Thursday, November 12, 2009

20 Rows

It happened about 7 years, 2 months and 12 days ago. No one even thought to warn me about it. It just happened.

A couple of weekends ago, the kids and I made our way to South Georgia to spend some time with my family. The morning of our flight bad weather was expected, so 2 1/2 hours before take-off I started checking weather and flight times almost every 15-30 minutes. Up until the moment, we began taxi-ing to the runway, I was shocked we were actually going to take off on time. A classic Texas storm was to hit in half an hour and the pilot was leaving just in time to beat it. The kids were all buckled in and ready to explore all they has stashed into the array of pockets of their, now, 50 pound backpacks. With the anticipation of pressing buttons on electronic toys, drawing with freshly sharpened colored pencils and drinking a "coke", Julia and Brighton were, hmmmm......, excited. However, the longer we moved along the runway, the more daunting a noise became from under the plane. “Ding Dong.” Pilot’s voice boomed from the speaker, “We are having difficulty with our back brake. We have called a mechanic and we will have to de-board the aircraft.” The outside crew rolled a stairway to the door and everyone obediently moved down the stairs with the assistance of a familiar pre-storm wind. We walked onto the runway and back to E13 where our short journey had begun. I promptly got in line to be re-booked on the next flight. As soon as I walked up to the desk, Delta people began handing out red cards emblazoned with a handy-dandy 800 number so I could be the lucky one to re-book our flight. So at, 10 am, we were confirmed on the 5:40 flight to Atlanta and we were the dismal numbers 11,12 13 on the stand-by list for the 12:30. I knew our chances were slim. After confused faces and many questions from my traveling companions, I explained to them what “stand-by” meant. I tentatively, but positively, presented the worst case scenario of our being seated in different areas of the plane. Looks of terror took over their faces. I told them I would do whatever I could to get us together but if we could only have 2 seats together, that I would put them together. That gave no comfort at all. I dropped it and prayed it wouldn’t happen.

While all of this was going on, a strange person had overtaken my body. She was calm, NICE, absolutely optimistic, very patient and had a sweet even-toned voice. I liked her.........a lot and so did the children. She played tic-tac-toe a thousand times. She drew big trucks with big wheels, race cars and outdoor scenes of trees with wooden swings made comfy by ruffled floral pillows. She scratched backs. She handed out gum often and offered snacks laden with partially hydrogenated oils. She read. She answered with that sweet even-toned voice a bazillion questions, the most popular one being,”When are we going to leave?” Her smile remained placid and her face friendly. She was good. Real good.

As the time for our flight drew nearer, the typical Texas storm kept pushing back the time on the little black screen behind the counter. At this point, the kids and I were chained to the gate. I was told if they called our names and we weren’t there, they would not hold our seats. Once, we had to take the chance to run Brighton to the restroom. It’s a wonder we made it with their mammoth bags bouncing on their backs. Once back at E13, Julia took on the job of watching our names on the stand-by list, running back and forth giving us reports of positive movements. When Delta began boarding at 2:30 and our names were still 7, 8, and 9 with only 4 unclaimed seats, Julia’s hopefulness began to wane. She voiced her thoughts that maybe God wasn’t going to get us on the plane. Silently, I continued to pray He would and the butterflies started swarming. I REALLY wanted on that plane. I wasn’t sure “the nice lady” would hang around until 5:40. We had a big audience. Tic Tac Toe was only just so riveting- even to really nice people. After they had boarded Zone 100, it seemed, the terminal was empty, but from overhead I heard a

lovely sound, “Sanders”. I think I ran to the counter.

As we boarded the plane, all eyes were on us. WE were why they hadn’t left the gate yet. I scanned the seats seeing nothing but glaring eyeballs on me and my two. As we reached the back of the aircraft a tall stewardess looked at me, bewildered, and said, “Where are YOU going?” looking from me to Julia to Brighton. “I was told there were three seats for us somewhere.” We turned around making our way back up the aisle with the crew sandwiching us in from behind and before. An intuitive young gentleman was already moving to another seat so at least we could have two seats together, but I needed the third seat on the row. The man in the third seat, who evidently wasn't quite as intuitive as his former seat neighbor, never even looked up. As stewards and stewardesses, along with silent messages from 200 other eyeballs, were telling me to take my seat, which I had no idea where it was, I tried to pat assurance on Julia and Brighton’s heads OVER the man, wishing I had thought to hand the barf bags to him warning him of their horrible sufferings of motion sickness. Abruptly, the steward scooted me farther and farther and farther back on the plane telling me I had to take a seat. After it seemed I had walked the length of a football field, I made my way to the the last empty seat on the plane. A window seat. Trapped. But it was right by the stewardess station. I’ll keep them busy, I thought. As soon as I buckled up and situated my backpack, my throat grew tight, my nose started burning and my eyes started filling. What?? Crying is not my "MO". I can't even tear up when my dearest friend is crying. I was sitting next to some strange man.....CRYing.

So here is where my thoughts were: I can’t even SEE them. They are so little. I can’t even see the tops of their heads. The last expressions on their faces were pitiful. Their worst scenario became reality. They don’t even have gum for take off. They are so little. It’s 3:00 o’clock and they have had a piece of cheese toast and a pack of Cheese on Wheat crackers! Who IS that crazy man who wants to sit with MY children--wishing now they were bratty more often? What if they get scared? They are so little. I am at least TWENTY rows behind them for pete’s sake! To make things worse, we sat on the runway for another thirty minutes waiting on another line of thunderstorms to pass. For a little more drama, once underway, the ride was so rough that NO ONE could get out of their seats, not even the stewardesses who were supposed to be the ones to deliver “special” drinks to my kids. To the crew’s credit, before take-off, they did take them pretzels and peanuts after I told them they had eaten no lunch because of our stand-by situation. The nicer the man next to me was, the more my nose burned and my eyes emptied. As my tears rolled, I could feel the stewardesses looking at me from across the aisle. I am sure they thought I was some silly, weepy, lunatic Mom whose very existence was to keep her children sublimely happy. I felt silly alright, but nothing was going to change the way I felt. At that point, 20 rows might as well have been 20 miles.

As I tried desperately to stop the sniffles that were completely annoying me, the question came. When did this happen? Why can’t I be a mere 20 airplane rows behind my children and hold it together? The feeling in my heart was familiar but I didn’t know it well-- not well enough to control it anyway. The two little people God so creatively gave to me to care for were completely out of reach. Out of the range of my voice. And worst, out of my sight. I didn’t like it. Maybe it’s some horrible side effect of home schooling. I don’t know, but I have a feeling it is more universal than that. My response made me squirm to imagine my reaction to maybe 20 miles and not just 20 rows? 200 miles? 2000 miles? Oh, good grief. Shoot me now.

What happened to me 7 years, 2 months and 12 days ago? I became a mother.

That's the end, really, but if any of you are up for reading a little more, here is the rest of the airplane drama:

We made it fine. After a couple of days, I confessed to Julia that I had cried and she said, “I did too!” Well, on our return day of Monday I had 3 tickets back to DFW. Two tickets were together and one ticket was a couple of rows back by the window on the 4:25 out of Atlanta. We prayed as we walked to the gate that God would make a way for us all to sit together. As we were about to step on the plane, the pilot stepped out and said, “We need to de-board the aircraft. We have a mechanical problem.” At first, I thought it was a joke but then I remembered, he didn’t know our troubles from Thursday. Without thought, I whipped my backpack around, dipped in for my phone, found the magic 800 number to Delta and before I could get out of the portable hallway, I was rebooked on the 5:40. About 20 minutes later, when we checked in a few gates down, the nice lady said, “They are actually re-boarding the one you just left. Let me print out new boarding passes for you. You will leave sooner on that plane.” When she handed me my new boarding passes, I immediately saw a very good thing. Now I had something worth bargaining with ---- an aisle seat! Gold. We enjoyed our flight home..................together.

Oh- in case you are wondering about "her"--that nice lady who had overtaken my being at the airport--- she vacated my premises in Soperton about 11pm on Friday night after the football game when it was time for bed.


Alyssa said...

I never knew E-13 could be that colorful! It's now forever memorialized, and I love it! And if you find "that nice lady" again, could you tell her that I need her to make a customer service phone call on my behalf?

Davene said...

Your account of this journey was gripping, particularly since I had a similar experience in May of this year with the five of us in my family being scattered about in an airplane cabin. I was shocked at how unwilling people were to change seats. I thought I had an idea of just how rude people could be, but no, I didn't realize.

Like your situation, mine turned out fine...but I still can feel so vividly the agony and fear.

I always enjoy reading your beautiful writing!

Erica said...

You are absolutely precious. I have flown many times with my 2 and have had some crazy situations, but none that compared to that. I would have cried, too!

I wanted to share with you that I told my Brea about the royal tea party. A few days later we were reading a book about a little girl that asked Jesus in her heart. At the end of the book, Brea said she wanted to ask Jesus in her heart, so we prayed together. Right after we said, "Amen", she asked, "Can I have a royal tea party now?"

Too sweet!

Have a great day!

Sarah said...

look on the bright side. you already have your really bad experience out of the way, so now for the next flight you can just relax. sounds like you handled it perfectly.

nikki said...

what a precious post...can't imagine that feeling...sweet babies.

TJ Wilson said...

ok, i needed the details. my traveling that day was quite different than yours - the "shoot me now" line is my fav.

TJ Wilson said...

actually, your last paragraph is prob my fav. ha!