be the seatmate you want to see in the world

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Last week, I got to go to Las Vegas with a girlfriend who was there for a conference. She attended the conference all day while I read by the pool/wandered around the strip, and then we hung out and saw shows and ate amazing things every night.

To get there, I had to fly Southwest. I know, most people adore Southwest for their reasonable fares and funny staff members and for letting you check a bag for free and for not nickel-and-diming their customers at every opportunity. I have a grudge against them because they don’t assign you a seat, but instead, you get assigned a boarding number based on when you check in, and then it’s like a free-for-all to find a seat. I am so scatterbrained, I never remember to check in on time and thus end up in the crappy, you’re gonna have a middle seat, good luck finding space in the overhead bins group. True story, I once cried on a Southwest flight because I was PREGNANT WITH TWINS and didn’t get to sit next to my husband because we hadn’t remembered to check in on time. I JUST WANT AN ASSIGNED SEAT, DAMMIT.

Anyway, I actually managed to get in the B boarding group for my flight to Vegas, miracle of miracles. I always feel blissfully unencumbered when flying without my kids. It’s like, long security lines? No problem, at least I’m not trying to keep a couple of five year olds happy and in line. You need me to take off my shoes, show you my liquids, maybe even pat me down? Great. At least I’m not also taking off two other people’s shoes and hustling them through the lines. Basically, my good mood when flying without my children cannot be stopped.

As I waited to board, I heard a baby losing his mind. My first thought was “I hope I’m not next to that baby! I’m flying without kids, finally! I *deserve* a quiet, relaxing flight.”

But then I got on the plane to look for a seat, and saw the mom of that baby, flying alone with him and his preschool-aged brother. The aisle seat next to them was open. I didn’t really want to take it, but then a thought popped into my head: “Be the seatmate you want to see in the world.” I think it was inspired by my own airplane angel from a long-ago flight with my kids.

I sat down next to the mom. “Hi! I’ll sit next to you– I have twins, myself.” She smiled, “I didn’t think ANYONE would want to sit with us. Thank you so much!”

The kids did as great as a preschooler and a lap baby can do on a flight, which was also not particularly long, thankfully. The preschooler watched movies on his tablet and occasionally demanded snacks. The baby was wiggly and in need of constant distraction, occasionally emitting a squawk before his mom and I distracted him with something else, but no prolonged crying or anything. Big win? Let the baby play with ice cubes on the tray table. That entertained him the longest.

The mom and I chatted, and I was glad I sat next to them. It felt like sisterhood. Moms need to look out for each other.

We arrived in Vegas, and I left the little family at the end of the jetway, mom competently putting the stroller together and getting her kids settled. She had it handled, so I kept moving, eager to get to my hotel and grab some dinner.

As I reached the end of the jetway, I heard a man scream, “GET THAT FUCKING SCREAMING BABY THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!” I turned to see a big guy fully decked out in Broncos gear literally yelling at a woman alone with two kids. I stared, mouth agape, as he walked toward and past me.

I wish I had said something like, “Babies can’t help it if they act like a-holes, but what’s your excuse?”

Instead all I could do was stare. Would he have screamed at her if her husband had been with her? Did anyone who witnessed the event say anything to him? Why didn’t the flight attendant who was standing right there say something? Can that guy get like, banned from future flights?

I can only imagine how rattled the mom was, and I wish I had caught up with her to check in. “You OK, sis?” There is no one more stressed and uncomfortable on a flight with small kids than those kids’ parent(s). Here, she had just survived the flight, oh sweet relief, and her kids had actually done as great as you can expect any kids their ages to do, and then she gets screamed at by an intimidating stranger?

I’m still furious with that man.

But in spite of his hatred, I’d like to share the main lesson I learned on that flight: be the seatmate you want to see in the world. Remember the hard times you’ve had, and let them give you compassion towards people dealing with stressful situations, like traveling with small children. Don’t huff. Don’t roll your eyes. Help. At the very least, offer a kind glance and a smile. Pack your earplugs and your noise-cancelling headphones if you must, but remember, while babies don’t have self-control, you do. Exercise it.

Image above via Flickr user fred C under a Creative Commons license.

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my airplane angel and the kindness of strangers

Is the glass half full, or half empty? Are people terrible, or are they good? These questions, like just about everything, depend on what sort of data you’re working with, which examples you’re focusing on, and where you’re looking. For me, I have to say, I just keep getting smacked in the face with the full and the good.

Us, traveling with twins last year.

Us, traveling with twins last year.

I wrote about dreading our holiday travel with twin toddlers, for example, but our flights ended up going swimmingly. TSA agents gave the girls stickers and smiled and chatted with them while scanning our liquids and swabbing our hands. A family wrangling just one baby called us superheroes as we struggled to fold a stroller and sort out a backpack with a toddler strapped to each of our chests. We sat near people who smiled and told us how cute our kids are instead of huffing that they got stuck near two small children on a flight. And I was seated next to an angel. I mean, her name was Mary and she’s a sheep farmer, and her son’s name was Christian. That’s some pretty heavy symbolism, right off the top. But she also held my toddlers, let them play with her jewelry, showed them pictures of her dogs and her sheep on her camera, and let Claire nap across her lap. Her middle school aged son closed the window shade without asking to keep the sun out of little eyes, and happily watched Pixar movies with us on the iPad. They made the flight to Colorado a pleasure, and finding them as my seatmates again on the way back felt like nothing short of a miracle.

This sort of kindness has been happening to us again and again lately. My iPhone was stolen on our vacation in Florida, which would seem to be a data point in the “people are terrible” column. But then a woman I have never met outside of Twitter offered to give me her old iPhone for free, refusing my offer to pay, saying it was just sitting in a drawer since she had upgraded. I accepted it gratefully, doubly thankful for the blessing of being reminded that for every thief, there is also generosity and kindness.

And then, last week, a crazy thing happened. I got a friend request on Facebook from a stranger with whom I had only one mutual friend. Around that same time, that mutual friend shot me a text: “Missing a wallet?” A delivery driver for a local restaurant had found my wallet run over in the road, picked it up, and given it to the owner of the restaurant, who, used to tracking down people who leave their wallets in the restaurant, set about finding me via Facebook, and, seeing that we had a mutual friend, through him. Not a single thing was missing from my wallet, which I had apparently left on the roof of my car while buckling my kids in. And it was returned to me in a fashion only slightly less miraculous than that time my husband left his iPhone in a Costa Rican taxi cab and it found its way back to him.

Even my casual day-to-day ventures into public with twin toddlers are usually characterized by people holding doors, waving at toddlers, and asking if they can help.

And it’s not just my data set that suggests that people are really good and kind. Today, my friend Kerri has a post up about a random act of kindness she got to participate in. (And I must say, Kerri happens to be one of the kindest, biggest-hearted people I know.) And another friend tweeted about dropping her kid off at daycare for the first time, where a stranger she called an angel gave her a hug and told her “It’ll be OK.” And then another friend on Twitter sent me a link to this piece from the Today show about strangers showing kindness to parents with kids out in public. And yes, I know, there’s a whole lot of terrible and hurt and meanness that also scrolls by my feed and through my life, but in the face of so much good, that’s the part I’m trying to choose to focus on.