Moments of consequence only become so after they have passed. Once you have enough distance to appreciate their magnitude. Sitting on a plane, the world shrunk to a line of glass circles, the only thing I have in my head is a string of lyrics to an inane pop song.
At some point I will look back on it and realise its significance. That I was leaving my home, my friends and family, not returning for half a year. And taking my tiny daughter with me. I was hoping her ears wouldn’t hurt when we took off, wondering how much of my book I’d be able to read with her on my lap, whether to have the pork or the chicken for dinner.
Snoozing already on the tube
Journeys are strange. Hanging above the earth for almost half a day truly separates you from reality, in every sense. Time has no meaning. A false night was created to help us acclimatise to the new time zone we were about to enter, with ‘dinner’ being served at 3pm, all the lights shut off for several hours, followed by ‘breakfast’ at 9pm. Sticking with this would probably have helped me adjust, but my internal clock only managed a stubborn nap for an hour or so in the middle of the afternoon.
Having a small person present of course made this whole process different. We had been on trains before, the tube, the bus, but never a flight, and never for this long. At times she was a warm comfort on my lap while she slept. On other occasions her flailing hands were hard to keep away from my breakfast frittata. The worst moments were the (admittedly few) panicked seconds when I could see her working up to her wail, face creased and red with the effort of it. I desperately threw a boob/dummy/rattly toy in her face in the hope of displacing the noise for at least a few minutes.
Eating was possible, if cozy
Responsibility is strange. I remember standing at the front of a classroom, amazed that thirty people would follow my exact instructions. Look to me as a source of wisdom. Surely someone would come in, explain that there had been some mistake, that I had no authority to take this exalted status of knowledge and power.
Being a mother (do I really feel like one yet?) isn’t so different. When her cries do finally erupt, it is me that will be expected to calm her. People who don’t know me look at me and assume I’m a responsible adult. Repetition leads to skill, so the way I sweep up her tiny body and hold it lends me a disguise, as if I am a professional parent. I am still waiting for someone to find out the lie.
Of course, the flight was not without its unpleasant little moments. Eyes drooping for a snooze, a familiar squelching sound oozed out of her behind, but followed this time by a sensation of warmth and wetness. The vest, the babygro, the muslin, me; all with a spreading yellow stain. Scrabbling out of a window seat holding a small person aloft, avoiding touching the offending wet parts on anyone or anything around you, it should be a challenge on the Crystal Maze. In the cramped toilet, we used at least five wipes and did the best we could.
And there, when I thought I’d take advantage of being in the toilet, the gravity of our journey hit me. Hunched over, the fold-down changing table digging into the back of my neck, a soft foot caught me on the side of the head. Even while taking care of the most fundamental of needs, she will be there, needing me more.
The tilt of the plane was sliding her down, her head slipping closer to the complimentary hand cream. I reached one hand round, clasping her entire body under my grasp. Wherever we go, she will be there, changing the way I experience the world. This will truly be a different kind of adventure.
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