28 September 2009

very high opera

I flew to New Jersey for my good friends Catherine & Aaron's wedding this weekend. I flew in to New York early, stopped off at a couple recommended coffee places, stayed at a VERY stylie hotel in the very unlikely Upper East Side, took a train to New Jersey, watched a truly beautiful ceremony followed by a wonderful reception (when an architect & a graphic designer get married, no detail is spared attention), hit up several more coffee shops back in New York the next day (more on the coffee stops later), then flew back on a not-quite-red-eye last night.

The flight was supposed to leave at 8:25pm but was delayed, leaving just shy of 11.

The seat I was supposed to take was occupied by one half of a couple not seated together. So I offered to switch. Then I noticed, too late — my new seat had me next to a young mother with a squalling one-year-old baby girl in her arms.

Sequence of thoughts:
· Gonna be a long flight.
· I've slept through a bachelor party raging outside my bedroom door ... I can do this.
· Whoah — this kid has some lungs. Operatic, if it were a toneless, discordant, expression-of-basest-needs kind of opera.
· Why can't this mother calm her child? Oh, right ... because you can't explain to a one-year-old that the change in air pressure is what's causing the weird feeling in her inner ear, which is INSIDE OF HER HEAD, & that the floor churning like that is totally expected & normal & actually kind of funny when you look at all the people lurching down the aisles on the way to the bathroom. The little girl hasn't figured out language yet. It's also probably the first time this has happened to her.
· Why did the mother even BRING such a young child, then? Oh, RIGHT. Because not everyone has local relatives (as I did growing up) or the means to hire someone (as my parents didn't) to watch squalling one-year-olds for weekends. And because it takes a while to teach kids to understand language & to speak it — years, in fact. So if she doesn't have anyone to watch her kid, then she can't go. Confining a new mom to her home FOR YEARS is a surefire way to make said mom one batshit crazy-face emmer effer, which is, like, bad for society. Making mothers crazy makes children crazy, & everyone was a child once.
· Teaching people to be okay with crying babies makes us better people. Babies cry. Everybody, let's toughen up.

If anyone else on that flight was going through the same thought sequence, they didn't get to these last couple points. There were a lot of passive-aggressive stage whispers, disapproving tut-tuts, & throwing of daggers from eyes. (I was guilty of the eye-daggers at first, I admit.) OK, yeah, it was annoying, but who has ever been a squalling one-year-old? Every damned one of us. You were probably a freaking terror every once in a while. It's not a matter of not being able to control your kid (at age one ... hah!); it's not a matter of whether the mom should be allowed out (like I said ... for several years? Cruel & unusual). Kids. They freak out. It's what they do.

So I turned to the mom & asked her how she was doing. And meant it. It led to a bona fide conversation — What were you doing in New York? First time visiting? Where'd y'all go? — you know. Normal conversations you might have with a human being. (Which I almost never do on planes. The potential for your aisle-mate to turn out to be a life coach is too great.) Turns out we both are fans of the same cinema house, & she's hoping to get an advanced degree in film once her little moppet's a little less little.

I hope she does. I think having interests other than every little thing your baby does is healthy & good. And I think it's hard to manage, once you have that squalling one-year-old. It kills me to see people (often but not always women) viewed as this totally other animal once they have children. Mothers & fathers are still people. This one happened to be smart, & funny, & sweet, & very upset that her daughter was causing so much grief to the other passengers. But the dagger eyes & the whispering wasn't helping. Kids pick up on stuff. This one-year-old was sensing her mother's distress, which only amplified her own. Relating to the mother as a human being (instead of instantly categorizing her as "bad mother", or even "good mother" — we don't really have the right to make value judgments on so little information) ... it was clearly a relief, which — surprise, surprise — calmed Skyla down. Empathy. A little bit goes a long way.

Skyla, by the way, is a Hindi name. (Her mom was born in India.) It means "Child of the Heavens." Indeed. Teaching people all kinds of stuff, way up at 30,000 feet. Good work, kid.


nicole said...

dude. this is the insides of your brain in type and i love it. I LOVE THIS.
ps. a baby was really going for it this morning and all i had to say was "hey baby, you're not making a great case for procreation... just sayin'... i won't be running to the prenatal vitamins any time soon..."
this baby had had a whole muffin for breakfast. i think he had the muffin blues.

Anonymous said...

This is great. I love you Katie, I really do. And Skyla - good work.

Deirdre said...

PS That love note is from your sister who can't remember her password and so posted as Anonymous.

Not some creepy stalker.

Anonymous said...

Creepy Stalker said...

I love you, Katie.

Deirdre said...

Creepy Stalker:

Katie's pretty tough. She's bounced people from her bars, lost a toe in car accidents, survived a collapsing building, and those are just the things on public record.

I'm her older, tougher, meaner, mouthy-er, less intelligent sister. And I'm here to tell you the last time she took out a restraining order, it was against Ben Stiller. So really - really - are you ready for this game?

And you know a pilot mini series is being written about her life?

If you must act out, be funny and harmless. Upside is royalties and a cameo. We all want that, right? It's 2009. You could be internet famous.

Down side? We are a very networked family and we know who you are already. Don't waste my time with your shenanigans.

Katie O'Shea said...

Call off the dogs, D, I have a high suspicion Creepy Stalker is probably just one of my highly intelligent yet intensely whimsical friends making a big, funny joke. Right? Ha ha ha! Ha.

Nicole: WHO FEEDS A BABY A WHOLE MUFFIN??! A bad mother, that's who! Hhh.


Deirdre said...

Oh, sorry! I totally assumed the Ben Stiller reference would make it clear I knew CS was a friend and I was kidding too. Also, use of the word "shenanigans".

But then I use shenanigans non-ironically as well. And I feed babies muffins -all the time-.