29 November 2007

This Bathroom is Small

“This airplane is going to take off, and fly, and then we’ll see Papai!”

When you stop in Chicago, there are seven hours of flying time between Baltimore and Oakland. Seasoned adult travelers start to whine after the third hour of a lit seat belt sign. But it wasn’t so bad making the return without Augusto. Both kids slept for the first leg, we jumped in the galley during the stop, and we got creative for the final 5-hour haul. Videos, books, stacking snack boxes, passenger peek-a-boo. I briefly handed Otto over to Joe, an empathetic grandmother from the Sierra foothills who was willing to let him pull on her necklaces and jump on her lap.

The first time I flew with Stella, we were on our own. In a teary segment of the flight, an Asian woman reached out her arms, offering to walk 8-week-old Stella for a spell. I was a new mother facing a non-English speaking stranger at 30 thousand feet. I rejected her offer and managed alone. Months later I realized my missed opportunity. In Kenya, where I studied for a semester, people with seats on buses- white strangers included- are expected to hold a package or a child for standing passengers. This transfer happens without comment. The more responsibility I acquire- children, pets, increased work hours- the more I understand why it takes a village to raise a child. In our urban far-from-family world this means letting strangers open doors, carry groceries, or distract a toddler having a tantrum. It means accepting offers from neighbors who want to baby sit, and exchanging childcare with other families. And I also think it includes letting a complete stranger hold your baby when your arms are full.

So our flight was helped by Joe, the flight attendants who didn’t scold us when we just had to get up (despite the illuminated seat belt sign), the peek-a-boo passengers in seats 10 E and F, and by comic relief, of course.

“This bathroom is small.”

This understatement from Stella when the three of us entered the head. We all could stand in the triangular space between the toilet, counter and door, but we completely filled it. There was no pull down changing table, so I changed Otto’s poopy diaper with my butt on Stella’s head, sandwiched the kids between my knees when I sat to pee (and Otto toilet-papered the floor), and put Otto on my hip while Stella stood on the toilet to wash her hands.

“My pants are still down, Mama.”

It was hard to keep it all straight. But I must admit I felt a thrill when we exited, triumphant and surprising, like clowns from a car.

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