I first saw them as I winded through the fabric line barriers that wrapped a maze toward airport security. The mother’s hair was pulled up into a tight ponytail, her hair was the blondest blond and she was wearing high rain boots. We were in L.A. Rain isn’t common in L.A., but as I had learned from many of the natives, it had rained for a “long time” (off and on for 10 days – which to them is somewhere near eternity) and everyone was pissed off, miffed at the nuisance that it caused these sun-driven people. My guess was she had purchased these boots recently. Her toddler was like most 2 ½-year-olds, wandering little topsy turvy individuals that have no clue where they are going, but they don’t stop moving. There must be so much trust in the world at this age. They can’t see what is going on at any level above 3 feet off the ground and are oblivious to the intentions of others around them. So as you can imagine, this mom was attempting to corral her daughter in this security line with invisible barriers (the fabric line was above her head, so I’m sure she didn’t even know it was there), doing everything possible from stuffed animal distractions – “look it’s your favorite pink flamingo, mango!!” to bribes of treats – “come sweetie, I’m sure you’re hungry, come look at what I have in this bag for you”. I watched and smiled, these tricks were all too familiar.
Out of all the places in the world that people could be flying to out of LAX, this woman and her child ended up on my flight to Denver. I saw them again when we waited at the gate. At this point I thought it ironic that they were in the same gate area, but knew it could mean they were on any of the five flights that were flying out from the area that I was seated in. I finished my sandwich, threw away my garbage, collected my bag and went to the bathroom. When I got back, I moved to a different location as more people had filled the area.
My plane boarded late. There were four announcements made by the airline agent that the cleaning crew was late and then that they had arrived, and then that they were actively cleaning as quickly as possible, and then that they were safely off the plane and we would be boarding in moments. All of this mention of the cleaning crew seemed slightly suspect to me. I couldn’t recall any other flight I had been on where cleaning crew were mentioned at all. I kind of knew they existed, I mean there had to be someone that cleaned up the trash that people shoved in those seat pockets on the back of the seats – but I had never given it more than a slight moment of thought.
One mishap leads to another
Our plane fully boarded 20 minutes past the planned departure. Everyone was having some not so nice things to say about the lateness of the cleaning crew. When I sat down in my middle seat toward the back of the plan (row 41) I couldn’t help but notice a cup with a napkin in it shoved into the seat pocket directly in front of my seat. Perhaps the cleaning crew did not make it to the back of the plane! The humor was not lost on me. After settling into my seat and noticing the garbage the cleaning crew had missed I saw the blondest blond mom and her toddler daughter scoot into the seats directly across the aisle from me. The toddler’s hair was matted with some crumbs stuck inside the twists of her hair and she was absentmindedly dragging her pink flamingo and dropping it as soon as something caught her attention – like anyone that smiled at her. Of course her mom was picking up pink flamingo, her simultaneous body guard and housekeeper, directing her to keep going forward and then at the back of the plane, to come back into the aisle they were assigned instead of the lavatory and the interesting drink cart tucked away at the back.
This mother spent the next 3 hours trying to entertain the toddler as much as possible. However, in those 3 hours we had yet to leave the ground. What started with an announcement regarding waiting on flight “paperwork”, turned into a change in pilot crew because in the wait time they had surpassed FFA regulations regarding maximum number of consecutive hours worked, turned into “um, ladies and gentleman, we’ve detected a problem…”. We were all instructed to de-board the plane and speak with an airline agent about our connecting flights because it was unknown when our airplane would be able to leave the ground. An hour later most of us were back on that plane. Some had found other connections/airlines/hotels. The mom and her daughter who had been sharing their aisle with a lone young 20something, now had all three seats to themselves. In the course of our time on and off the plane I learned that this was the third day that this mother and her daughter had come to the airport trying to depart for Denver. The first two days they were sent home due to terrible weather conditions in Denver. Today, mechanical issues stood between them and a final descent toward the Rockies. As our wheels finally took flight – over 4 hours from our scheduled departure – this mom put her arms into the air and said, “third time’s a charm!”. I don’t know what awaited her in Denver, but she was relieved to finally be making the journey.
Over the course of the next couple of hours in the air I read, talked to other passengers, and watched the toddler use her mom as a jungle gym. In the last thirty minutes of our flight this exhausted mom laid across the seats, defeated by the narrow spaces allotted in air travel, propping her head against one arm rest, curling herself into a ball and placing two bags of snacks for her restless toddler, one next to the window and one near the aisle. The little girl walked over her mom, pulled out a pretzel chip, dropped it, picked it up and got distracted by her feet, placed the pretzel chip between two toes, laughed, took it out, took a nibble and then pushed it against her mom’s lips giggling. Kids this age do this, they try to feed you and think it’s absurdly funny, especially when it looks like you’re trying to sleep.
Time to part
As we gathered up our belongings to leave the plane, this mom was down on all fours – impressive considering legroom is about the space of a shoe box, and used her phone as a flashlight to look for anything – any precious toddleresque item that may have fallen below the seats. It was our turn, row 41, to walk off the plane and I offered to carry one of her bags as her daughter, now dead asleep, snuggled underneath her neck. She smiled and thanked me, but said she had it. To which I said, “oh I know you do. I’ve seen you rock this whole situation.” The gal seated next to me then asked me a question and I lost sight of the mom and daughter. That is until as I stood in yet another line to speak with an agent about my circumstances of a missed connection – I saw the mom holding her toddler and two bags walking strongly down the corridor. We caught each other’s eyes, smiled, and nodded an unspoken understanding.