we began our descent and our ears began popping, both boys began crying. While I tried to comfort both of them, I could see people around me looking at us. It took every effort not to start crying right along with them. I was miserable. It had been a long day.
After 5 minutes I finally got them calmed down and we touched down in Oakland. Mr. Should’ve-Sat-Somewhere-Else asked me if I was staying in Oakland or continuing on to Ontario. I told him I was going to Ontario and prayed he wasn’t going to tag along.
When I went to collect my purse and diaper bag I realized my phone was missing. Lovely. Figuring that it probably between the feet of the poor man sitting in front of Gabe, I tapped his wife on the shoulder since she was directly in front of me. “Excuse me,” I asked with an apologetic smile, more for my crying children than anything else, “is there a phone under your feet?” Her husband reached down and said, “Why, yes there is!” and handed it to me, along with the lid to a baby snack container Gabe had dropped mid-flight. I thanked them and they told me I am a very brave woman, that they had two sons they used to travel with and that I did a very good job. I almost laughed hysterically, thinking, “What, are you kidding?!!”
We got off that airplane and almost immediately boarded the next one. There were a lot of empty seats on this plane and I sat by the window this time, with Gabe in the middle, so I could nurse Eli in privacy, in case we had another seatmate.
We sat there for a few minutes waiting for any stragglers and at the last minute a young twenty-something guy got on the plane and started walking toward available seats. And of course, with plenty of available seats, where does he put his bag down? In my row, right next to Gabriel.
“Do you mind?” he asks.
I leaned over and said in a slightly lowered voice, “Actually, I was going to nurse my baby…”
“Gotcha,” he said with a nervous wink, as he hurriedly grabbed his bag and moved to a breastfeeding-free zone. Nothing like a social stigma to keep people out of your personal space!
I leaned back with a sigh of contentment. Across the aisle sat a mom and a dad and their teenage daughter, all reading magazines and minding their own business. Next to me was my tiny tot who didn’t crowd me with big, hairy arms and next to him was one big little empty seat. This was great. When the flight attendant came around, he was actually friendly and even put a lid with a straw on Gabe’s apple juice. This time when we started the descent, I nursed Eli to sleep while I had Gabe drink his apple juice to keep his ears from popping. No crying this time. Ahhh, sheer bliss. Suddenly, it seemed like the day hadn’t been quite as bad as I’d thought. Maybe I’d made been a bit of an uptight, stressed-out brat.
At 7 o’clock we got off the plane. I looked out the airport window and saw the ugly landscape and actually felt good to be back to Southern California! I can’t believe I thought flying was going to be so much better than driving! What a big dumb waste of time! I spent $350 and 9 ½ hours on a 3 ½ hour flight.
I wish I had a better ending to this story, like how I told everyone in my row about Jesus, and His sacrifice on the cross for their sins. I didn’t do that though. I fumed and stewed and snapped and glared at everyone around me, because I let myself wallow in the temporary discomfort I was in, instead of asking the Lord to put His loving arm around me and make me an example of His extraordinary love and patience. It’s funny how bad situations seem like they last so long until they’re over. Then you’re left feeling a little embarrassed at all the griping you did for something that was over in just a few hours.
Thank you, Father, for the safe flight. Although it was long and miserable, and my bad attitude didn’t help lighten the mood at all, I’m thankful for the opportunities we all have to see our family and friends so far away. Please help me be a better testimony of Your love and patience in the future, when I’m seated next to strangers who may be open to talking about You. Help me be a better example of your strength and patience. If I crumble under such silliness as a day in the airport with my children, how can I expect to have strength when it really matters? Let me always see the temporariness of my situations, especially such ridiculous situations like this, and know that You are anything but temporary. You are my hope and future, and one day I will fly to You and be at rest.