I first met my daughter on a long haul flight from Sydney to San Francisco. She was four months old at the time, and the cabin was dark and silent except for the rushing wind and creaking of the airframe. My wife was sleeping, and it seemed that, despite the hundreds of people within metres of me, Sophia and I were all alone in the world. There’s something curious about airplanes in that way – people are forced into close proximity with each other – much closer than most of us would ever choose to be – and so we adopt a studious respect for each other and each other’s privacy. I imagine that a husband and wife could have a screaming match and the vast majority of passengers would ignore it.
Fortunately, there was none of that on this flight, and everybody was either asleep or sedated by the movies, and I was able to lean over in my seat and look into the bassinet. Sophia had been asleep for most of the flight to this point. We’d been worried about her not coping well with the changes in air pressure, but, like most things that she’d encountered in her short life, she dealt with it with an equanimity that would be admirable in someone a decade – or two -older.
But nothing goes to plan, and so she was now wide awake – not crying, or even squirming much, but very definitely aware of everything that was going on, and with no intention of sleeping for the foreseeable future. Instead, she was lying in her bassinet, staring up at everyone and everything with that mix of curiosity and openness that only the very young seem to have. I sometimes think that older people should approach the world in the same way, but that’s either foolish or naive, or a combination of both.
From where I was sitting, I could lean right over the bassinet, and the moment I did, it seemed like Sophia and I were the only ones there. She looked up at me with her big blue eyes and stared straight into mine, and for the first time since we brought her home from the hospital, I felt that I knew my daughter as a person – and not just as a crying, screaming, defecating bundle.
I know, it sounds strange that it took four months and a plane trip of a couple of thousand miles to get to this point, but . After Sophia was born, I spent two weeks at home – most of that was spent trying to help Liz as we both came to understood just how significantly our life had been changed by the new addition, and then it was back to work for me. I’d leave before Sophia and Liz were awake in the morning, and by the time I got home, there might be time to help out with bath time, but then Sophia would be asleep and, exhausted, Liz would be not far behind, so my chances of actually getting to know more daughter were pretty limited.
But on that United Airlines flight to San Francisco, I felt for the first time that Sophia was a real person – and a person that was going to be a big part of my life for the foreseeable future. That connection – and the attendant realisation – was in many ways the most life-altering event that I had experienced.