If there’s one place, where, even more so than at insanely packed and over stimulating amusement parks like Disneyland, one will witness the entire spectrum of human emotions, it’s a large airport like good ol’ LAX.
As a counsellor and woman who has always been naturally predisposed to empathy and curiosity, perhaps it would even be more apt to say, hyper-vigilance, when it comes to the emotions of others (this I attribute to my years of trauma – vicarious and otherwise – as a child, where adeptly reading the emotional state of my father could often mean the difference between an evening without abuse and one with), I seem to be unable to be out and about anywhere without being acutely aware of the energy, emotions, and needs of the people around me.
These days, however, I am interested in the emotions of others for the dual reasons of my desire to help if and when I can and the great opportunities for growth and introspection I always receive through witnessing the experiences of others.
Case in point:
In the last hour, while waiting with my son for our flight home from Disneyland in California to Vancouver, BC, Canada, I have been witness to the following emotional displays:
1. Upon waiting in line to check baggage:
a) A pair of 2-year-old twins in a double stroller – arms flailing and screams of frustration escalating as they battle each other to see who will win the fight for roof up or roof down…up won, with dad’s interference, much to the dismay of the girl on the side of top down. I feel for her brother who is bound to experience many more such struggles as they grow together.
b) A 60-something woman at the ticket booth, weeping uncontrollably as she is told that she cannot travel with her husband because she lacked the necessary identification for travel and as such, was denied passage. I wondered to myself whether perhaps she was already distraught due to some illness or family emergency as her reaction was so powerful. But then, I reminded myself, “Who am I to suggest what warrants what reaction? Might there not be a situation where I would feel similarly distressed to discover I couldn’t travel? Yes. I think so.”
2. The joyful experience of the metal detectors. NOT:
I witness a combination of stress, frustration, anger and humiliation, and feel mildly affronted myself as men, women, and children are stripped of shoes, belts, jewellery, sweaters, etc.; bags opened and rifled through; contents tossed unceremoniously in the garbage if deemed to be in violation: hand cream, water or other such potentially dangerous goods such as nail files and clippers.
During forced submission to the pat down, I reflect on the likely anxious experience of those enduring the same who have unhealed sexual trauma or body image sensitivity or fear of authority figures or those who have endured torture or forcible detainment. I have it easy, I decide.
In front of me, I see the 90-something woman in a wheelchair, forced to stand and be carried through the X-ray machine, and the single mom with two small children have it much worse.
3. The food court:
I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know when I say that the airlines don’t serve food like they used to. No proper meals to be had, at least not on our 2.5 hour flight, even though it’s through the dinner hour. Oh yes, I stand corrected. There is beef jerky for $6 US and some deli thing (crackers and cheese), also 6 bucks. As such, we join the queue, pre-flight, at good old Burger King where, thankfully, they have added a garden salad to their menu (which by the way, consists of a little romaine lettuce, 4 baby, and I mean BABY carrots, 3 grape tomatoes and some packaged dressing). Woohooo! All for 5 bucks.
While I experience relief at the choice of a vegetable that isn’t deep fried, my son is thrilled with the limited selection as burgers are his favourite thing next to pizza, and he knows he has me over a barrel!
The lady behind us actually swears at the cashier because she had to wait a few minutes for her two cokes. I try to imagine what must be going on in her life to make her treat that woman so, and then am humbled to recall how I snapped at a bus driver just a few days before when, admittedly, in full PMS mode. The poor man tried to charge me $4.00 to use my Visa to pay for the shuttle bus fare.
I do think I had a right to be frustrated with the gouging, but did he deserve my terse tone? I think not (for the record, in the end, he didn’t charge me the 4 bucks and I gave him a 5-buck tip. All’s well that ends well). I wonder if the swearing-coke-lady managed to make such restitution?
While my son and I wait for the folks at Burger King to make my salad (they are apparently not high in demand and as such, there were none prepared), I read the listing of caloric, carb, fat and sugar content that each Burger King burger contains. This is curiously posted in giant print off to the side of the restaurant.
The short version? Basically, your entire day’s calories are utilized in one trip to good old BK. And about 3 days worth of fat grams. Nuff said.
Given that my son is type I diabetic (since age 6), I am primarily concerned with the carbohydrate and ultimately, sugar content in foods. Needless to say, he required a good dose of insulin with this meal which I like to avoid and which triggers great anxiety in me about his future health. Everything in moderation I remind myself, and feel instantly more peaceful. Though I still wish he’d get into veggies the way he’s into pizzas!
I do enjoy traveling with my son. He’s a lot of fun: Very easy going and pretty good at amusing himself with a magazine, some music or a movie. He still loves cuddles, too, which I take great enjoyment in. He’s very gregarious and outgoing. Always has been. He likes to chat up everyone he meets and has never been shy! I often hear what a cool kid he is and I know, and say, that’s because I got out of the way and just let him be. Thank goodness for Barbara Coloroso and my good fortune to find her book Kids Are Worth It! while pregnant with my son. If you were raised in dysfunction as I was, then it’s likely you don’t have a clue how to parent in a respectful, self-esteem building way (I sure as heck didn’t) – I highly recommend this book as a fabulous guide to rational and respectful relating of any kind but especially with your children. But I digress…
My traveling companion’s favourite stuffy joins us on all our travels. Mr. Waddles, is a very cute and desperately worn and well-loved Webkins penguin that I bought him some years ago to cheer him up when he was down with the flu.
Mr. Waddles has been to Disneyland three times, three times to Mexico and on various road trips throughout Canada and the U.S. I wonder, with some sadness mixed with acceptance and curiosity, how long it will be before Mr. Waddles goes the way of Andy’s Woody and Buzz (from Toy Story, if you’re out of the kiddie loop) and is no longer a prerequisite companion on our family vacations. I imagine, briefly, that I might keep slipping him into my suitcase anyway just so he can see the sights.
4. Waiting at the gate to board:
a) Sadness and longing: lovers kiss and say goodbye; the man slowly walking off as if with some regret and the woman sitting down, almost too quickly, as though to avoid looking back and fully acknowledging the same reluctance to part as her man. Why are they parting? My nosy- Parker self wants to ask why? For how long? When will they meet again?
b) Frustration and eagerness: Okay people. What’s the rush? We are all gettin’ on the same plane. You have assigned seating. Is it necessary to shove? Sheesh!
c) Anxiety: Written on the face of some flyers who clearly struggle with the notion of relinquishing all control over their lives to a few men they’ve never met and a giant tin can soon to be soaring 30,000 feet above terra firma.
Having recently watched a documentary (damn my husband and his interest in morbid TV!) on the airbus crash a few years ago for which the in-flight recorder was just recovered from the sea floor, I myself am unusually reluctant to be flying (ie. nervous, unsettled, working consciously on my “being here, now”, skills)….is it just me or did they just do an unusually long and detailed safety briefing for how to manage emergency ocean landings?? Back to my meditation!!
5. In the air:
Pain: Little ones wail as the plane gets under way and the cabin pressure increases, hurting their little ears.
Fatigue, boredom, excitement, eagerness again.
Three rowdy young men travelling to watch the Canucks play in the Stanley cup finals.
Goodness my neck is sore!! I say they’ll really be on to something when they have in-flight spa services or when they make airline seats that are also massage chairs!! Oh yeah!!!
In the meantime, I’m trying to plan how to get a good month off work so that I can cruise to Europe rather than fly! I figure if 2.5 hours is a wee bit stressful, there’s no way I’ll survive the flight to France that my husband and I have planned for next Spring. When are they going to get those darned transporters working, Scotty?!
I have greater admiration each time I fly for the pilots and flight crew. How do they do it? How do their bodies handle the ups and downs, literally, of air travel??
6. Landing, Customs and Luggage:
Why does the descent have to take so long!? Would that be impatience? Yep.
Feels good to be on the ground and stretch my legs.
Good old luggage retrieval. My son plays with the heavy flaps that separate the warehouse of baggage from the carousel for our flight, periodically sticking his head through the flaps to loudly report to all waiting: “There’s our suitcase! Darn it’s at the end! It’ll take forever!!!” Despite this doom and gloom forecast, I’m pleasantly surprised by the speed with which our suitcases glide down the conveyor belt into our eager hands as we join the queue in customs.
Ahhh, glorious customs. I always feel like I’ve committed some grievous crime that I’m not aware of but am soon to recall in a flash of horror as they haul me away into some dark room to await my fate. They’re so darn stern! What’s that about?! Krikey! There’s no way I’d even try to bring a piece of fruit through, let alone, contraband. I suppose that’s my answer.
My son, on the other hand, with a healthy 11-year-old passion for firearms, has travelled home with an entire weapons factory in his suitcase! One wooden bolt action rifle; one very realistic hand gun (“It’s Real Metal!” he exclaims to anyone who happens to be within a 10-foot radius.); a wooden handgun that shoots elastics – annoyingly painful at close range I might add; and a plastic sword that glows and makes incredibly loud and again, annoying!, sword-clashing sounds. I am convinced that the folks who make these things DO NOT have children! Needless to say, my son’s suitcase attracts a fair amount of attention as we make our way through customs. The glares of the uniformed customs officers trigger more ideations of weapons drawn, cuffing, and the confiscation of the arsenal that is in my dear son’s suitcase.
In witnessing his fixation with weaponry coupled with his enduring friendship with dear Mr. Waddles and his tween-appropriate budding sexuality, I have often felt drawn to pen a new book which would be entitled: Sex, Guns and Teddy Bears: Raising Healthy Boys in the 21st Century.
Well, guess what? We make it through customs, un-cuffed to boot! And with full arsenal in tow, I might add. Whew! Relief is the emotion that accompanies that experience. It feels like my life is my own again.
And then I witness and get to experience myself, warmth, love, joy and passion as families are reunited. My son and I are met by my dear husband, and after some long hugs, we make our way out of the bustling airport into the cloudy, rainy, city that is home sweet home.
May all journeys end so favourably. I will sleep well tonight.