All I could do was smile. I was uncomfortable, caught off guard, and all I could do was flash a weak smile and then slowly turn my head. What a shame. I had an opportunity and I missed it.
I was on a flight from Minnesota back to my home in Seattle after the holidays. It was the first time that I had flown by myself with both my young boys, and I had been nervous about the trip all day. We were prepped to the hilt. I had various toys for my 8-month-old. My 4-year-old was geared with a brand new iPod loaded with videos and songs. I had toys, books, crafts and snacks at the ready.
We pre-boarded and took our seats, and I began to set us up for the next three hours with a precision usually reserved for state visits. Once I looked over and saw our neighbors, however, I felt both silly and humbled at the same time.
It was another mom by herself but she had three young boys — ages 8, 5 and 1, I would learn. She was very sweet and calm, and we chatted as much as we could between feedings, entertaining and calming our broods. We shared toys, books and those knowing glances that only other moms understand. Her bravery and grace awed me: She told me that her husband was in the military and on his fourth deployment overseas. He was serving his second tour in Iraq.
Because she and the boys were going to be alone over the holidays, she had decided to go and visit her family for Christmas. That night, they were on their way from her parents’ home in Buffalo, NY, to their current home in Fairbanks, Alaska. I had caught up with them on what was already their third flight of the day. They had one more left after we landed at 7:30 p.m. in Seattle.
Her boys were doing a good job and so was she but, let’s be honest, it was a tough flight for all of them. Their books, toys, gadgets, crafts and games were all a bore by now. The baby was overtired and fussing. The mom was doing her best to keep it together, but it was not easy.
The woman in front of them was clearly frustrated and did little to hide it. The annoyed passenger eventually turned to me and, in a voice loud enough for the military mom to hear, said, “I see that you've read up about what to do with your kids on an airplane.”
My response was a deer-in-headlights smile.
I should have stopped and told this woman what a brave mother she was sitting near. It is so common to forget about the sacrifices that military spouses make, and this mother was a perfect example of it. There is no glory for her. She was not wearing a uniform, and no one was stopping her in the airport to thank her for her service.
Instead, she endured an insult from the person in front of her.
I should have taken this chance to thank her for her service. I should have told the complaining woman that I had only one flight and a husband waiting for me at home. She had four flights and a husband who was away at war.
It was an opportunity that I missed. So I will take it now. To my fellow mom and all of the other moms and dads out there in homes that are too quiet: You, too, are heroes, and I thank you for your service.
Stephanie Olson is a mother of two boys who lives and writes in Seattle. She believes her golden rule in parenting “Just wipe it off on your pants!” will be her epitaph someday. It has gotten us through pretty well thus far! Read more of Stephanie's work on her blog, Ma Swell Vie.