***July 4th, departing Asia for our summer trip to America***
With a backpack and diaper bag pulling at my shoulders, I heave my youngest child onto my hip, kick the stroller to fold it up against the sky bridge wall, take my older child’s hand, and enter the airplane.
Passing through premium class I note the looks of fear my family group inspires on the faces of the single business travelers and read their minds: “Does the little one look like a screamer?” “Please do not let that woman sit near me.” “They shouldn’t allow children under five on long haul flights.”
They needn’t fear, as my three seats–booked at the last-minute after crawling for several weeks through the company’s bureaucratic travel approval process–are well in the rear of the plane, straddling the aisle and near the lavatory.
As I enter the economy class cabin, the very tanned steward looks me up and down and without lifting a finger says, “you’ll have to move that bag”–he motions toward the ugly brown diaper back with pink edging I’d bought on a whim–“around to your front.”
Still holding my youngest in one arm and tapping the older one’s back to keep her moving forward, I glare at the tanned steward, shove the brown bag under my child’s leg, and proceed down the aisle.
“You’ll have to move it further around as you may hit the seated passengers…” he calls after me. Since this is already my second long flight of the day, I snap back with a fake cheery, “ok!,” though I am already several rows beyond him, scraping past bulky arms.
I still have a nine-hour flight to go before gathering up my mountain of bags and pushing them, two car seats, a stroller and two weary children through U.S. Customs and Immigration. Frankly I don’t give a damn about the elbows of the tour group on their way back from visiting “Red” China: “I thought there’d be more bicycles.” “How can anyone live in that air?” “At least we know the airplane meal won’t be dog! Har, har!”
***4.5 Hours Later***
I glance across the aisle at my older child who is sleeping with her legs dangling off the seat, back arched at an inhuman angle, face pointed upward, and mouth gaping open. My youngest child has finally fallen asleep using my body as a bed. He lets out a small whimpering whine every time I shift in my seat, threatening to awaken.
Regretting my earlier decision to drink that bottle of water before boarding the plane, I ignore the increasing sense of pressure in my bladder and turn my attention to silently viewing “Casablanca” on the seat back TV of a passenger several rows up. I watch Ingrid Bergman’s dewy eyes and the dark shadows crossing the faces of the patrons in Rick’s Café Américain, and finally drift off to sleep dreaming of expat glamour.