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The humility of travel (with children)

By Emily Hylden

It was the proverbial first time we had flown with our son. With trepidation borne out of the previous weekend’s experience — a 4-hour-turned-6-hour car trip — we loaded our wiggly infant into his Ergo carrier and set off for the terminal. Friends of multiple children had delivered comforting words: “You can do anything for two hours!” And I girded myself with strength and a hard-won ease after passing through airport security: dear husband and I ran the gauntlet separately (mothers alone with babies get lots of sympathy, I’ve learned).

Not knowing what those two hours enclosed in a plane cabin might hold, I paced the terminal, racking up steps in anticipation of our sojourn. I hoped our six-month-old might sleep, or maybe I’d even get some reading in — we were headed to a retreat for which there was some assigned reading — and we’d slip through that first ride as if it was just a normal Sunday afternoon of sleeping on Momma.

We were in the back of the plane. This did not bode well — loud and constrained, as it usually is. Then, across the aisle and one row back (in perfect line of sight for someone who was turned backwards, sitting on my lap, ahem), two unaccompanied brothers sat down. One was six, one was eight. I rolled my eyes and took a deep breath, girding myself in another way and checking the in-flight (alcoholic) beverage options.

A little more than halfway through the flight, as the boys screeched away, wiggling and making mischief, completely capturing the attention — better than any video ever could have — of my little wiggly, screechy boy, it dawned on me: I was engaging in exactly the behavior and attitudes I’d feared from other travelers. “Oh, those wild boys!” “Why can’t they just be quiet and behave?” I was chastened. Not only did these high-spirited but generally respectful children entertain my ruffian better than I could, but they turned the mirror on me; the very person I dreaded was myself.

My hypocrisy loomed large; the feared trespass against me, that someone might begrudge my child his behavior on the plane, was exactly what I had committed. Once the self-righteousness of my child’s quiet demeanor wore off, I faced the truth underneath my selfishness. Invited pointedly to walk in someone else’s shoes, I was called to compassion and magnanimity for my brothers and sisters, all of us stuck shoulder-to-shoulder and knee-to-knee in our flying sardine can.

With humility, I pray that God might continue to work on me, massaging away those sharp elbows I intend for prodding at others, instead using my arms to envelop all of us suffering together in love.


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