My first postpartum business trip stretched before me like an oasis of leisure. I didn't expect much fun at the other end, preparing for a hearing. It was the promise of three uninterrupted hours getting there -- four if you count the layover in Chicago -- I was longing for.
There was a day when I saw air travel as dead time -- you can't even make phone calls -- but now I was having a fine time. On the plane, no one could get at me -- not the lawyer I worked for, not the baby I lived for, not the painters 30,000 feet below at that moment, seeing how many windows they could paint shut for all time with Sears Easy Living oyster white.
The Sunday papers took up a good two hours. And I had brought along "Winds of War," the kind of barely respectable trash that tells a Type A to switch to cruise control.
In Chicago, I didn't join all the other Type A's racing for the bank of phones in the waiting lounge. I picked out a hard seat and settled in.
I was a little annoyed when a harried mother asked me if I would hold her baby while she went to make a call. I had no idea why she had picked me. I was as dressed for success as anyone. Maybe the Land's End canvas briefcase suggested I wasn't serious. Or maybe it was the aroma of baby powder and sour milk that attaches to mothers everywhere. Anyway, I put aside Herman Wouk and picked up little Rudy.
Ten minutes passed. A half hour. I was beginning to think I'd adopted this child. The novelty of a 747 bearing down on the plate-glass window was no longer enough to divert the baby's attention from the more interesting ashtrays filled with sand and cigarette butts. And he was wetter than Lake Michigan.
The clerk called for people traveling with children to board. Still the woman hadn't shown up. I wished I could make an announcement over the PA that I wasn't going to hold the hour I spent holding her dripping-wet kid against her.
When the call came for my row to board, I began to panic. I decided to turn the child over to someone who could give him a good foster home, a proper upbringing there at O'Hare. The airlines already have a name for people like Rudy, "unaccompanied minor," so I was sure they would know what to do.
When I landed in Los Angeles, feeling heartless and cold, I got the airline clerk to phone back and find out what had happened. Turns out the poor woman had thought she could squeeze in a quick business meeting at the airport hotel. She'd run into a bottleneck getting back through security and had missed the plane. Mother and son were doing fine.
I still haven't read "Winds of War." Margaret Carlson is a Washington writer who is currently acting managing editor of The New Republic.