We’ve all been there… You’re setting off on a trip with your baby or toddler, and you’ve thought of EVERYTHING. You’ve got the diapers. The clothes. The white noise machine.
Then there are the entertainments. Books, finger puppets, sticker books, rattles and nineteen different packaged snacks that you hope will buy you at least two hours.
Then you get on the plane, and hope for the best!
I remember these days so well.
Traveling with a young child can be challenging. The first time I took a flight across the country with my six month old baby, I felt like I was preparing for the Olympics of motherhood.
So many new skills were required! I broke in a new baby carrier, made homemade rattles out of spice jars and things I found in the garden, and practiced nursing discretely so as not to unnerve any conservative seat mates.
I was especially concerned about my suitcase, since I knew I couldn’t safely lift it into an overhead compartment while wearing my baby.
I was talking through my nerves with a friend when she said something surprising.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “People will help you.”
I was shocked. Not so much by the fact that she had said this, but by my own reaction to it.
I mean, sure, they might offer to help.
But they were strangers! Was it really okay to get on a plane knowing that I wouldn’t be able to do it myself? Wasn’t there something wrong with that?
My reaction showed me how highly I value self-sufficiency. It was troubling, actually. This would be me, thinking this. Me, who thinks and writes so much about re-weaving the fabric of community, about rebuilding the village…
I have devoted my life to service, I love creating spaces that encourage meaningful connection between people.
And yet, when it came to the simple action of lifting my carry on into an overhead, I was completely imprisoned in the idea that I should be able to do it myself.
Well, guess what I learned?
That myth, that we are and should be self-sufficient, even in such a seemingly small instance as an airplane flight? It’s just that. A myth.
It’s okay to need help. It’s okay to ask for it, and it’s okay to receive it.
It feels pretty good, actually!
Because these moments, when we are a little vulnerable… When we are reaching past our comfort zone… These moments can bring us back in touch with reality– a reality beyond “mine” and “yours”.
These are the moments that remind us of what it feels like to connect… in way that can turn a stranger into a friend.
But back to my story… Here’s how that plane trip went!
I stood in line at the United kiosk, and when they called the first boarding group, I boldly went up to the front.
“Excuse me,” I said. “I’m traveling with a baby, and this is my first trip alone with him. I wonder whether I might be able to board early, so I can try to avoid inconveniencing other people while we get settled.”
The flight attendant glared at me and said, “No, you can’t. We don’t do that any more. You’ll have to go stand over there.”
She had spoken very loudly, and I knew that everyone in the line had likely overheard. I felt absolutely mortified as I made my way over to where she had pointed me.
Then things changed.
A woman standing in the line of people waiting to board walked over to me. I think my face was bright red, and I was holding back tears.
In a strong Brooklyn accent she said, “Come stand with me. I can’t believe she spoke to you like that! She oughtta be ashamed of herself!”
The woman was a retired ESL teacher who was around sixty years old, a strong, outspoken force of nature who had apparently appointed herself to be this new Mama’s guardian angel.
And, because the universe sometimes works this way, it turned out that our seats on the plane were next to each other.
Over the course of the flight, I talked with this woman at length. She shared with me about her children, now grown, and how she remembered what it felt like when she was nursing in the eighties, and people looked at her like she she should be ashamed for it.
She was once asked to leave a restaurant for nursing her baby. She told me how she gave them a piece of her mind, and encouraged me to do the same.
The flight passed quickly, and was surprisingly actually enjoyable, though my arms got tired– my son, who was six months old, was in a particularly acrobatic stage and wanted to be held in a standing position the whole time he was awake.
When I got a little tired of holding up, this woman gladly took him on her lap, and entertained him. By the end of the flight, he was completely comfortable with her.
As we began our descent, he was lying on her round belly, sucking on a large gold ring she was wearing, and cooing into her face.
So yes. People will help you.
And it’s a beautiful thing.
Because the thing is, we may not always act like it, but we are always connected. Just another grandmother there on the plane. Just like my son’s grandmother. Just like my mother’s mother before.
There are grandmothers everywhere. Mothers everywhere. Fathers everywhere.
So many people with the capacity to empathize and understand, because they’ve been through it too. They know what it’s like.
So, today I want to share a little something for your next airplane trip, on the off chance that you do not have a brashly helpful Brooklyn grandmother seated next to you. Or at any rate to pass the time until you meet one! LOL
This is a fingerplay, and it’s one of my favorites. It’s a veritable magic spell. It enchants children every time I use it.
Try memorizing it, and pull it out sometime, and you’ll be amazed at its capacity to bring delight, even in a difficult moment.
Or better yet… The next time you are seated next to someone on the plane whose small child is having a rough time, share this little rhyme with them.
Because, of course, then you will be that stranger. The one who comes out of nowhere, and brings that little bit of magic that puts things in perspective.
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