‘I’m sorry he won’t stop whining. I don’t want to ruin your flight.’ She smiles, puts her arms out. ‘May I hold him for you?’: Military spouse thanks strangers for acts of kindness on flight, ‘They lifted my burdens’

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“‘We’re boarding now! See you in Boston!’ I excitedly texted my mom as I folded up my double umbrella stroller, handing it over to the workers. I hoisted the backpack, snack bag filled with enough snacks for an army, and the toy bag onto one shoulder. I bent down at a weird angle and somehow managed to get my 1-year-old, Jordan, onto the other hip, all while making sure my 3-year-old, Grace, was within eyesight. Grabbing her hand and pulling our boarding passes out of my bra, I handed them over to the ticket counter. 

‘You have your hands full ma’am.’ I always chuckle under my breath when this statement is said. ‘That’s for sure,’ I said with a funny tone to throw some humor into the mix. Readjusting my sliding bags, we started the long trudge onto the plane. This isn’t anything new. I’ve got it down to a science. This is my third trip traveling alone with my two cuties in just 8 months. I think back to that cold January night in El Paso, Texas where my husband, Tom, was stationed at the time. We loaded up the car with my husband’s deployment bags, set our alarms for 12 a.m., buckled up the kids in the dark, and drove in silence. 

I was numb. I felt nothing. ‘Shouldn’t I be sad about saying goodbye?’ Our son was only 4-months-old and was waking up every 2 hours at the time. I was deep in the new baby trenches of lack of sleep and postpartum exhaustion. It must be a defense mechanism to feel no emotion. The families saying goodbye had an hour until boarding. We hugged one last time. The unspoken thoughts of ‘will this be the last time I see you’ flitter past my mind as we parted ways.

The reality of him being gone hit me like a brick the next morning. 

Courtesy of Carolyn Brown

I’m thrust back to the present as Grace impatiently tries to push past all the passengers shuffling to their seats. ‘Is this our seat?’ ‘No, honey, I’ll tell you when.’ ‘Is this our seat, mama?’ ‘No, Grace, we’re looking for 20B and 20C.’ ‘ABCDEF…’ she starts reciting as she touches every single armrest we pass. ‘Here we are Grace! Let mama put our bag above and sanitize before we sit down.’ I place Jordan on a seat while trying not to knock Grace over, and readjusting my bags from my shoulders into my hands. I always put the diaper bag up top and the toy and snack bag below the seat. 

Being a bit of a germaphobe even then, and my son having a tendency to get sick all the time, I diligently wiped every possible surface with disinfectant wipes. I buckle Grace in, hand her water, a lollipop, and a toy, then get to work on my seatbelt while Jordan stands between my legs playing with the netting on the seat in front of us. This is where my anxiety begins. When my husband went on active duty, I was fully on board with the life of adventure and moving every few months. Experiencing different parts of the country and meeting new people. We have met some of our best friends.

Courtesy of Carolyn Brown

One thing I had to give up was being close to my family at home. The homesickness was no joke. So during the 9 months Tom was gone, I planned three trips back home to see family. I hoped having some big trips planned would help pass the time. On the return from my second trip as we were heading into the El Paso area, we hit a giant wind storm. If you have ever been to El Paso during the windy months, you know what I’m talking about. I looked out the window to see an orange hazy cloudy sky. I had never seen anything like it. I even pointed it out to Grace. We started hitting turbulence which is nerve racking to begin with. ‘Make sure to buckle your seatbelts, folks,’ the flight attendant came around reminding us all. I double checked Grace and I’s seatbelt, held on to Jordan a little tighter, and tried to distract myself by watching the television in front of us. This wasn’t just the small bumps you usually experience. After a few aggressive side-to-side jarring bumps, my son and I went flying up in the air out of our seat so fast, hitting my head on the overhead compartment, before crashing back towards our seat. Terrified, the plane veered downward towards the right before the pilots corrected and we were back to aggressive turbulence. 

Crying to the young man across the aisle I said, ‘Did you see if my son hit his head?!’

‘No ma’am, he did not.’

‘Can you please come hold my daughter’s hand until we land? I need to hold onto my son and I’m too scared to not have both hands on him.’

This young gentleman, without hesitation, unbuckled and sat next to Grace, holding her hand until we finally landed. Clearly holding it all in Grace, burst out in tears. ‘She held that in real good,’ the man said. I remember we laughed nervously, relieved to finally be on the ground. As we left the plane, paramedics were waiting.

‘Can you remind me of the signs of a concussion?’

I told them my seat number so they could check if the seatbelt was faulty, and told them I felt fine because I didn’t want to burden anyone with having to come pick us up.

Courtesy of Carolyn Brown

In truth, I did feel fine at that moment. I was just in a daze and eager to get home after a 12-hour travel day. I later realized it was probably a minor concussion. I was so afraid I would die of a brain hemorrhage in my sleep and my kids would just be in their rooms crying for help that would never come. Anxiety much. With this memory weighing on my shoulders, I sat there anxiously making sure we’re properly buckled, thinking back to the time I thought we were about to die. During this internal landslide, a woman in a pink striped knit sweater stands next to our aisle. ‘Is this 20A?’ ‘Yes! Looks like you bought the lucky ticket!’ She smiles with kind eyes beneath her glasses. 

I unbuckle and stand so she could slide by. We all settle into that awkward feeling of basically touching arms. Jordan is already squirming making my arms work overtime, so I make sure to keep him in our area. Grace is playing around with the iPad that she only gets to use on flights. I always hope it entertains her for more than a few minutes. The flight attendants go into their preflight safety and we’re on our way. The tarmac bounces below the wheels; my palms are sweaty, and I try to focus on entertaining Jordan in my arms.

Courtesy of Carolyn Brown

About 30 minutes into the flight, Jordan won’t stop fussing. I feel embarrassed, and will him to stop. He’s restless in my lap. I just want him to sleep so I can give my arms and back a rest. The woman next to us smiles at him, capturing his attention. He smiles back. ‘I’m sorry he won’t stop whining.’ ‘No need to apologize. I have 2 kids and a granddaughter. I’m actually on my way to see them right now.’ ‘Wow, that must be so exciting! We are heading back to El Paso from seeing all of our family!’ 

There are more smiles and silly noises, and Jordan is transfixed by her. She put her arms out, ‘May I hold him?’ I immediately feel awkward. I don’t want to burden this nice woman with my squirmy, whiny baby. I don’t want to ruin her flight. ‘Are you sure? He’s pretty heavy. I don’t want to take away from your relaxation.’ ‘Really, I don’t mind.’ She isn’t super chatty, which can make someone like me who can talk to anyone a little unsettled. I hand Jordan over to her, anxious for a moment thinking about the possibility of turbulence. She has a welcoming scent of a warm, loving person. Jordan immediately rested his head on her shoulder. I smiled at her, ‘Thank you. Please let me know when I can take him back.’ She nods. Eventually, Jordan falls asleep.

Courtesy of Carolyn Brown

I sit back and put my headphones in, unsure of what to do with myself. Relishing in the fact that my arms and shoulders aren’t in agony anymore. ‘Let me know if you want me to take him.’ Again, she nods, ‘I’m good.’ I go back and forth between checking on Grace, who is pretty content playing with toy after toy, and glancing at Jordan sleeping. As we make our descent almost two hours later, Jordan wakes up and I take him back. ‘Thank you so much, I really appreciate your help.’ ‘Of course.’ She says with a casual tone as if she does this for strangers every day. I am overwhelmed with so much gratitude for this woman. 

It always feels kind of strange parting ways with someone who has impacted you in a moment that you will likely never see again. I didn’t even get her name, which I later regretted. She probably doesn’t even remember us, but I will never forget her. A month later, my husband returned, and I thought back to the various trips between El Paso and Boston. On two different occasions, we hit bad weather causing us to stay in a random city overnight, and I almost died flying from my seat in turbulence. However, all I could really focus on when thinking back to all our flying experiences was the kindness of these two strangers. I was just a military wife solo parenting trying to survive while my husband was in a war zone. In those moments, they lifted that burden.”

Courtesy of Carolyn Brown

This story was submitted to  Love What Matters by Carolyn Brown of Fort Rucker, Alabama. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story  hereand be sure to  subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and  YouTube for our best videos.

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