A Short Piece on Long Flights with Small Creatures

It is futile and petty to complain about flying across the country with your 16-month old child because there are much worse things and there are much longer flights and bumpier flights and scarier flights and more delayed flights. And we were so lucky to get to lift off out of this crushing city and cozy up together in an air-conditioned hotel room and, later, in the airy apartment of our long-unvisited friends. We were lucky to have traveled safely, we were lucky to have traveled at all! I’m saying these things not to turn this into a public gratitude journal, but to cushion my forthcoming selfish sentiment: flying with a child who cannot hold an iPad is like sitting in a pit filled with garter snakes. There is no danger. But it is not ideal. It is unideal. Imagine a pit filled with garter snakes. Imagine sitting in that pit — not standing, but sitting. For five and a half hours.

My son is not a garter snake.

He’s much larger than a garter snake and more averse to heat, which makes flying with him slightly more fun and also more tiring. He is constantly trying to get away from me and, at the same time, to be held and comforted and entertained by me. I feel the same about him, on planes and off. The only reason Snakes on a Plane wasn’t Babies on a Plane is because the truth is much scarier, or at least irritating, than fiction.

Flying with a kid is like any other parenting requirement. Everybody has opinions on how to do it properly and none of them will work for your kid or you except one time but that will be a TOTAL FLUKE and it will never work again, which you will shake your head about despondently at Hour 2 of your long flight, grumbling to your husband, “See? Nobody knows! There is no road map. Where are the wipes?”

But flying on a plane with a toddler has to be a metaphor for the stifling elements of motherhood. It HAS to be! Because if it’s not, it is simply a rough time without purpose beyond fast passage. And I want everything to mean something. I want the bad parts of life and of parenting to serve some greater or deeper or at least more hilarious purpose. But what if they don’t? What if they are just among the expected discomforts of the world when you are responsible for a very young person? What if things like these sanity-jostling little episodes of endurance can only ever be appreciated later, when you’re on the ground, when you and your child are free, someplace new or someplace familiar?

Because really, maybe it is neither the plane nor the toddler that is prompting you to wonder why you ever dreaded flying before becoming a parent, when the cabin was your oyster and you could pee and zone the fuck out and lift and drop your tray ANYTIME you wanted; the enemy is your own limited mind. You think you are stuck. But it is only your legs and your bladder and your arms and your hair and your shoulders and your feet that are stuck. Your brain, it can go anywhere, do anything, evacuate the premises entirely. This is true in a deep, spiritual sense, but also, I am joking. EVEN YOUR BRAIN IS NOT FREE. See THIS POST.

The past couple days, I’ve been less anxious than I was when I wrote THIS and I don’t know why, because I am still tired, still not taking care of myself in all the ways I want to. But things feel less hard. I feel less overwhelmed. I am tempted to try to make sense of that, to link it to weaning (which continues) or to the ever-changing hormones in my postpartum brain and body or to working out or not working out or eating some kind of cereal for breakfast or SOMETHING, ANYTHING tangible. But I am not going to do that. Anxiety, my anxiety at least, seems to thrive on creating exhausting logic loops and on employing my brain in their pointless service. I am going to accept the quietness of right now, of my own mind. I am so lucky to be able to even be writing this. So much dumb luck has been afforded me, and for no good reason. I’m lucky to be laughing at my  son making fart noises with his mouth and writing all these small things down here and staring into my husband’s eyes and when he asks, “What’re you thinking about?” replying nothing more complicated than “your face” or “I have no idea” and meaning it.

What if the good parts and bad parts of flying and not-flying don’t serve some greater purpose? What if the good parts and bad parts of parenting don’t exist in service to the karmic balance of the universe or our reasons for being here? What if there is nothing to flying and living and being a mother or father except the tricky and complicated, heart-opening, ever-changing way we feel about it? What if that’s it? What if feelings are big, but we are small and we are sometimes OK, even in a narrow cabin, with all these snakes at our side?