Perspective From Two Hours On A Flight Next To A Hungry, Tired Toddler

This was once my reality

Sitting in the small airplane, four seats wide, sharing the row with a young mother of three with a screaming toddler on her lap. Toddler is tossing everything she is handed onto the floor.

“It’s been a while since I had littles,” I tell her with as much patience and understanding and motherly wisdom as I can muster, “but I remember those days well. No worries.”

Her four year old son sitting behind me kicks my seat the entire flight, stopping only to push both feet long and slow into my lower back. Six year old daughter next to him bugging him for the iPad. The mom next to me looks exhausted and, boy, do I get it. Her toddler thrashes in her arms, grabs my hair and pulls. The mom is mortified and apologizes, and I nod with understanding. It’s been seventeen years since I last held a wailing toddler on a flight, but that experience never leaves you. The muscle memory of the anxiety and embarrassment remains fresh.

The toddler in her lap, likely desperately tired and frustrated, begins howling with increasing ferocity. The mom hands her off to her husband who is sitting next to their oldest daughter across the aisle from the young ones behind me. As her daughter thrashes like a shark in shallow water, the mom shrinks, puts her head in her hands, and shakes it slowly back and forth. I know she is counting the seconds until her tiny creation at last succumbs to the sleep she needs.

As she is doing this, I look out my window-seat rectangle with its rounded corners. I am grateful to be wearing a mask as the silent tears slip behind the fiber filter on my face. You see, I said goodbye again to my almost 21 year old this morning after I passed him the four bottles of wine we couldn’t fit into our checked luggage. And I’m heading home to my high school senior who will be moving away in four month’s time. The ache this mom is feeling as she wishes the time on this two-and-a-half hour journey would pass more quickly is a similar ache I am feeling as I wish these last few months would pass more slowly.

I would never tell her these things, as she will be in my shoes far sooner than she can fathom. She will discover in her own time the way childhood speeds up as it approaches puberty and adulthood. What starts as seconds moving as sand grains, imperceptibly draining through the narrow tube in an hourglass ends as deluge of sand dumped from a toddler’s beach pail. And this mom will learn, as I did, that those prayers for time to speed up aren’t selective. Time doesn’t speed for the rough moments without also speeding for the good moments. Time is brutal that way. Lucky parents will learn this the hard way, seeing their children mature in the blink of an eye and move on. We’re the fortunate ones, the ones who get to see their children reach adulthood. Many parents don’t have that same good fortune.

This is my reality now

For now, I say a silent prayer for this mom in opposition to her prayer to speed time up. I pray that she will embrace all the moments with some quiet, inexplicable gratitude for what they are because she will be like me sooner than she knows, with greying hair and reading glasses, hugging her adult son and handing him wine bottles. She will be both excited to get home to her high school senior and afraid to get there because she knows there are 46 days until graduation.

Parenting is the greatest purveyor of perspective I’ve found. It simultaneously breaks me and saves me over and over again.

The Delayed Spontaneity of Adulthood

Now that's a winter wonderland!
Now that’s a winter wonderland!

So, on Friday morning we were just lounging around home, accomplishing nothing. With all the gift buying and wrapping, card writing and sending, cleaning, and cooking in preparation of the holidays completed, we were firmly rooted in a state of vegetation. Sitting on the bed, staring out the window, it occurred to me that for the first time in weeks we had no plans. Not one thing needed to be accomplished. No errands to run. The house was clean. The laundry was washed, folded, ironed, and put away. For giggles, I checked the calendar on my iPhone. For the next three days, there was nothing on the calendar but a dinner reservation we could easily cancel. A brilliant plan hatched in my brain. Our mountain house was vacant. When it’s cold and snowy and there’s nothing pressing, the best place in the world to be is on our couch in Steamboat, watching the snow fall and hanging out with our boys. We needed to get there. Stat!

Thinking this was such an incredibly genius plan, I sprung the idea on my husband.

“So, what are we doing today?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he replied. “Just hanging out.”

“Well, we could go to Steamboat,” I suggested. “We’ve got nothing going on for the next three days and it’s empty. If we’re going to hang out, we could do it there.”

“But what about our dinner reservations for Linger tonight? I was kind of looking forward to that.”

“They’re reservations. We can get in another time,” I said.

“It took us a long time to get a reservation there,” he replied.

“I know. But, we can find another reservation.”

“I don’t know,” he hedged.

I am not proud, but at this point I began pouting. I love a spontaneous trip..a change of plans…a shift in scenery at the last minute. The boys would be home with me for Christmas Break for the next two weeks. I felt I’d already seen enough of the inside of our house. I wanted out. My husband, on the other hand, doesn’t have the opportunity I have to lounge at home. For him, a few unscheduled, unstructured days at home sounds like heaven. He saw me pouting and took the bait.

“It’s just a lot of work to get out of here,” he said. “We have to pack everything up. I need to get a haircut. I don’t feel like spending three hours in the car.”

I continued pouting. It was obvious we were at an impasse.

“There’s nothing left to do,” I said. “We’re all ready for Christmas. We haven’t been to Steamboat since July. The place is open. We have three free days. We could head up there and spend some time relaxing before three full days with our families,” I tried again.

“Maybe we could find some fun things to do around town and do those instead?” he suggested.

“Like what?” I inquired in my best you-have-no-idea-what-you’re-talking-about tone.

“I don’t know. We could do some research.”

“Go get your haircut,” I said, clearly annoyed.

“We can talk about it,” he said. “I mean, I guess we could go. You’re right. There’s nothing stopping us.”

“But, you don’t want to go. And, now I know you don’t want to go. So, if we go then I will know the entire time you’d rather be doing something else and that kind of ruins it for me.” After a long pause, I said, “We don’t ever do anything spontaneous anymore.”

“Yes, we do,” he said.

“Deciding on take out Thai food instead of cooking is not the kind of spontaneity to which I am referring,” I said plainly.

“It’s harder to be more spontaneous when you have kids,” he replied. I cannot argue with this. It is a fact. A sad fact, but a fact nonetheless.

“Well, we’ll talk about it after your haircut,” I sighed. “Whatever we do today it can’t happen until after you get that taken care of, anyway, so go.”

I sent him on his merry way. While he was gone, I did a little prep work. I knew he would come around to the idea of a quick getaway once he had some time to get used to the idea. I packed up our winter gear. I gathered up holiday movies, our Christmas stockings and their stuffers, and prepped the boys on what they would need to pack. When he got home and realized how quickly we could depart, he just might give in.

When he got home, his attitude had been adjusted as I suspected it might be. We quickly tossed a change of clothes into a duffel bag, grabbed some food for the dog and a couple groceries from the kitchen, and hopped in the car. Three and a half hours later, after a stop for gas and the required latte bribe, we were in Steamboat. It’s not that we’re not spontaneous anymore. It’s just that spontaneity requires a bit of lead time when you have responsibilities. First you have to throw off your natural inclination to size up the amount of work the spontaneity requires. Then you have to let go previously visualized plans, no matter how loose and open they were. Then you have to be willing to give yourself over to the moment. If you can break through those three obstacles, adult spontaneity is entirely possible. A bit delayed, perhaps, but still possible.