Nothing brings out the merciful benevolence of total strangers quite like a woman like flying alone with her young children.
For a brief moment of insanity, I decided to fly to Atlanta alone with Rollie and Elsa. How bad could it be? I reasoned. I'd flown alone with Rollie from here to Portland...six hours...pregnant...without buying him his own ticket. And while that is something I'd rather not do again, I--in all my smug, naive arrogance--figured that taking a 45-minute flight with two kids would be a piece of cake.
First we had to check in. I was only checking one bag, to simplify the security screening more than anything. The idea of wrangling two children out of shoes and stuffing diaper bags and carseats through the conveyor on top of assuring the TSA worker that the ominous-looking tub of Noxema was not explosive in nature simply did not appeal to me. It was worth the 20 bucks to send my saline solution and shampoo on to Atlanta without me.
Attempting to coax Rollie through the metal detector, however, was a bit of a challenge. I guess I should be glad that he won't instantly warm up to strangers. Or do what they ask. Or do what I ask while they stand smiling on the other side of a scary-looking, door-shaped rectangle that beeps and lights up like a giant, terrifying baby toy.
The security people were pretty understanding though. They made me feel somewhat less inept than usual as I struggled to remove my own belt and shoes, manhandled Elsa from her stroller and pleaded with Rollie to hurry up and take off his shoes because the line was starting to build up behind us like dorky ticket-holders for the opening night re-release of Star Wars. They held out hands for Rollie to high-five, they cooed at Elsa, they tested the carseat for bomb-making residue with the utmost courtesy. Only twenty dirty looks from other passengers later, we were through the screening and on our merry way to Gate A1.
Rollie was pretty excited about riding on an airplane. He pointed out each one he saw, asking if that was the one we would be taking, asking why it wasn't the one we would be taking, asking where was the one we would be taking, and wanting to know when we could get on the one we would be taking. Oh it was great fun answering every version of every question he could think up while trying to navigate my loaded-down sit-and-stand through the airport, trying to keep the carseat that balanced precariously atop our eighty pieces of carry-on from toppling onto Elsa perched in the front seat, angrily kicking at the socks she never wears and getting frustrated that they wouldn't come off.
Needless to say, as soon as we boarded, I was ready to administer the Benadryl and order myself a ten-dollar mini-bottle of wine.
At least the airline employees came through once again. I'd been fretting all morning about the logistics of loading Rollie, Elsa, our bags and the carseat onto a quickly filling airplane, but as soon as I made it down the jet-way, a flight attendant appeared and happily hauled the twenty-pound toddler seat down the aisle, cheerily barging into other passengers as she pushed forward to our seat. I followed her like I was following a linebacker through a throng of football players, Elsa clutched to me like a precious pigskin.
Once I had my fellow travelers settled, a woman appeared in the aisle, studying her ticket.
"I think I'm right here," she said, dropping her purse into the seat beside me.
Poor thing, I thought. This was going to be the longest 45 minutes of her life.
You can always tell who on an airplane has children. They're the ones who don't shoot deathrays at the parents of screaming toddlers. They ask nicely to have you keep your kid from kicking their seat. They don't look suicidal when they realize they're stuck in the same row as you and your colicky infant. They offer to help. They offer to change seats. They offer carry your bags. They've been there. They know how bad it sucks.
Take the woman beside me. I was trying to set up Rollie's DVD player (which I highly recommend for those of you crazy enough to fly with your kids...or ride in the car with them for any length of time), and she offered to hold Elsa for me. Then she started playing Peek-a-boo with her. She had Elsa chuckling for a full ten minutes, even after I had loaded Cars for Rollie and he was already staring slack-jawed at the screen. When I opened up a sippy cup at thirty-thousand feet and apple juice went spraying all over her, the woman only smiled and said, "that's happened to me before!" She was practically ready to breastfeed Elsa for me. It was great.
And at the end of the flight, after I waited for everyone to deplane, some strapping young lad offered to carry the carseat back up the aisle for me. I felt special, half-celebrity, half-paraplegic, someone everyone feels sorry for and wants to help and commiserates with and smiles at. I can't imagine traveling with two kids, being pregnant and having some other super-power, like really big knockers. People would be falling all over themselves to help me tie my shoes. They would offer the shirt off their back, their bottom dollar, their left arm, just to open a door for me. Sure it would be out of pity (and because my boobs would be bigger then some small countries). I'd take it.