word of power

The big chunk of seats in the middle aisle of a jumbo are the purgatory of the skies. You know it will come to an end but it feels like an eternity of suffering. You cross your fingers, hoping there'll be no one next to you. As it happened, on the way to Boston, there was no one next to my mother. So crossing fingers works but the aim's a bit off. Oh well. Next to me was a little girl, her mother and her grandmother. Well, the grandmother was Italian, so she was her nonna (work for Italians for 5 years and try not to know that). In any case, this kid, maybe 5 but probably 4, is demanding to sit next to me. My reflex is to pull my cap low, bury my face in my book and plug my iPod in but not too loud, as I want to eavesdrop just enough to work out whether the little girl is going to be sitting next to me. She sits next to me. I look towards the family and smile, letting them know that, in spite of my fervent belief that imposing rambunctious children or pets on others is the 8th deadly sin, I'm still a nice person and willing to put up with it.

In any case, I figure it's karma, as I flew a lot in my youth and was not just rambunctious but full-blown hyper. And little boys tend to be far worse behaved than little girls. I have both nephews and nieces and know this to be true. So for all the adults I drove crazy, all the stewardesses I plagued, this was my little penance. That is, after all, what purgatory is all about.

The kid was fine. She had a new toy and it delighted her. It was a word. Kids with new words are like kids who chuck the toy aside and play with the box it came in - bursting with power. Just like the box becomes everything they deem it to be, whether a fort, an airplane, a rocket ship or a time machine, so the universe becomes subject to the new word, and everything and anything that happens or simply exists within the perception of the child will be linked to that word for the duration of their fascination.

This girl's word was ridiculous, which was perfect. Lots of syllables and hard consonants. A little girl can establish her authority with such a word, deeming anything to be ridiculous with confidence.

Little girl: "Nonna, why aren't we flying yet?"
Nonna: "Because they've got to fix the plane."
Little girl: "That's ridiculous."

She pronounced it carefully, loving the power it gave her. It was an adult word, and she weilded it trying to be adult in the way that only kids can. Innocent to the subtext and the irony one could impose on it all. In the three hours we sat at the gate while they attempted to fix the plane, all of the excuses and announcements, once explained to the girl, were greeted with gleeful accusations of ridiculousness. Before we took off, she changed seats, so she was bracketed between her mother on the aisle and nonna on my side.

Waiting for luggage in Boston they stood next to me and I helped her mother get one of her bags off the carosel.

Little girl: "Mom, where's my bag?"
Mother: "It's not out yet sweetie."
Little girl: "But that's ridiculous!"

How right she was.