First, a story: I was traveling from Dallas to Miami to visit my mom for Easter. I had my three children — ages 10, 6, and 2. I had my backpack. Each kid had a backpack crammed with lollipops and games and headphones and toys. We had our carry-on roller suitcases with our clothes. I had my boarding passes — both printed and digital. I’ve done this before. I had everything I needed.
I did not, however, have my husband. Duty calls, and he wasn’t able to join us.
It is inevitable. We are in the military. We live far from our family. If we want to see our family, we must travel. Sometimes, we must travel alone. With our children. All. Alone.
After we got through security, a nice woman behind me stopped me while I was gathering our belongings. She said, “I don’t know how you handle traveling with three children all alone! I only have one child, and I would never dream of going on a flight without my husband to help. The idea gives me anxiety!”
As she was speaking, I watched her hand my 6-year-old his backpack, and then she took my umbrella stroller off the belt and unfolded it for me. She did this unconsciously. It wasn’t for show. She was simply waiting for her luggage to come out, so she helped with my stuff.
No big deal, right? Except her act of kindness is exactly how I manage to travel alone with three kids over and over again without too much emotional trauma.
I replied to her question by saying, “Well, my children are used to this routine. They fly a lot. But also, I always manage to run into kind people like you who help me without me having to ask wherever I go. I rely on the kindness of strangers.”
Without fail, I find people who help me in airports. In times of calm and in times of crisis, there is always someone there to lend a helping hand. Are people sometimes rude and in a hurry in airports? Sure. But I find that there are plenty of people willing to help others.
Over the years, there are too many people to whom I owe thanks. Here are a few:
To that woman traveling in from DFW right before Easter this year, I would like to thank you for unfolding my stroller, so I could strap my 2-year-old in before he ran down toward the gates before I had my shoes on.
To that elderly couple on my flight from Amsterdam to Detroit who watched over my 2-year-old while I assisted my 6-year-old in the airport bathroom, thank you for keeping him company.
To the airman at Aviano AB who picked up my 5-year-old tantruming daughter from the tarmac, put her over his shoulder, and carried her onto the rotator plane while I struggled with my 1-year-old and his gigantic car seat, thank you.
To the couple who gave me a whole pack of baby wipes after my 13-month-old had explosive diarrhea on a flight from Baltimore to Phoenix — his whole car seat and body were covered in stench, and I used my whole pack of wipes to clean everything the best I could — thank you. He might have had to ride the rest of the way in only his diaper, but at least he was clean.
To the gentleman who rented a trolley for me to push all of my luggage in Chicago even though I assured him I had family waiting just outside near security, thank you.
To the businessman who gave up his aisle seat for my middle seat so I could sit with my children on my flight from Miami to Dallas, thank you. When I asked him if he was sure he was willing to give up his seat, he replied, “I don’t want to, but I most certainly will.” I still owe you a drink, kind stranger.
To the young woman who gave my 6-year-old her earbuds to watch a movie while I was changing my 2-year-old’s diaper in the airplane bathroom (even though he had his own headphones in his backpack that he could have used), thank you.
These strangers have no idea who I am. They didn’t know that I was traveling to see my family because we live far away from them thanks to the military. They are just helpful, kind people who step up when they see someone who could use a hand. These people exist, and they are plentiful.
The moral of my story is simple: do not be afraid. Go to the airport alone with your kids. Get on a plane. Have an adventure. Don’t wait for a good time. Make the most of the moment. Travel when they are young. Spend time with family. Take a vacation. Explore a new place. You will never regret it. Someone will be there to help pick up the pacifier your baby just threw four rows up or hold your older child’s hand to keep them from running away while you dig through your backpack for your driver’s license. Maybe you’ll even see me with my three brown-haired munchkins marching around. You can recognize us because our rolling luggage has light up wheels for extra fun.
And if it winds up being a disaster? Well, it makes for a darn good story. You are not alone after all if you rely on the kindness of strangers. If we put ourselves out there, I have discovered we will find more kindness than we realized.
Now it is your turn, what is the kindest thing a stranger has done for you while you were traveling?