Publisher’s note: As part of our anniversary celebration throughout 2017, we will re-print some of our favorites from the past 25 years. These specials are identified with our “25th Anniversary Feature” banner at the
top of the page. This “SUWAT” was originally published in December 2005.
By Greg A. Bruns
If you’ll be flying the friendly skies this holiday season, I’ll give you a little travel tip: do not be on Southwest flight 338 from Phoenix to St. Louis on Christmas Eve. My wife and I will be on that flight, and we’re bringing our colicky baby, Hambone?, with us. If you are on flight 338, you might as well just come up and punch me right in the mouth in the pre-boarding area, as a pre-emptive strike to make yourself feel better later. See, if Hambone goes on one of his hellacious screaming jags where he sounds and acts like the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character, you will find yourself wishing I was dead and you were pedaling a squeaky ten-speed all the way to St. Louis.
Sometimes when Hambone gets really engrossed into one of his fits, I’m reminded that we really are just animals. Without his parents, his toys, his books, his loving family and his eventual state-sponsored education, Hambone is just a cave baby, waiting to grow up into a cave man.
Which is exactly what Hambone was acting like when we did our “holiday travel test run” to St. Louis back in October: a cave baby. In the little guy’s defense, I was as tense as suspension bridge cabling, holding him right against my boiling belly, which was brewing into a future gastrointestinal condition. All of this was no doubt telegraphing to Hambone.
But we weren’t even on the plane yet – we were just standing in the “holding pen” at the gate, waiting for the boarding call, when Hambone started his very short, and very speedy trip to berzerkerville.
If you’ve never seen or heard a two-month-old (who weighs less than a sack of yams) in the grips of a colic fit, let me tell you that it is one of the worst things I’ve ever heard in my life. He seems as loud as a top fuel dragster (although according to medical reports I’ve read, he’s just a little louder than a jackhammer), and it’s downright baffling to hear that amount of noise coming out of something – someone – so small. His face shapeshifts into a horror show of primal rage while his lips turn dead-body blue and the blood vessels blotch his skin into muted shades of maroon, red and purple. The worst part of it all is knowing that something is hurting him, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
I jammed the pacifier into his mouth to muffle the screaming, and rocked him as briskly as I could. This was our absolute worst fear coming to life. Hambone was screaming, crying, tensing his muscles, arching his back and locking all of his joints, and generally notifying everyone within scream-shot of gate A16, that he was extremely pissed off.
It felt like all 140 passengers ready to board this full flight were staring right at me. One older guy gave me, my wife, and our howling child a narrowed look as he broadcast: “Sure hope I’m not sitting near you.”
My wife was fumbling with the diaper bag and our airport-bought dinner of two sandwiches and a flimsy paper tray overflowing with cold french fries. She patted the diaper bag and — yelling over Hambone’s screams — exclaimed to everyone, “We brought drugs! We have something for this!”
The gate agent graciously took us first, whisking us down the ramp while Hambone carried on hysterically, like he was on fire. We reached the end of the jetway, where we had to fold down and check the stroller and then do the two people traveling with infant tango: strapping straps, zipping zippers, shuffling sandwiches and other time-consuming behavior that clogs the jetway and elicits open-mouthed sighs from fellow travelers.
Then the crowd started to catch up to our chaotic, screaming jetway traffic jam. I thought we were almost ready to go, but then I saw my wife trying to balance the french fries on top of a magazine she had snatched out of the carry-on bag. I was sweating profusely and my chest was getting tight. It felt like my clothes were trying to suffocate me. It was all too much.
I pointed to a nearby garbage can and shouted over our child’s screams, “Throw the f@&%$#’ fries in the trash!”
And there went my last vestige of personal control. Seven words I couldn’t take back. I had just cussed at my wife in front of a bunch of strangers, while our child was melting down in my arms. My stomach flip-flopped and I wished I was somewhere—anywhere—else in the world.
The missus (it is perfectly appropriate here to call her my better half) gave me half of an eye-roll and said, “Oh, they’ll be fine.” And then she scampered on the plane, french fries and all.
Once we got to our row (the last one in the plane – we had asked for it), the missus started feeding our shrieking child and in one minute, he completely calmed down, as if nothing had happened at all. So that was it? Hunger pangs? I couldn’t believe it.
The missus settled in, and happily nibbled on a few fries while I put everything away in the overhead bins, and then slumped in my seat, mentally and physically wasted and needing a shower. I sheepishly ate a couple of those cold and greasy fries myself, to settle the volcano in my belly.
We traveled all the way to St. Louis with our very quiet, and very calm little baby. It was like he went into hibernation. While this was certainly great news once we landed, the acute anxiety of not knowing when “Taz” might show up during that three-hour flight, coupled with our “Gate A16 Adventure,” made me good friends with Immodium A-D for a couple days.
It is because of this that I feel compelled to warn you about Southwest flight 338 on December 24: there may be a cave baby on board. He will be with his cave man father, who may have a fat lip.
*To prevent preschool ostracizing, this is the name our firstborn son has been given for this column.
— Greg can be reached here: firstname.lastname@example.org.