This story was first published on January 18, 2013, here. Look out for more original stories from our guest blogger, Janet! She’ll be talking to us about her life as a working mom of two and her attempts to make herself a better person. For more info about Janet, check out her awesome blog here!
I'm writing this at 5:30am in Detroit, MI.
I came here last night on business, and after saying farewell to my family and talking nonstop politics to the nice taxi driver, I was finally at the airport and waiting for my flight to leave. We were delayed at least two hours so I ate some dinner and grabbed some edamame to go from the Sushi bar.
I sat down in between a young early-20s woman with long, red hair and a mid-30s age Indian woman and her daughter. The girl looked to be about four or five, and was bouncing in her seat. She reminded me of my eldest daughter at that age, just idly singing to herself, in a language I didn't understand.
Halfway through my edamame snack, the young woman and I struck up a conversation. I tried to listen to her openly and with intent, focusing on her point of view, which worked out pretty well. In fact, it worked so well that she asked for my email address so we could keep in touch, which was SO UNUSUAL for me. Me, making friends at airports! :) I wonder if she'll write back?
After a while of waiting we were told that our plane had arrived, but they had to clean it before we could board. I was still talking to the young woman when I heard the little girl next to me starting to get a bit loud. She had progressed to jumping on the heating unit, near the window, and was shouting. The mom was starting to look a little bit annoyed. I should mention that at one point earlier in my little airport adventure, the little girl had climbed under the seat to retrieve a toy, and had kicked me. The mom looked at me and said "sorry" and I said "not a problem, I have two at home, totally understand" and smiled.
The little girl got a bit louder. She had pulled her mom's luggage off of the chair and dragged it over to the waiting area by the plane. She got even louder now, saying the same phrase over and over (which I assume meant 'come on' or 'please' or 'mama' or something to that nature). She was nearly screaming it now, and I found myself pulled into looking at her. All I could think of was that this mom, this poor mom, she had been through so much already, taking care of her kid through airport security, through baggage maybe, then through the terminal, and then through waiting and keeping her entertained for hours and hours. So I interrupted my discussion with the young woman saying, "I'm sorry, but I feel so much for this mom, I have to do something" and ran through the terminal. I ran because I was worried about missing the boarding, as we were going to get on at any minute. (Just to make it clear how loud this girl was getting, I could still hear her as I ran through the terminal).I just kept thinking that this Mom was probably tired and done and just out of ideas for how to calm her daughter. I ran to the little candy/bookstore, scanned the shelves, and bought the first coloring book with markers I saw. It's not much, I thought, but maybe it will be a 'new toy' for a short while and give the Mom the break she (to my mind) so desperately needed.
I ran back with the book and thought, "how am I going to approach her, she's a stranger, really" but I ran right up to her. The little girl was still screaming and shouting and crying, jumping up and down, and the mom was just hanging on to her and keeping her from running off. I walked up to her and said, "Excuse me, I just would like to tell you that I know how you feel, I've been where you are, and if this will help you at all..." holding out the book. The little girl - stopped crying - and after a brief moment of hesitation - was soon coloring and sitting down and the mom looked 1 million times relieved. At first the mom had tried to make an excuse for the girl, "she's just tired, she really wants to get on the plane' but then just said, "um, yes, okay" to the book. I wasn't sure why she was trying to explain, at first, and I could tell she wasn't sure about getting something from a stranger, but when the mom accepted the book, she (and all of us at the terminal) seemed much happier for it.
At the time it wasn't the logical thing to do, it was the emotional thing. I was just going with my feelings for the mom, and acting on those feelings.
A few people at the terminal stopped me on my way to the plane (we were boarding now) and commented, "That was a wonderful thing you did". I felt good getting their comments, but not as good as seeing the look of peace and gratefulness on this mom's face as we boarded the plane. Another person said to me that a few moments before (perhaps while I was off buying the book, since I didn't see this) an old man had come up to the mom and said loudly, "We don't need to hear your child crying. Quiet her down." I was horrified to hear this - although not surprised - but now I understood why she was trying to 'explain' herself to me. She thought I was coming up to scold her, too. Not true!
Finally, as I was getting on the plane, the airline bumped me up to a bigger seat free of charge. I didn't ask - they just did it. Paying it forward, I suppose.