This guest post is part of my blog break festival. The festival continues through December, so please check it out and consider submitting a post! Also, don’t forget to enter my birth jewelry giveaway. This post falls into the Motherful category and was written by my own mother (I’m the 11 year daughter mentioned in the story)!
The Women’s Lounge
by Barbara Johnson
“Excuse me, there’s veal in your baby’s ear,” whispered the stolid-looking, well-groomed businessman seated next to me on the crowded airplane (who had spent the entire trip trying to project himself into another realm where traveling women with multiple children were prohibited from invading his space). I glanced down. Sure enough, there was a pool of tomato sauce, with veal, in my sleeping 6 month old infant’s ear. I grabbed an inadequate airline napkin and swabbed ineffectually away, while Mr. Businessman began searching around in his brief case – presumably to avoid further contact or conversation with me. I seized the moment of his inattention to duck my head discreetly and quickly lick up the remainder of the mess. Slightly gross, but highly efficient…..This episode apparently unleashed some hidden reservoir of chattiness and my seat partner proceeded to produce volumes of photographs of his family, accompanied by amusing anecdotes. No further mention was made of veal.
I managed to extricate myself (holding sleeping baby girl and an insanely oversized diaper bag), my two –year-old high-needs son (understatement), and my two older daughters (ages 9 and 11) from the plane. I was met by an airline representative to be transported to our connecting flight gate. This had been carefully pre-planned, as I knew I had only a 25 minute layover and many small bodies to transport. I was smugly proud of my maternal organizing skills, never reckoning on the embarrassment of hurtling through the Salt Lake City air terminal, honking warning sounds at innocent travelers. We were crammed onto the hindmost seat, facing backwards with our feet braced to avoid being thrown out on our faces every time the vehicle accelerated. The cart reeled past all manner of passengers, including many people certainly more in need of transport that we were. A young man pushing 2 occupied wheel chairs, an elderly woman with a walker, and a blind man with a cane. My humiliation mounted as we beeped them out of our path.
The diaper bag was a massive affair, having been carefully selected for maximum capacity. Its depths contained not only diapers, but boxes of juice, a variety of snacks, my purse and personal items, as well as activity selections for 4 age groups. Oh, and my book that I had been carrying with me for 10 years, hoping for random opportunities for quick reading (hah!). Toys, crayons, tiny cars, stuffed animals, granola bars……It weighed a ton. The relevance of this information will be revealed later.
I could have saved myself this ride had I bothered to check any of the departing flight monitors. They would have told me what I found out upon my jubilantly prompt arrival at the gate. My connecting flight was delayed. Well, that’s not so bad! We can surely occupy ourselves for a while in the airport! No problem! Since there was no departure time listed, I parked the kids in a waiting area and lined up to ask a few questions.
Traveling companions circa 1990
My organized-traveling-mom-with-four-children veneer cracked a bit when I heard that the plane was delayed for 6 hours. This was not good. Must make the best of it! Not to worry! I’m a 24 hour a day parent! A woman of the 90’s! I can do this! No problem!
I returned to my gang, suggesting that we tour the airport and see all the fun sights, like airplanes taking off and landing over and over, and expensively fragile gift shops. Everyone was tired of this after an hour, so I broke out the snacks. Not good enough – the restaurants and vending machine items looked vastly superior to the eyes of my children, but not to my traveling budget.
My 2-year-old son began to melt down. My daughters needed to use the restroom, but I had an irrational and paranoid fear regarding restroom perverts, so we all had to shuffle in together (including the burdensome diaper bag). Exiting the facility, my toddler spotted a candy machine and hurtled headlong towards it, shrieking and maniacally pulling knobs. The baby in the backpack was pulling my hair while bouncing. The big girls were totally loaded down by the diaper bag (it took both of them to lug it around). We were a public spectacle! Oh, the shame! There were still 5 loathsome hours to wait in that sensory-overloaded airport. It was too noisy, to bright, too loud, too hot and too stinky for any sane person to endure for that long! Argh!
There was a gentle tap on my shoulder and I turned to look way up into the face of a burly security officer. Was I to be arrested for disturbing the peace, or possibly vandalizing the candy machine? I cringed.
“Excuse me, ma’am”, he said. “Did you know there’s a women’s lounge over there?”, and indicated a door near the restroom that had a small plaque reading “lounge” on it. I, in my ignorance, had supposed such doors thus marked to be solely for the secret use of airport personnel, and certainly NOT for traveling mothers. But no, apparently I was allowed to enter! The large and kind officer hoisted the diaper-bag-from-hell and led the way, tipping his hat politely at the door as I staggered through it.
An amazing oasis in that desert of chaos greeted me. It was a small, cool sitting room with a couch, table, several chairs and a sink (with paper towels! Oh joy!). As I removed the baby pack, using the handy counter, and collapsed into a chair, a woman of greenish-white complexion emerged blearily from beneath a blanket on the couch, offering weakly to make room for us. “No, no!” I gushed. “We’re fine! There are plenty of chairs. Just settle back down!” She gratefully did. We exchanged stories while I nursed the baby and passed out snacks. She had been compelled to actually miss her connection due to motion sickness, and was actually too ill to continue. Well, that was certainly not fun and possibly worse than my situation. At least we weren’t throwing up. I like to use the reverse psychology of “it could always be worse” to comfort myself under adverse conditions… “Have a cracker?” I offered. She took it and actually seemed improved. Maybe the diaper bag was worth it after all.
The door opened, admitting a cacophony of airport noise, along with a desperate-looking young woman loaded with a rotund infant and a crying 3-ish girl, clutching her stomach. She thrust the infant into my arms, saying “Would you mind holding him? She’s going to throw up!”, and ran out. The baby and I stared at each other. I offered a cracker, which he solemnly accepted, and I hoped was acceptable to his mother. Actually, she looked harried enough to not even notice or care. He was content to merely hold it and watch my kids as they played.
The door opened again, and all eyes turned towards it, expecting the return of the baby’s mother. But no, it was an Asian woman accompanied by a miniature, elderly woman using a walker. They looked around hesitantly, smiling shyly and bowing. Hmmmm……Ms. Airsick, revived by the cracker, shifted around to make room. The elderly woman inched through the children, avoiding fingers and toys, and eased down with an audible sigh. “Many babies!” said the first woman. “Well, they’re not all mine”, I said. She looked puzzled. “I don’t know this one” indicating the solemn fellow on my lap. “Ah”, she replied. “His mother left him with me because her daughter was throwing up, but I never saw any of them before in my life” I babbled. “Ah!” she repeated, clearly baffled. The tiny raisin of a mother (I guess) barked a question in what I supposed was rapid-fire Chinese. “Ah!” said the woman. They both beamed at me and I beamed back. I asked them if they had a long wait, but apparently our conversation about babies had exhausted their English vocabulary. They did say “Hong Kong, many hours, much trouble”. I could read the rest in their eyes. Without a working grasp of the language and a special-needs traveler on top of that, they were trying to travel home and it was not going smoothly. After a while, an Asian-American airline representative came to fetch them. They bowed away, repeating “Thank you very much! Bye-bye!” I wished I could have understood more of that story.
Meanwhile, Little Vomiter and her mother returned. We discussed various stomach complaint home-remedies. Ginger Ale? May try that next time, but of course there’s none available in the airport – perhaps on the plane? Our babies had birthdays only 2 days apart and before you knew it we were exchanging labor stories. Ms. Airsick looked better. Perhaps tales of other people’s discomfort helped take her mind off her own stomach.
The door opened again, admitting a woman with twin four-year olds who looked miserable. We squeezed together to make room. She was having a nightmare trip in which her flight had been totally cancelled and there was a luggage mix-up causing her bags to be sent to Atlanta (they thought). My paltry delay was beginning to seem like a pleasant gift.
This pattern continued throughout my sojourn in the women’s lounge. Women of all ages and backgrounds took solace there. We helped, comforted and commiserated with each other, waving a cheerful farewell as each departed, knowing only the basic fact of TRAVEL INTERRUPTED. In the minutes of our contact, we each forged a bond. It felt as if we were all connected, and fulfilling some cosmic destiny by being thrown together in that haven to support each other. I never asked anyone’s name or more than their travel destination, but we learned so much about each other anyway. The bond of femaleness and motherhood bound us together, allowing us to trust and help each other. I sent my daughters to the restroom with a total stranger, no longer fearful of lurking criminals. We shared an unpleasant, but not unbearable, travel experience and emerged from it enriched. We were like ships that pass in the night, recognizing our bond in a vast ocean. We were all suspended and isolated in a sea of people sailing towards their destinations.
I passed through the Salt Lake City airport many times in the subsequent years, but never faced another delay and never again sought out the women’s lounge. I picture it still exactly the same, with an ongoing stream of stressed women finding peace, comfort and support. I’ve felt this support before, from family and friends in troubled times, but never before I had I been stranded in such a way. The women’s lounge was a haven for us all. The interesting part of it was how quickly we bonded and trusted each other. We were completely united in our efforts to protect our families from the rigors of the airport, and recognized that it was time to band together – no whining allowed. We took care of each other, but it wouldn’t have been possible outside of that room. That space provide a place for us to focus on the needs of ourselves and our children without the mad, jumbled stimulus of the terminal. Bolstered by the peaceful interlude, we were all able to withstand our delays, gathering strength from each other as we prepared to travel onward.
Barbara Johnson was a homesteading, homebirthing, homeschooling, traveling mother of 4 when this trip happened in 1990. Her children are now grown and married, and she enjoys spending time with her 3 grandchildren. She is the director of Shannondale Craft Camp in southern Missouri.