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08/26/2010

Flew scare

Oh, God, your stories!  If you haven't read the comments on my last post yet, do.  You will probably never travel again, but you'll laugh.  You'll cry.  You'll stand in awe at the resilience of the indomitable human spirit.  You'll want to kick an airline or two squarely in the nuts.  And you will probably never travel again.

Did I say that twice?  Well, it bears repeating, with swears.

There was sweetcoalminer's kid running off through security.  There was KCC's trip, so bad that "at one point, I think I would have licked someone with ebola to make it end."  Jen's stomach-turning crab cakes, reminded me of a trip my aunt took, which included an immediate neighbor unwrapping and then eating a whole fish.  I felt such sympathy for Jo and her roaring constipated baby — Ben did that, too, this time, but only in the airport.  Bea's story, which was appalling overall, had me laughing, weakly and in horror, at the very phrase, "pink diarrhoea."  J's trip to her father's funeral shocked me; my condolences on your loss, J, but also on the inhumanity you endured. 

Carrie made me laugh helplessly: "Turns out that in an attempt to free the poor formula-stained, Cheerio-encrusted car seat from the drudgery of a week in Pittsburgh, the kind folks at Jet Blue sent said car seat to Las Vegas."  Cathy made me hope that the woman in her story sits next to the gentleman from LMM's story on a future flight.  Awesome Dr. Mama did a stranger a solid while a child was, ah, doing a liquid, and contributed a wise perspective: "In a way doing it solo is a little bit better because at least you don't end up hating your partner as well as your children and everyone else on the plane."

I'm impressed by Elizabeth's husband, reeling with fever, changing an RV tire in the heat; I'm made of weaker stuff because installing a car seat in the Louisiana sun nearly killed me.  I snorted aloud at Leslie's motherfucking snakes in a motherfucking backpack.  I tensed up as I read Suzanne's story, hoping that the unthinkable — her grandfather knocked down by security personnel! — didn't turn into the unendurable.  Wren's trip to India wasn't funny in the least, though I confess I laughed when she said, "The whole ordeal was horrific. So we're going to do it again."  Aggh, and poor CS — not only was her story hair-raising, she gave us the indelible image of archaeological proctologists one day extracting fossilized sticks from outraged fellow passengers.

I read these stories quickly in bits and snatches while I was away, not because I was using my iPod to do it, although I was, but because with the return trip ahead, I couldn't bear to spend much time imagining myself in anyone else's place.  I'm cringing anew at your stories today.  I don't know how you made it through — Reese made me laugh when she said, "I was a vodka tonic away from throwing myself out the emergency hatch" —  but I'm very glad you did.  Thank you for reliving the magic.

I'm almost embarrassed to tell you that our trip...was fine.  We had to run through the connecting airports on the way there, but Charlie was like a tiny O.J. Simpson.  (Remember the sprinting years, not the stabbing ones.)  Newark airport gave me a new appreciation for the power of adrenaline; nothing makes me go all turbo like stepping off the jetway to hear the final boarding call for the next flight, 80 gates away.  Improbably, we made it.  Finally seated and belted on that plane, I was so pumped I could have lifted the fully packed airplane and hurled it to its destination.  In Houston, changing planes involved long stretches on foot, a train, and two buses — by the end I wouldn't have been surprised to see a sign that said, "Proceed to Gate A309 Through Jagged Glass-Littered Crawling Tunnel" — but I was going to make that flight if it killed me.  Seemed like I pushed that stroller through the very corridors of Hell, but I gate checked it with no trouble and we got on all flights without incident.  Unless you consider my exploding aorta an incident.

When it comes to flying, Charlie is a pro.  He buckles up, intently examines the safety information card, and then ferrets out every item in the SkyMall catalog that promises either danger to children or covert surveillance.  He reads a book, another book, still another book.  He eats every snack I've packed and sips his ginger ale with the rarefied pleasure of a sommelier — airplane rides are the only time he's allowed soda, and he takes full and joyous advantage of the beverage service.  He listens to music, and he has recently graduated to watching a cartoon or two on my iPod during the last draining leg of a trip.  This time Charlie was nothing short of perfect: he hustled when I needed him to, with no complaining.  He entertained himself happily while I was occupied with Ben.  He held Ben's hand when I couldn't, often without being asked.

Ben — well, Ben did great.  Oh, he needed constant engagement, snack story story drink toy toy toy toy snack stickers toy toy stickers snack snack, but I expected that.  (I never understand why parents who travel with small children even bother to pack a book or magazine, much less whip it out in flight; during the rare moments Ben didn't need my full attention to stave off whimpering or seat-kicking, I was too frazzled to do more than loll against the seat back, headrestborne ebola notwithstanding.)  There was no excretion of note, except in the one airport where we had a long layover, and no real crying, though I admit I interrupted more than one escalating whine by cramming his fusshole with cookies.

And it was such a good visit, aside from the fact that visiting Louisiana in August is like burying your face in the aromatic crotch of Ignatius J. Reilly: oh, sure, it sounds good, but...  But.  Although it was too hot and soupy outside to do much more than wander out, gasp, clutch your faltering heart, and stumble back indoors, we had a wonderful time.  Both kids were aces.  My grandmother's doing well, and loved playing with the boys.  My mother, hey, you know how I feel about seeing her.  We saw my uncles and most of my cousins.  Worth it, of course, as I'd known it would be.

And, damn it, I'm running out of time to write here this morning.  It's killing me because there's more I want to talk about with you.  There's this story about a judge blocking federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.  There's our upcoming home visit — home visit, y'all! — from Charlie's kindergarten teacher, later this afternoon.  There's Alexa's book, which you really, really need to read now if you haven't.

But all I have time to add is my thanks.  I always love hearing your stories, whether about serious stuff like infertility and loss or about more mundane challenges like how to keep from cockpunching a snotty flight attendant or a nasty fellow passenger.  Several of you said you were now afraid to travel after reading everyone's comments, and I agree.  We should be. 

My best advice, after you finish with the practical tips like snacking your kids into a coma and carrying three full outfits for every traveler, plus a waterproof rain suit and a Shop-Vac, is this: stay scared.  Let that fear inform your every action.  Maintain a condition of energizing terror.  That state of catlike tension will tell you to pack way too much, which might be just enough.  It'll propel you through airports as if your Maclaren were an Acme rocket sled.  It'll let you make that Elmo finger puppet dance, you whoreson, dance, for the whole interminable flight.  Then, if it turns out to be...not that awful..., as my trip did, you will feel lightheaded with relief.  And maybe gratitude, too, since you've seen how bad it can be.

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