THIS I BELIEVE
I hold my infant daughter on my lap, caught in the center seat, the cabin filling rapidly with over-Christmased travelers flying home to their normal winter lives. While eyeing each passing ticket holder, I develop a management plan for the possible array of seatmates I may encounter. Could my silent prayer of an empty row or two doting grandmothers be answered? Not likely. A tall ski-bummish fellow announces his arrival, overflowing his aisle seat into my mother/baby duo. Not good, but I still hold out hope for a petite college freshman who will trade her window seat to flirt with Mr. Giant Slalom. I scan the cabin – no big openings to switch to. This is my punishment for switching flights last minute. “Excuse me, ma’am,” from the polite but absurdly beefy serviceman negotiating over my legs to the window seat. This was not in my master plan, not even close. I swear under my breath, and wish I were home rather than plastered from shoulder to thigh with two immense strangers.
Libbie begins to writhe, fuss, dig her face into my sweater and, finally, wail at the world. We all look at her and at each other. When a menagerie of squeaking toys doesn’t curtail her cries, I sigh in resignation to the situation before me and juggle to unhook my nursing bra. I process the inadequate shield of privacy the armrests provide and attempt to semi-shroud the two of us in her baby blanket. Libbie’s having none of this sudden discretion given the normal scenario of full access. We wrestle like I’m hiding her in a shower curtain and then – plop – one overfull breast finds repose on Mr. Marine’s arm. I retrieve it quickly and redirect it to the correct recipient. We all sit in the space of rhythmic slurping debating whether to acknowledge this uncomfortably fleshy error.
I can no longer take the four-person wedge I am in. I just start laughing, more like cackling. I’m too exhausted to be embarrassed. My breast is a purely utilitarian appendage at this moment, nothing hot and sexy here. The whole scene is some wry comedy. I expect Mel Brooks to lean across the aisle and make some smart-ass remark involving jugs. Instead, Mr. Marine gently smiles and says, “It’s ok, I have three kids.” Snowdude chimes in, “Yeah, I have a new little niece. She’s so cool.” And with that, the ice melts and we are a little family for the rest of the flight, managing our baby in cramped quarters.
I believe life is like breastfeeding in coach. When I’m thrown together with seemingly mismatched strangers, it’s easy to perform flash assessments of my momentary life partners. But if I let myself hang out a bit, even a bit too far, those strangers transform into real people, possibly even friends, if for only a short flight in my life.
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