This post originally appeared on DC Metro Moms on November 17, 2009
Planes, trains and governors! Who am I?
“He was so good!” praised the woman sitting behind my son during our flight from Reagan National to Detroit Metro as we stood waiting to exit the plane. Usually I’m a descriptive praise sort of gal, taking my cues from Alfie Kohn about avoiding judgment terms like “good” and “bad.” But seeing as the fellow passenger and judge in question was Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, inwardly I pumped my fist and silently hissed “Yes!”
The whole flight, which I spent with my three-year-old while his dad sat across the aisle and tucked into a window seat out of immediate earshot, I had been thinking twice about every interaction knowing that Governor Granholm might overhear me, be I chiding or sweet mommying. In the presence of such a powerful woman I respect, I wanted to appear in control and upbeat with a charming child. So I was glad to hear the governor — who, I assume, was on some important political business, perhaps with an apparent fan of hers, the President — give her approval of me and my son.
But I also felt confronted with a watered down version of myself, as though now that I’m largely a stay-at-home-mom, I have nothing worthwhile to say to an elected official. Where have my opinions gone? It’s not like I don’t have any.
I’m a strong supporter of breastfeeding rights and have nursed my son on the steps of the Capitol in support lactation-friendly legislation and in Reagan National Airport to protest the woman who was kicked off a flight in 2006 after she refused to cover her nursing toddler’s head.
No longer a teacher, I didn’t feel like I had anything worthwhile to say about education policy like the woman in line wearing a charter schools conference t-shirt, who chatted up the Gov after she inquired about the event. No longer an employee of a feminist organization, I didn’t feel like I could discuss gender equity in (name your venue). No longer a Michigander, I didn’t feel like I could say anything about home state blues or boons. I essentially felt like I knew nothing besides how to keep my son quiet and happy for 90 minutes without bribes or candy or electronica. Heck, I even managed to read half of a Brain,Child en route. And yet I acted like a woman without a brain. Why couldn’t I have an intellectual conversation with this woman?
The work I do with holistic health issues in a volunteer and community capacity is important to me but hasn’t gotten up to a policy level. It’s probably time it did. What am I waiting for? I don’t know yet if we’ll stick to just the one child, but whether we do or whether we have another in a year, life goes on, and there are things I could do to promote causes I care about. It’s been three years since I had a baby; I can’t use him as an excuse to stall forever.
So how did I address this kind governor? I agreed that the flight went well but added that there was a moment with the window shade where I was unsure whether or not my boy would hold it together. I couldn’t remember how old her child(ren?) was/were, which seemed embarrassing, especially since my parents have a photo taken with her and her family in their living room and my mother-in-law has also met her. All I could muster to say was, “Thank you for your service.” She seemed genuinely appreciative and thanked me for my comment, but then self-deprecating me just had to add, “I wish I could think of something more poignant to say” which of course then put the governor in the awkward position of having to reassure me. Blech!
We exited the plane in close proximity with the local celeb, and I kept trying to figure out how to act. I did not come up with stellar results. The kicker was my lame attempt at conveying that we were not coming back home to Michigan but that we had local roots by referencing the airport tram: “The red train is one of the best parts about coming to Michigan!” I hope that comment did not occur to her as a slam on her state the way it did to me later when I played it back in my head. By that time, my husband had already taken a photo of my son with her on his Blackberry and posted it on Facebook. At least my husband was smiling and jovial, not starstruck like a deer meeting Bambi for the first time.
On the flight back to DC, I suggested that, since we still had separated seats, my husband take my son this time and I sit alone. I had a hunch that after a severely underslept weekend, my son would not be the angel he’d been outbound. Two rows on the opposite side of the plane was not far away enough for me to escape hearing my over-tired son whining about water spilled on his shirt and the tray table being different (with bulkhead seats) and wanting more video to watch on the camera. I tried to sink into obscurity and thank my lucky stars that the couple next to me didn’t know their Jefferson Memorial from the Capitol dome and that I would never see them or have cause to potentially vote for them in the future.