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May 22 2013

The Israeli Stranger Who Left Me Her Baby on the Plane

By at 11:57 am

benji on flight with babyI’ve been an uncle officially for 17 years, since my sister had her first son. Since then, three more nieces and nephews have popped out, giving me at least four reasons to bring gifts from Israel.

As more and more of my friends have had kids over the years (and there have been at least a few of those years, with my somewhat impending arrival to the age which rhymes with “sporty”), an increasing number of children have called me “Uncle Benji” despite a lack of blood relation. I have perfected animal impressions (which includes my personal and undisputed favorite, “the chicken”), I have become quite good at “online babysitting” (entertaining little kids with an Ernie puppet), and I am not ashamed to admit that I have developed such entertaining material that I have been caught recycling it across families in both English and (albeit, broken) Hebrew.

But I have never actually been a father. Until last week.

Ok, so not really. But you wouldn’t have known on my flight from New York to Israel. When the woman and her baby first sat down in the two seats next to me, I thought what goes through every passenger’s mind when seeing a small diaper-wearing person approaching: “Holy flying falafels, please let this baby sleep.” To my great surprise, he did. Almost the entire 11 hours in fact, except for a few moments. Which is where the story gets interesting and my paternal instincts kicked in.

Until we were high enough for the in-flight entertainment system to activate, I spent my “all devices with a switch in the off position”-time staring at the baby, trying to appear as nonchalant as possible. More “oh, look, what a cute baby”, less “OMIG——-D!!!!!! I’M GOING TO STEAL THAT BABY!!!!!!!!!!!!”

When the mother squeezed past me to go to the bathroom, something funny happened. Or rather, didn’t happen. She said nothing to me, leaving Baby 23F next to me with no instructions in the event that he wake up, cry, or spontaneously combust. The only possible explanations were, one, her lack of parenting skills warranted a profile on “The Jerry Springer Show” (“1990s on Line 2”), or two, that I apparently gave off enough of an Israeli vibe that she didn’t have to ask me to watch him. There was simply a mutual understanding that I would obviously take care of the kid should anything happen.

As luck would have it, he began to wake up and make noises (not chicken noises, baby ones) just seconds after she left. What’s an uncle to do? I picked him up and snuggled the heck out of him (with his head supported of course; right, ladies?) Who needs in-flight entertainment? Eat your heart out, personal TV screen.

What made this story that much more amusing to me was that just hours after I posted the accompanying picture on Facebook, a friend living in the US posted this:

Today at the gym a friend of mine was holding a beautiful little baby girl. She told me that someone at the gym desperately wanted to go swimming and the baby was too young for the babysitting at the gym. So my friend offered to watch her baby while she went swimming. I asked my friend if this lady knows you and she said NO. This lady is nuts. She gave a stranger her baby so she could go swimming. Would you do that?

Unlike the commenters who thought this woman belonged locked up in a mental institution with Nurse Ratched, I welcomed this Israeli woman’s non-verbal offer with open (and loving) arms. Sometimes I really love cultural differences.

I may not have been an actual father that day but for a few short minutes, I felt pretty darn responsible for Baby 23F. Had I not already devoured my airplane meal earlier, I might have eaten him.

Anybody need a babysitter?

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