Most of the time, people barely think about why they do things. You find yourself in a situation and have a choice to make, and you make it. That leads to more decisions and before you know it you're doing things that might make no sense at all, or all the sense in the world. But sometimes you find a person who knows exactly what they're doing.
I was on a Monday morning flight from Philadelphia to Dallas. It was October, and I was hoping for warmer weather in Texas. Most of the passengers had boarded and it was nearly time to close the door when a family got on. A mother and father, a whole pack of kids... four but it looked like more, none of them over nine and an older couple I was guessing were grandparents. The mother and the two youngest kids were in the row ahead of me, the grandparents were across the aisle and a row up with a little girl between them, and the oldest child, a boy, was sitting in front of his mother on the aisle. The father was about ten rows forward, by himself.
This struck me as unfair. The grandparents were doing what they could to help settle the kids, all of them screaming and complaining, but they were pretty old and it wasn't really their job. The mother was passing out coloring books, telling the kids that the captain wouldn't take off if they didn't keep their shoes on, and trying to shove backpacks and stuffed animals into the jammed overhead space.
The mom plopped into her seat just as the flight attendant started the safety instructions, and though the kids were still loud they were all buckled in. I pulled out the inflight magazine and started to read a story about restaurants in New Orleans. I had no interest in going there but reading about Creole cuisine beat the hell out of thinking about takeoff. About that huge aluminum sausage of a jet, weighed down with tens of thousands of pounds of people and luggage, hurtling down the runway with stubby little wings for lift.
We made it into the air and I waited until they gave the 'electronic devices' all clear that let me get out my laptop. About the same time, the mom from the seat in front of me was in the aisle trying to break up a fight between her oldest kids. Then she started passing out boxes of raisins and Cheerios from one of the bags in the overhead storage.
The kids were saying they wanted Fruit Loops, demanding their Gameboys, and the grandmother was whining about when the flight attendants were going to start serving coffee. My sympathy for the mom was rising fast, and then the dad showed up.
"Let me know if you want to sit up front, okay?" he said, sounding like he was pretty sure she wouldn't take him up on the offer. The mom just nodded and smiled.
"Hey, babe. Did you pack my car magazines? They aren't in my case," the dad said. Then he picked up the miniature box of Cheerios in front of one of the kids and started stuffing handfuls in his mouth. If you looked up "beefy" in the dictionary, this guy's picture should be next to it. About five foot eight and two-twenty, his hair was a little too long, blow-dried straight back from his forehead. He was wearing a mock turtleneck sweater and body jewelry. Even if we hadn't gotten on the plane in Philly, I'd have guessed that was where he was from. Yo, Adrian.
"Did you check the side pocket?" the mom asked, in a voice that told me she would bet her first born on them being there. The dad looked at her and shrugged.
"You got any more of these?" he said, holding up the empty cereal box.
As he trundled back to his seat, I studied the mom. In a word, she looked harried. Too pale, hints of bags under the eyes, she'd probably been up an hour and a half before anyone else that morning organizing this caravan of whiners. She was as tall as her husband. Wearing a pair of traditional cut generic jeans, the kind that are too dark and don't fade no matter what you do to them, and a colors of the rainbow cotton sweater with horizontal stripes that looked like someone shrunk it in the wash. Her hair was shoulder length, reddish brown, and though I guessed it had been permed at some point it looked like she'd given up on it, at least for this trip.
I turned my attention to my laptop. I pulled up the messages I'd downloaded before I left, decided that there were too many to bother with and punted. I opted for a game of Solitaire.
I kept re-dealing until I had two aces showing and was about to start playing when something bumped my shoulder. It turned out to be the butt of the mom on the trip from hell, and since it was six inches from my face I decided to check it out. A little too wide, but not as big as I first thought. She was carrying at least an extra ten pounds but her ass still had a nice look to it. Not exactly heart-shaped, but it hadn't dropped yet, either.
She was digging in one of the bags in the overhead, looking for Gameboys judging from the noises coming from the rows ahead. Her kids sounded like baby birds in a nest squawking for food - "Mom! I want Frogger! Mom! The blue one is mine! Mom!" Stretching for a rear compartment in the bag hiked her sweater up at the waist, exposing a pretty nice lower back. She had more of a roll at the hips than she probably wanted, but I'd always kind of liked that.
The guy in the window seat in my row decided to hit the can, so I had to get up to let him out. By the time I sat down again, the mom had shifted her search to a bag in the overhead on my side. Now it was her tummy that was six inches from my face, the sweater riding up enough to show off her belly button. The first one I'd seen on a woman in a while that didn't have a piercing. Her stomach pooched out over the waistband of her jeans just enough to look soft and inviting, and she had a cute little beauty mark just above her right hip. She hadn't spent much time in the sun lately.
She moved to the next bag back in her search and had to really stretch for this one, leaning her hip against the edge of my seat for support. She was so intent on her Gameboy search that she was oblivious of me, and I was struggling to focus on my game of Solitaire. Let's see... black ten on the red jack. I could smell her skin, clean with a scent of body lotion. When I leaned my head back I could see under the bottom of her sweater.
Her ribs were nicely insulated with more creamy pale skin, and above that I could see the bottom of her bra, a sensible white full-coverage number that had me guessing Maidenform, or whatever the store brand was at Target. A soccer-mom bra.
I glanced up and she was looking at me. Busted! I knew enough not to panic and overreact. I just smiled, embarrassed, and shrugged a little. She stopped stretching, instead pulling the inaccessible bag down from the overhead. As she did it, she continued to look at me. The odd thing was, she didn't look offended. More like surprised. She broke eye contact with me and returned to her seat. I went back to my Solitaire, feeling like a high school kid caught looking up skirts in the stairway.
After my game and a cup of lukewarm airline coffee, I decided to do a little work. I prepared responses to a couple of dozen e-mails and stored them for when I landed and logged in. Then I pulled up monthly investment reports that showed decent results for a change. As I was finishing the September reports something hit my foot. It was a fluorescent purple marker, missing its lid. I picked it up. The tip smelled like grapejuice. I tapped the soccer mom on the shoulder.
"Hi. Is this yours?"
She leaned out into the aisle and turned, and gave me a nice smile. "Yes, sorry." She took the marker. I expected her to turn away but she didn't. Instead she looked at me, appraising.
"I hope my kids aren't too noisy." Another smile.
"Not at all. I've got nieces and nephews. You look like you've got your hands full," I said. She rolled her eyes.
"I feel like a tour guide," she replied.
"Going to Dallas?" I asked, wanting to keep her talking.
"Austin. We're driving from Dallas. My husband wanted to use frequent flyer miles and there weren't any direct flights."
I nodded, thinking that the extra logistics were no big deal for Mr. Let Mom Do Everything up in row six. "Vacation?"
"Not exactly. We've got some meetings and my husband's folks are along to help watch the kids."
I nodded again. For the next half-hour I talked to the woman. Light, airplane travel talk about the area in Philly where they lived, her kids and all their activities. Soccer and piano for all but the youngest one, and cheerleading for the oldest girl, who was seven. I told her that I worked for a trust management company, and that I lived in Charlotte, Virginia but had been travelling to Philly almost every week for a couple of months. After a while she swiveled in her seat and talked to me through the gap in the headrests. She was about my age - thirty - and she was pretty. She looked a little bit like Rachel Ward in Against All Odds - with a strong face and expressive eyes. Or rather what Rachel Ward would have looked like if she'd been taking care of four kids, a husband and in-laws and didn't have a make-up person following her around. She was nice, and smart, and easy to talk to. I loved her smile, and the way she tossed her head back a little when she laughed.
Finally the grandmother across the aisle asked my new friend for a juice box for the kid she was tending, and shot me an angry look. She was annoyed with her daughter-in-law for having an adult conversation, apparently.
Anyway, we landed safely and I waited while my soccer mom friend passed out backpacks to the older kids and shouldered a couple of carry-ons. Before she filed off the plane she turned.
"I really enjoyed talking to you. Thanks," she said.
.... There is more of this story ...