The baby is screaming and I can't find her bottle. TSA won't let me through because I am over the liquid ounces limit. All our belongings are now on the belt, making their way to the other side. I wish I was over there with them. My son is zig-zagging between the poles like a crazed slalom skier and everyone is waiting on me to fold up the stroller.
The baby is shrieking now. Where the hell, did I put that binky? Simultaneously, someone is asking me to take of my shoes and belt while another is telling me my stroller will never fit through the X-ray machine. "It fits." growling a little too forcefully and the guy raises his hand. Hand check!
He yells. "Sir, I am going to have to ask you to step aside" But, what about my baby? I say. "The baby can wait" he curtly responds and as I am walking past the scanner through those swinging double doors, I know this can't be right.
Then I wake up in a cold sweat.
I will never forget the first trip I took with our first two children on my own. I was headed to Rochester, NY to meet up with my wife who was house hunting in our new state while I stayed in Chicago with the kids. I knew what travelling with them meant with my wife along with me and was terrified of ensuring everything went well with no one to fall back on.
Going through security with the kids and our stuff was a nightmare I had weeks before the big day arrived. My wife said "You're a big boy, you'll do fine" but I still doubted my ability to get all three of us to the gate in time for boarding.
I approached the long Chicago airport security line trying to keep track of the older one and prepping to get the baby through with all our stuff. The car seat was inside the backpack bag strapped to my back making me look like a sherpa trekking up Everest. On either arm was a backpack and diaper bag while I pushed the stroller. My oldest son, at three was carrying his own tiny backpack full of toys.
The TSA person, delightful as ever, gave me the once over while I tried to hold up all the bags with a smile. I had the urge to say that I would like to buy this guy a Coke just to see what would happen. I felt like he was staring through me not at me. My nightmare was coming true, it was about to happen just like the dream.
Only it didn't. He asked me "Are you travelling all by yourself with these kids?" Yes. I replied, trying to look braver than I felt. "You can move to the left sir, into the travelling families' line." he said. I wasn't sure where that went to but it sounded gloriously better than the never-ending line I was in.
The family line was still a line but with poor saps just like me. In most cases it was a family going to Disney together from the looks of their matching shirts and permanent smiles. In many cases though, it was a mom travelling with the little ones maybe off to see grandma and grandpa while daddy was away for work. Possibly he was on a business trip and would meet them at their final destination.
We were in the same boat but our travels took different directions when we actually got to security. I took the left line and she took the right but once we were there, people rushed to help the dad with the kids and totally disregarded the mom in the same situation.
When TSA told the mom that she had to remove the child from the Baby Bjorn, she turned to a guy directly behind her and asked if he could hold the baby for a second while she took it off. He looked like she had asked him to hold a live grenade.
On my side, people were understanding. They were smiling and telling me I was a good dad while a mere five steps away, a mom was doing the exact same thing without any accolades. No one told her she was a good mom but they made sure my kids knew drawing attention to the fact that "They were so lucky that daddy was taking them with him."
Was this a double standard? Did I just pick the better line? Maybe these guys just had their break and were fresh and ready for the rest of the afternoon. There had to be a good explanation. I was wrong.
In the terminal, we picked up McDonald's before getting on. The mom was there too and again got the cold shoulder. People seemed to expect a mom getting fast food for their children as a ho-hum experience. When I went through the line I felt like the Mayor of Cheeseburgerville. You get a cheeseburger! You get a cheeseburger! Everyone gets a cheeseburger!
The mom sat near me across from her kids staring blankly into space. I felt like a Marsha to her Jan. We sat at the terminal and ate our lunches. Our collective kids found the only TV playing cartoons near each other and ate their Happy Meals while we all vegged out happy for the respite.
When our flight was called we went on during family boarding. The last straw was snapped by the flight attendants who coddled me and made sure I had everything I needed. I was grateful for all the attention because of my fears but I also felt bad. The mom was left to fend for herself like she was raised by wolves while I was asked repeatedly if I needed anything.
Why do posts of men combing their children's hair go viral? Why does a man taking his kids out draw so much celebration? Why should we highlight the same things a man does as a parent that other parents, especially moms do every day? The answer is, we shouldn't.
Men just want to be known as parents and not treated to a ticker-tape parade for doing what is expected of us. We don't want special consideration, just to be regarded as on the same level as moms and vice versa. Our society shouldn't sensationalize the relationships that men are building with their children. We do those things out of love not for attention. We aren't Supermen, we are just dads doing what is best for our children and that just makes us a parent.
I've heard enough people when I am out with my kids or at the grocery store say "You must be giving Mommy the day off today" and wished that they would just say "Spending time with dad today?" or just a simple word of encouragement as I am trying to steer them away from the checkout candy.
We deplaned with everyone making a fuss about how good my kids were as we made our way to our bags. I smiled and thanked them promising to reward them for being so good. We deplaned slowly, gathering up everything we had spread out for the trip, making sure nothing was left behind. Eventually I managed to find the mom near the carousel while I waited to locate the luggage.
"Travelling with the kids is the worst huh?" I said.
"Yes, it's a lot to handle. she replied.
"Well, from one parent to another I just wanted to say, you're doing a great job" She was surprised but not ungrateful for the effort. She said "So are you." We parted ways and there wasn't any fanfare for either of us and no trumpets leading the way.
There wasn't a photographer taking my picture for the newspaper so they could run a story called "Brave Dad Takes Kids On Airplane Alone" nor a ticker tape parade as we walked to the car. Just the usual demands for Goldfish and the promises of an afternoon nap. I'm not an Amazing Dad and she is not Super Mom. We are just parents and we're the same so please, just treat us that way.