Years ago we traveled to California for Jackson’s 1st birthday. Being a parent is a crazy experience because it really does go so fast. We’ll be celebrating his 4th birthday in a few weeks. As first time parents, you have all the expectations in the world that you won’t be ‘that family.’
The family with the screaming kid on a plane.
Because Jack was only 1 at the time and was an easy baby, he didn’t throw fits or squirm and was seldom grumpy. So we shouldn’t have had the incident that played out on the 4 hour red eye flight back to Atlanta.
This was Murphy’s Law in plane sight. Yes, pun intended.
A day before we left and the night after his party, Jack came down with a fever – a high one – so we took him to urgent care, got him some meds and figured by the time we needed to fly, he’d knock out. On the first leg of the trip he was great. Not a peep and slept most of the way. Poor kid. He was so tired from travel and a big birthday party, you could tell he just wanted his own bed. I feel ya buddy!
Off we went to conquer leg #2 of the trip.
Since there weren’t many direct flights from ATL to CA we had to plane hop in Colorado. Never thought about it until I took off that night, but Colorado is a bit higher altitude than California or Atlanta so the increased pressure as we took off was just too much for Jack and his ear infection.
Jack screamed and cried and screamed some more. He did not want to nurse. He did not want his paci. He arched and screeched for three and a half hours. Yes. That long.
I was exhausted and this red eye was a small plane with 90% business men. Great, I thought. No one with a kid that can feel my pain and not judge me. He’s not throwing a tantrum, I wanted to announce to everyone. He’s just sick. But of course, you don’t yell that on a plane.
Then people would really think you’re crazy. I already felt like I was, so I figured I better not confirm it.
I glanced around nervously. I felt bad for Jack and for the other travelers because this was insane. I flipped the overhead air straight onto my face as I was starting to sweat. This flight was never going to end. I took a deep breath and handed him off to Steve.
Then, people began to turn around. Oh great, here it comes. The looks, the glances. Heck, I would too. I wasn’t even going to judge them. A red eye flight means you intended to sleep through your travel. These people were not getting any sleep.
A gentlemen spoke up two rows ahead. He smiled. I remember his eyes were kind. “I have four kids. We’ve done this before. It’s gonna be okay.”
I must have looked shocked because he started to chuckle as he glanced for any other passenger that would join the “Can I get an amen?” encouragement session he just started.
“Oh yeah” said another gentlemen, “I remember that with my youngest. Longest flight of our lives and we felt so bad for everyone else.”
“Yes!” I said. “I am so sorry. He’s sick and we just celebrated a birthday and….” I started to come up with a million words to explain why my 12 month old just couldn’t be calmed.
“No need to apologize honey” said another older gentlemen. “If anyone has a problem with an infant, then that’s there problem. Don’t worry about it. We’ve all been there. Not bothering me. You’re doing a great job.”
Grace at 39,000 feet.
The weight of the situation was lifted instantly with those gentle encouraging words – from all men I might add. They didn’t just ignore it or put up with it. They were encouraging the person on the plane that probably needed it most as she struggled with being “that mom” for the first time.
As we descended, Jack quieted and the last 30 minutes we rode in peace. I’ve always been so challenged by that interaction – to pay it forward. Whether it’s the mom struggling at Target to wrangle her children and calm the infant she’s carrying or the baby at a restaurant that erupts at the quietist moment possible.
We’ve all been there right? Let’s not forget the days of struggle. We so often exit a season of life, get comfortable in the next one, and judge another for the very thing we just came out of. I’ve been guilty of it for sure. But, after that night, I work a bit harder to make eye contact, nod and smile if nothing else other than to confirm, “You are doing a great job. It’s going to be okay. Keep going Mom!”