Thursday, March 14, 2013

Flying Lessons

IMG_4684 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.  IMG_4687 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.  IMG_4689The 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.  IMG_4698 IMG_4699 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).    IMG_4718

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!)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. At the risk of probably being a dissenting opinion of readers, the fact is it's not the woman on the last flight's job to attend to your children, even ever so slightly. She didn't pay for that seat in an upgraded area to take on those responsibilities. And you did ask her what she thought you should do so you also can't insinuate she just offered her thoughts up out of thin air. Children aren't my thing - give me a dog any day and I'll show you I'm not made of stone but there's something about a child's screech, especially in a contained area that cuts to my nerves. I hope the woman did write to the airlines as the attendant should have moved her out of courtesy. Not everyone adores other people's children and I can't fathom how that reduces down to being a good vs. evil person. 3 minutes or 30 minutes of a crying child is fingernails on a chalkboard to many people, especially if you're just waiting it out to let her find herself. An airplane when inflicting behaviour on other passengers is not the time to do that.

  3. Yes, but the woman, split up their seats. Originally she was supposed to sit with her husband. But the woman wanted an aisle seat, and split up the shumway's seats. The lady should've sat with her husband.

  4. Saydi, sorry you had such a miserable experience flying. I've only ever flown alone with one and it's nerve-wracking to sit there and know that many other passengers are abhorring your existence right then, just because you're trying to get from point A to point B and have a child in tow. When you live a flight away from family, there's just no way to avoid flying with kids, and it stinks to be treated rudely on top of all the stress of doing it. I hereby resolve to always be that nice woman on the first flight, even if I'm secretly wishing for some peace and quiet.

  5. Isn't it sooo nice to sit next to kind people on flights? On my way back to SLC after Vera's wedding the first leg of my flight was a shorter one to North Carolina. I sat in the middle between an older woman who was visibly unhappy to be sitting by me and another woman who said she noticed June and I before the flight and hoped she would get to sit by us. She told me she was pregnant and started chatting with me about pregnancy and babies. Shortly after takeoff the older woman was struggling to get something from her bag and I turned towards her to offer a hand. She replied that she "couldn't listen to you two talk about babies for one more minute." Toward the end of the flight I found out the woman i was chatting with had lost her husband recently when he died in an accident. She would be traveling alone with a baby to visit her in laws after the baby was born. I was so glad that I got to talk to her on that short flight. The other woman did not hear this but it was a lesson to me that you never know what people are facing. It feels so much better to be met with kindness from others.

  6. To Shannon from Snouts in a Snit (aka Cape Thrift),

    I've never commented on this blog before, but as a fellow mother who has flown way too many times alone with children I have some stuff to say.

    First, I'm pretty sure Emeline's few minutes of screeching was more uncomfortable for Saydi than it was for anyone else on that flight. It's rough and wrenching being stuck next to a strange crying child, but I can promise you (because I've been in both places) it's much tougher being the mother of that child. Even if it does only last a few minutes, those few minutes are nerve splitting as you rack your brain for a way to figure out how to quickly quiet the child before anyone is too annoyed. Second, of course it wasn't that poor woman's responsibility to attend Saydi's children, it was hers, but she was going through a rough spot and needed a tiny bit of help (passing a bag of snacks). Since when is it such a horrible thought that we can, and maybe should help strangers around us? It makes me sad to think that we might live in a world where people are too inconvenienced to do simple things to help strangers out.

    Third, I doubt that Saydi was letting Emeline "find herself" as you suggest. A 4 year old crying for ONLY 3 minutes when she has woken from a nap in a strange place, sitting by strangers after a long day is pretty much a world record. I'm sure it required some pretty fancy (and probably frantic) mothering to that one off pull off.

    Last, Saydi didn't say anything about good vs. evil, just happy vs. sad. Happy people are helpful and aware of others feelings. Sad people generally aren't. It's impossible to be genuinely happy when you're stuck inside yourself.

    What do you suggest mothers do with children on flights? Maybe kennels under the airplane would be a good way to solve this problem. Is that how you traveled as a child?

    Great job handling a hard situation Saydi.

  7. So sorry about this Saydi. The worst case scenario that you have dreamed up in your mind that doesn't usually happen....happened! Shucks! There's nothing like the terror of bothering other people except maybe having them point out that you bothered them....even more than you could have imagined!

    Glad you can laugh about it. What a sad person you met. Even though you may not have made her day better, you might have given her pause the next time she sees a struggling mother. Or not.

  8. We live far from family & my husband has a demanding job. That equals a lot of flights with my kids by myself.

    I once flew to Australia with my 3 youngest when they were 5, 2 1/2 and 10 months old. I psyched myself up for DAYS before that one. They were wonderful over the 23 hours of flying between NY & Sydney. (My biggest concern was how to go to the bathroom myself on the flight or take the 5 yr old. You can't fit 4 people in there & who do I leave them with when I go?) We sat near another family traveling with a baby and they & the flight attendants were very kind & helpful.

    As we were getting off in Sydney many passengers commented on how good the kids were, what a great Mother I was and how cute and sweet the kids were. I felt on top of the world! Kind people around you make all the difference.

    Now my youngest is 6 and my kids are ridiculously easy to fly with (in comparison to the baby days, at least.) I always offer to help someone with an infant, or share a toy with a restless toddler. It wasn't so long ago I needed that myself and a little kindness never goes astray. Plus, it makes me feel just so darned good to know I lightened someone else's load.

  9. Oh, and this post TOTALLY reminded me of one of my favorite quotes -

    "If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”
    –Roald Dahl (The Twits)

  10. Oh Saydi, I am so sorry. I have been around your children and they are seriously amazing. I don't care how old any of us are, we have all been scared and disoriented and worried and just because a child handles it differently than an adult would (sometimes at least, it sounds a bit to me like this woman put up more of a fuss than little Em in the end), doesn't mean she doesn't have a right to feel that way and take a little bit of time to figure things out and feel comforted and calm again.

    I completely get that everyone has their own choice and if they don't want to have children, that is absolutely within their rights. That is the beauty of our own agency. But it doesn't negate my right to have children and to have them be a part of society. And every single one of us started as a child and needed to learn to grow and develop. I don't understand how the rest of us had this opportunity and privilege, but some people don't think that privilege should be extended to others--like small darling children who are incredibly well behaved except for a few panicky minutes.

    I have seen who you are as a mother and I know without question or doubt you were doing everything you could to help Emmeline. And she was doing everything she could to figure things out and be okay again. Anyone can be kind for three minutes. Anyone.

    I adore you Saydi. Your are a good mother and you have some pretty tremendous kids. And no one can change that.

    Hooray for motherhood and the opportunity to become better people! And not always just because of our children.

    (Now where is my pretend trophy for the longest comment award?)



Related Posts with Thumbnails