An anecdote that I forgot to include in my late night roundup of my trip.
In Charlotte I was quite surprised when I walked into the women’s room to find that there was an attendant. The sign at the door said something like: “This room is maintained by Alena K.”
Alena was a small blonde woman with a flower pinned in her hair. As soon as she saw me approaching with Anthony and the stroller, she grabbed a handful of paper towels and raced before me, pointing out the nook with the changing table then when I shook my head slightly she flitted on to the large handicapped stall at the end where she gave the toilet seat a swipe and then pushed the button to flush the toilet.
As I was washing my hands I saw her out of the corner of my eye, peeking at Anthony in the sling. Of course he gave her one of his brilliant smiles and she beamed back. And asked me how old he is. And what his name is. When I said “Anthony,” she nodded. “Da. My son is Ivan.” Pause. “She looked at Anthony again and translated his name, “Anton.” I asked her if she was Russian and she answered that her country was Belarus.
After I’d changed Anthony’s diaper she approached me again with her phone in hand and flipped through to show me a picture of her Ivan. I smiled and complimented her and she showed me another one and as she was flipping to find it I saw other pictures. A handsome man on a beach, a little girl.
As I left I put a few dollars in her tip jar. I would have anyway just for that initial performance where she wiped off the toilet seat and flushed it for me. I can’t tell you how many times on this trip I’ve gone into the handicapped stall with Anthony tied up in the sling only to find the place a mess. Ick. But as I dropped them in I looked up to see her smiling at me. “God bless,” she said. And I smiled back and wished her the same.
Such a small encounter. I haven’t been in an attended bathroom since I was in Europe. What a nice touch for the airport to have. It just makes the travel experience so much nicer. But this was so much more than that. It was another reminder, on a trip full of them, of that universal language of motherhood.
It’s not just that everyone goes gaga over Anthony. (Though everyone does. He really is the happiest, friendliest, smilingest baby. And he loves people. He’ll smile at anyone.) It’s also that any mother I talked to while holding him just had to tell me about her own babies. And not just young mothers. The mother of the bride and I spent some time swapping stories. No, there’s something about being a mother that changes you. And something about knowing another woman is a mother that changes the way you can relate to her. She’s one of the club. She knows.
Now there are women who’ve never had children who love babies. There was one girl at the bachelorette party who held Anthony for forever. She was a nanny and couldn’t stop talking about the kids she cares for. But it’s not the same. We had a great chat about babies and children and all that. But for all her experience she hasn’t been there in the same way. I can’t quite define it. It’s not just that you’ve both been through the sleepless nights and the diapers and all that, the understanding that comes from both of you having done the same hard thing. But there’s something else as well.
Something that I even felt a bit of on my first flight yesterday. The flight was totally full and I found myself squished into the window seat, watching the plane fill up and dreading the moment when the center seat next to me would be claimed. Eventually it was filled by a very large man. Tall and broad, he almost overflowed the seat. He looked so uncomfortable. But I felt even more uncomfortable knowing that at some point I was going to have to nurse Anthony with this huge strange man sitting right up next to me.
But then he turned and asked me how old Anthony was. And started telling me all about his three boys. And suddenly I wasn’t quite so tense. I knew he’d get it. And he did, politely averting his eyes. Helping me lift down my bag at the end of the flight. But also, just being a dad who had to travel away from home for work on Father’s Day. A dad doing a hard thing to support his family.
So there you go. No neat ribbon to tie this story up with. Just a little snapshot of some strangers who were parents too. Of smiles shared and suddenly I felt a little less alone in my journey.