Me. Dragging a newborn in a stroller, his car seat, a
suitcase and my broken heart into the tiny airport in State College,
Newly separated from my husband of 10 years, I had decided
a trip to my hometown was in order. I hadn’t been home in years. Come to think
of it, I hadn’t flown with a child in nearly four years and the few times I’d
attempted it I was never alone, I was always with my husband. We had our
airport routine down like a military drill, passing the baby back and forth with
precision and grace while one or the other folded a stroller, carried a
suitcase, mixed a bottle or used the restroom. In my desire to escape his
absence in my life I had highlighted it by attempting to travel alone.
It wasn’t until I was boarding the plane and struggling to
collapse the stroller with one hand while cradling my son in my other arm that
I realized this trip, with two layovers, wasn’t going to be easy and not just
because of the obvious; keeping the kid quiet while stuck in a metal tube for
hours, so close to strangers I could hear their stomachs growling and smell
their farts. Small things like the aforementioned stroller folding or undoing
one’s pants in order to relieve one’s bladder become enormous obstacles while
holding a baby.
Ever try lugging a suitcase, a stroller, a baby and a car
seat through a crowded airport and then using just one hand to dig out your ID
and boarding? Seriously, try removing your shoes and taking your laptop out of
its case while holding a baby. When you think flying with a newborn it’s always
your baby annoying others by crying on the airplane that occurs to you and you
neglect to think about the sweaty gauntlet that is actually getting to your
seat in the first place.
So while I was prepared for a crying baby, it hadn’t
occurred to me that the little stuff, like collapsing a problematic stroller
while ten people anxious to board a plane tapped toes and rolled eyes behind
me, would be the stuff that reduced me to tears.
I was sweating, holding back tears and yanking the stroller
lever as hard as I could while trying to keep my son’s tiny, wobbling head
against my chest when I heard the sentence I would hear several times more
throughout my trip.
My husband’s absence forced me to be aware of my fellow travelers in a way I never have before.
“Can I help you fold your stroller?”
I had braced myself for dirty looks, loud sighs and eye
rolls and could not have been more surprised to discover that throughout my
trip to Salt Lake City and back to Pennsylvania, people were falling all over
themselves to help me.
“Would you like me to hold your bag while you get situated?”
“Here, you dropped your phone.”
In one case my seat mate, a woman in her 50s, offered to
buckle my seatbelt for me when she noticed I was having a tough time handling
the buckling with one hand while holding a newborn. Then there was the elderly
gentleman who noted me rising to use the bathroom and offered to hold my baby.
And you know what? I let him. Where was he going at 30,000 feet in the air? It turned
what could have been a hazardous visit to the toilet, into a pleasant,
leg-stretching break. Okay, pleasant might be an exaggeration but it was
certainly a joy compared to squatting over an airplane toilet while holding my
son in one arm and attempting to wipe and flush and do up my pants with the
Turns out all the grumpy people I expected to encounter when
they realized they’d be traveling with a newborn didn’t exist. Not on any
flight I was on, anyway.
The kindness of strangers became my lifeline and I assume I
will be even more dependent on strangers as I attempt to navigate the world as
a single mom of three young children.
Those people will never know how much they meant to me or
how they changed a trip that could have been a nightmare into a dream. My
husband’s absence forced me to be aware of my fellow travelers in a way I never
have before. And not just aware, I became reliant on them. By the end of my
travels it got to the point that I expected someone to offer to help me fold my
stroller or hand my car seat to the gate attendant for stowing. That’s how it
should be. It was a real eye-opener for someone like me who is usually
inexplicably embarrassed to receive assistance from strangers and therefore
assumes that others are equally uncomfortable with offers of help.
Help the parents! It makes all the difference. Offer to fold
a stroller, give them a hand with their bag when you see them frantically
trying to adjust the 20 other things in their arms traveling with a child
requires. Keep an eye out for solo parents in need, you who move about your day
gracefully, sans baby. Your help to the mom struggling with a stroller up the
subway steps is like a superhero swooping in and saving the day. And who doesn’t
want to be the superhero?