Flying with children can be more excruciating than an outdoor back wax on a sub-zero day. Unless they’re old enough to serve as free labor and schlep all the carry-ons. Then it’s awesome.
But I’m not there yet.
So on a fairly recent flight from D.C. to Denver, our family got stuck in the holding pen, er, “traveler’s lounge,” due to a malfunctioning windshield wiper on the plane. That’s right, something you can buy for $9.99 at Pep Boys delayed us for over half a day.
Since the airline was sure they’d have the problem solved “in a relatively short amount of time, probably” (note the lack of definition in this phrase), they wouldn’t let us leave the gate.
Somehow, the backpacks full of Honey Smacks, Pop Rocks (I’m such a retro mom), and nine-month-old Halloween candy I had given the kids for the trip wasn’t cutting it. They needed food, and preferably something with less than the 90 grams of sugar per serving I try to jam into every pre-flight meal. But we were stuck, with no chance of getting around the mean gate agent standing guard in the hall, so I responded with the same answer I give to about 80% of their questions.
“Go draw a picture,” I snapped, edgy because I was coming down from the high of consuming a gallon-sized bag of candy corn.
Out of sheer annoyance, confusion, or delirium, my seven-year old daughter, Essa, proceeded to lick me in response. She caught me off-guard, and struck the exposed underside of my arm with an extra-prickly tongue from all the high-fructose corn syrup she had ingested throughout the day.
“Who are you?” I demanded. “Veruca Salt? Now go draw Mommy a pretty picture!”
“Fine!” she replied, with an eye-roll so pronounced you’d think she was eight.
Minutes dissolved into an hour and that hour squared itself and multiplied, until finally, the airline found another plane. It was actually easier to fly in an entirely different aircraft than fix or replace our broken wiper. Seemingly, the words “customer service” were left out of the industry’s customer service manual.
With our early afternoon flight having morphed into the red-eye, they finally acquiesced and handed out snack packs filled with survival-type food you’d only grab if the world was ending and you needed supplies you could eat on the fly: beef jerky, some kind of chalky cheese-thing, and a can of tuna.
My kids know a square meal when they see one though, and devoured their rations without complaint.
Finally, bellies full and eyes bulging, it was time to board the plane. Shoving my children and husband aside so I could take the window seat, I had an unobstructed view of First Class as my son, Taylor, decided that it was a great time to tackle his sisters. Pretending to be completely unrelated to the flailing bodies and limbs behind me, I looked up to find a woman in the middle of the aisle, head cocked to the side, shoulders slumped, with body language that whispered defeat.
As I watched unobserved, she glanced down at her carry-on, (which was large enough to hold a person…. apparently, you’re allowed to travel with dead bodies in First Class) back up to the overhead bins, down to her carry-on again, out the window, up to the bins a second time, and finally, to the floor.
It was obvious that she didn’t want to lift that bag.
So I did it for her.
Now, I’m not telling you this so you’ll pat me on the back. I do that quite a bit myself, although I’ve taken a break from it lately because it’s kind of hard and hurts my shoulder.
I’ve actually got a bigger picture in mind.
As we settled into our seats, the woman with the big bag walked up. You’d think we’d be easy to find, but she actually had to hike to reach us. In case you aren’t aware, airlines don’t ask if you’re traveling with children for research purposes. As soon as the magic seating genie sees that you’re with three kids “between the ages of two and eleven,” it’s all over. You have no idea how far back in the cabin two adults traveling with kids can be seated. Until you’re there.
“Why did you do that?” she asked, with a genuine look of confusion on her face.
“No reason,” I smiled. “You just looked like you could use a little help.”
With that, she returned my smile, and silently handed me what appeared to be some type of get out of jail free card clipped to a stack of Monopoly money before she turned to trek back to First Class.
The first actually ended up being her business card. She was a corporate trainer and public speaker who lived in Colorado. But it wasn’t the front that mattered to me, rather, it was what she took the time to write on the back.
“In two million miles that has never happened. Wow. Biggest thanks for that great end to my day….”
And it wasn’t fake money clipped to the card either. Instead, she had given me four drink tickets for the ride home, invitations that included any alcoholic beverage the flight attendant could find on the plane. Now, thanks to my new friend in First Class, I would really be flying home. Just kidding. I actually gave them to my husband, whose road warrior miles had secured all of our seats next to the toilet in the first place.
I looked over at my children, who were straining to watch the woman with the big bag walk away, and gave them my favorite “mom stare.” This is the look I assume when there’s a really important lesson being taught and I want to make sure that they reflect a little, ask questions if necessary, and take the time to understand.
In reality, I don’t expect my kids to be scientists or surgeons, or President of the United States, although it would be cool to spend the night in the Lincoln Bedroom and catch a ride on Air Force One.
I do expect them to be kind, treat everyone they encounter as equals, and Do Good Things. Small Things. But Good Things. And just like my mother taught me, I reinforce my expectations constantly, because day-to-day and forever in life, it’s the small things that mean the most.
If you happen to see me at the grocery store looking for any meal I can make in ten minutes or less (everyone in my family is so over corn dogs), ask me, and I’ll show you the back of the lady with the big bag’s business card. I carry it with me in my wallet to remind me of what really matters in life, especially on days when I might forget.
(This is what Essa came up with when I asked her to draw a picture in the holding pen. It’s a portrait of her older sister, Grace, or as Essa likes to call her, “Rhino Butt Face.”)