Especially among women.
As a disability advocate, I saw the story of a teenage girl with autism being escorted off a plane soon after the news broke. Her name is Juliette. I sat back. I read. I watched. I listened. And my heart broke.
Then I read the comments.
For the love. When will I learn to never, ever, ever read the comments?
The girl was dangerous, they said. (Um, yeah. All 120 pounds of her.) The parents weren't prepared. (Except they were, for the most part. And every parent has been in a situation in which they were underprepared, but that usually doesn't get us kicked off flights.) The teen was howling. (Um, Jocelyn appeared possessed through much of a flight from Texas to NC when she was just shy of two years old. It happens.) But some passengers heard the mom say her daughter might start scratching because of her agitation, so that was the problem, these commenters state. (But did she mean scratching strangers or herself and her parents? Neither is ideal, but only one is a risk to others on the plane. And as the mom to a child who has sensory meltdowns, I know that it's helpful to explain what might happen so that others aren't shocked when/if it does; such comments aren't intended as threats but rather education and preparation.) Maybe some people shouldn't be allowed to fly, they commented. (Um, just like some darker skinned folks shouldn't be allowed to sit in the front of the bus by similar lines of thought that history doesn't look kindly upon now? Nevermind that this girl has flown to nearly two dozen states and a few international locations, all without incident.)
When did judgment instead of grace become our default for other moms?
My Zoe is only 3.5 years old, and she's ridiculously adorable. But I bet Juliette was a darling preschooler a decade ago, much like Zoe is now. In the past six months, I've flown with Zoe twice to St. Louis, once for a surgery and once for a follow up appointment. Both flights from Raleigh went well; both flights home... well, notsomuch.
On our first return flight, we were on the way home a week after her major neurological surgery. We navigated from my friend Brooke's van through security with Zoe in her wheelchair and her carseat towed behind us, also on wheels thanks to a contraption my friend Christy let us borrow. I was also juggling a backpack of toys and games and electronics to keep Zoe happy. As we boarded in advance of other passengers and I installed her carseat and then did all I could to transfer her from the wheelchair to the carseat with as minimal pain as possible, I could tell she was hurting. Then not long into the flight, my heart sank... our charger hadn't been working properly, so her iPod was about to die with an hour left in the air. It died. She cried. As I tried everything I could, she was inconsolable. I wanted to scoop her into my arms, but I knew that would hurt her back and cause more pain.
|moments before the iPod died and the tears started|
Enter my angel, dressed as a flight attendant.
She and I had chatted amicably earlier. She knew our story. She oohed and aahed over sweet Zoe. She watched me yawn, spent from too many nights on the poor excuse for a caregiver bed in my girl's hospital room. She might have been able to tell that I was starting to get sick, even though I had no idea that a diagnosis of pneumonia would come about a week later. She could have just smiled and walked on.
And she did smile, as she dug into her own bag, pulled out her own iPad, queued up the education video app her own daughter liked, and offered it to us. Zoe stopped crying. I started. Grateful.
|calm with the flight attendant's personal iPad|
If you happen to read this, THANK YOU for embodying grace to us.
The next return flight didn't involve pain for Zoe, but she was tired. When I asked what she wanted to drink, she said milk. They didn't have milk. I suggested Sprite instead. CUE MELTDOWN. For about an hour, she screamed. Kicked. Hit me. Threw things. Yelled NO. As we sat on the floor in the back of the plane, trying to give everyone else some peace and ourselves some space, strangers brought us toys and fruit snacks and anything else they thought might help. The flight attendants respected my attempts to handle Zoe but stayed close in case I needed any help. Finally, I offered Sprite again - the same drink I offered right before the meltdown! - and she accepted and calmed down and greedily drank it and then let out a dainty burp, the kind only possible for little girls under 25 pounds.
What helped us survive those flights? Was it judgment? No.
Moms, let's give each other more of that, okay? Even if the mom on the news should have brought more food on board and even if I should have double-checked the iPod's charge, that doesn't mean we deserved judgment. It just means we're human. Two flight crews out of St. Louis saw our shared humanity and offered me and Zoe grace.
I wish the flight crew carrying Juliette and her mom would have offered the same, but we can't rewrite history. We can, however, stop ourselves before dishing out everything but grace in our comments or thoughts or attitudes, not just toward this one mom but toward all the other moms we encounter.
Grace. We're all hungry for it. So let's serve it up to each other, shall we?