One time, back in those halcyon days of flying alone on planes, I was seated in a middle seat next to a woman with a screaming baby. She was alone, sitting in the aisle seat and struggling to calm her baby. As he wailed miserably, people all around were emitting audible puffs of disappointment and impatience. There was much eye rolling and why-me sighing. Our fellow back-of-the-planers were ringing their little flight attendant buttons and pleading to change seats, all right in front of this poor woman with the howling infant.
I was doing my usual thing, which is to say I was reading a book and pretending not to be there. I don't normally speak to people on planes. I'm not good with strangers and I generally don't like to get involved. So, although I wasn't requesting a seat change or rolling my eyes like some entitled jerk, neither was I offering much in the way of a sympathetic ear.
Once we all got settled and buckled in, the dreaded delay announcement came from the pilot, and on top of the infant howling and the adult moaning, there was a collective why-does-this-always-happen-to-me exhale. The baby took it up a notch, as if the plane delay were just what he needed on top of the day he was having. It was all quite highly agitated in our little aluminum tube.
This was when the guy sitting in front of me with all the hair gel turned around, removed an earbud, and asked the mom if there was anything she could do to quiet the baby, as if maybe she were napping and enjoying an in-flight movie while her child screamed away in a concerted effort to interfere with his Green Day album.
The whole thing was just too depressing for words and I plummeted into one of those the-world-is-such-a-shitty-cruel-place kind of funks at which I excel. I didn't like the sound of the baby crying any more than anyone else, but, hey, there are babies in the world. That's why there are also earplugs in the world.
At the height of all the depressing social shunning of the mother and her baby, a woman approached from a few seats back, leaned over and wordlessly took the screaming baby in her arms, held him over her shoulder, and walked him up and down the aisle until he stopped screaming. The mother watched in awe. It was if harps started playing and fairy dust rained down upon us all.
At the risk of sounding a little like one of those mysterious Foundation for a Better Life ads, I am convinced this angel in a tight perm and elastic waist jeans descended to Earth to show us all how easy it is to make things better. All you have to do is help out a little.
Which is more than I can say for the old lady who descended during one of my more stressful parenting moments.
It was pouring outside and in an effort to allow my kids to blow off a little steam, I took them to the mall, where everyone in San Francisco had had the exact same idea. The place was thronged with people in dripping boots and damp jackets. And, lucky for me, my kids had recently decided it was positively hilarious to run away from me in two different directions.
I was at the very end of my already frayed rope, physically holding down Oliver as I strapped him into the stroller (aka child containment device) while I begged Maggie to stop and watched while she disappeared into a forest of legs. I was sweating so hard I could feel droplets running down my sides and into the waist of my jeans. The only reason I was not crying was fear of public shaming.
It was at this moment that a smiling old woman in bright pink lipstick touched my shoulder to get my attention. I looked into her face, expecting a word of encouragement or an empathetic story about surviving motherhood. Instead she pursed her lips and said, "Dear, everyone can see your butt crack when you bend over like that."