It scared me when the woman on the plane next to Max and me told me that she was a preschool teacher at a Friends School. She was so clearly that kind of person who announces that they're Buddhist but is obviusly seething beneath the carefully constructed zen veneer, a brittle facade that could pop off at the slightest provocation.
In this case, the provocation was Max's humming.
"Is he an unusually musical child?" she asked me, flipping her long gray hair.
"Um, I don't really know," I said, vainly believing that she was picking up on something (she had already told me that she taught preschool). "He might be." I strove for modesty. "His dad is a composer, but I mean he's only 5. He hasn't taken lessons yet or anything." But as I yammered on, something about the way she was eyeing me started to clue me in to the fact that she might not in fact be paying me, or him, a compliment. "Oh wait," I said. "Is his humming bothering you?"
"These aren't noise-canceling headphones," she said, without a whiff of apology. "He hasn't stopped humming since we boarded this plane." (It had been 10 minutes). "If he keeps it up, I'll have to kill myself."
That seemed a little dramatic. At the same time, I felt both horrified and flabbergasted. I couldn't tell if I was the asshole or if she was. Or if Max was. Well, probably we all were. The funny part is, I make it a habit of never talking to my seatmates on airplanes. In fact, I recently talked to a friend about how even if I happened to be seated next to someone I might have a great deal in common with, someone I'd even be friends with in real life, I'd rather not figure it out. All I want to do is sit there, get absorbed in my trash magazine and overpriced snack, and not talk. And most of the time, when I have violated this rule of mine, I've greatly regretted it. But for some reason--actually, because this woman was reading Olive Kittredge, and I thought that anyone reading that excellent book couldn't be bad--I'd violated this rule again, and opened up the portal of conversation that then allowed her to tell me that my child's humming was going to lead to her imminent suicide.
What she didn't know was that we'd spent the past 5 days in New Jersey eating an average of 5 quarts of frozen blueberries per day, popping them mindlessly while watching vast quantities of Netflix. My grandmother stockpiles them in the early summer, and freezes them to last the year, although after our visit she will be lucky if they last the next 3 months, since every time Max asked for "one more container," I'd say, "Oh, we really shouldn't," even as I tiptoed back downstairs to raid the freezer again. They were highly addictive, tart little popsicles that left us (well, Max in particular) with extremely foul smelling farts, when consumed in those quantities. And being on the plane is already a fart-inducer. The smells emanating from his body were truly not to be believed. And true to form, our cranky Quaker friend had to comment.
"Does he have terrible indigestion?" she asked.
"I guess," I said. "I'm so sorry."
"Well, there's nothing you can do about it."
"Still. Max, try not to fart so much!"
By the way, I never got those people who claimed that their own kids' diapers smelled like "buttered popcorn." Nothing kicked in in when I had a kid that suddenly made his shit (or farts) smell any better to me than to anyone else. It was a toxic plane ride, for sure. But I can't say that I didn't derive a tiny bit of (mortified) pleasure from it too.
Oh, and Max starts Quaker school this week.