Over February break we spent 6 glorious days together as a family in San Diego. I spent the last week of January pining to get out of our snowy winter prison and stumbled upon very inexpensive tickets to sunny SD, where one of my favorite brothers and his family live. So I jumped on them and a few weeks later there I was, ready to board the airplane to fly coast to coast with my four darlings. Jeff had to work in NYC so we flew without him (he joined us the next day). Then, he flew home with the kids alone so that I could stay for MFME. The kids were such troopers on our flights, especially the big ones. I’m pretty sure they could tell that I was a little nervous about being so outnumbered and they really stepped up to the task. Hazel is pretty amazing with Emmeline, she can get her excited about doing pretty much anything. The first leg of the flight was LONG (all the way to San Francisco) but we lucked out with very kind and accommodating flight attendants who rearranged things to let us have an extra seat for Peter and we sat by the kindest, happiest woman who quickly won Emmeline’s heart and they talked and played for a big chunk of the 6 hour flight. She let Em put her feet on her lap when she wanted to rest, she helped her draw and stick stickers, she adored Peter, she talked with the big kids. By the end of the flight I was so grateful to that woman I could have kissed her. On the second flight we some how lucked (?) out and got seated in Economy plus. The flight was only an hour and change so I didn’t worry when our seats where split up by an older couple who apparently wanted to both have isle seats rather than sit together. Hazel and Em sat together and I sat across the row from them by the window with the boys. Em feel asleep, Hazel read quietly and Peter did his regular friendly easy to adore Peter thing (babbling and laughing) while Charlie played some games. The woman next to us read her paper and seemed not to be paying much attention to us. Then, 20 min before landing Emmeline woke up, confused and started freaking out a little. I asked the woman next to me to hand her a little baggy of snacks. That didn’t really calm her down so I jumped up and got into the isle to try to figure out how to calm her down. To spare you all the gory details (and they do get pretty gory) the woman next to me was not happy with her lot in life at that moment. As I jumped up to help Emmeline she muttered that this was the worst flight she had ever been on. Then, after calming Em down (mostly) she called the flight attendant over to ask to be reseated, stating that this was totally unacceptable. Seriously people, Emmeline cried for a total of about 3 minutes. The nice flight attendant told her that she was sorry, but there was nothing she could do and if the woman wanted to write a letter to the authorities that be, so be it. The woman then turned to me and told me that she didn’t think I should take more kids on a flight than I was able to control. I have to say, from experience, that even if there were 10 caring adults with Emmeline at that moment she still would have been uncontrollable for a few minutes until she got herself oriented.
This woman was not happy. When I apologized and asked what she thought I should have done differently she told me that she chose not to have children for a reason (thank goodness she didn’t I thought to myself!). Needless to say, the last 10 minutes of the flight were not too comfortable for anyone. I struggled to keep all the retorts back that I wanted to spout out at her, and I guess I didn’t try hard enough because, as soon as we landed, out they came. And once I got going, I just kept going. I really gave that woman an earful. But I had to stand up for my children, for motherhood, for families, for procreation, didn’t I?
Once she left the flight everyone around me told me how crazy they thought she was, how angelic my children were and how brave and courageous I was. That did wonders for my racing heart. But that kind of nastiness on a stressful day takes a while to work out of your system. I was happy to find Kristi waiting to pick us up to unload my story and later that night we both laughed with Noah as I retold it again. I said some pretty bold things to that woman. All of them true (though I was sorely tempted to make some tragic stuff up to explain why I was traveling alone so that she’d feel suddenly horrible and sheepish).
Here’s what I’m taking away from flying solo with 4 kids that day:
1. Happy people are nice and warm and that makes them happier. Like our dear lady on the first flight. You could just see through her and could tell that she was at peace with the world. I’m sure her life wasn’t all hunky dory. I’m sure she had her challenges, but somehow she was happy and that cast a wide net of love and helpfulness all around her. I want to be that happy woman.
2. Mean people are really just sad people. We should offer them all the love and compassion that we can muster. In this case, I didn’t muster much until after my heart stopped racing and my blood stopped boiling, and then it was too late to show her any real mercy. Part of me wishes I hadn’t given her such an earful, but part of me feels like maybe it was ok for her to hear what I had to say. And the last part of me realizes that it is still productive to show her compassion and love even if I never see her again. It will put my heart right to recognize that she was coming from a place of sadness. I hope wherever that sad woman is that somehow she will find happiness.
3. Whenever I go on an airplane I’m going to take a little extra chocolate bar with me and award it to any struggling mother I can find after the long, hard, stressfully exhausting work of traveling alone with children amidst a sea of people who might be sad, might be happy and you never really know who is who until something spills (out of them…or maybe on them).
Thankfully we had this to look forward to once we reached the other, sunny coast. Which, in my opinion, was worth any heart racing, blood boiling flight we had to endure to get there.
More on our sunny San Diego adventures to come (after Peter’s big no 2 birthday tomorrow!)