As I walk away from the van of crying children, I feel light. Unfortunately this feeling is immediately followed by crushing guilt. I am going away for the weekend alone and not one of my three children is happy about it.
I walk to the counter trailing my impossibly small suitcase. The attendant asks if I have any bags to check. I don't. I haven't flown without checking bags for years. Ten years to be exact, since my first child was born. Since then, I've flown frequently with and without my husband – but never without kids. Boarding pass in hand, I stroll to the security checkpoint and take off my shoes. I marvel at how quickly I pass through when I'm not trying to shove the stroller into the X-ray machine while simultaneously trying to corral three shoeless children.
After clearing security, I stand for a moment, contemplating checking out the bookstore or getting a coffee. I decide to do both – I have an entire hour. That hour would normally be spent handing out gum and mints, trying to keep my children from bothering other passengers while making trips back and forth to the airport bathroom because my kids are scared of the one on the plane.
After spending a blissful 45 minutes browsing, I make my way to the gate. I sit, not quite sure what to do with myself. Normally I would be obtaining a tag for the stroller and trying to keep my kids from doing gymnastics in the gate area. I open one of my new magazines and smile sympathetically at couples wrestling with strollers and infant seats. I'm still smiling as I board the plane with the other grown-ups instead of the preboard crowd.
Once seated, I buckle in and take a sip of the hot coffee, a luxury I wouldn't have had if I was flying with children. A hot drink on an airplane with kids is an invitation to disaster, as one of them would surely crawl into my lap or jostle my elbow, burning themselves – or more likely – me. I sit back and listen to the melodic sound of French being spoken by the family in the next row without having to explain why those people are talking funny and that the language is called French; a conversation which would have probably ended with me drawing a map of Europe on the back of the in-flight safety card to show my inquisitive 6-year-old where France is located. And instead of trying to keep my 2-year-old from sitting on the tray table, the other two from hanging their heads over the seat in front of us or any of them from pushing the call button – I choose a movie for myself that is entirely inappropriate for children.
Then it happens. My nirvana is interrupted by the sound of a baby howling. Soon the others on the plane join him. I sigh. So much for my peaceful, child-free journey. But then the flight attendant hands me my headphones, which I immediately slip on to muffle the noise. The babies may be howling, but they aren't mine.