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The Rightness of Being Wrong
On unexpected learnings and pleasant surprises
Nothing feels quite like being right. Especially when someone doubts you, and especially when that someone is your partner.
It is this smug validation I am anticipating as I ride the airport shuttle back to Terminal C.
I’ll admit, the situation that led me here isn’t the most shining example of my adeptness at, well, anything. But in the end, I am going to be right, and we are going on vacation, and nothing exists in my little corner of the world except for these two facts.
We arrived at the gate with plenty of time. Most of our recent airport experiences have involved close calls, and it’s usually (read: always) my fault. But today, I was ready to prove that, as a Very Adult Person, I am capable of getting my family to the airport in plenty of time to perform our collective pre-flight rituals—snack-getting, breakfast-eating, a trip or five to the bathroom—before boarding at a leisurely pace and settling comfortably in our seats.
Breakfast sandwiches had been consumed. Snacks were tucked away into backpacks. Everyone had peed, some of us twice. I’d even raced (read: chased) my youngest up and down the ramp that separates the top and bottom parts of Terminal C about six times. And now we were hanging out at the gate, watching the trucks crawl around the tarmac, a mesmerizing colony of ants each doing their part.
I should check to be sure we have some shows downloaded, I thought, for when we get the kiddo buckled into his car seat.
The moment I thought the words, my heart leapt up and then bottomed out. I looked around, knowing full well what I’d see—or, rather, what I wouldn’t.
I had left the seat in the car. Over in economy parking, which made so much sense at the time—it saved money, was a quick jaunt away by shuttle, and allowed for my husband to do a trial run of getting all the kids into the airport by himself in preparation for another trip later this year—but which now warped time and space in all directions.
“Again?” my husband said when I told him. I was already digging my car keys out of my backpack. (I have lost or forgotten my car keys an embarrassing number of times—by a tree in San Francisco, down a storm drain, and, once, inside a port-a-potty—and this was not the time for a repeat performance.)
“It’s not that bad,” I said. Not like last time, when we’d left it in the rental car and my husband had to go all the way to the rental area and have staff track down the car to retrieve it. He’d been running to catch the plane and I’d yelled at him to slow down. “There’s plenty of time!” I’d called to him, though we were the last passengers in the departure lounge.
“Can’t we just rent one when we get there?” he asked. (This is also what everyone else asked when I retold this story. The answer is no. We are raising a very slippery ninja baby who can and will unbuckle airplane buckles, squirm under your legs, and run up to the cockpit to check out the control panel before you realize he’s gone.)
“I’ll go get it.”
“The doors close at 10:35.”
I checked my watch and shrug. “It’s only 9:43.” And then I was gone, leaving his doubts unspoken but well understood.
There was a shuttle waiting when I got out to the curb. See? This would be easy peasy.
But then the big blue bus started pulling away. I waved my arms, hoping he’d stop. He did, mimicking my gesticulation and laughing. He’d only been pulling into the proper pickup spot. I mumbled a joke, but he wasn’t impressed. “Do you go to the economy lot?” I asked.
He shook his head. “That’s Route 88.” He said something else I didn’t understand, and I was embarrassed and in too much of a rush to ask him to repeat himself. I stepped back to let him depart and scanned each bus that came in for the number 88. After about five minutes I asked a 22-Bus driver where the economy shuttle was, and he said, “Those are only downstairs at arrivals.”
Son of a … I’d just wasted precious time standing in the wrong place, like the idiot I am.
My husband texted: Plane’s not even here yet.
Then, two minutes later, Now it’s here. Great—so was the bus. I was watching the clock, but I wasn’t worried. I still had time to get back, and anyway the plane seemed to be running late.
It couldn’t have taken three minutes for me to exit the shuttle and get back with the seat. The same bus that had brought me back to the parking lot was still there, waiting.
And here I am, sitting on that bus with an arm draped over the car seat and a satisfied smile on my face, texting with a couple of friends about what an idiot I am, ha ha ha.
I walk as quickly as I can to the bathroom. My bladder is about to explode, and I don’t know if I can wait for 10,000 feet.
They just called group D, he texts as the toilet flushes behind me.
Wow, that sure was fast.
Cut in front of people if you have to, he texts as I stand in the security line. But there are only a handful of people in front of me, and my stuff is already behind theirs on the conveyor belt.
The stopped conveyor belt.
You need to get here.
The conveyor belt isn’t moving. There’s nothing I can do. Can you please just go tell them I’m right around the corner?
I’m through the metal detector, but it’s agonizing seconds before my phone and the car seat appear through the fringe of the x-ray machine.
My watch starts vibrating and I mutter an obscenity under my breath. What does he think calling me is going to accomplish? “They’re going to close the doors,” he says when I answer.
“But I’m right here,” I say. “I’m just waiting for the—There!” I yell, reaching into where I know I’m not supposed to reach. I grab the car seat and take off at a run. “I’m coming!” I say into my wrist. There’s no way they’d close the doors over a few seconds, especially with him standing there and telling them I was just seconds away.
I think about the nice folks in Kansas City who hadn’t rushed me at all, who had waited patiently as my husband ran toward us and smiled as they took our boarding passes.
These people, it turns out, are not those people.
These people are the kind of people who, when faced with a family of five, one of whose members they can see running at full tilt toward them from 200 feet away, will still make the call to close the aircraft doors. They are the kind of people who will ignore you when you ask questions and effectively strand your entire party for days for…what? 30 seconds?
The plane takes off early.
The girls cry. The boy wanders around, trying to make off with every lollipop at the candy store while, in parallel, the husband calls the airline to try and get us rebooked (The next flight isn’t for two days.) and I start looking at other airlines, all of whose flights are sold out.
At the verge of tears, I leave to get the car and pick everybody up. This must be a dream, or some kind of mistake. I was so sure I had plenty of time. Not only was I wrong, but my wrongness has cost us the vacation we’ve been looking forward to all summer.
My husband will try to console me later, but the whole thing is squarely my fault. I forgot the car seat. I waited in the wrong place for the bus. I stopped to pee. I wasn’t in enough of a rush to begin with.
I refuse to let this failure defeat me, I think to myself as I board the shuttle for the fourth time today. I will not go home for two days and wait around, not after care plans have already been drawn up and executed for the dog and the chickens. Not when a very nice hotel with a very nice oceanfront view is waiting for us.
I call my husband on my way to the car. “I’ll pick you all up in a minute,” I say. “Get ready for a long ride.”
We cancel the first night at the hotel near the airport, cancel the car rental, and take our time driving down the coast, landing in Myrtle Beach at more or less the same time we would have if we’d flown into Charleston and driven here the next day.
The drive is not nearly as bad as I expected. When we planned this trip, we considered driving somewhere but felt constrained by the length of the trip. The baby would certainly cause us trouble on such a long ride. But, to our surprise, he really didn’t. Yeah, he was sick of the car seat after so many hours sitting in it. But so were the rest of us. And through torrential downpours, sunsets that looked like endtimes, and everything in between, he did well—and the older kids were great at trading off to keep him entertained.
Missing the flight was bullshit. I’m still angry, both at myself and at the gate agent. But at least I’ll never worry about a long car ride with my littlest kiddo again, not while his sisters are there to keep him company.
I’ll just add that one to the tally of Things Nicci Was Wrong About. Clearly that list isn’t getting any shorter.