20 1 / 2012
Baby On Board
There’s something about having a baby that makes people think you’re a nice person. Complete strangers will smile and nod at you simply because you’re carrying a small human around. Having a baby says, “I am a caring, trustworthy person, capable of putting someone else’s needs above my own.” Or at the very least “I am not too proud to wipe someone else’s arse.” It’s not necessarily true, of course – Ghengis Khan fathered hundreds of children and by all accounts he was a total rotter. I bet kindly old ladies still smiled at him when he popped out to the shops for a pint of yak’s milk with a baby strapped to his front though.
I find it strange, therefore, that no one is smiling at me now. Despite cradling Albert over my shoulder in my best impersonation of a responsible caregiver, I am surrounded with enmity. I pace the room, gently patting my child, offering him comfort and succour, while hundreds of pairs of unfriendly eyes are burning into me. I look up and try to meet their dead, hate-filled glares but they just turn away. “I AM A NICE PERSON!” I want to shout at them, but nice people tend not to shout at strangers, as a general rule.
An announcement crackles over the PA. “Boarding for flight EK4044 to Brisbane, Australia will commence now. Could passengers flying Business Class and families with young children please make their way to the boarding desk.”
My wife and I attempt to gather our assorted toys, books, rugs and nappies which have spilled out over the departure lounge carpet and shunt them towards the designated area. The waiting crowd parts to form a contemptuous guard of honour. I can practically hear their prayers. “Dear God,” they silently implore. “Please don’t be seated next to me.” Meanwhile, my carry-on luggage vomits down my back.
We’re boarding a 25 hour flight. With a four month-old baby. Who has just started to show signs of teething. What could possibly go wrong?
We find our seats and immediately Albert begins crying. Our fellow passengers start filing past, nervously checking the seat numbers on their ticket stubs. Eventually a smartly-dressed, middle-aged woman sits down next to us. She looks across at our squawling child and gives us a big grin.
“I just want you to know that whatever happens, I’ll be absolutely fine with it,” she says. “He can cry. He can scream. He can throw up. He can even poo on me and I won’t bat an eyelid.”
“Thank you,” I say with an apologetic grimace. “That’s very kind. I’m pretty sure he won’t poo on you, but there may be some crying.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she says with a warm smile. “I remember when my boy was his age.” And she motions towards a small, blonde scamp sat on his father’s knee across the aisle.
What a nice woman, I think to myself. But then, of course she is, she’s got a child. The natural order of the universe has been restored. I take Albert’s arm and wave it like a puppet at the nice woman’s child. We are in a club now. A club for nice people.
25 sleepless hours later and I’ve decided I don’t want to be in this woman’s club anymore. Her demonic spawn has been screeching his hot little face off for the entire duration of the flight. Worse still, he does this while charging up and down the aisle – head up, gappy teeth bared – bashing into people’s legs like a wild boar desperately defending its territory. “No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No!” he wails whenever the flight attendants try to make him sit down. It seems to be the only word he knows, which is perplexing seeing as neither of his parents ever say it to him.
“Why don’t you do something?” I want to scream at them. “Control your child!” But how can I when his mother was so nice to us? Except she wasn’t being nice, was she? She was being cunning. I’ve been tricked into being nice. I must reciprocate her kindness and understanding, purely because she was nice to us first, the conniving bitch. It’s almost disappointing then, that Albert has behaved impeccably. He hasn’t slept very much thanks to our noisy neighbour but he’s barely cried at all. He hasn’t pooed on anyone either. More’s the pity.
Eventually the plane lands and our ordeal is over. Later as my wife and I gratefully collect our belongings from the luggage carousel, the woman and her son spot us across the conveyor belt. She smiles and waves hello. I pretend not to see her.
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