Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Finding myself on an airplane

"Flight attendants prepare for takeoff."

They're not exactly the most poignant words, and I've never had a fear of flying, so why was I sitting on the runway with tears streaming down my cheeks?

It had little to do with sadness at the thought of leaving my husband and little boy at home. I was only going for a long weekend and though I'd miss them dearly, a few days away can go a long way toward recharging the batteries. Especially when the batteries are constantly being drained by an extremely energetic (is there any other kind?) toddler with a penchant for being chased in circles. All day long. So it wasn't that.

It wasn't really the fear of traveling solo with a baby. By the time the pilot uttered those words, the hardest part was over. We had arrived at the airport the recommended 3 hours in advance, lugged the suitcase, stroller and diaper bag from the parking lot to the gate, paid all the necessary and unnecessary fees, stripped down as requested by the TSA (did you know even a 7-month old baby must take off her shoes?), and made it onto the plane. So it wasn't that, either.

It took me a few minutes to figure it out, but when I did I realized I wasn't sad at all. They were tears of happiness. Because for the first time in nearly three years, I finally felt like myself.

Travel has always been a huge part of my life, especially solo travel. There's just always been something so satisfying about throwing clothes in a bag and taking off...alone. Backpacking through Europe? You bet. Crossing the Australian Outback? Absolutely. I even made travel my career for several years, working for both Air France and Club Med resorts.

But then along came baby... and another baby... and it's never quite been the same. It's not that we stopped traveling. Both kids have passports and have already logged their share of frequent flier miles. But we've always traveled together as an entire family. And with so much luggage. Strollers, diapers, toys, bags of this and that. Even up at 35,000 feet, I felt so heavy, so weighed down. So afraid that I might not make it through the day, much less an entire trip, without the essential gear. Like my tenuous grasp on motherhood might somehow fly right out the window the moment we left solid ground.

Becoming a mother isn't an instant process, it doesn't just "happen" the minute the doctor puts that wriggling mass in your arms. It happens slowly, while rocking a sick baby back to sleep at 3am. It happens boldly, when you snap open a stroller with one hand while balancing a baby, a bag of groceries and a stuffed cow in the other. It happens silently, when you and your child exchange a knowing glance that turns to giggles in the rearview mirror. Sometimes it even happens on an airplane.

I didn't accomplish any great task, I just got on a plane and took a flight. But it was enough. Enough to make me realize the things that used to make me happy still can. I can be a parent and I can still be me. It's all part of the new person I'm becoming. It's beginning to happen.

And one day, I know I'll fly again.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Questions in the aftermath of the earthquake

It's hard to believe, but one month ago today we were standing just a few hundred miles from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. We spent a blissful week vacationing in the Dominican Republic, enjoying sun, sand and surf at the beautiful Club Med Punta Cana. Now, much of the Haiti has become a makeshift refugee camp. Dominican hospitals and hotels are packed to the brim with the injured from the disastrous earthquake in neighboring Haiti, and like so many, I find it hard to look away.

Any decent (and even not-so-decent) news reporter must quickly acquire the ability to separate his/herself from the story, as it's the only way to survive witnessing the countless tragedies the job entails. But sadly, I have found that separation often continues when I am not covering, but merely watching news unfold. It's hard to admit, but in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake I found myself watching through somewhat callous news eyes. Instead of really "seeing" what was happening, I was focused on analyzing the coverage. "How many reporters are heading down there?" I wondered? Where were they staying? How hard was it to edit and feed back a story in those conditions?

And then I saw her.

I don't know her name or her age, or really anything about her. I only saw a glimpse as a camera panned across one of countless villages now reduced to rubble. She stood on top of what once was a roof, perhaps her own, her back to the camera. On her hip she held an infant, a baby covered in dust, wearing tattered clothes and sucking his thumb, his face poking out over her shoulder. Another child pulled at her hand- a toddler, perhaps 2 or 3 years old, kicking stones with his bare, dirty feet. It took that simple image: two young children doing what all children do, doing what MY children do, their mother holding them like all mothers do, holding them like I do, to jar me out of news reporter mode and back into humanity. The tears haven't stopped coming ever since.

The feelings of helplessness in the wake of such suffering can be paralyzing. My oldest child is just 2.5, far too young to understand what is happening in Haiti. In his little world, a "disaster" occurs when his Thomas the Tank Engine has disappeared (which is really not cause for concern in my little world). So before bedtime we just try to help him say a prayer for those who lost their homes ("But Mama, why can't they find them?") and those who are hurt ("Do they need a kiss to make it better?"). We will do what we can to support the relief effort through the Red Cross. Thursday night a local family originally from Haiti will hold a fundraiser (you'll find more information here) to support the George Stines Foundation, which operates medical and dental clinics in Haiti. For those with older children, ABC news has compiled this list of resources for talking to kids about the earthquake. But it's my own questions

It's hard not to wonder why this particular disaster had to happen on that particular island given the already near desperate conditions prior to the earthquake. At night when I close my eyes I see that woman holding her two children and can't help but wonder why, despite the threads of humanity that make us similar, our lives turned out so differently. How is it fair that I sit with my two kids in my too nice house full of too much stuff, a spectator to her suffering? What will happen to her and the rest of the people of Haiti when the news crews pack up and leave, off to chase the next breaking story? Will our hearts and wallets remain open once the headlines fade? What more can we do to help, what should we have been doing before this even happened? There are no easy answers, but I'll start by holding my kids a little closer, and give thanks the only trembling in our lives is that of my own hands.