Mother on the Orient Express: Part Two

Did I mention that seconds after Mom showed me her dead cell phone, I found her boarding pass on the floor of the restaurant?

This is when I confiscated all of her travel documents, and would not let her have them in her possession… until we ended up in a fight while being forced to go through customs in Canada.

”Canada!” you say. “But I thought you guys were going to Europe!

Yes, dear reader. Thank you for paying attention. I will tell you all about Canada, but not until later, because right now in this story Mom and I are still trying to get out of Newark.

It wasn’t easy.

I can’t remember too many plane trips I’ve taken with my mom. I remember flying to Vegas together for my 21st birthday, which had us meeting up in Phoenix (and almost missing each other due to Mom’s misunderstanding of time zones). And I know I took flights with her when I was very little and we were moving, but those stories mostly involve how difficult it was for her to fly by herself with two small children and a cat carrier. I do remember my little sister losing her shit and running as fast as she could in the direction of away from the airplane, while my mom held onto a suitcase and a cat and yelled, “Wait! Somebody stop that little girl!”

(I, however, was an angel.)

I fly rather often, so I’ve gotten into my flying groove, and I forget that it’s different when you travel with someone who doesn’t fly all that often. Where I’ve got a system (some might call it THE SYSTEM) that probably makes me rather annoying to partner with if you aren’t a normal part of THE SYSTEM, someone who flies every once in a great while has no system. And for someone with a system that can be… well, completely frustrating.

I remember Tara tweet-complaining once that she can’t understand nor forgive nor be at peace with the fact that some people get on a plane and then just sit there, staring straight ahead. For hours. Who does that?! What is that?! Are you that opposed to reading? Are you meditating? What does that kind of person do for fun — sit in gridlocked traffic? It’s shifty, is what it is. Get a magazine. There’s one right in front of you in the little pocket. Jesus. Just be normal while we’re all on the plane, can you?

I fly with about sixteen different forms of recreation (THE SYSTEM works), which means that if you’re flying with me and you run out of paperbacks, I have backup media I would be more than willing to offer to share. (Including to you, Seat Starer).

Our flight was a redeye to Frankfurt, so what I’d also packed with me was some glorious Benadryl. THE SYSTEM says that I must take the Benadryl as soon as the flight is safely in the air and beverage service is beginning. There are several (very good) reasons for this, the first being that you never know if the flight will be delayed or cancelled, and Benadryl works rather quickly on me. I don’t want to be slobbery and passed out in 12D when they are asking everybody to get off the plane and be smart enough to figure out how to get on another one or stand in a very long line on the other end of the terminal while they pretend they have a plan for getting you to your final destination.

We were in bulkhead seats, which are not the best seats when it comes to THE SYSTEM. I’m short, so legroom isn’t my first priority, and bulkhead seats always have tray tables that are worse than high chair trays. I hate having to navigate around my own breasts to see my laptop, or have my elbows poking my neighbors’ ears if I’d like to try to eat using utensils.

But the biggest problem with bulkhead seating is that you often have to put all of your belongings in the overhead, and the seat pocket in front of you is barely functional. This means all of THE SYSTEM is now out of reach, and if I have a middle seat (which I did, because I’m a good daughter and offered my mother the window), then I’m going to be bothering someone so that I can get into the overhead. Which is even more unacceptable (to me) when you’re on a redeye, because I want the guy sitting on the aisle to sleep for a couple of reasons. I’d want to be left alone if I were asleep, but also if he’s asleep he isn’t fidgeting, all poking at me from the arm rest, wiggling around making me have to babysit my tiny plastic water cup from its scary perch at the corner of my useless mini tray table. (Side complaint of middle seat bulkhead — if I want to use my tray table, I’ve got to wake aisle seat up and ask if he’ll lift his arm. I really think we should all be as quiet as possible on planes. This is so we don’t disturb the babies, who will cry when they figure out that what we’re doing is kind of dangerous.)

So. Middle seat. All of my belongings up above me and out of my reach. I’ve got a Kindle and a paperback (because you can’t read a Kindle during take-offs and landings), and Mom’s next to me with her paperback… when the flight gets delayed due to storms over the Atlantic.

We are told we will sit on the plane until we wait out the storm.

What we couldn’t have known right then is how long we’d be waiting.

We sat there for two and a half hours.

And at some point during those one hundred and fifty minutes, I became my mother’s mother. I’d hold her things while she searched through her purse for her glasses and her book. I ordered her tea from the flight attendant. I asked her if she needed another “blankie.”

She was the first to notice it. “This used to be the other way around, little girl,” she said. “Now you’re the one shushing me on the plane.”

“I’m only shushing you because you’re SO LOUD.”

She is sixty years old. That’s the reason we’re even on this flight, because the woman is sixty years old. I would think by now she would know that when she’s wearing headphones and has the pre-flight entertainment volume cranked to full blast, she doesn’t need to yell over that noise to talk to me.

And yet, there she was, laughing at a trailer before turning to me to bellow, “I LOVE THAT GUY.”

That guy is Brendan Fraser. And she does love him.

So this is the part of the pre-flight flight where I go ahead and have an anxiety-fueled freak-out about getting my Benadryl out of the overhead compartment, because I might as well have it just in case we take off at any moment, and I know that aisle seat guy is looking pretty sleepy as it’s getting warmer and warmer inside the airplane as we sit there not flying. And also, taking a pill that will make me calm down is probably a good idea. (THE SYSTEM is also for the benefit of other people.)

We finally do take off and I do take my pill and I think maybe things will be okay, and the lights start getting turned off and it quiets down on the bumpy plane.

This is when Mom tried to watch IRON MAN 2.

I say “try” because she had a hard time with the movie-watching machine that came up from the bottom of her seat (Another bulkhead problem). There were buttons to push, and she couldn’t always understand which button was for sound and which button was for starting the movie over again from the beginning. I mean, that’s what I’m guessing was happening. I’m not sure if those buttons were right next to each other. It seems like bad design, if they were. I just know that every twenty minutes, I’d be almost dozed off from my Benadryl/sleep mask/red wine combo when I’d hear:


I’d wake up, try to help her fast forward, suggest she read a book, anything to feel like I got her settled, because I didn’t want to fall asleep while Mom was wide awake. I was deep into THE SYSTEM by this point, and deep, drug-fueled redeye flight sleep was imminent.

“Mom. Maybe you can read your book?”


“Mom. Shh.”

“I’M NOT YELLING. My glasses are broken. I need these nose things fixed, so I can’t read without my glasses.”

“Well, what are you going to do? Do you want to sleep?”

“I’m not tired. I think it’s all that tea.”


“It’s too bad we’re just now leaving, after we put in so many hours already sitting here.”


And then I dozed off. When I woke up a few minutes or maybe an hour later, I took my sleep mask off to check on Mom.

There she was, sitting there, staring straight ahead.

And I realized: she had no choice.

I gave her a Benadryl. And forced her to be a part of my system.


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