A few weeks ago, I decided to help a friend with a photography project, and in order to do so had to take a three-hour train ride to another city. As I was packing, my Baby Daddy casually asked if I remembered to bring something to read. Oh, that’s a great idea, I snarled sweetly. I asked him which book he thought I should bring along, and could he please pack the battery operated blender and fresh fruit so I could whip up some delicious cocktails to enjoy with my book…
“Something to read?” Was he serious? Had he forgotten I was taking our 7-month-old on the train? Alone. On the train. A-l-o-n-e.
Rattles, teethers in a multitude of shapes and sizes, plush dolls, extra diapers, bottles, blankets… You get the point. No book for mommy.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t that nervous about my solo trip with my girl. I was looking forward to it. I imagined sitting snugly in our seat and watching her drift off to sleep in my arms as the train blurred through the countryside. I’d stare out the window while absentmindedly stroking baby’s head as she dozed contentedly.
Mm hmm. Sure.
After boarding the train, I settled into our seat and watched as the faces around us fell. Hard. The woman seated beside me did the best impression of a leaking air mattress I’ve ever heard. Once she expelled that one last sigh, she went and complained to the attendant about her seat and was eventually moved. As she grabbed her bags she looked at us and shook her head disapprovingly as though we’d done something wrong. Foreshadowing? Perhaps.
Baby didn’t even wait until the train left the station before she started to fuss. Nothing too bad at first. The noises she made were a soft whiny mewling sound. I wasn’t worried. I sat her on my lap and spoke in soothing tones. Soft whiny mewls became louder. I started to rummage with one hand through my bag of tricks to find something she’d like. Purple teether? Nope. Pink teether? Nope. Trendy giraffe teether with creepy smile? Oh hell no. In fact, I’m pretty sure she tried to punch the simpering smile right off that giraffe’s face. Okay. No problem. I rummaged some more — again with one hand — and found the doll she is in drooly love with. No dice. Apparently they’d had a falling out on the way to the train station and baby was holding a serious grudge.
We were about 10 minutes into the train ride when she pulled my personal favorite: the “I’m-so-angry-I’m-going-to-get-all-stiff-and-lunge-backwards” move. Have you ever tried to hold onto 20 pounds of thrashing baby with one hand while frantically trying to unhook your nursing bra with the other? I hadn’t either.
One chubby arm whacked me in the ear and the other knocked my glasses to the floor under our seat. As I fished for my glasses — with one hand and a foot — I remembered the unlatched bra and realized my bare breast was seconds away from peeking out of the receiving blanket hanging over my shoulder. The man across the aisle was, of course, staring at our Romper Room horror show with disgust and all I needed was for him to make eye contact with my lactating breast.
This was going to be the longest trip of my life.
At this point in the story, you can probably guess that my little girl refused to breastfeed. Why eat when you can scream the cheeks clear off your face? I found myself pleading with her to calm down. Sweaty-faced and stressed out, I begged her. Please baby. PLEASE.
Upon reflection, I can’t help but wonder if babies, like dogs, smell fear. I was afraid, and she seemed propelled by the scent of my terror. I was that woman. The one with the screaming baby on public transportation. You know the one: the woman you cursed under your breath for traveling with her wailing baby. The frazzled woman in the back of a plane/train/bus making new enemies every time her baby bawled. That poor woman was me.
I glanced around and was met with row upon row of deadpan faces. The people whodid make eye contact stabbed me in the forehead with daggers. Not a sympathetic soul to be found. Or so I thought.
When my last nerve was about to fizzle out and die, the skies opened up and shone a golden beam of God light onto my poor embarrassed face. We’re not talking Jesus here. No, my savior came in the form of a crusty-faced two-year-old named Sabine. She poked her little face around our seats and asked, “WHAT THA MATTER, BAY-BEE?” As subtle as, well, a two year old, I guess.
According to her mother, Sabine decided my baby needed some help because she sounded so sad. Sad? More like possessed, but anyway… We were invited to go sit with them, and after two surly teenagers reluctantly switched seats with me, we moved. I’m pretty sure I heard some clapping as we relocated. For the rest of the trip, baby was enthralled by Sabine and her grubby teddy bear. Sure, she had bouts of crying, but nothing compared to that first horrific leg of our journey.
So here’s a question: Why don’t trains and planes have a kiddie section? Wouldn’t everyone onboard benefit from that? Put all the battle weary moms in one section and close the curtains. And keep the drinks flowing… When I spoke to my Baby Daddy that evening, I made a point to say I could have used some reading material after all… “The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook: A Guide to Healing, Recovery, and Growth.”