Passengers in Zone 4, Please Board While Doing the Charleston

My mother called the other day. We no longer live in the same house, or even the same time zone, but we talk several times a week. “I have to tell you about the dream I had,” she says.

Now, when most people start a conversation that way, you check your pockets for a cyanide tablet. When Mom starts a conversation that way, you clamp the phone tighter between your shoulder and your ear and wish you weren’t also helping someone use the potty, so you could give her your full attention.

“Do you have time?” she asks.

“Yes,” I fib.

She began. “We were standing side-by-side, about to get onto the plane, because everyone had to board two-by-two, and everyone had to do something different as they boarded. The stewardesses ahead of us had their blouses all bunched into their skirts, for whatever they were doing, and when it came our turn, we had to do the Charleston. Side by side. As we boarded the plane. I remember my main worry was that I was going to lose my purse off my shoulder, because we had to swing our arms, and so I put it over my head, too, you know, around my neck AND my arm. And I remember thinking, thank goodness we don’t have the boys, too. I mean, with your hands on your knees, and the kicking….”

“Don’t tell the TSA,” I warn her. “They just haven’t thought of it yet.”

She had subconsciously regenerated my experience of flying a month ago from Idaho to Arizona, accompanied only by a twenty-two month-old, a thirty-eight month-old, an antique, diabetic carry-on cat, and a stroller provided by my mother, that hadn’t been in service since it had carried my younger brother’s diapered ass in 1971. Diabetes of course means that a lot of peeing can be expected. A collapsible metal stroller thirty-five years old means that, in spite of extensive testing in the garage, where it actually seemed cool, it might collapse with your twenty-two month-old in it, in front of a long line of strangers at the security gate. Whoops.

I have flown fourteen times since Mbot was born: twice with him alone, twice with him and Gbot at T minus two months (literally under my belt. This would be a good time to emphasize not to wear a belt when traveling with small children. Because who will keep them from disappearing while you’re struggling to remove it, and then to put it back on, and in the interim, who will hold your pants up, while your hands are otherwise occupied with mutinous midgets? But then there was that time when it came in handy as a leash.)

I have flown alone with both of them six times. TSA and I have gotten to know each other well. Our most intimate moments occur in that high-stress zone immediately beyond the security gate, where I unscrew bottles of breast milk for them to hold scraps of paper over to ensure that one bottle isn’t nitrogen tetroxide and the other monomethyl hydrazine, while replacing the laptop and re-constructing the stroller and shoving three boarding passes and the cell phone back into my bra (see The Girl Pocket) and replacing the shoes of a toddler and an infant while holding their hands.

I also enjoy the part where you are removing  not only your own shoes but the monster slippers of the two-year old and the dragon slippers of the one-year old, while the single woman behind you with the briefcase and headset tightens her lips impatiently. Am I really misinformed here, or was Al Queda and the Taliban known for its recruitment and inclusion of women? Especially middle-aged white women lugging teddy bears?

I have a list over thirty items long of how to make it through security with infants, toddlers, strollers, and hormonal imbalance, but, having recently flown, I don’t have the energy to write it down.

The only good thing about traveling with small children is that you eventually get where you are going, and you do not have to spend fourteen hours wishing you had a glass divider between the front seats and the back. The only other good thing is that strangers, reminded of how grateful they are not to be you, often offer to help. They carry bags. They attempt to re-construct the stroller. Except when it was built before the first Arab oil embargo and collapses with your child in it. Then they cease making eye contact, no doubt fearing potential liability and also suspecting that you are actually, really, in fact, insane. I pushed over the boundary last time around, with the stroller and the cat. Don’t do. it. I repeat: Do not do it.

Eight hundred words and I haven’t even gotten around to describing the joys of being on board. Even with midgets who are generally quite well-behaved. Even with bags of Goldfish and raisins. Even with two portable DVD players and two magnadoodles and pipe cleaners and crayons and Play Doh and Woody and Buzz Lightyear.

It’s not really flying. It’s falling, with style.

Or without.

Does the end justify the means?

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