To Boston Together Alone (by Daddy R)

So at the last minute Daddy and MZ went on our annual July 4th trip back East WITHOUT Mama (as she is currently called -- occasional Mom and Mommy here and there, but mostly Mama). To go without Mama was a fearsome thing to consider, especially with only two days’ notice. I haven’t spent more than 12 hours alone with MZ in my life as far as I can calculate. Mama has spent exactly one night away from her daughter in close to 2.5 years. But, there we were. The point of the trip back East to visit my (our) family was to make sure we went back East to visit MZ’s multitudes of cousins every year until she could take up that ball for herself and run with it (to use a sports analogy). My sister and I continue to be amazed at the range of family we have back East. Since we didn’t really grow up with our father, we missed out on his wonderful family, but we’re making up for it now and we’re going to make sure MZ knows these folks as far back as she can remember.

So MZ and I embarked on our journey alone. And it’s very accurate to say that despite being together, we both felt very alone. Mama kinda holds things together when it comes to family. When it’s A and I, we’re equals, and, in fact, she’s the heavy duty planner, and I’m the uber-hyper on-the-ground guy, but Mama has definitely been the one to set the norms for our three-ness, and that’s ok – we’re all three comfortable with that. Until that goes away, on a moments’ notice. Sure we had Aunt D and Uncle S coming on Tuesday, and Bubbe and Uncle J coming on Wednesday, but it was Saturday at 5AM and my first extended playdate with my very own daughter was a trans-continental flight and we were, simply put, alone.

We walked into security and down the jetway after what I can only describe as one of the most heart-wrenching things I have personally ever witnessed (I’m normally sarcastic, even when serious, but, in all seriousness, no sarcasm here): a mother saying goodbye to her daughter, really, for the first time ever, and, further, that woman being my wife and love, and further, my having to not show emotion in order keep my daughter under control, despite the gravity of the reason for our having to be apart for the next week. It was awful.

So we walked on down to our gate and the nearby Peets and got us a muffin, some fruit a coffee-milk for MZ and a double capp for me (I’m being this detailed on the food for a reason -- more on that later). There was some drama prior to getting to the gate about our seating arrangement: apparently 2 year olds with their own seats can sit fifteen rows back from their daddy when daddy is Premier Exec and daughter is not. Just to show United the insanity of this, I considered leaving her back in steerage with her seatmates while I enjoyed four inches of extra leg room, but decided after all that we probably ought to sit together. The gate agent had the magical powers that the 800-number agent and the check-in agent lacked and we got two seats together in Economy Plus. I explained to MZ that this was a huge bonus for us, and she clearly got it, because I swear I saw her do one of those little eyeball-nyah-nyahs that we Economy Plussers do to the folks who are really sitting in steerage behind us without the four inches of extra legroom. I think she did it to a three year old and her mommy as they walked past our seat.

Anyway, we had the window and the middle, and we had MZ’s lightweight new car seat from Bubbe’s car rather than the pack-and-stroll, or whatever that odd airport-only seat-with-wheels is called. She was much more comfortable than on past flights and enjoyed a totally unobstructed view of EVERYTHING out the window (we don’t have to deal with the wing in Economy Plus either -- nyah nyah.). But I felt for our third seatmate on the aisle who asked incredulously at least twice where our third companion was as he clearly started to do the mental calculation on which was worse: third party to a DAD and baby or switch seats with the mommy, even if she’s in the middle seat in a row next to the bathroom. Brief aside: I noticed two things being a single parent dad and baby: (1) a mom and baby automatically strikes compassion into the hearts of fellow passengers while a dad and baby strikes abject fear: “Can this MAN really take care of a BABY??” and (2) since expectations are so low, most people will help at any time and I could really leave her anywhere and know that she would be by my side within seconds thanks to any helpful mom, dad, grandma or grandpa. So, as I dumped the stroller by the gate-check door and moved her carseat, two backpacks, a large carry-on and a tray full of Coffee-Fruit-Milk-Muffin back a few rows to our seat I just told her to stand at the front of the plane and I’d be back for her. And she developed a crowd of helpers within seconds. Which was great.

Good news about MZ having her own seat: two more carry-ons for her; bad news for me: one person cannot manage four carry-ons and a baby, and a tray full of hot food.

But anyway, our third seatmate finally seemed to accept that he was in it for the long haul with us and, on the plus side he was not going to have to move to a bad seat in steerage, so it sort of seemed that his mental math worked out to a positive number, and he was really very genial the whole flight. He was single and childless, but said he was a doting uncle to his 2-year old nephew, so I figured he was willing to give us the benefit of the doubt at that point. MZ settled into her chair and immediately started pointing out or asking about EVERYTHING she could see out the window and since most everything out there was either new to her or larger than she ever expected (she’s flown many times, but she’s more cognizant of the world now than she’s ever been) most everything she said, even statements of fact, ended in a question mark and required my feedback.

At this point, the whole single parent traveling with a toddler thingy became a shocking blast of cold air in the ass as if you lived in Minnesota in the winter and had just locked yourself outside the house in nothing but your bathrobe on a below freezing day in the snow while getting the paper from the porch. To explain: usually, when we’ve gotten on airplanes in the past, I’ve busied myself with manly on-the-ground-guy things like stowing the baggage in the overheads, securing extra blankets and pillows and figuring out which bags should go under which seat for ease of access in case someone shits themselves on takeoff – general busy-work that looks important but really takes up minimal brain power, while the Mama takes care of settling MZ in and making sure the flight starts on a positive note. I’ve always known it was busy work, but someone had to do it. Now I realize just how great I had it. I love organizing stuff. It’s second nature to me. So to get to do that while A deals with MZ is really a bonus. Sometimes I even wear my iPod doing it, while A glares at me.

Anyway, back to MZ, our resident breaking-news reporter: everything she saw needed to be commented upon, and there’s a lot to see when they’re loading up three planes in a row and doing work on the airport itself: trucks, baggage loaders and conveyors, several planes, all of which have WINGS! and TAILS! and those little extra wing THINGYS! that they’re putting on the ends of wings these days, and a DIGGER! or two, an occasional FIRE TRUCK! and even TINY PLANES!!, etc. Some of her observations were downright funny and made our seat mate laugh despite the earphones from his immediate application of his iPod while I looked jealously at him (I even made small talk about his iPod, like anyone makes small talk about an iPod anymore – “hey nice iPod Mini, they don’t make those anymore, huh? Real old school iPod.”) Stupid shit like that while we both laughed at MZ’s running commentary all the way through takeoff until we went into the fog and everything went white and she went SILENT….

….And then we broke through and it was 7AM on a beautiful sunny Saturday and we had five hours ahead of us, and she looked out the window and said “Clouds” and I said, “Yes, my love, but if you notice, we are ABOVE the clouds, not below. You’re seeing the tops of the clouds not the bottoms.” And she positively beamed at such an amazing concept and I realized that I was about to enjoy the incredibly rare gift of eight full days of seeing the world through the eyes of a toddler -- my toddler. And MZ and I both knew at that moment that, despite being alone, we’d be ok. And then we both relaxed and enjoyed the ride.

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At 9.7.07, Blogger The Big Pugawug said...

Hey! It's a daddy post! This was a delightful treat with my mid-morning coffee; would love to hear further installments of the trip ...


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