Sprinting, I turn left into oncoming foot traffic. “Stop,” I shout in a subtle but firm voice. No response. The miscreant turns right, looks back, giggles, and runs faster. He has the advantage: light on his feet and new running shoes. Me? I’m weighed down with a portable stroller complete with baby Justin, diaper bag, Thomas the Tank Engine backpack, and saddle bag purse. He heads towards the exit. “Stop!” I shout louder.
“Hey little guy,” a TSA agent says as my three-year old races towards the door. “Where ya goin’ in such a hurry?”
Matthew looks at the stranger, slows for a split second, and turns towards the gate. I catch the back of his shirt and haul him up under my arm. Squeals of laughter reverberate around the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport as the flight crew announces the boarding of our plane which is already an hour late. Good, I think. I can strap the runaway onto the seat and catch my breath.
I was wrong.
The announcement continues to explain that because the outside temperature is over 110 degrees, pre-boarding will not be an option for our flight to San Diego. I move to the enormous line, unfasten Justin, fold up the stroller, set down my bags, and wait.
My feisty child starts to move again. I grab his hand. He tries to pull away. I restrain him. He twists and turns until he is free, running, once again, towards the exit.
I chase after him leaving my baggage unattended. This time I’m racing with Justin in my arms screaming, “Stop. Come back. I’m going to kill you!” (Which, by the way, is not something any mother should ever say, especially in an airport.)
I see Matthew reach the exit when a man jumps out and scoops him up. A stranger. In a crowded airport. Just picked up my child.
I leap around bags, hip check an old lady, and lunge. I grab my child with a semi-free hand, and plaster a fake smile at the stranger.
The feeling of panic and relief begins to overwhelm me as I move towards my place in line. Slowly, we board the plane and take our seats when Justin comes to life. He’s hungry, he’s tired. He starts to cry a little. Then a lot.
I rock him. I sing to him. I begin to feed him when Matthew announces, very loudly, that he must use the bathroom. The fasten seat belt sign is clearly visible.
The plane has not yet left the tarmac and already one child is wailing while the other is begging to use the facilities. I close my eyes to block out the noise–to find the “happy place”–to avoid the tears of frustration–no luck.
Suddenly airborne, the woman across the aisle asks to hold my baby. Another stranger. Wanting to hold my baby. I grip him tighter.
Then the man next to me asks if he can take Matthew to the toilet. I shake my head thinking Alert! Stranger Danger!
Justin wailing, Matthew begging, me crying. I look at the two people on either side of me wanting to help when a voice in my head says, How can a baby be kidnapped on an airplane? How can someone harm my son if I’m watching the whole time? I give in.
A few minutes later, Justin is asleep and Matthew is buckled in his seat smiling. I look at the two loves of my life. I know being a parent is not easy but when Matthew looks up at me and says, “Mommy, I love you,” I sigh. Through the stress and chaos, panic and frustration, to me, those little words make it all worthwhile.