Saturday, January 17, 2009

9 hours 12 minutes: begrudgingly receiving


Almost a year ago I wrote a post entitled "you make me feel like an incompetent woman" about the guilt I felt when Charles does things for me. Nearly a year later, navigating NYC with an infant in tow, I find that I must ask help from people all the time.

Recently, on the trip back from Honolulu to New York, I needed help, and knowing that made me all shades of irritated and resentful. When the crew called for those with children to board first, I guiltily passed the waiting crowds, worried they'd all be thinking "oh no, a baby!" I'd been assigned a seat at the bulk head, which I'd read was good for mothers with babies, but why was beyond me as there was no place to store my diaper bag at arms length. A middle-aged Asian lady sitting across the aisle from me offered to stow it in the overhead compartment, and I thanked her, feeling guilty for being a burden and annoyed that the diapers, wet-wipes, and my reading material was now out of reach. The seat next to me was empty and the man on the other side of it looked over at Ike and said, "well, you've got your hands full! I'll get the bag down for you later if you need it." I nodded nervously, smiling, assuming he was thinking "oh, crap, I wonder if I can get a different seat." I turned away and began to nurse Ike, hoping no one else would take notice of me and that oh God, pretty please the seat next to me would stay empty.

Much of the time I prefer that people take no notice of me. And asking for help is bringing attention directly to myself, like saying, "hey, come here and chat!" to perfect strangers. I worry: How can I repay them? Will they think I'm rude because I won't want to talk? What's the point of talking to someone I'll never see again? Or more poignantly, the self-criticism: Why don't I just relax and enjoy talking to strangers? I dread being drawn into conversation with some horribly well-meaning person who'll yap my ear off. I suspect I'll be sitting there and thinking all sorts of snippy retorts in my head while saying with contrived politeness, "hmm, yes, I see." Although, for the record, this rarely happens. My fears are generally unfounded, and are based on an unbecoming social squeamishness.

I felt God must have heard my plea when the plane filled up with passengers while the seat next to me remained empty. I had just begun to gloat when the stewardess announced they were selling the remaining seats to stand-by fliers. Within minutes a tall, thin, and well-tanned woman in her mid-30s sat down next to me. She smiled vacantly when she saw Ike and crooned, "ooooh, is that your baby?" I paused and tentatively said "yes..." thinking, but not saying, "no, I stole him from a couple in the airport." What the hell? Just the kind of communication I hate. This 9 hour 12 minute flight was going to be awful. She was probably returning from vacationing on Maui with her college sorority sisters. Ugh. Serves her right to sit next to a baby.

Me and my evil thoughts. I don't feel nice thinking them, which adds to my general bad mood. When the stewardess came by to offer drinks, I was slinking lower into my seat, Ike asleep on my lap, my eyes glued to the monitor announcing 8 hours 24 minutes left on the flight. But maybe God heard my prayer after all. "Do you want a bassinet?" she asked. "Sure," I said, "if it's no problem." When she returned, my well-tanned neighbor helped attach it to the wall directly in front of her seat and offered to switch seats with me if I liked.

I didn't get but a few hours sleep on the plane, but the baby slept well in his little carriage. When I drifted off to sleep the man two seats over watched Ike, even putting his pacifier back in when he became fussy. He commended me for breast-feeding, and told me about his own children. The Asian woman offered to hold Ike so I could go to the bathroom, and helped me change Ike's diaper as well. Ike was as good as could be expected, and no one seemed terribly put-out by his presence. Ms Well-Tanned slept most of the trip, and my heart softened toward her when I noticed how unhappy she looked asleep. The same friendly man who watched over Ike struck up a conversation with her, and I overheard her say she had gone to Maui to get some space after a painful breakup with her boyfriend. Sigh. I'm so quick to judge the well-tanned, successful-looking people of the world.

All said, it was a fairly good 9 hour flight, primarily because of the help of strangers and Ike's good temperament. What kind of example do I set for my son if I slink down to determinedly do everything myself instead of accepting what God so freely gives me through those around me? I know this is one of the challenges of my personality: to learn how to graciously respond to strangers without allowing my suspicious nature and fragile ego to get in the way. I can ask for help when I need it, and enjoy receiving it, and not to take myself and everyone else so seriously. The words of St Philaret ring true, "in unforeseen events let me not forget that all are sent by you."

1 comment:

CPB said...

oh my. I had no idea someone else felt this way. (I have a one-year-old.) What a relief. What a comfort.

I'm Bethany's sister, by the way.