I’m constantly worried that I’m screwing my kids up for life, and not in the good way. As a child from a dysfunctional home I pride myself in the positives that came from it- like knowing a lot about drug culture (but never trying them because I had the best “say no to drugs” commercial on 24 hours a day at home), understanding how to help a person when they’re having a grand-mal seizure (if anyone drops in front of me at Target I know not to shove a spoon in their mouth), and earning my Chandler Bing style, self-deprecating sense of humor to cope with a miserable home life.
My kids have a completely opposite existence. They never have to worry about seeing their mom fall asleep in her food (ok, that might be a lie…) or seeing her OD and aspirate on her own vomit. They won’t have to skip school on a big field trip day because we can’t afford the fee. Hell, they won’t even have to walk in the rain to a bus because I’m so traumatized by the long, cold morning walks and the bullying I suffered to and from school that I’d never dream of doing anything but being the suburban mom taxi.
I’m aware of the opposite ways I could be screwing up my kids right this very second! They have it all- the pool, the bikes, the toys, the trips to Legoland, the frozen yogurt or Starbucks dates. I have a hard time saying no to their requests and I’m no therapist but I can see how growing up without can make a parent bend to a 5 year old’s will in the toy aisle at Target. I dreamed up this life for my unborn kids amidst my own childhood chaos and it’s here. Will our good fortune turn my kids into entitled little snots instead?
This past weekend I left my family for a short weekend conference called BlogU in Baltimore. I promised them a souvenir like always when I travel and kissed them goodbye. The trip and the conference was amazing- I met new friends, laughed until I cried, and even learned things I will be applying to this blog. When it was time to leave I was sad to go but excited to hug my family and sleep in my own bed again.
My flight was delayed 20 minutes and when I did the math, it meant I had an extremely tight connection in Atlanta but a gate agent assured me that things would be fine. I was landing a mere 3 gates from my departure. It would all work out, I assumed.
We boarded the plane and the gentleman in the aisle seat offered his to me, knowing of my predicament at landing. I thanked him for being so thoughtful and also observant. Hopeful but nervous I read my book, one I had just downloaded on my Kindle for this weekend after the NPR interview (I only buy books after I hear about them on NPR) and mentally prepared for the dash ahead.
Then the crackle of the speaker came on and the pilot spoke. “Ummm…. looks like we are going to be delayed 10 more minutes folks. I’ve turned off the engines. Once I get clearance for take-off we will taxi out.”
The lady directly ahead of me turned her head around. “Honey, don’t worry, we are going to stay in when we land and let you go ahead so you make your flight. We have these three rows covered for you. My son is over there, and my daughter is up ahead. It’s going to be ok.”
I thanked her- how incredibly thoughtful that she arranged to have three rows ahead sit patiently to let me go by them. I would have started up a conversation with her but frankly, my mind and body were just too exhausted from the weekend’s events and the late nights.
“Folks, we are going to be here another 5-10 minutes, air traffic control has us waiting.”
The woman ahead turned around with visible concern. “Are you going to make your connection?”
“Maybe, but it isn’t looking good. I might have 5 minutes when we land. Thankfully the gate is very close so if I can hurry I might catch the plane. And maybe they will wait if we aren’t too late. “
“We have all of the rows ahead [5 rows in coach] waiting for you to let you by.”
Hot tears sprung up. I already knew my chances were slim, but having the support of even more rows who were willing to let me speed by was a sign that not everyone in the world is out for themselves. Sometimes delayed planes have a way of bringing out the best in passengers. I’ve seen it before, and here it was happening for me. I thanked her again and this time we exchanged a few more words about my home destination of Tampa.
“So, do you have any children?” she asked. That was of course when I lost it. I crumpled into a pile of poorly contained tears as I choked out my “Yes, I have two boys at home.” “How old?” “5 and 3.” “These are my babies up here. They’re both teens. It happens so fast.” “I know. I was really hoping to see my babies tonight but I don’t know if I will now.”
I went straight to self-pity and questioned every decision I had made that afternoon. Through a very unfortunate mistake, I had booked the wrong set of flights to and from Baltimore. I fixed my first flights but wound up leaving hours later than planned for my return trip. I arrived at the airport at 3 PM for my 8:22 PM flight because I was riding with my roommate and her flight left at 5:45 PM. This wasn’t as bad as I anticipated because we were able to watch another episode of Orange is the New Black together. I had called in advance hoping to make stand-by for a 5:45 PM flight and I got it! I was summoned to the gate and offered a seat on that flight to Atlanta. Their flight was behind 30 minutes and a seat on the earlier connection was doubtful based on their stand-by list and the fact that I would have just 10 minutes to be added before the flight was scheduled to leave. I thought “Wait here or wait in Atlanta for my later flight and spend $50, plus take a seat from someone who may need it more….?” I chose to give up my seat. At the time, it seemed like a better choice. Had I taken that seat, paid $50, I would have made my connection. I tortured myself for that decision as the minutes ticked by and we were still on the ground.
“Ummmmm…. this is the pilot speaking…. we won’t be leaving until 9:40 PM.”
Again, the nice lady turned around with even more concern and now with a hint of pity on her face. She said nothing, but I knew her question.
“No… I won’t make it. My flight leaves at 11:00. Looks like I’ll be spending the night in Atlanta.”
I was mentally absent. My brain was running on no sleep and my body was tired from dancing the night away Saturday night, thanks to the social lubrication of an open bar and Kim friendly drinks. I had been texting updates to my husband. He, the eternal optimist, was checking Flight Status to see if maybe my connection would be delayed, and it was by 10 minutes, but that wasn’t even close to what I needed. Soon, we were in the clouds for a very uneasy and turbulent flight. I closed my comfortable hoodie over my eyes and tried to sleep but it was useless.
When the cabin lights turned on at landing the lady and her two teens all turned around. Their faces were all breaking my heart because they knew as well as I did that I would be stuck there all night, unable to sleep in my own bed and see my husband and kids. My thoughts were consumed with the blame I was placing on everyone else. Why didn’t that gate attendant tell me that our plane was the same one coming back from Atlanta? That piece of information would have been helpful because it would have made known the fact that my own flight would definitely be delayed. It was all her fault, she is the reason I’m going to be away from my babies one more night. I had hateful thoughts that took the blame from my own decision (how could I have known the outcome then? I couldn’t have) and put them onto someone else. It made me feel better, as it always does. I was so consumed by my self-pity, exhaustion, and anger that I hardly spoke to those kind people who had done so much to help me and who were clearly, very genuinely concerned about what happened to me.
As we all stood up and gathered our things to de-plane the teenager in 10B whose mother had been so kind to me, held out a Starbucks card across the row between us.
“Here, take this and grab something to eat and some coffee.”
It took me a minute to register what she was doing. I responded back. “Thank you, that’s so sweet. I’ll be ok. I actually have a gold star reward for a free coffee waiting for me on my own card.” “No really,” she replied back, “I got a million of these for my graduation. You should use it since you will be stuck here.” I again thanked her and assured her I would be fine. We all shuffled off the plane and I sat in a chair, crying my eyes out while figuring out what I should do next. The airline offered me a voucher for a hotel and a flight the next day.
That morning I woke up feeling much better after 7 hours of rest and hopeful that I would be seeing my babies soon. Then I went back over the previous day’s events and the teenager in 10B. I cried once again, but that time out of happiness. I had the privilege of meeting three people who left a lifetime imprint on me. I regret not asking the mother her secret to raising empathetic children. I cried because I wasn’t sure if one day my own children would do the same, would have the heart to make the same gesture of kindness to someone who clearly needed it. It wasn’t the card I needed- I would have never gone hungry- it was the act. Their concern made me feel less alone; I felt like they laid a security blanket on top of me in that airplane. I don’t know if I could even register how much it meant to me until the following day when my head was cleared of the negativity and regret. That family gave me hope that even a “normal” family can result in children who are good-hearted, even if they had never experienced the hardships that I’ve always felt shaped me into the person I am today. Whatever that family was doing, it was right. I’ll never know their secret and they’ll never know how much their gestures meant to me. One day, when my boys are adventuring with us, I can only hope they turn out just like the teen in 10B.