Once divested of my lip-gloss and hand sanitizer, we headed toward our gate, clutching our pre-printed boarding passes in our hands. Nashville is a relatively small airport with few crowds but still, I'm a mother. I want my children to walk RIGHT NEXT TO ME. I refuse to take any chances.
My youngest, Starshine, does not walk, however. He wanders. He dreams. He talks to himself. To strangers. To no one at all. He becomes fascinated by the design on the carpet and walks straight into walls, drinking fountains, and mountains of luggage.
Or, he decides inexplicably that he can no longer walk at all. Why? Because his feet don't work. They've worked well for six and a half years but now, in the middle of BNA, they just refuse to work any longer.
He drags himself slowly toward me, my other two already disappearing around a corner with my hubby. He moans about how long he's already walked.
I am not sympathetic.
I've seen this kid run his feet into the ground for two hours straight at Chuck E. Cheese. Thirty feet of airport floor is no hardship.
I grab his hand and motivate him to move just a little faster by mentioning that if we get to the gate with time to spare, there is food in his immediate future.
We arrive at the gate and find a crowd. We are flying Southwest and there are no assigned seats, just four boarding groups: pre-boarding, for those with disabilities or cousins who work for the airline, group A, the first of the general boarders privileged to enter the aircraft and hand-pick their seating arrangements, group B, following the footsteps of group A and hoping for the best, and group C who get to strap in next to the one person everyone else managed to avoid.
We are group B.
I size up the lines in both group A and B and arrive at an uncomfortable conclusion: we won't find 5 seats together unless they let families board early. Not finding 5 seats together is not an option, really. None of my boys are old enough to sit on their own and I am way too nuerotic to stay in my seat if I have a child stranded somewhere else on the plane.
Of course, if I put Starshine on his own, the chances of his seatmates voluntarily giving up their seat to me after just three minutes of ceaseless chatter and inumerable bathroom visits is pretty high.
Still, I decide to approach the woman at the counter and ask about early boarding. She smiles sympathetically and informs me that unless my children are under the age of 4, we can't board early.
This is not good news.
Not to worry, she assures me brightly (because she is not the one facing a crowded 4 hour flight with three boys to worry about), if we have trouble, a flight attendant will sort the whole thing out.
I cling to this sliver of reassurance as the plane begins to board.
My hubby enters first, followed by my oldest and youngest. I have my middle child firmly in hand, discouraging all attempts to ride in unattended wheel chairs, spit gum at the windows, or lock himself into the cockpit.
As we pass the first three rows of seats, I notice a man wearing a turban, seated by the aisle. My hubby and other two boys have already maneuvered to the middle of the plane, vainly searching for seats. There are people pressing in behind us. In front of us. Standing in the aisle dithering about which of their group gets the window or the aisle. My middle child has given up his attempt to enter the cockpit and notices the man in the turban as well.
"Hey," he says to me, "is that Satan?"
I don't know where this question comes from. I've never seen an artistic rendition of Satan wearing a white turban and I'm deeply grateful that the man had his back turned to us and that we were already past him when my son chose to speak up.
It turns out my son is an excellent judge of character.
We follow my hubby to the end of the plane where it becomes clear that seating has become a free-for-all. Group B is grabbing anything they can get. Group C will apparently be stowed with the carry-on bags.
I see two seats together a few rows from the back and shove my middle child into the row. My hubby and our other two are now on their own, seeking three seats together in a plane where only single seats are left, and those are few and far between.
My hubby heads back to the front of the plane, children in tow, and alerts the flight attendant to his situation. She gets on the loudspeaker and announces that a family of three needs seats together and the airline will buy free drinks for any passengers who give up their seats.
No one moves.
I take a moment to mentally slap the bubbly woman behind the check-in counter.
The flight attendant makes another announcement.
This time, the two people seated beside the man in the turban, volunteer to give up their seats. They move to another area of the plane and now it is turban-man's turn.
There is an empty seat directly behind him, on the aisle. He could move back one row and solve the whole dilemma. He could do it to be decent. He could do it for the free drinks. He could do it to ease the terror on my children's faces as they contemplate flying without the immediate comforting presence of their father beside them.
He stares straight ahead and says, "This is MY seat. I will not move."
The flight attendant tries again. It's just one seat back. He is obstinate and won't do it.
Finally, the two people in the row behind him move forward so my family can get settled.
My hubby seats my oldest beside the window, himself in the middle, and Starshine behind turban-man.
This, as it turns out, was a stroke of brilliance on his part.
Meanwhile, I'm in the back with my middle child who is pressed against the window, hoping that the plane will take off as fast as a rocket and that, even though I've assured him we can't reach outer space on Southwest, for once, I might be wrong.
I text my hubby to ask him if they are ok, to remind him that he has ALL of the carry-on bags with him so I have no food, no toys, and no ipod to use for entertaining our middle child.
He says he'll send Starshine once we're in the air and to turn off my cell phone.
A few weeks ago, my hubby bought me a new cell phone and, surprisingly enough, I've kept it charged the whole time, never once turning it off.
I start pushing buttons, holding down keys. Nothing works. I quickly realize that I don't know how to turn my phone off. The flight attendant sees me and briskly tells me that I must turn off my phone NOW. I tell her I'm working on it. And I do. I try everything I can think of but the phone will not cooperate.
The flight attendant is on her way back down the aisle to check on my compliance. The nice older lady beside me is watching with avid interest as I tell her my hubby is the only one who knows how to turn off my phone and he's at the front of the plane.
Finally, in desperation, I turn my phone to silent and stuff it into my purse. We rush down the runway, my middle child laughing hyseterically as the G forces flatten us to our seats, and lunge into the air.
I am suddenly struck with terror.
Why did I have to turn off my cell phone? Does the signal interfere with the plane somehow? Am I going to singlehandedly crash our flight because I don't know how to turn off a cell phone? Who doesn't know how to turn off a cell phone? I'm going to go down in history as the great idiot of our time. After Al Gore, of course.
We don't crash. No one comes to haul me out of my chair and castigate me for sheer ignorance. Instead, Starshine bounds by, tossing me my ipod and his brother's journal while making his way to the bathroom.
It is soon clear that Starshine and my middle child placed a bet before flying. The wager was simple: See who can make the most visits to the bathroom on a four hour flight.
This was actually a triumph for our whole family because turban-man was seated in front of him and every time Starshine got out of his seat - to use the restroom, to visit me, to wipe crumbs from his lap - he grabbed the top of the seat in front of him and used it as leverage to haul himself up.
My hubby noticed the first few times that whenever Starshine did this, turban-man's head would jerk back against the seat. He paid more attention the next time Starshine made a visit to the bathroom and realized that in the act of grabbing the seat top, Starshine was also grabbing the turban and anchoring the man's head to his seat.
This seemed just.
Turban-man turned to glare at my hubby after yet another excursion by Starshine and my hubby smiled and said, "It's your seat. You aren't moving."
The rest of the flight was uneventful and when we taxied onto the runway in San Diego for our connecting flight, the flight attendant began the usual end-of-flight spiel and spiced it up with the best line I've ever heard on an airplane:
"Ladies and gentleman, be careful when opening the overhead bins because let's face it, shift happens."
More on our adventures in traveling soon...