Scenes from a journey

It’s mid-afternoon, but the airport is nearly empty.  There is no one behind me to wait impatiently while I unload shoes, laptop, liquids into the security bins.

“Do you have a laptop?”

It takes me a moment to realize that she’s talking to me, but then, who else would she be talking to?

“Yes, I do.”

“You need to take it out of your bag and put it in a bin.”

I respond by lifting my silver laptop out of its bin on the table, wordlessly demonstrating that I am aware of this regulation.  It seems an oddly accusatory instruction, given that I am still in the process of taking things out of my bag.

My belongings slide slowly through the X-rays.  The agent running the machine stops the belt, leans in, and lifts with one finger the strap of my Medela Pump-In-Style Advanced.

“What is this?” she asks.

“Breast pump,” I answer, a touch too loudly, overcompensating for my nervousness by a fraction of a tone.

She says nothing, but replaces the squat black cube in its bin and restarts the conveyor.  I half-expect another agent to materialize and swab the thing for explosives.  None do, but with the rush of adrenaline, I forget to pick up my pocket lip balm and spend the next thirty minutes trying to reassure myself that I didn’t forget anything else.

The airport remains eerily uncrowded.  I scan for a family or single-stall bathroom—there are none.  I scout out the ladies’ room—are there any outlets in the stalls?  How is this supposed to work, exactly?  I opt to stand at the far end of the counter, pumping apparatus modestly hidden under a nursing cover.

The pump is loud in the quiet room.

The janitor enters, a pleasant-looking woman.  She waves away my attempts to shift position and systemically wipes down the sinks, changes the trash, flushes the toilets.  It is only as she is leaving that I realize that she had blocked the bathroom entrance when she arrived.  I am grateful for this small kindness.

I buy myself a novel in the airport shop.  I cannot remember the last time I did this.  Usually I stare interestedly at the books on display, telling myself that they’ll be much cheaper on Amazon—except I never get around to purchasing them on Amazon.  And usually, I’ve brought a book from home.  But my book at home right now is a hardback copy of the eighth Outlander novel and my backpack has no space for that monstrosity, so I treat myself to a paperback of Gone Girl.

Three separate strangers on two separate flights comment to me that Gone Girl is a great book and I’m going to love it.

They keep announcing that the flight is completely full (“there is no remaining space in the overhead compartments”), but the seat next to me is still unoccupied.  Finally, a woman staggers down the aisle, led by a flight attendant, whose directions indicate that the woman had somehow lost herself on the way to seat 12B.

She seems to recognize the guy across the aisle from me, a man who could only be described as a “bro.”  Then she turns to me.

“Would you move to the middle seat?”

That’s it.  No “would you mind moving?”, no “I would really appreciate being able to sit next to my friend,” not even a “I met this guy in the airport bar and want to keep flirting.”  Just “would you move.”

I stutter, but can’t think of a way to say no without becoming the jerk in the interaction.  I’m also getting a strong feeling that she would just talk over me, if I were to remain seated in her way.  So I move.

She sprints to the bathroom the minute we’re in the air, heedless of the flight attendant’s chastisement and the “please remain in your seats” announcement that follows.  Later, she cheerfully declines to get out of the way for me, forcing me to awkwardly climb over her knees to exit the row.

She and the bro exchange phone numbers—and names.  They spend the ninety-minute flight flirting in the most blatantly obvious of ways.  They trade headphones to listen to each other’s music.  Sometimes they don’t bother with the headphones, choosing instead to share their music with the whole plane.

I try to drown out their conversation with my own headphones, with limited success.  They have jobs: she’s a mechanic, he’s a civil engineer.  She might have a kid.  They both buy alcoholic beverages from the flight attendant and toast something across the aisle.

It’s not that the instructions from Google Maps are wrong, it’s just that they appear to be filled with a number of extraneous side roads.  In the dark, I don’t care that going from road A to road B via roads C, D, and E shaves off half a mile when roads A and B do in fact connect directly.

Somewhere around road Q, I give up on the map completely and opt for the “I think this is the right direction” approach.  For several minutes, I drive alone in the dark countryside.

Fortunately, I’m right, and a few minutes later I pop out on a major throughway.

My mother has stayed up to let me in, as I knew she would.  I tell her that she’s free to sleep now, that I can take care of food and dishes and bedding myself, but she doesn’t.  We sit at the kitchen counter and I eat and she talks, and I wish I could take some of the sadness away from her.  She misses him—her father, my grandfather.

I miss him too.

Jumbled bits and pieces

Today has been a struggle to pull my mind back together after a family vacation (pros: family, lack of work; cons: four days in the car with a ten-month-old).  I forgot to put on makeup this morning, for goodness’ sake.  So for tonight’s post, enjoy a sampling of the things that have been bouncing around my brain.

  • The house was not invaded by insects while we were away.  I am relieved.
  • Obnoxious ex-advisor continues to be obnoxious, now with more unprompted and condescending reprimands about how the culture of our field operates.  If it weren’t so aggravating, it would be hilarious: 90% of the times she’s done this, she’s been wrong.  (The other 10% of the time, she gets it right — but she misses that I was already well aware of cultural conventions and chose to work around them for a very deliberate reason.)
  • The long days in the car with a ten-month-old were exhausting, but they weren’t really that bad.  As on our first, shorter road trip, Little Boy generally napped well, ate well, and handled the new places and people with aplomb.
  • Rest areas without changing tables make me grumpy.  Really, I’d like to see changing tables everywhere, but a facility that is built specifically for highway travelers to use the bathroom doesn’t have any good excuse to leave them out.
  • I’ve been strongly tempted to join the Dark Side open a Twitter account under my blog name, even though that I’ve rolled my eyes at Twitter for years and am a huge Luddite with a flip phone.  I am currently stymied by the need to come up with The Perfect Profile Picture.
  • Despite arriving to pick Little Boy up from daycare at 5:15 p.m., we’re consistently some of the last parents in his age group to do so.  This doesn’t bother me, but I do find it rather odd.  Where do these other parents work?

Have a random thought to share?  Leave it in the comments below.

An odd source of comfort

Well I’m on the Downeaster ‘Alexa,’
And I’m cruising through Block Island Sound,
I have charted a course to the Vineyard,
But tonight I am Nantucket bound.

– opening verse of Billy Joel’s “The Downeaster ‘Alexa’

My mind is pleased by songs with a strong tune and singable lyrics, especially if those lyrics tell a good story.  It’s the reason I’m drawn to country music, as well as to classic rock and pre-Auto-Tune pop.  Not all of Billy Joel‘s songs are sufficiently melodic for my taste, but those that are have stuck with me throughout my life.

Like many people who can tell you when they first heard a particular song, I have stories for most of my favorite Billy Joel tracks.  When I was a kid, my dad often put on “No Man’s Land” (which is a great piece of commentary on suburbia – “No major industry, just miles and miles of parking space”) while washing dishes after dinner.  I listened to “Shades of Grey” on an early iPod under an old green comforter at Girl Scout camp, and its message of the increasingly blurred lines between right and wrong was perfect for a teenager learning to navigate an imperfect world.

But if I had to pick one Billy Joel song that means the most to me, it’d be “The Downeaster ‘Alexa'”.  There is no good reason why I should feel a connection with this song.  Like the perhaps better-known “Allentown,” it’s a story about the plight of the American working class, in this case fishermen off the coast of New England.  It has literally nothing to do with my life, and it’s a pretty depressing theme when you think about it.  To me, though, it’s a source of calm and strength.

The first time I really paid attention to this song was the summer I was 19.  It was my first solo road trip, down highways with patchy radio reception and an actual rest area exit named Bad Route Road.  I’d brought along my new copy of the album Storm Front, hoping to finally be able to hear all the words to “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”  The resounding chords and generally epic feel of “The Downeaster ‘Alexa'” caught my ear and I began looking forward to it on each round through the CD.

Despite my mother’s fears, no dangerous strangers waylaid me on the road.  I didn’t run out of gas or break down or get lost.  I did, however, get hassled by a Canadian border guard.  Apparently deciding that there was something suspicious about being young and alone and female, he asked for my driver’s license (my passport, which I had ready, was not an acceptable substitute) and my college student ID.  (Note to Canadian officials: no American teenager is going to bother making a fake ID that says she’s 19.)  This was still insufficient evidence that I was safe to cross the international border, so he made me pull over and stand aside while they searched my car.

Eventually, I was allowed to go on, but the incident was tense and humiliating.  I burst into tears as I was driving away.  Of course I had no cell phone reception, so I couldn’t call anyone for reassurance.  Instead, I turned up the stereo to an ear-blasting level and started singing along to Billy Joel with as much force as I could manage.  It helped.

And that’s why my baby is sometimes offered comfort in the form of me wailing, “I know there’s fish out there, but where God only knows……”

Baby’s first road trip

I rather expected that this post about our first vacation with a six-month-old would be a tale of parental woe, filled with humorous yet exasperated anecdotes.  But – and I hesitate to say this for fear of jinxing the return journey – things have gone surprisingly well.

Sure, a drive that took 6 hours in pre-baby days took 8 hours this time.  We were expecting that, and to be honest, half of the extra time was due to the truly ridiculous levels of traffic and was thus completely unrelated to having a baby as a passenger.  And yes, Little Boy did struggle to fall asleep for his final nap, but that was understandable: he was getting a bit overtired in a strange environment, and that nap is always the hardest for him anyway.

For most of the drive, he was practically a model citizen.  He fell asleep for his second nap at the exact minute of naptime.  He entertained himself with car seat toys for much longer than his usual attention span.  He slept all night in an unfamiliar room with barely a peep.  And he has handled the introductions to various relatives with remarkable calm.

Knock on wood.

I did learn a few things that need to be filed away for future reference, namely:

  • One spare outfit in the diaper bag is NOT enough.  We went through four.  Fortunately, his suitcase was easily accessible in the trunk.
  • Baby nails should be trimmed prior to departure.  Little Boy must have somehow known that his destination would involve a lot of picture-taking with cousins and grandparents, because he managed to majorly scratch up his face along the way.

What has your traveling-with-a-baby experience been like?  Any stories filled with fun and/or despair to share?