You can have your women in combat. You can have your women who lean in. You can even have your woman secretary of state who visits 112 countries. But my new heroes are women on planes with babies.
Flying back and forth across the country over the holiday weekend, I met a lot of these road warriors. It seemed their children were never in a good mood, and neither, I'm guessing, were the childless passengers who suddenly found the plane had become an airborne day care center.
Just imagine if every time you boarded a plane, you knew nobody in the cabin wanted to sit near you. That they'd rather sit next to the snoring fat guy who takes up a seat and a half than you and your babies. That's harsh.
And imagine flying not with a tidy black carry-on bag, but with a stroller and a car seat, a diaper bag and a tote bag full of snacks, bottles, drink boxes, toys and a portable video player. Talk about logistics.
But that is what I witnessed. Women with toddlers and newborns, women with twins and a pair of pre-schoolers. Women traveling without husbands or grandmothers or any other extra pair of hands. Women who know they will leave a layer of crushed goldfish around their seats and the flight attendants will curse them.
Not sure what it is about children on planes — maybe it is the change in cabin pressure — but they are pretty much always crying. And you are the mother, sweating bullets and dying inside because you can read the minds and the angry stares of every passenger around you and, try as you might, the child will not be consoled.
Instead of being annoyed at these women, I counted my blessings. The family member I travel with does crossword puzzles and sleeps and doesn't mind when you wake him so you can visit the bathroom. Six hours on a plane with a creature that will not nap or be content in a confined space is punishment enough, I say. And on your lap, no less. Why must the unencumbered add their undisguised irritation?
Like the Hatfields and the McCoys, leisure travelers and business travelers have never really liked each other. And airlines have been caught in the middle, needing both to buy tickets. The New York Times ran an article this week about the efforts of airlines that fly internationally to keep the peace, especially since their flights can be 10 hours or more.
Emirates, which flies from New York to Dubai, gives each kid a backpack with toys, and its in-flight entertainment has 30 family channels, according to the Times. El Al, which flies to Israel, has a clown. And there is a website where you can register as a traveling baby sitter and earn extra money on your trip by helping out a traveling parent.
That's a lot to ask on a cheap flight to a vacation spot in the States. How about if we start with a little sympathy?
Grandma is expecting mom to cart the kids home for Easter, Passover and all manner of other holidays, and she is glad to do it. After all, there is no love like the unconditional love of a grandmother. Why reward mom's sincere attempt to keep family ties vibrant with your arrogance? Why not praise her endurance and her juggling act and offer to take the baby on your lap for a bit so she can drink her Diet Coke in peace? Or visit the bathroom?
Why not turn around and distract the irritated kid kicking your seat with your bracelet, your funny faces or one of your pretzels? Why not offer a few words of praise as a mom grabs up all her stuff and, with a kid by the hand and another on the hip, gamely tries to exit the plane?
As you might have guessed, I have an interest in changing the atmosphere on cross-country flights for women with babies. I have a daughter-in-law who will be making her way, single-handed, to us with a toddler and a newborn soon enough.
And everybody on that plane better be kind and understanding, or they will have me to deal with at this end.