Bless you, intrepid business traveler, for you have been seated next to me on an airplane. I'm traveling alone with at least one of my three children. Again.
That suit looks clean. And expensive. And you have a lovely leather bag full of electronics that you'd like to store under the seat in front of you. Well, I've got a bag of crumbly saltine crackers and other assorted snacks, which will likely end up on some part of your person before liftoff.
My daughter wants your headphones, my son wants to show you his boogers, they've both started crying because I only own one iPad. The Cheerios are all gone before we've even been given clearance to approach the runway, and you can tell by my bedraggled look that I'm not going to do anything about it.
What's a weary traveler to do when seated next to a mother traveling alone with small children? Close your eyes and pretend to sleep?
If you're on one of those flights with assigned seating, just be a magnanimous traveler and offer to move. Trust me, a stewardess will be more than happy to assist you in your chivalry. On a recent leg from Denver to Nashville, the gentleman sitting next to my little monsters found himself upgraded to first class for offering to switch into the middle seat across the aisle so that "this tired mom could have some space to herself." Nice one, mister. We thank you.
On the other hand, if it's in your nature, help us out. Being a solo-traveling mother is tough work — add early flights, long layovers, tiny aisles, epic struggles with overhead luggage, and the obscene cost of a juice box in a grab-and-go refrigerated case, and you have one weary mama on your hands. Go on, be a champ. Play peekaboo with my daughter. Despite the snot crusted on her forehead, she really is an adorable little thing. Those hours will fly by if we're all singing "The Wheels on the Bus" together.
Last week, an Earth Angel named Carla had the unfortunate luck of snagging the very last seat — next to my incorrigible 4-year-old — on a Southwest flight from Nashville to Los Angeles. He talked her ear off about pillow thieves and why sharks are superior to whales and how the hippocampus is the "little yellow part in your brain that helps you remember stuff" and not an animal in the zoo. I think she learned something, maybe, and she was certainly entertained by his antics.
Your other option is to ignore us. Try to read a book, put on your $500 noise-canceling headphones, or whip out your laptop to work on those spreadsheets you've been avoiding, and you'll see how adorable toddlers are when confronted with novel objects in their personal space. Yes, anything within arm's reach is their personal space. Hope you've already read pages 172 and 173 in The Alchemist, because my son has turned that exciting plot twist into a paper airplane. Children are hard to wrangle, and I can't guarantee the safety of your valuables if you insist on pretending my kids are invisible.
Look — let's not pretend that under any other circumstances you would ever choose to sit on the equivalent of a loveseat with a stranger and her wild, sticky, crusty children for hours on end. Imagine that airplane row out of context, anywhere else in the world — at a park, in a movie theater, in the waiting room at your doctor's office — and you would not sit next to me. I know it, and you know it.
So, do us all a favor and at least acknowledge that we're both in a shitty situation, jammed into a flying tin can with all sorts of airborne diseases and crimes against our personal dignity. Let's band together like soldiers in the trenches and talk about what we're going to do when we get out of this hellhole. Let's ignore my son's farts ... and his announcement of them.
Let's help lighten the burden of modern-day air travel for each other. Let's share our snacks with each other and watch the same movie on our seat-back monitors so that nobody screams and kicks and insists on watching the graphic violence on your screen. Let's be cool, man. It's just a couple of hours.
And hey, if our trip together doesn't turn out to be as fun as you thought it would be, just consider my kids a little extra incentive to make sure your birth control method of choice is effective. There's nothing like being awakened from a fake nap because my daughter spilled her ice-cold apple juice all over your crotch. Just remember her little jam-stained cheeks when she grinned at you, as your squishy neck pillow dangled from your shoulder, and signed "sorry" with an open palm across her chest.
That should keep you child-free for a few more years.