When the harried young mother boarded the plane with her toddler, I smiled and thought, Just keep walking. But the next minute, as I was knocked in the head by a plastic container of cheerios, I knew the mom was settling in directly behind me. Oh, boy. I braced myself for three hours of whining.
Imagine my delight during takeoff when, instead of the kid crying in fear, he clapped and cheered. The simultaneous sigh of relief by the closest 25 passengers caused enough atmospheric change to make my ears pop. In the next few minutes, as the kid found joy in the tiny cars and buildings below, several of us actually exchanged big grins. One older lady leaned across the aisle and told young mom, on behalf of rows 12-16, that her son was “just precious.”
Twenty minutes later I was settling comfortably into my paperback novel when a piercing squeal of glee yanked me back into my surroundings. “You want Mamma to turn the light off again?” cooed young mother.
Clap, clap, clap.
“See? Light off!”
Well, OK. So the kid was happy with the light. It was still better than crying, right? Right!
“Should Mamma turn the light on again?”
I sighed and opened my novel again, but to no avail. The kid’s continual whoops of glee alerted me to the coming of the snack tray. Of the beverage cart. Of a particularly fluffy cloud. I glanced around at the other passengers. The guy beside me had cranked up his earbuds. The older lady who had pronounced the kid “just precious” was had small lines of stress around her eyes.
“Would you like to watch Elmo on Mommy’s blackberry?”
The decibel level of enthusiasm from our diminutive fellow passenger vaulted me out of my seat so fast that the guy beside me jumped. I had to get away. But where? In an airplane there’s only one place to go. So to speak.
I made my way to the lavatory and believe me when I say it’s the first time I’ve been happy to fold myself into a space that makes my linen closet seem spacious. (Side note: Perhaps we should adopt the European phrase “water closet” in this instance.) I pulled the door closed behind me, shot the lock home, and was immediately immersed in the mechanical growl of the engine—a guttural rumble that drowned out all noise from the cabin.
I availed myself of the facilities. I washed my hands. Doctors recommended singing a song while washing, to make sure the washer is doing a thorough job. I couldn’t remember the song, so I hummed Mozart’s first and second symphonies, just to be safe. I found a comb in my purse and had a go at my hair.
Having exhausted my stalling activities, I bent down to throw away my paper towel and noticed the call button below the sink. All airplane lavatories have these buttons, usually depicting a stick figure’s head and torso. The idea, I suppose, is that in case of emergency, the passenger can call forth a nondescript humanoid with a basic understanding of first aid. But this button went one better: the humanoid was carrying a tumbler. In this airplane, you could call a bartender to the bathroom.
Huh. Good to know.
Making my way back to my seat, I noticed Maniacally Happy Toddler was la-la-ing along with Elmo and the gang. Then I looked at the mom. She was clearly exhausted. Living with this tyke must be akin to being stuck in the heartwarming dénouement of a Gershwin musical. If I had considered ordering an Old Fashioned in an airplane lavatory after only two hours, this woman had to be stationed on the far side of frazzled.
Twenty minutes before we touched down, the kid passed out. As we reached the tarmac, I asked the mom if she needed help getting to her connecting flight. She told me this was her home airport and she had family waiting. She nodded at her sleeping child. “We’ve been traveling for a week,” she whispered with a gravity usually reserved for speaking of natural disasters. “I can’t tell you how glad I am to be home.”
Passengers in rows 12-16 silently agreed.
Angela Dove is an award-winning humor columnist and author of the true crime memoir, No Room for Doubt: A true story of the reverberations of murder (Penguin 2009). She welcomes feedback at www.AngelaDove.com