I am one generation removed from the working poor.
My paternal grandmother was a single mother at 15. By 18 she had three children, and a job as a waitress in a donut joint. My mother’s father worked the line at Ford, in Buffalo, N.Y., and her mother was a florist’s assistant.
My own parents married at 18 and 19, while my father was one year into his degree in mechanical engineering. He was on a full scholarship.
I should be a statistic.
Instead, I am the second person in my family – after my father – to graduate from college. My sister and brother followed, and our intellectual and monetary successes are, considering our background, unparalleled.
So why did I feel like I didn’t belong in the American Airlines lounge this weekend?
The Poo and I were at O’Hare for a three-and-a-half hour layover. Our week back East was harrowing and filled with sleepless nights. I wandered the terminal in an exhausted fog for about an hour before I saw a sign advertising one-day passes to the Admirals Club.
As a teenager I spent many a layover in this lounge. We lived abroad for three years in the mid-eighties and my father was a platinum member of this particular airline. We’d arrive from London and settle in at one of these swank waiting rooms until our connecting flight was ready to take off. I was often travel-grubby on these occasions, but I never thought twice about my right to be there.
Saturday I paid an silly sum to spend two hours in a comfortable chair reading to The Poo and coaxing her to sleep for awhile.
The lounge was very crowded. I looked for a spot away from the business travelers hooked up to cell phones, Blue Tooth, Blackberries, and the like, so that we would not disturb them. In a far corner of the huge area, I pulled up the stroller, settled into a leather club chair, and started to unpack the books and small diversions I carry in my backpack on trips like these.
The Poo sat in her stroller and I read Curious George books. We read every book in my pack, and then the baby asked for a song. I obliged with one she’s heard since she was in the womb:
I have a little nut tree
Nothing would it bear
But a silver nutmeg
And a golden pear
The King of Spain’s daughter
Came to visit me
And all for the sake of
My little nut tree
We were halfway through the tune when a man sitting nearby at a laptop turned to me.
“Excuse me,” he began.
I turned my head with a pleasant smile, expecting him to remark on The Poo’s beauty and exemplary behavior.
“Can you do that somewhere else?” he finished rudely, and turned back to this computer.
I froze, suddenly aware of my dirty jeans and my unbrushed hair. The Poo had a smear of chocolate on her pants and her face needed washing. Quickly, blushing madly, I stuffed our things back into my pack and hastily made for the door.
“Let’s get out of here, baby girl,” I whispered to The Poo fiercely as we left. “We aren’t wanted here.”
I fled back to the departure gate and all the way there I went over what I should have said to this rude man whose job was so very important that he couldn’t be distracted by the soft singing of a mother and child.
I felt surprised tears prick at the back of my eyes, and I was acutely aware of how I must have looked to this man. I was sweaty, dirty and exhausted. He could see I was an impostor. He could see I was a work-at-home-mom, whose husband’s annual income this year will be $18,000.
He had every right to expect I would obey, for my cloak of education, wealth, and panache was invisible to him. He treated me as if I had absolutely no class, to be singing to a dirty child in a place reserved for those of a higher caste.
And for the first time in my life, I felt the same.
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[tags]kids, parents, travel, politeness, patience, understanding, rude[/tags]