Traveling with Baby: My Karen Moment

Nursing babies and other airport challenges

Photo by 褚 天成 on Unsplash

It’s not my finest hour as a mother: 6 a.m. at the Munich airport after flying all night.

I’m desperate to feed and change our baby in some semblance of privacy (this was long before Covid-19), but the Lufthansa lounge receptionist is blocking our way. Since Lufthansa “outsourced” its frequent flier program, she explains with a grim little smile, she’ll need a pin code to access my husband’s member information. He has neither frequent flier card, nor pin code.

“So what you’re saying,” I say, as my ravenous baby rips off my shirt, “is that you can’t help us because you’ve hired another company to not help us.”

She is not amused, and the negotiation ends.

This introduction is my way of saying: Yes, I’m a bad mother, but Lufthansa is also to blame.

Barred from the lounge, my husband finds us a quiet corner in the airport. I try to nurse my daughter, but she’s squirming. I’d recently started using light bottles that squirt freely and they have made my baby impatient with old-fashioned nursing. I shake up a bottle and hand it to her. I’m still fuming about Lufthansa when I look down to see my daughter is sopping wet with milk.

That’s when I realize I’ve failed to pack an extra outfit. I look for her favorite toy, a stuffed dog, to soothe her but see it’s not there either. She must have dropped it in the airport.

At that point, I should have dried and fed my baby, but then this would be a story about being a good mother.

Instead I pass her to my husband with a: “She’s wet. Take off her clothes. I’ll be back”, and run off to find the lost stuffed dog.

I go to the business lounge reception first. No dog.

Perhaps, it is in Terminal H, where we had coffee. But the man at passport control forbids me to re-enter Terminal H, because my plane leaves from Terminal G.

“I have to find my daughter’s stuffed dog,” I tell him. “She lost it and it’s her favorite.”

“You’ve lost your baby?” he asks.

“No, not my baby. I lost her stuffed dog.”

“You’ve lost your dog?”

“It’s not a real dog,” I say. “It’s a stuffed dog.”

“You must leave your passport here,” he says, waving me through with an irritated shake of his head.

I find the café. No dog. I retrace our steps, asking people in shops if anyone turned in a dog with floppy ears and a brown spot on one eye. No dog.

I go to security. I’m convinced we lost the dog during the security scan. I need my passport to go through security again in Terminal H, so I return first to passport control. I explain my predicament and ask for my passport back.

“I’m sorry,” the man says. “Your plane leaves from Terminal G. You can’t go through security.”

By now I’m near to tears. For some reason, I have decided that I must find this stuffed dog. The guard eyes me suspiciously. I see what he’s thinking: maybe this American woman is a little crazy. Perhaps, there is no stuffed dog, and maybe no baby either.

That’s when I become the ugly American. “I’m an American Diplomat,” I claim. “I’m not trying to sneak into Germany. I just want to find my daughter’s dog!” (I am not, nor have I ever been a diplomat. I had a diplomatic passport because of my husband’s U.S. government job).

“Well,” he begins to relent, “you will need a stamp.”

“That’s fine,” I say. “That’s great! A stamp is perfect.”

Karen behavior, I know. But there is nothing more important than this stuffed dog. Not my husband who is clueless where I’ve gone, nor my naked daughter who has long since forgotten the toy’s existence.

I sprint back through Terminal H, asking more people in shops, looking in corners, and checking the information desk. No dog.

Of course it’s not at security either. The man who smiled at my baby when we first went through looks embarrassed at a woman totally distraught over a stuffed animal. I go into a bathroom and cry.

I look in the mirror. My eyes are red, my hair’s a mess. I’m totally out of control. My husband must be worried and there is a flight to catch. Still, I can’t return empty-handed. I think what it would be like to return to my family, triumphantly waving the stuffed dog over my head. I imagine my baby’s bright smile.

I retrace our steps one more time. Nothing. That’s when defeat finally sets in. The dog is gone.

I stop at a shop on my way back to the gate. While purchasing a new baby outfit, I spy a stuffed dog for sale with floppy ears. Hurray! I buy it and rush back to my family.

Approaching, I hold it out to my daughter, flipping the dog’s ears crazily back and forth, like I used to do with the old dog.

My daughter beams and my heart leaps. She grabs the dog, pulls it to her chest, gives it a sniff, but then dismissively drops it on the floor. Still in diapers, she sees right through me.

I comfort myself: We do the best we can.

[A post from the Flashback Series from when my daughter was a baby. 2009]

Writer, editor, parent. Concerned about the world around us. Former staffer at Quartz, WSJ and Inc. magazine.

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