We are sitting on a plane in Santa Ana that is boarding for Portland in the row directly behind a young family of five. It is a little after 6 pm and the father in the row in front of us, with the oldest son, is apologetic even before we've taken our seats. Across the aisle, the mother is at her wits' end with the two youngest who are small enough that their legs jut straight out in front of them in their seats. The little ones speak at an octave just below that which only dogs can hear but at a volume that that first class can hear distinctly. The parents are are on the verge of panic - they are encapsulated for a little over two hours with tiny people they have no control over in the company of complete strangers who will inevitably judge them mercilessly.
The mom fervently utters Sshhh! as the children squeal during takeoff. The lights turn low and a quiet descends. Surrounding passengers, as well as the harried parents, breathe a collective sigh of relief. No one wishes to disturb the suddenly calmed children while secretly praying the beverage cart will soon arrive.
Santa is on his way. The children's slumber can only be good for us all.
[Screach! go the children. Sshhh! from the mom. Where the hell is that beverage cart?]
The father is already napping. [Is he faking or saving strength? Me, I'd totally be faking.] The mother is feeding treats to the the children as if fattening geese. But because they must share crayons, intermittent yowls persist.
Electronics were deployed. Eyes were rubbed. The parents relaxed and furtive glances were replaced by smiles as the children became sleepy putty, if only for a short while.
As the lights below came back into view so did the parents’ ranks tighten as they prepared for another change in pressure. When we landed, Santa was only entering US airspace, yet the children were full of anticipation.
We deplaned. Santa was less than a few hours away. There was magic even as we made our way to baggage claim. On Christmas Eve, at the airport, people gathered to welcome loved ones. One small child, excited to see someone arriving on the night before dreams come true held a cardboard sign reading, “Welcome back from fat camp!”