The Playroom: Bumpy penance

Author: Maraya Steadman '89, '90MBA

Maraya Steadman

Before I had children of my own, I made certain judgments about other people’s parenting. I mean, really, how hard could it possibly be to travel with a young child on an airplane?

I lacked compassion, empathy or even a smidgeon of kindness. My penance for not being more compassionate, not being just a smidge nicer toward anyone traveling with a child before I had my own? Just one more reason I know God has a sense of humor. He is really sticking it to me on this one.

So when recently asked by a friend about to embark on her first plane trip with her child for a pep talk, a rallying cheer, some sisterhood of momdom supportive hug, instead of giving her any of that, I told her a story, a true story.

Once upon a time, after buying a one-way ticket to that hot bed of terrorist activity, Cleveland, I was frisked from top to bottom and places in between by security while another person, in a Kevlar vest, took my child out of my arms and walked the appropriate security-mandated distance away from me.

As I was fearfully trying to think up good reasons for me to have a pair of baby fingernail clippers in my pocket, I was asked to drink my own breast milk. I suppose to prove it wasn’t some sort of liquid explosive. I told them I thought that was disgusting. “No way am I drinking that stuff.”

Airport security decided that instead of me, my kid should drink it, because I guess suicide bombers bringing liquid explosives on airplanes would never let their child suck nitroglycerin out of a baby bottle, they would simply use it to blow their kid to bits along with everyone else on the plane.

Finally, I was allowed to board. My ultimate moment came when I couldn’t get the lap belt threaded through my kid’s car seat to latch. I was in the very first row, right in the front of the plane.

The flight attendant hissed at me that I better hurry up and get it done or the plane wasn’t leaving. Hissed, like a snake. Ssssss.

As I stood up morphing into the Incredible Hulk, I turned toward the flight attendant, and for the first and only time in my life I got in someone’s face (well, there was that incident involving my daughter’s ballet school director) and I said, loudly and with precise diction,

“Well, then, I guess if you don’t help me secure this car seat, this plane isn’t going anywhere is it?”

I might have even used a bad word, but I don’t remember, you know you forget things as the Incredible Hulk. I do remember standing there in front of the plane and every person on that air bus just went silent. So I’m thinking I probably did say, “goddamn car seat.”

The entire plane was looking at me and looking at the flight attendant, and even I was wondering what the next move was going to be, maybe the guy in the Kevlar vest would show up and haul me, my kid and the breast milk off the plane. But the flight attendant just let out a heavy sigh, glared at me and then she fastened the lap belt on my kid’s car seat in about 7 seconds.

Now what I will never know and will always wonder is this: Why didn’t she just do that in the first place? Why did she watch me struggle? And why did she hiss at me? Why couldn’t she just be nice?

Well, I do know that my God has a sense of humor, and I hope hers does too.

Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. She can be reached at