I was standing at gate E3, waiting for our flight back to Orlando. It was delayed, and the long daylight of summer was gone. I looked out the window, and still, no plane. Javin was climbing among the bags loaded on our stroller, and Asher was fast asleep in the baby carrier, every part of his body resting against mine. I noticed a new family in the crowd, and felt their gazes on us. They found us entertaining, and I couldn’t blame them. Perhaps I should have retired the Ergo a year ago, when Ash was still at least a little baby-ish, but now, it’s a sight to see. Javin asked me questions, and they were just as interested in the answers as he was. Can he order a snack on the plane? No, we packed some. What are we going to do when we get home? Sleep. Can he sleep with Daddy? Yes.
The son, who was probably about 20, even took a picture of us. He was pretending to take a selfie, but I knew what he was really up to. It’s a trick I used when I backpacked through Europe, and I felt slightly embarrassed for my 23-year-old self, realizing it’s never a slick move. One time I was sitting at an outdoor cafe in Barcelona when a couple of guys who were wearing the garb of true anarchists strutted by, holding leashes with some mean looking dogs with muzzles. The sangria had me silly, and I pretended to take a picture of the two girlfriends across from me, even though I was really after the freaky scene walking by. They knew, turned around, and one held out his hand and demanded, “Five euro.” Luckily our check was paid because they were so aggressive in their demands for money that we ran away and into a hotel where we hid into the bathrooms for a good half hour before asking the security guard to walk us to our hostel. This was the first time I felt someone sneak a picture of me, but I wasn’t mad at all. In fact, I felt comforted by their interest. I knew I could talk to them, and they’d be receptive, which is a quality I hope for in fellow passengers.
As the stars would have it, they family ended up sitting beside us, in the same row, but across the aisle. I could still feel them look our way, not for anything in particular, but the pleasure of seeing a mother cuddle her toddler and talk to her preschooler. They thought it was neat how the carrier cradled Ash’s head, and Javin must resemble another little boy they know. I heard them whisper. When a flight attendant stopped right between me and the gentleman, leaving her booty between us like a centerpiece on a dining room table, we shrugged our shoulders in acknowledgement, and then I broke the ice, “Are you guys going home?” I suspected they were because the woman wore the wrinkles of cigarettes and Florida sun.
I continued on with my inquisitive ways, and discovered the man has six kids, and flew to Pennsylvania to attend one of his grandchildren’s high school graduations. They live in Ocala, and the wife cleans homes. I was trying to figure out what made them seem so rough-around-the-edges despite their apparent good natures, when the plane made a loud revving up sound out of nowhere. It scared me, and without a thought, I reached across the aisle and grabbed the man’s arm. Both, the husband and the wife looked at me and asked if I was okay. I dropped one side of my lip and admitted, “I hate flying.” She told me she feels the same, and reckoned her husband might have two broken arms by the end of the flight.
I didn’t feel shy, but relieved. When I was a teenager, I often rode the subway in Philadelphia, and always looked for an older lady with a big attitude to wait with, and sit beside. She wouldn’t only be harmless, but protective, and I often imagined her saying things like, “Come close to me, Honey. I’ll keep you safe.” Then she’d point to her big bag and tell me, “I’m not afraid to whack someone over the head with this thing if I have to.” Even though I haven’t traveled underground in Philly for at least 10 years, I get on airplanes looking for the same thing: a kind old lady whose lap I could jump into, someone who’d stroke my hair and say, “Don’t you worry, child.” You see, the hardest part of frightening situations is feeling alone, but when you just grab a random person’s arm and say how scared you are, you’re suddenly not so alone anymore.
Still, my tension stuck with me. I peeked at the people in front of me, and saw a girl in her early 20’s flying with her father. I knew it was her dad because she put her arms around his neck and sang, “Daddy!” I felt envious and thought, if my dad was with me, I wouldn’t feel so tense. He’d laugh and tell me the plane was about to go down, and it would be such a joke, that my fears would fade. I peered out the window, making sure the outside world looked the way it should, and examined the flight attendants to make sure they were carrying on as usual. The diligence I felt in making sure everything was okay, and the desperation I felt for comfort, reminded me of my early days of parenthood. I loved motherhood. Nursing and cuddling brought me so much joy, but my desire to be nurtured and comforted myself was so real. I just wanted someone to tell me I was doing great and that everything was going to be fine. You see, even when we become care-takers and protectors, we don’t lose our own needs for care and protection.
In many ways, I’ve become the person I’ve always looked for. I’m not only the woman scoping out people to comfort me, I’m the mom giving it. I seek protection under the wings of others, while having two of my own tucked safely under mine. I lean into them and hold their hands. I tell them they’re doing great, and assure them we’ll be home soon. I do this for their sake, but also for mine. Parenthood has taught me that sometimes we have to fake bravery for the sake of our children, but by faking it, we actually feel it, and by giving to others, what we need ourselves, we somehow receive it.
But just like those early days of motherhood, despite all the comfort I give to my children and myself, I still seek it, and my whole life, I’ve found it in strangers. Although there are a million happenings in the world that lead us to believe people are terrible, I continue to rely on humanity. For the remainder of the flight, the woman and I shot each other our upward thumbs and smiles, letting each other know we were doing good. When it was time to deplane, they separated to let my family walk within theirs so the boys would be safe. They carried my bags until I collected my stroller, and then we said good bye, not as strangers, but as the friends we became for the moment.
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