Greg and I are known to be avid travelers. His work, our families and a general love for seeing the world all add up to our securing some level of status with the airlines most years. As we awaited Elly’s arrival, friends and family speculated on how parenthood would affect our travel bug. To be honest, we too wondered a bit ourselves. And now, as Elly approaches her second birthday, she has logged over 125,000 miles!
There were a few moments when the frequency of our travel really resonated with me. The first time was when a gate agent greeted Elly and me by name before seeing our boarding passes. And the second time was in an airline lounge. As I fumbled to pull out my card while juggling Elly, the hostess said, "No worries. I know who you are."
Be it nurture, nature or some combination thereof, we have been blessed with a baby George Clooney (for non-movie buffs, see Up in the Air). Especially before she was mobile, flying with Elly was generally a dream. But traveling with a child is quite different from traveling solo. One forgoes the noise-canceling headset for the plethora of things needed to amuse and care for the little one; food, beverage, toys, diapers, books, changes of clothing, blankets, etc. And it can be anxiety producing. Even with a good traveler, just by the sheer number of flights that she’s been on, like Vegas odds, there are going to be flights that are nightmarish. But those things happen with kids sometimes. It’s simply par for the course. (Stay tuned for a few natural disaster stories in another column...)
My first solo flight with Elly was to Italy when she was just six months old. Greg had to go to a conference in the Middle East. While I do love tagging along on his trips, I avoid the ones to countries where I’d have to don a burka to get around. Given that Greg was going to be gone for a week and that I hadn’t seen my family in Italy for ages, I thought why not bring Elly to meet them all. And by that point, Greg and I had already flown with her to Washington DC, Florida, Madrid and Ireland so she was no stranger to the friendly skies. So we decided to add an Italian stamp to our wee one’s passport!
As we boarded and settled in our plane, two things occurred. Some of the passengers around us looked both fearful and disappointed that a mini person would be in their midst for the next eight hours. And secondly, they also sought out "mom". The gentlemen next to me graciously and self-reservedly asked a flight attendant to be relocated to "give us more room." Meanwhile, a woman and her adult daughter behind us immediately offered help with Elly while I settled in as well as during the flight. Thus, we were off to a good start.
Shortly into our flight, a passenger seated a few rows behind us who I will refer to as The Evangelist since I don’t know her name, walked past us on her way to the restroom. "Hello!" greeted The Evangelist. "What a beautiful baby! And what a wonderful daddy you are. Where’s mommy?" As soon as she spoke, I realized that she was the evangelical woman who I had heard proselytizing to the gent next to her. Considering that she was going on ad infinitum, I’m almost certain that he hoped his salvation would come sooner than later. Aside from her need to preach her beliefs for hours, I could tell she was more than a few benches short of a full church.
"Thank you," I responded. "I am traveling alone with her. She is adopted and has two daddies." She simply said "I’m confused." By the look on her face, I could see that she wasn’t kidding. She had the expression of a schoolgirl struggling with a tricky Algebra problem. Her need to pee must have taken precedence because she just continued to the restroom without another word spoken...... yet.
It was late in the evening at this stage, and the cabin lights had been dimmed. Elly was fast asleep and I wasn’t too far behind her. The Evangelist, on her way back from the restroom, smiled as she gently touched Elly’s foot and said, "You’re so lucky to have such a good daddy," and then proceeded to her seat. Hmmm, I thought, perhaps I misjudged her?
We woke up to breakfast being served. Having refreshed herself with sleep, the Evangelist had restarted the sermon within earshot a few rows back. We landed and were waiting to disembark. The two ladies behind me who had been marvelous help, held Elly as I gathered our multitude of things. The Evangelist, it turns out, was also that type of passenger who barrels her way up the aisle before the people ahead of her. Quite Christian, eh? So since she was standing right next to me, it was convenient for her to resume her conversation directed to Elly, her intellectual peer. "Such a nice daddy. Now we just need to find you a nice mommy to help daddy." I quickly retorted, "Thank you but she’s quite well cared for by her two daddies."
"I’m confused. Doesn’t she have a mother?" she asked. "Of course she has a mother. But, she is being raised by two daddies." And then, like a beacon of light shining through the darkness, she figured it out. "Are you a homosexual?!" I thought to myself, what gave it away, the fact that I’ve essentially told you that three times or my Prada shoes? "Yes, I am."
"Well, you do realize that the Bible condemns homosexuality, don’t you?" Here we go. I thought to myself, The Bible also condemns mixing fabrics but I see that didn’t hold you back from that poly blend you’re wearing. But before I even needed to say a word, Divine Intervention took place and my fellow passengers all told her to be quiet. My favorite was a woman who was easily in her late-seventies who told her to "hush herself."
While the encounter had lots of potential to be upsetting, it was the number of people who came to my defense and supported me that really made the difference. In fact, a good number of people came up to me after we deplaned and apologized for the woman’s behavior. They said that they were glad that Elly wasn’t old enough to realize what had happened and that I was doing a fine job. And in that moment I realized that while it may not always feel this way, supportive strangers often do outnumber the bigoted ones.