The hatred is overwhelming. In the past three hours I have moved from mere annoyance to despised miscreant. Like a leper at a society ball, several hundred strangers are now keeping track of every move I make.
Not that I blame them. I am every traveler’s worst nightmare – the keeper of the screaming baby at 30,000 feet. At any moment, the mob mentality might take over and I will be thrown from the plane. I only hope that they offer me a parachute.
Across the aisle, my husband is busily entertaining our active two-year old, leaving me to deal with our little banshee. Flight attendants have offered milk, a smile and kind words. But each time they appear, my baby raises the octave-level again. The people sitting next to me vacated their seats long ago. Anger permeates every inch of the plane.
I take my wailing bundle and walk up the aisle for the hundredth time, garnering furtive looks from fellow passengers.
“Bloody screaming baby,” someone mutters.
“Geez, that kid!” an old man grumbles.
Our trans-Atlantic flight is full of English expats returning home to London. A friend had warned me the British are none too fond of small children. Certainly after three hours of uninterrupted squalling, no one is feeling tender towards me. As the plague-bearer of ear-splitting misery, I am finding the communal dislike overpowering. In a bleak turn of events, I begin disliking everyone for their loathing of me.
I suspect I know what is bothering my child. A mere nine-months old, she often displays an aversion towards strange people and situations. She is fond of rhythm, security, familiarity. I knew moving overseas would be difficult, but I had no idea things could start out this badly.
I try to compartmentalize and take myself someplace else in my mind. Back in my seat, I imagine our final destination. Venice – a murky lagoon, lapping water the only sound beyond a silent sunrise – a shroud of fog gently burning off the water at first light. My enraged infant flops on my chest, blasts directly in my ear, and the silent sunrise vanishes with a wince.
Surely crying so hard for this long must be exhausting. But with no signs of abatement, I am beginning to want to cry myself. I know that despair will get me nowhere, but it seems there’s no place else to go. I silently start praying to God for patience and strength.
“Oh, thar’s that baybee,” a tweed-coated man declares haughtily. He has appeared next to my seat out of nowhere. I bristle, sensing an onslaught of an indignant English attitude about to erupt. My husband, of course, is on a potty run with the two-year old. I am in no mood to deal with this fellow alone.
“So, this is little Miss Lustful Lungs,” he continues, leaning over my seat, talking loudly above the din. “I have to let you know, that it’s music to my ears. I’m so appreciative!” He grins at me like a fool.
Is this British dry humor mocking me? I try to think of a witty response, but any sense of snappy repartee left me hours ago.
“I’m so sorry,” my reply is a gasping apology. “I don’t know what to do. Absolutely nothing will console her.”
“Do nothing, my deary.” He waves a hand as if to perish the thought. “We just adopted a baybee of our own three months ago. I’ve been overseas on business for neerly six weeks. The sound of your littlie is oh, so wonderful to hear.” He puts his hands in his pockets and looks at my child wistfully. “I feel so very close to little Harold – only nine ‘owers away now.”
Is this guy serious? I am unsure how to respond. Something quippy, like “Glad to be of service” or “Happy to help you feel better.”
“I feel so sorry for the other passengers.” I manage to blurt out.
He plops down next to me in the empty seat. “Just reelax and reealise that everyone here is with you, deary.” His voice has become low and reassuring, a calming whisper in my ear. “Lord knows, we’ve all had baybees, we’ve all bin here before. Children are such a gift.” He looks at my child with genuine awe. “Little Miss Lustful Lungs has brought joy to my boring old business trip.”
With his reassurance, I feel my tense shoulders relax and my muscles unwind a notch. My heart rate slows as I take a deep breath. I realize this is the ultimate act of humanity – to approach an overwrought mother with an exasperating baby and actually thank her. I am beyond words.
Suddenly, there is no need for words as a gratifying silence descends. A lull in the storm breaks as my baby nuzzles her head under my chin. I nearly tremble with the possibility of an extended peace. With her ear on the warm heartbeat of my neck, my child falls into a blessed slumber.
The tweed-coated gentleman slowly moves from the seat and mouths the word “Goodbye.” I reply with a silent “Thank you.” Quietude is everywhere.
In any situation, an overwrought mother equals an upset baby. Traveling mothers should strive for calm at all times – easier said than done.