My Inner Child Is Also Screaming

Walking a ball of snot and rage thru an airport

Different child at a different airport

It is very easy to find my children in an airport. Just follow the screaming. To be honest, the more I think about it we’re all screaming inside.

Just take a trip through immigration.

Getting out of India is inexplicably harder than getting in. We’re holding two children, one a ball of snot and incipient rage, and this visa official is taking 5 minutes with each passport. I’m like, ‘dude, we’re on the way out’ but then my son expresses it for me by whinging and screaming. I don’t even hush him because I agree.

As I watch our children I realize that our emotions don’t change as much as we think. I also don’t want to be in line, but I have somehow learned to stew internally, the pot occasionally boiling over with eye rolling and body language that no one notices.

My son has the same emotion but little in the way of internal regulation. His emotional regulation system is largely outside of his body; ie, in his parents. As my amygdala lets me know my feelings, he lets us know and we can hug him or judiciously distract him as needed. I realize that I do all these things for myself, just silently and behind my eyes.

When we finally pass the visa agent they check our documents four more times all in a contained space with no entry or exit. I think the second guy checks if the first is crooked, and the third checks on the second, and so on. Presumably you’d have to bribe four shifts of officials to get out of India illegally, which still confuses me. Again, I’m on the way out.

I comfort myself with an explanation of why I’m hot, tired and uncomfortable but kids of course have none of this. I try to explain that this is these uncle’s jobs but my kids give zero shits, unless they’re stamping something. I gave my daughter 500 rupees to hold and she promptly tried to bribe a security officer. She asked later if this was kind and I had to be like, yeah, but don’t do it.

Kids don’t know why. Their model of the world is very rudimentary and things like immigration lines make zero sense. As I get middle-aged, I’m inclined to think they’re right, and that the whole borders thing is stupid. I think of all the refugee children and their parents, getting kidnapped by Americans or drowned by Europeans and I am just in awe of how brave they are. I’m complaining about this airport, with multiple passports for each of us. This is, in contrast, bureaucratic heaven.

As we age we accept a lot of whys which are frankly abominable. We’ll literally dig our own graves and kneel there to get shot in the head. We’ll put up with terrible leadership or management and just go along with it. We’ve accepted that this is how the world is and we just internalize the frustration and rage.

I was once at a dinner party where they added salt instead of sugar to the tea. We all stared at each other drinking this insipid soup until I finally said something, but there were those interminable moments where everyone knew something was wrong but wouldn’t say anything.

We compartmentalize so much that we become cupboards of resentment or, worse, the passive armoires of injustice. The human furniture that props up inequality and oppression.

Or maybe I’m reading too much into this.

I don’t know what to tell these children sometimes. Technically you’re not supposed to tell them anything. You’re supposed to show, and to help them train their own emotional muscles.

I, however, have never learned these skills. My parents simply didn’t have this information and taught me the best they could. I cannot regulate my emotions at all and I will defer endlessly until I explode. I learned what to do, but I never learned to ask for what I want.

In the moment I just want them to shut up, but I know that I must zen them into shutting themselves up.

So what do we do? We distract ourselves, with our phones, with work, with money, with people, with alcohol, with drugs. This works just as well with children. Thank God for screen time, honestly, must have saved kids from countless beatings. And sugar, and juice, and cookies, and any number of shibboleths that distinguish this generation of distractable addicts from the next.

Is that the right thing to teach them? I don’t know. I need to pee.

This is the human urgency which leads us to the beginning of the story.

As a parent I love the bathroom. It is my temple of solitude, where I can be justifiably left alone to watch car reviews on YouTube and just be. My wife has given up and will let the little gremlins perch next to her on the throne, but this I do not allow. If I see a gremlin in there I just run around until I lose them and lock the door.

Indian airport bathroom is not a temple but it is a solitude and I’m trying to enjoy this moment of slight humanity, but of course I can hear my son. He’s sick, poor fellow, same as me really, we are at this point one continuum of snot and rage. He’s screaming for his father and I’m honestly just blocking it out because I also just want to lie down and be comforted by everyone leaving me the fuck alone, and neither of us will get satisfaction.

I follow the screaming to my family and they are at the window, looking at the planes. Someone is valiantly trying to video call their beloved against this scenic background, with my son screaming bloody murder in the background. I feel no guilt for this, only amusement.

This is my outer child and I love them much more than my inner. They are both screaming but I will comfort the outer child because he’s adorable and can be held and soothed and his nose wiped and told that everything is all right, and it is, in a way it will never be for myself; in a way that is not really based in reality, but that is — in that naive trust between young father and son — true.