As the boys get older, air travel becomes easier. We load them up with Motrin for their ears, sugar for their mouths, and every electronic device their grubby hands can hold, and before we know it–we’re there.
We all know how much flying sucks, and anyone who has to travel with kids is exponentially cursed. I have referred to vacations with children simply as HELL in a different location. Two years ago, we flew to Disney World in a horrible storm. It was incredibly bumpy, and both boys were screaming and crying so loudly that I yelled out, “Would someone shut those kids up?” Those around me laughed nervously. It was such a chaotic landing that I was actually hoping the plane would crash and put me out of my misery. We landed safely, as you’ve probably guessed, with both boys huddled on the floor–yes, the floor of our row, and Hayden passed out asleep from the trauma of it all. Welcome to “the happiest place on Earth.”
The day we left for St. Thomas was bright and sunny with a clear blue sky. The boys acted like old pros, having flown half a dozen times in their lives. It wasn’t the nightmare I’d remembered. It helps that people are nicer to you when you fly with kids. The TSA agents let you go in a special line, people let you board before them on the plane, and even the flight attendants seem nicer to you when you have kids–they know! As we walked onto the plane, one of the female attendants greeted the boys and was drawn to the colorful array on Owen’s wrist. “Cool bracelets!” she said. “Thanks,” he replied. “Where did you get them?” “I made them.” “Wow, very neat.” Nice lady. She made the boys and me feel instantly relaxed as we made our way to the very back of the plane, aka turbulent central. PAUSE…
The next part of our story is brought to you by Rainbow Loom–the “IT” accessory this summer. Invented by someone who probably has cases of leftover silly bands from 2010’s craze. These are the hottest item among kids 5 to 15. Guys and girls alike wear them with a sense of entitlement. For those of you of a certain age–think back to the frenzy involving summer’s hottest must-have–the pet rock, for example, or the invisible dog on the leash. Hayden received the Rainbow Loom as a gift for his birthday and both boys have been looming ever since. My wife and I have even been sporting them with our beach wear. We. Are. Cool.
As the flight attendant, Patty, serves us our “free” drinks, she says “And these are for the guys with the cool bracelets.” We smile, and I hint to Owen how it might be nice if he gave her one. He contemplates it, then it’s forgotten for a little while. The plane lands. The flight was smooth and uneventful. As we make our way to the front and say goodbye to the flight staff, I watch Owen peel a bracelet off his wrist and hand it to Patty. “Would you like to have one of these?” “Oh my gosh! Really? You are very sweet. Thank you.” “You’re welcome.” Everyone is smiling. Patty seems amused and surprised at this small gesture. I pat Owen’s shoulder as we walk down the stairs, “Proud of you, Owen.”
Flash forward one week. We have throughly enjoyed our stay in the Virgin Islands. We are relaxed, tan, well fed and rested. Yet, as we make our way through the airport to return home, my mood quickly sours as I am reminded just how shitty air travel has become: the computer at self check-in that doesn’t work; the customs card I need to fill out even though I never left the US (It’s called the United States Virgin Islands, dammit); the TSA agent yelling his friendly reminders about removing all lap tops; the customs agent who acts annoyed with us for not having the boys’ birth certificates even though we were told we didn’t need them; Hayden, our seven-year-old, who can’t seem to remember our phone number or his birthdate when grilled by said agent; having to take off our shoes; the guy behind me pushing my plastic bins on the conveyor belt when I’m still unloading my pockets… By the time I reach the waiting area, I am in a foul mood. Countless hours of sun and fun seem to be a distant memory. I need a drink!
As we step onto the plane, our eyes widen. “Helloooo!” It’s the same flight attendant from our trip down, Patty. In fact, it appears to be the same flight crew. “I remember you,” she says to Owen. Owen blushes. Throughout the entire flight, Patty dotes on us. When she serves our drinks, she greets us with “and what can I get for my three favorite guys?” We all smile broadly. I respond, “We’ll take an apple juice, a Sprite, and a Bloody Mary for me.” (Hey, it’s the end of my vacation). As I go to hand her my credit card, she says, “This one’s on me.” I protest. “No, this is for having such nice boys. I’ll be back in a few with cookies.” This makes the boys lift their heads out of DS land–cookies! I spend the next few minutes trying to impress upon Owen how cool this experience is. “Do you believe this? You never know when you will meet someone again. That’s why it’s important to be nice…to do nice things for people. It makes them want to do nice things.” I want to tell him all my favorite sayings on the subject–about crossing the same bridge, about karma, about the kindness of strangers, and paying it forward. I resist such pontificating, but he gets the message loud and clear. He understands. I see it on his face when he comes back from the bathroom. “These are from Patty,” he says holding a big can of Pringles. The same look returns when we are leaving the plane and Patty gives him a bag of treats in a special airline bag. “Be sure to share this with your brother.” “I will.” I am so dumbfounded by all of this kindness, that I lamely try to explain it to the couple behind us. They smile and nod. I want everyone to know. I want to shout it: “Be nice, people! When you’re nice it makes others nice!”
I’ve thought about this experience for the last few days. I love that Owen was taught such a valuable lesson, one I believe will have a lasting impression on him. I am reminded that the smallest gestures can have an impact beyond one’s understanding. I am grateful for all the Patties out there who have to endure a lot of unkindness in their jobs, and through it all they smile and show they care. I have never flown first class, but that day we were treated as such.
So, that’s my feel good story. We had a wonderful trip to an exotic island, yet my highlight occurred in the airport. For those of you who would like a little glimpse into our time there, I leave you with Hayden’s first grade report on our vacation. Although written before we left, it’s amazing how accurate his predictions were–all except room service. I’ve never had room service in my life, so I’m a little miserly about letting them have it. Is that unkind?