Friday, August 29, 2014

A Pattern As Old As Human Beings

I don't spend a lot of time with babies these days other than when they are briefly in our classroom with their mothers as they drop their older siblings off at school.

Yesterday, as I waited for a flight at the Melbourne airport, a young mother traveling with an infant set up shop in a nearby collection of seats. She appeared to be otherwise traveling alone. The baby had pulled a striped sock off her foot and was sticking it in her toothless mouth, chomping down, then pulling it out repeatedly, a routine interrupted occasionally when her bare toes caught her attention. Her eyes followed the motion around her, sometimes seeming to focus on things nearby, then far away.

The mother was calm. Maybe she looked a bit tired, but not exhausted. If I had to characterize her demeanor I would say she appeared meditative, although, at the same time instinctively alert, her eyes checking on the baby in a pattern of once every 15 seconds or so between staring blankly into the distance. In this swirling place of actual jet-setters, the two of them occupied a serene bubble, one formed of the love and trust that characterizes this universal mother-child relationship.

After a time, the mother picked up her baby, unconcernedly leaving her bags behind. They returned with food for mom. As she slowly, peacefully ate, carefully chewing, she went back to the rhythm of before, sitting quietly with her baby, her eyes moving from her food to her baby in a pattern as old as human beings.

Later, I boarded my plane to find myself surrounded by babies traveling on their mother's laps: one across the aisle, one directly behind, and another a row back. They were all crying, two of them fiercely. The girl behind me kicked my seat in a fury. The girl across the aisle from me wanted to stand, not tethered to her mother's lap by the special infant seatbelt the airline had provided, shout-crying in bursts of rage. The boy an aisle back whined, apparently about something he could see out the window.

The middle-aged woman beside me traveling with her girlfriend grumbled to me, "This is going to be a long flight." I pretended that I thought she was addressing her friend, focusing pointedly at my crossword puzzle. She added, nudging me, "Crying babies."

I said, hoping to confuse her, "They are expressing my feelings by proxy." Whatever the case, she gave up on me and turned her attention back to her friend, but what I'd said was true. If there was any way to get away with it, I would have kicked the seat in front of me, stood up, and whined out the window: this is how modern air travel makes all people feel. The babies were just telling it like it is.

None of the parents of these babies made more than a token effort to quiet their children -- it was impossible anyway. Soon the engines were roaring, we were being pressed back into our seats, their little ears were feeling the effects of air pressure changes, and hell yes, they cried, all three of them, almost raging. I felt the fury of those little feet in my lower back.

As we reached our proverbial cruising altitude, they quieted, slipping into their mommy bubbles, nursing, studying the safety procedure cards, and tearing tissue into tiny bits then dropping them on the floor while their mothers sat meditatively, their eyes alternating between their babies and staring blankly into the seat backs in front of them.

There was more unified and unifying crying as we landed. When we stood to retrieve our carry on bags and wait to be released from the cruelty of this flying tin can, I made eye contact with the mother who sat behind me. I said, "Thank you for letting your baby express what I was feeling."

She laughed. She did not say "sorry." Then her little girl smiled at me before burying her face shyly in her mother's shoulder in a pattern as old as human beings.

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1 comment:

Jennifer Santos said...

Absolutely love this. Never thought of babies crying on flights in quite this way. We're on our way to Portugal soon with our little ones, and this definitely helps give the flight a new perspective! Thank you.

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