First Class, Baby (Part III)

Air Canada flight 137, Toronto to Vancouver. One hour delayed.

The day begins with both mother and baby cranky, tired, feelings still smarting from our big fight the night before. It was all the baby's fault. My patience is wearing as thin as the two threadbare tank-tops I've been rotating (exchanging?) throughout this trip. It's also looking a little stained. One of its straps has broken.

He fusses at breakfast, at a hipster-only cafe on Dundas Street. I find this especially frustrating because they don't have a highchair or a changing table -- and Sweet Baby James' behaviour is only going to encourage them to keep not having these things. I tell the waiter that not having a highchair makes it hard for me to patronize them. He gives me a nonplussed look as Sweet Baby James lets out a wail (no, you may not wield the fork). I leave my friends to chat (about art! about our generation! about a really interesting conversation!) and stand outside with the baby. A cold wind blows. He's quiet for a minute and I take a deep breath. "SBJ," I say, "We have to pull together. Today is going to be a long day." "Hrgh," he replies.

I'll take that as a yes.

We take public transit to the airport since I'm not traveling with the carseat. It's not all that hard on TO's transit system, especially since I've packed so light (two tanktops, people. Two!). We check our bag and head to security.

About to get on the streetcar (who's bigger, baby or suitcase?)

At Toronto's Pearson International Airport, there are two security line-ups. One is for important people, and the other is for cattle. I approach the young woman guarding the VIP security section. "Excuse me," I say, "Can I go in this line?" I gesture to the baby on my hip who, for once, is using his cuteness to my advantage. She glances at me, gives an imperceptible shake of her head and looks back at her list. I am tired, I am hungry, I am cranky, and now, I am enraged. So I say what any normal person would say while pure feminist outrage coursed through her veins. "Well that's unfortunate!"

(and here I'm reminded of the time my friend was groped while running along the Lachine canal. The guy copped a feel and then rode away on his douchebag low-rider bicycle. "I can't believe it, out of all the things I could have yelled, you know what I said? 'There's something the matter with you!' Yes, that's right. [laughing] I wrote him a strongly worded letter.")

So I walk to the other line. The two gentlemen monitoring this line give us big smiles. They expedite us to the front. Then they transfer us to the Big Person's line. Their generosity only serves to incense me further. How dare she treat me so poorly? How dare she brush me off like a speck of dirt on her (polyester) lapel?

I march up to her. "You know what?" I say, "Actually, I can go in this line. So thanks a lot." I'm stalking off when she says,
"Excuse me, Ma'am, what's your name?" And I think Oh shit. Oh shit, I'm one of those people who yells at airline employees.
"Svea." I say.
"Oh, well it's not like I'm going to risk my job just to put you in the line."
"Well that's fine," I say, "But there are nicer ways of saying that. You could say, 'I'm sorry, you need to go in this line over here.' But instead you just looked through me."
"I was talking to someone else," she lies.
"Well, whatever the case, I felt like it was rude. I hope you have a good night."
"Well, I'm sorry" she says, in the least sorry voice she's ever been not-sorry with.

I'm actually shaking as I struggle to untie my laces to remove my boots for the X-ray machine. "Watch the baby's head" someone says and it's true that he's keeling to the side like a slice of tomato slipping out of an over-stuffed sandwich. But he's silent, somehow awed by his mother's kickass assertiveness. "He's so cute!" says the security guard. "Thanks," I say, "I think so too."

I stop at a family washroom/nursing room on the way to the plane because I want to write about it for my blog. A small sign on the door says "occupied". I reach out to test the handle and a woman in a suit jacket breaks the monologue she's speaking into her cell phone to bark at me. "Occupied!" she says. Yes, I sigh. Rude, rude, rude. I really have to do something about that kick-me sign on my forehead.

We get to our gate and although they're already boarding I run to the washroom to get in one last pre-plane couche change. They have a nice stainless steel changing table (of course) in a nicely sectioned-off little bit of the washroom. Too bad there's not a shelf or even a hook to hang your stuff on. I pile coat, sweater, passports, boarding passes, changing kit, all atop our little backpack, which goes on the floor. The baby voices his disapproval as I change him. I am feeling seriously fed up. Or maybe just hungry. I have no time to stop and pick up a snack, since I spent that time picking up a (seriously overrated) copy of Ondaatje's most recent book.

"What a beautiful child," someone says as she walks into a stall. I try to feel that way, like I am the mother of a beautiful child, the kind of child who shines light into the lives of people (most frequently, myself), who is lovely and enthusiastic and most certainly not going to scream for the next five hours.

It's all about positive thinking, right?

As we're boarding the plane (the last to get on), I count six strollers in the entrance. That's a lot of babies. This is the baby flight. Suddenly, Sweet Baby James' chances of survival are a lot better. I sing to him as we get settled in. The flight attendant comes over to instruct me to hold him facing me during take-off. Which would be fine if he were a little baby, but he's not, and he doesn't fit in my lap like that. So he ends up standing on my thighs, playing a one-sided (his) peek-a-boo with the lady sitting behind us. Probably not what the flight attendant had in mind, but... Quietly, quietly.

He's kind of a grouch for most of the flight but, then, so am I. We watch a little bit of The Wiggles on mute. In case you don't know, The Wiggles are a group of Australian men who like to squat. They perform squatting song-and-dance routines. I hold one earphone up to the baby and the other to myself. As I suspected, they have no rhythm. But this is the first time our baby actually seems compelled by the TV, and this compels me to stretch my own preferences.

The only other notable events of this flight are reflections of the flight attendants' genuine interest and affection: one of them looks ready to take Sweet Baby James home with her, since "My ex-husband was Muslim, I'm Native, it didn't work out." (to which the other attendant replies, "But it's not too late, is it?") I promise to bring the baby in to her restaurant; and the lone male attendant comps me a bowl of oatmeal. Win!

My mom's there to meet us at the other end, and what joy, she has also remembered the carseat. She treats me to the $22 parking lot fee and pulls out onto the highway. I sing the baby some ants as he whimpers his way through the streets of my hometown for the very first time in his very short life.

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