And Away We Go… Part III

As I sat back in the waiting room chair, I noticed someone else obviously enjoying the play filled happiness so openly expressed by my boy. A few seats over, a man a little older than myself sat amongst scattered carry-ons and smiled as Short Stack posed Neil with his little flag, just next to the triumphantly returned Shuttle. I knew that smile. It was the unmistakable look of a father remembering.

When he realized that I was watching him watch Short Stack, he smiled a little uneasily and looked for something safe to say. “He’s got quite an imagination, hasn’t he?”

First comments with strangers are always a little tense. You never know how people are going to react these days, especially if they are alone with their young children. As a society, it’s been drilled relentlessly into our heads that everyone is a potential killer, kidnapper, or investment banker and you simply should never open your self up to potential danger. It is perhaps a safer way to live life, but it’s also, in my estimation, a far less fulfilling one as well. I think that as we seem to be stuck in this “watch your back” society, we have also become hungry for the chance to connect with our fellow planet walkers. Generally, I’ve found that if I make it clear that I’m approachable, things nearly always end up with me getting a new friend, even if only for the length of the conversation.

In short, I’ve never learned not to talk to strangers.

“Oooh, yah.” I shifted so I could chat more comfortably. “If it involves rockets, he’s a happy boy. If it doesn’t, well… he’ll make it into one. Just watch.” Short Stack obliged by busily turning his hands into a makeshift lunar lander and lifting off from the Sea of Tranquility with Neil balled up in his little fist.

Seeing that I wasn’t about to give him the “Who the hell are you?!” look or ignore him entirely, he straightened up as well and smiled broadly. “Looks like he’s got some serious focus there. It’s great to see a kid so into what ever makes him happy. My son was like that too. Now he’s at the Air Force Academy and loving it. It’s where he always wanted to be.”

The thing is, I love moments like this. I had no idea who this man was before right now, but I was about to find out. I’m a pretty good judge of character and posses a well tuned “gut” which I have learned to listen to very, very carefully and it rarely leads me wrong. This guy was dressed in a clean t-shirt, sweat shirt and shorts and if that was a bit overexposed for Maine in April, it could be easily forgiven since everyone in the waiting area was, after all going to the same tropical location. If he looked out of place here in New England, it was I who would look silly in Florida dressed in long pants and flannel. I also noted that he was guarding a sizable mound of luggage so he wasn’t traveling alone. Since I hadn’t seen his companion yet, I guessed that she was off looking through the duty free shops and that he was no doubt getting bored.

Bored is good. It makes people chatty.

His name was Rick, and he and his wife lived right here in Portland. For a day job, he drove for a national delivery company and on his off hours, taught children’s gymnastics. They, as it turned out, were going to Florida to watch their daughter compete in the National Cheerleading Competition. I found this out in all of five minutes of friendly chatting. He was just the sort of person I was hoping I’d run into.

For me, adult conversation has become a pretty rare commodity. As a stay at home dad, most of the topics that I get to cover each day are either space or bunny related. As Short Stack is fond of pointing out, “Lulu Belle is sorta’ into bunnies, but I like rockets.”

I do get to talk with my wife when she gets home, naturally, but if it’s before eight o’clock, it tends to be filled with a lot of interruptions from various short, household individuals. Topics are brought up but never concluded due to diapers that need changing, toys that need fixing or simply children who want you to focus on them rather than… anything else, actually. After eight, we are both so tired that forming coherent sentences and complete thoughts can be pretty hit or miss. Mostly, all we want to do is plug in and watch a movie together before our eyes cross and we shuffle off to bed.

I love to chat with new folks and although being my children’s primary care giver has been a far more rewarding experience than I ever expected it to be, I do miss meeting people and simply talking like an adult. When Rick’s wife showed up, she immediately took a shine to Short Stack and within a few minutes, my boy was telling her all about rockets, Space Shuttles, Neil and what we were going to see when we finally got to Florida.

For Short Stack, Florida had become a sort of mythical land, visited only by near magical means. It’s too far away to see and too far away to drive to (so far as I’m concerned) and although we had shown it to him on a map, geography and scale are hard to grasp when your primary modes of transportation are a tricycle and size six sneakers. To him, it’s simply a distant unknown land like Atlantis of Camelot. For most kids this Shangri La is synonymous with Disney World but Short Stack doesn’t have a clue about that. Far from having the Disney Channel, our home has been without television for long before he was ever born and I see no reason to change that now. Why would I want to risk overwriting his love of all things space with a seven foot mouse? What he wanted was to go to the Space Center and I’ll take that over “The Happiest Place On Earth” any day.

As our departure time got closer, I realized that I had a problem. In my care was my little boy who had been slurping away dutifully on a sippy cup full of water for the last hour and a half and it was just about time to strap him into a seat from which he would not be allowed to get up for a good twenty minutes. The safe money was in finding a bathroom now. The issue was that in addition to the boy, I was also dragging around a stroller, his backpack, my own ridiculously heavy backpack with my laptop in it AND my Man Purse™.

A brief word about the Man Purse™…

…I love this thing. Normally, I would scoff at taking an extra bag just to carry a few extra items. After all, I do have normal sized pockets, unlike ninety-nine percent of women’s pants. Seriously, what’s the use of having a pocket that’s an inch and a half deep? I don’t know why that put them on women’s jeans at all. Because my pockets are filled with all the things that most ladies would have in their hand bag, like my wallet, cell phone, money clip, used tissues, four pounds of change and three pounds of lint, I need a removable, backup pocket for child care related items. Actually, it has become a must for me. With two munchkins who are always seemingly in need of a snack, a drink, a change of pants, a new diaper, a rocket or a toy bunny, I’ve found it indispensable and have fully embraced the concept. Actually, I feel a little naked with out it. Selection however, was tricky.

A courier bag is really too big for what I wanted and most other commercial shoulder bags, let’s be frank here, look way to girly for me.

In their defense, I think they are supposed to appeal to girls, so that’s fair, but unhelpful for the Dad-On-Duty who wants to retain the façade of Mr. Toughguy. I needed something suitably manly AND useful. What I found was a genuine, WWII British surplus gas mask bag and it. is… AWESOME!

The pouch for the gas canister neatly holds drink for the kids, the main area is capacious enough for changing supplies and toys and there’s even an extra pouch for paper items… like plane tickets. Made from super heavy canvas with steel fasteners and brass grommets, this thing is near indestructible as well. The non-adjustable strap needs no adjusting and hangs right where your hand falls naturally, perfect for dealing with a gas attack from either German infantry or a stinky two year old. In all its glorious olive drab camouflage, it completely fulfills the manly requirement and if someone decides to make fun of me for it, I can always hit them with it. A satchel full of wet diapers can pack a whollop!

So… the bathroom. The bathrooms were in sight of where we were sitting, so it wouldn’t exactly be a trek to get there but I didn’t relish the idea of dragging all my stuff through the tiny doorway and setting it down on the questionable damp men’s room floor. Overhead, the safety announcement ran through the P.A. system on an endless loop.

“Please keep your luggage with you at all times and report any suspicious or unattended bags immediately.”

I looked at Rick and his wife and made a quick judgment call that they probably didn’t work for international terrorists. I mean, between the delivery job and the gymnastics, when could he possibly fit in attending the meetings? It was time to be a rule breaker.

“Hey, Rick. Could you do me a big favor?” I tried my best to look earnest and non-terroristy. “Could you watch our stuff so I can get Short Stack here to the bathroom before we board?”

“Yah, no problem. I’m not going anywhere.”

There’s something funny about all these rules we have at airports now. We know that someone put them in place for a reason, but it seems like, the more that are piled on us, the less likely we are to take them seriously. It’s certainly not uniquely an American trait, but it seems to be endemic to us. We’re an unruly lot and the fact that my waiting area friend was so happy to flout a regulation in the effort of helping out a stranger gives me some hope for this country. One should never take rules as being unbendable, I believe.

After returning, I thanked him and we chatted some more until it was boarding time.

“WE ARE NOW BOARDING ROWS ZURGLE-BURGLE THROUGH FLURZZBE FOR FLIGHT 234, DIRECT TO ORLANDO. PLEASE HAVE YOUR PASSES READY.”

“What did they say?” There was no hope of me figuring out what they just said.

“Eh, who knows?” Rick and his wife were already gathering up their stuff. “I always just get in line.” He added with a wry smile. “It’s just easier that way.”

I smiled back and Short Stack and I joined the throng funneling in though the doorway down to the ramp. As we walked along, I looked down at my son, trotting along happily before me, rocket backpack bouncing with each enthusiastic hop.

He was going for a jet ride!

He was going to Florida!

He was going to see rockets!!!

I caught a lot of other folks smiling broadly at him as his obvious enthusiasm and sweet nature contagiously spread behind him like a wake. He was off on an adventure and pleased to be doing so. I had a deep and real urge to say, “That’s my boy!” to everyone I could.

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8 Responses

  1. I ended up travelling for 3 weeks through Indonesia with a Dutch guy sitting next to me on the flight going there. Hunches are good.

    You’re not even on the plane yet! … but I’m enjoying this, so that’s a good thing.

    I have to go watch Indiana Jones again now.

    • Enjoy Indy! He’s good for all occasions.

      I’ve done the same with the person on the flight. I wound up seeing people from the airplane over and over again. It pays to be nice. At least it keeps you form feeling uncomfortable later!

      Next post is actually on the plane! I swear!

      -TP

  2. The grown-up chat will return when the kids grow up, I promise 🙂

    I tend to talk to strangers all the time too, I think it’s too sad that everybody’s scared of everybody else (even though we’re more relaxed in Iceland than the USA). Lol at the investment banker thing.

    Icelanders tend not to take all those stupid rules seriously either – fortunately. It’s all about ruling with fear, there’s not a reason for half the rules anyway!

    cheers mate (I’m in Australia at the moment…) 😀

    • Enjoy Australia! (As if I need to tell you that!)

      I love chatting with strangers. I think it’s fascinating. Drives my wife bonkers though. 🙂 What are spouses for?

      I’m all for rules… that make sense. Stupid ones I ignore with impunity! Hope I don’t get caught. 😉

      -TP

  3. The bag looks really cool – I’ll have to check it out 🙂

    When I served the army, we had a gas mask bag that would hang on your left side – and it was perfectly positioned and of a right size to hold my camera. Since the army (draft) at the time was not what it used to be, I would often leave the gas mask in the barracks and use it as a camera bag. Was all excited on getting one afterwards but in the age of trigger happy terrorist hunters, I stayed with the mainstream. I had enough fun flying to US with Iranian and Syrian visa in my passport, he he

    • It really is a great bag! My only regret is that I only bought the one. It would be great to have a backup. You ought to look into picking one up again. Mine often doubles as a camera bag, snack bag, artists kit and even finds its way to the shooting range with me from time to time as an ammo bag. Indeed, it is the ultimate gentleman’s accessory! 😉

      -TP

  4. What a lovely story. Sorry I haven’t been around for a while. Sometimes real life gets in the way.

    Your thoughts on how strangers are perceived reminds me of when I went to take photos of an area of a tertiary education quadrangle that had a child minding playground in one corner, for a design assignment I had to do (redesign the quadrangle).

    I was with the head of the design department (an flamboyantly and openly gay man called Rod) of my college and as I was about to take the photo a woman ran up with her hand out to block the shot. She said “you can’t take photos here”.

    Rod blanched and tried to pull me away. He instantly knew what she was on about, but I didn’t, so I resisted and said to the woman, “why”?

    She said, “you could be a paedophile”. All of a sudden I understood why Rod looked so pale.

    It was a horrible feeling to have such an accusation flung at me, and what could one say to such a thing? I felt really sorry for Rod as I knew that if things went any further he wasn’t going to get a fair hearing.

    I was left feeling sick.

    • It really is a terrible place to be in if you are male and love kids. I’ve always enjoyed children but have also been keenly aware that my natural affection to children could commonly and easily be perceived and being an indicator of a depraved and predatory nature. It’s pretty awful and one of the reasons I left teaching so many yeas ago. The whole thing turns my stomach.

      Then I had kids of my own and the rules, if not changing completely, at least bent in my favor.

      When I’m with my own children, I’m perceived as “safer.” Not safe, perhaps, but at least not a reason for concern. The sad truth is that one day not so far away, my own kids will grow up and once again, I won’t be allowed close contact with kids without ringing alarm bells. It really is sad.

      -TP

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