A little over a year ago, I was on a plane to Philly.
A mother with a 10-month-old boarded the plane, and she barely made eye contact with the seated passengers as she made her way down the aisle. I couldn’t blame her, really. People in this world hate children, let alone children on a plane; so, when she got to my row of seats, I scooted over and patted the seat next to me.
“Lucy’s a really good baby,” the woman assured, setting her bag down under the aisle seat and balancing Lucy on her hip. “I’ll feed her once we get going, and she’ll sleep the whole way.”
There was just one problem, and I heard it as soon as the plane took off. Lucy had a cough. It was a deep, heavy cough like thousands of rocks tumbling down a mountainside. Or cubes of ice hitting the sides of a stainless steel tumbler.
Lucy whimpered in pain as the plane rose in elevation, so the woman snuggled her daughter close and offered her mother’s milk. Lucy took the comfort and soon fell asleep.
For about ten minutes.
And then Lucy woke with a painful cry. Her ears couldn’t pop with all of that congestion. Poor, baby.
The mother stayed calm and tried to coax Lucy into feeding, again. Lucy obliged, and this routine went on for about an hour until Lucy’s ears hurt too badly for comfort, even from Mommy. Shrill, baby cries alternating with croaking coughs came from our humble row, and people began to turn around in their seats with pointed looks of disapproval.
Then, the suggestions started coming.
“She needs her ears to pop,” one post-menopausal woman with dark-rimmed glasses was helpful to point out.
Another individual took the time to pause by our row and silently assess the situation with judgmental eyes before continuing on to her own seat.
“She should chew something,” one man suggested.
The mother bore it all with quiet endurance, but I noticed that her hands were starting to shake.
“You’re doing great,” I leaned over and said. “You’re doing everything you can do. Some things can’t be helped.”
Lucy let out another banshee wail to punctuate my sentiment.
“This is the plane ride from hell,” the mother admitted.
And then came my usual barren conundrum. To help or not to help, that is always the question. I didn’t want to say or do something that would in some way undermine this mother’s gifts and authority, but I also didn’t want her to suffer alone. And she looked oh-so-alone.
At that moment, a single tear slid out of the mother’s right eye. That settled it.
“You must be hot and tired. How about I take Lucy for a few minutes? We can walk up and down the aisle and see the sights.”
The mother turned to me with eyes hollow with exhaustion. She relinquished one, single nod of her head.
I picked up Lucy – who didn’t hesitate to protest – and headed for the front of the plane. Lucy was not super happy about the situation, but I didn’t care. She could cry all she wanted. We were going to give Mommy a break, like it or not. Really, I don’t think the other people on the plane minded, either. Most of them gave us looks of sympathy or patted Lucy’s back with kindness. “Poor, baby,” they would say. Others simply put in their earbuds and looked the other way.
As Lucy and I made our third trip down the aisle, I caught a glimpse of Mommy sitting with her head back against the seat, eyes closed. Only her hand moved every once in awhile to wipe away the tears running down her cheeks. When Lucy and I slipped back into our seats, Mommy tried to feed Lucy, again. Then, finally – finally! – Lucy slept without a peep for the last ten minutes of the flight.
As the mother and Lucy got up to leave the plane after landing, the mother turned to me one last time. “Katie. Schuermann, right? Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sherman, IL?”
I nodded my head yes, astonished she had remembered so much from our little snippets of conversation through baby shrieks and coughs and cries.
One week after I got home from Philly, my husband brought me a package which had been shipped to our church with my name on it. The note in the package read:
Katie- “The nicest lady sat next to me on my return flight and saved me from having a nervous breakdown because of Lucy’s screaming.” That’s what I say when people ask me about my STL trip – you were the highlight! Thank you for your kindness and generosity. Here’s some of those puzzles I was talking about (plus a bonus game book) – hopefully on your next flight you will be seated next to a silent person! Enjoy! Thanks – Jacy (Lucy too!)
No doubt about it, I’d sit by you and Lucy all over again, Jacy. Thank you for letting a barren woman be a mother, even for just a few minutes.
A blessed Thanksgiving to mothers everywhere, especially those flying with their babies this week!