It’s My Baby and I’ll Fly if I Want To

Many years ago, long before parenthood, my husband found himself seated on a plane next to a young mother with a baby. The baby cried the entire flight. My husband tells that story now the same way he told it then,

“At first it was super annoying. I was pissed I was going to have to listen to this kid scream the whole flight, but then I looked at the woman. The entire flight she sat there silently crying while her baby screamed, tears rolling down her cheeks the whole time. So I just put on my headphones and turned my music up. I felt so bad for her.”

If you’ve ever had a baby, you know what that woman was experiencing.

Over the last few years the internet has been filled with stories of families being kicked off of planes for unruly children. A few crazy-ass people even think children shouldn’t be allowed on planes. “If you have little kids you shouldn’t be flying,” they say ignorantly as if that’s a real option for anyone. Others offer that there should be special flights just for families with little kids.

Then there are the stories about the considerate parents who board the plane with goody-bags for their fellow passengers that contain candy, gum, earplugs and an apology in advance in case their baby gets unruly.

With my first kid I sympathized with these parents handing out the goody bags. I thought it was a good idea. I was so nervous to fly with an infant. What if his ears hurt from the pressure and no amount of nursing or gummy snacks help? What if he screams the entire flight? What if he is restless and smacks the head of the person in front of us? What if he takes a giant stinky poop when the seat-belt sign is on and we can’t change him? What if he pulls the cover off while I’m nursing and an uptight flight attendant threatens to kick us off the plane? And on and on . . .

Oz_airport

But now, four years into parenting and multiple flights with kids under my belt, I will tell you this:

People have lost their damn minds.

Children are people and they have every right to be on a plane.

I refuse to apologize for my investment in the continuation of the human race.

Telling people that they shouldn’t be allowed to use the safest and fastest form of travel because they have a child, a little human being that might (just might) annoy someone for a couple hours is completely insane.

For many families, the span of time from the birth of their first child until their youngest is school age, is a decade.

So, you’re saying that these people shouldn’t be allowed to travel for ten years? And by “these people” I mean every human being that has ever reproduced.

On our most recent trip our kids (a preschooler and a toddler) did fantastic. You would have never known they were on the plane. But that didn’t stop people from giving us dirty looks. There were countless business travelers in the airports that sneered at our double stroller.

There was a young man across the aisle that stared daggers at me every time my two-year-old spoke. Not cried, or screamed, but spoke at a normal volume. Apparently her very existence was a personal affront to this man.

Then there was the flight attendant who offered us an entire bottle of water to share and said, “Here, I’m not supposed to give you the whole bottle but I will since your kids are so well behaved.” She handed it over while rolling her eyes at a mother a few rows up with a crying baby. It was a nice gesture but I wish she could have offered that same kindness to the family that really could’ve used it.

I kind of wanted to slap her, and the young guy across the aisle and every smug business traveler with their tiny rolling suitcase.

I wasn’t self conscious this time.

I was pissed off before we even made it onto the plane.

Every time that guy across the aisle looked at my daughter with disgust I looked at him with murder in my eyes. I was more than prepared to tell him what a useless excuse for a human being he really was.

Here’s the thing:

No parent gets onto an airplane unprepared to fly with small kids.

We spend months leading up to the trip with a mild sense of dread. We start packing two weeks before our flight. We go on message boards and talk to friends to get suggestions on “busy bags,” snacks, age appropriate games, and which app will lock the iPad so our toddler won’t have a tantrum when they keep accidentally exiting out of the game. We pack extra clothes and diapers in case of a layover. We even bring a garbage bag and a towel, just in case. We have to figure out how to bring car seats, strollers, Boppy pillows, and porta-cribs.

We’re prepared and we’re terrified of making a scene.

Terrified.

And yet you see us approaching the gate and you sneer. You worry we’ll be seated next to you. You forget you were once a child. You forget that children are people with rights too.

And you seem to forget the most important thing of all. You’re not flying with kids.

So order a stiff drink, put in your headphones, turn up your music. Enjoy your flight.

Because I’m not giving you a fucking goody-bag, but I will choke you out.

Dear Old Friend, Some Things I Want You to Know…

Dear Old Friend,

Our mutual friend, she knows you better than I do. I’ve known you longer, but she knows you better.

I’ve loved you longer.

Although there were years where we didn’t talk, years where we lost each other’s phone numbers, a span of time in which our lives may have been too different to align . . .

I still loved you.

We were little girls together. We got our periods together. We practiced gymnastics routines in my backyard together. We gossiped and fought and got drunk for the first time, together. We refilled the bottles from the liquor cabinet with water so your Mom wouldn’t notice the levels were lower. We went jet skiing and purposely sent some asshole kid out into the water on a ski we knew was broken. We laughed from the shore. We stole hair dye from the grocery store and fried our hair in my bathroom. We got boyfriends. We lost our virginity. We went with each other to Planned Parenthood for birth control. We were smart girls. We were strong. We got in fights with our parents and showed up on each other’s doorsteps crying. We wore matching dresses to homecoming. We sat on the floor of the bathroom together for hours painting our nails, deep conditioning our hair and listening to Da Brat. We got driver’s licenses and drove around downtown smoking weed.

We grew up.

We grew apart.

dear_old_friend

And now you’re about to have your first baby. A baby that for most of your life you were unsure you’d ever have.

We’re talking again. I don’t want you to think it’s only because of the baby.

It is because of you.

I’ve missed you, but I knew up until now you probably couldn’t relate to me. Maybe I’m wrong about that. If so, I’m sorry, I should have been there.

I know how hard this is going to be for you, because it was hard for me. I longed for it, and it was still hard for me. I know the ways in which it will rock you because I knew you as a girl.

I know you, even after all these years. I’m here for you.

You know me too, by the way. In a way no one else ever will. Because at one point in our lives we told each other everything. Everything.

I have been warned not to “scare you,” not to overload you with information. I have anyway, I cannot help it. It’s in my nature to talk too damn much. I have a compulsion to share information. Yes, I know what an annoying personality quality this is. But you already knew that about me, now didn’t you?

I’m sorry if I overwhelmed you, but shit’s about to get overwhelming and I’ll be here.

When we spoke on the phone the other day I told you there was no possible way to prepare for motherhood. I cannot tell you what it will be like. I can only tell you what it was like for me. You probably don’t really care about what happened to me, about my experience. You will have your own. But incase you’re wondering what it felt like, well, this is the only way I know how to explain it:

You will think back to when you didn’t have kids and your brain will insert them into memories. You’ll remember a trip to Mexico and for a split second you’ll think, oh where was he? Then you’ll remember, Oh, he wasn’t born yet. And this concept will seem impossible. The idea of a time and place, a universe in which they didn’t exist. You will feel deeply as if they were always with you. And this will feel spiritual and cyclical in a way that will make you believe in the possibility of fate, reincarnation, God, whatever. You will look at their face and it will seem familiar in a way that transcends place and time.

I look at my children and I see my parents, and grandparents and old worn out black and white photographs of relatives that died long before I arrived. I look at my baby girl frown and I see my husband and I, but I also see the corners of her mouth turned down the exact same way her grandmother looked on her deathbed. I see them all in their faces. As my father once said of my son, “I look at his face and I feel like I’m looking at a face I’ve seen everyday for my entire life.”

I would often rock my son to sleep as a baby and gaze upon his face and have the vivid feeling that my grandmother did this same thing with this same boy. I felt connected in a way that I never thought possible. As my Mother once told me, “Having children will make you understand that you are truly just one link in a very long chain.”

It gave me compassion for my parents and all the mistakes they made just trying to do what was best with the tools their parents had given them. Sometimes they didn’t have the right tools. Sometimes I don’t either. I wept, flooded with a love I now understood they felt for me.

At night I rock a baby girl that looks like me. I put her blonde hair up in pig tails and look in her giant blue eyes and I know how my mother felt about me. Loving my daughter is loving myself, but it is also loving my mother, and her mother.

This is the thing, mothering your babies will drain you of everything. But the love for one’s child is a form of self love. I love them. They are me.

I love me.

I didn’t always love me.

I see so much of me in my babies. I see things in them I used to hate about myself. I realize they were born that way, and I must have been too. I forgive myself my flaws by loving theirs.

I held my infant son and sang “Beautiful Boy” to him with tears streaming down my face. I thought of my aunt (the most loving mother) who lost a son when he was fifteen. I relived his death with my newfound perspective and sobbed in the living room unable to breath as I nursed my own boy.

My heart ripped wide open and there was no putting it back together.

Your heart is going to break my friend, for the most beautiful possible reason.

The World’s a Terrible F@*king Place, and We Have Little Kids

I was having one of those days. Trapped inside the house all week with sick kids. I had a couple phone conversations with a friend that left me feeling raw and self conscious. I was replaying things I said. I was obsessing the way I tend to do, when I have nothing better to do. I was half ignoring my kids while doing laundry and reheating leftovers. I was messaging a friend on Facebook to make sure her family was safe after an attack in her hometown of Beirut. I was thinking about how I really wanted to take a shower. I was missing the point that my kids might be sick, but they were in a safe warm place.

Sometimes we get self-absorbed.

We miss the point.

And then my sister-in-law texts, “I’m so sad about Paris.”

I pull up the news on my phone and can only find snippets of information. A restaurant, a concert hall, men with guns, men with bombs. Sixty dead at the current count.

Damn it! Didn’t this just happen? Yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that? Weren’t we just here?

I have flashbacks of men with guns in fancy hotels and train stations in Mumbai. I remember Charlie Hebdo. I remember bombs in the London Underground. I think of men in my own country wantonly shooting people in movie theaters, shooting bullets into cars driving down the freeway. I see a lifeless baby carried out of a building in downtown Oklahoma City. I remember sarin gas in a Tokyo subway. I remember the morning I awoke in New Jersey with plans to visit friends in NYC that day; the morning of September 11, 2001.

Never made it into the city that day.

I put my kids to bed and I turn on the news. My children have never watched the news. They believe TVs play nothing but Paw Patrol and Curious George. My father comes to visit and asks, “Oh, you guys don’t watch the evening news?”

“No,” my husband says, “because the world’s a terrible fucking place and we have little kids.”

The world’s a terrible fucking place, and we have little kids.

Can you relate?

What’s the worst part of having little kids? Some days I would tell you it’s the drawer filled with plastic drink cups and their multitude of plastic straws and valves that no one seems to be competent at assembling. I could tell you it’s the utter loss of self that comes with motherhood. I could tell you it’s sleep deprivation, or whining, or the God Damn Hot Dog Dance.

But those would all be superficial silly-ass lies to make you laugh, to make you relate, to make you come back and read more of my writing.

The worst part? It’s the harm we do to them simply by creating them. It’s the harm of coming into existence. It’s their extreme angelic innocence, their pure love. Their belief that the world is filled with potential friends and wondrous cultures to explore. Their belief in the kindness of humanity. Their blind trust of adults.

It is sitting front row for the loss of their innocence, that is the worst part.

As a child innocence seemed useless to me. “What can I gain from being ignorant” was my world view. My father did a wonderful job of always being honest with me. During a zoo trip when I was seven the crowd giggled as they watched a male lion pace back and forth, following a little boy in the crowd with a ball. “Oh, he wants to play with the ball,” they laughed. My father leaned over and whispered in my ear, “He doesn’t want to play with the ball. He wants to eat the little boy.”

My parents let us watch the evening news.

As a child I felt at ease with adults. I also knew not to trust them. I knew they were fallible. I remember around age seven, watching the news one night and having to ask the question, “What does ‘molested’ mean?” Another question I asked that year was, “What’s a prostitute.” My parents answered both of these questions honestly. They always answered my questions honestly and I believe those answers kept me safe and prepared me for the adult world in a way many of my peers were not.

But now that I have my own children I only see the harm that comes from that loss of innocence. It’s counterintuitive as hell.

The world I have presented to my children is a very edited one. I know at some point I will have to let them watch the news. I will have to explain that this time the scary thing they’re seeing is not pretend. It is real, and it’s terrifying. At some point I’m going to have to show them the darkness. It was never my intention to shelter my children, but my son is four.

He’s four.

He’s four and he’s lucky enough to have the privilege of being sheltered. Please, please world just let me keep him here a little longer. I don’t know how a mother’s heart can withstand the torture of watching her son become a man. Her daughter, a woman. But I’m sure that pain pales in comparison to not watching them become one at all.

The world’s a terrible fucking place and we have little kids.

This is not a statement for parents. This is a statement for humanity.

FTW