Anne Lamott has a great quote from Traveling Mercies that exactly describes my expectations for flying:
My idea of everything going smoothly on an airplane is (a) that I not die in a slow-motion fiery crash or get stabbed to death by terrorists and (b) that none of the other passengers try to talk to me. All conversation should end at the moment the wheels leave the ground. (Traveling Mercies 60)
Don’t touch me. Don’t look at me. Don’t even acknowledge me. I’m trying to carve out that tiny smidge of privacy in a giant, jam-packed tube, and goodness knows the odds are always stacked against me.
This weekend I was flying back from a children’s literature conference. You want to guess who my seat buddies were for the second leg of the trip? Yep. Children. Two brothers, aged 9 and 10, flying alone to Texas to meet up with their dad for a month. One of them had a sweet mohawk, too.
John and Jacob (“Jingleheimer Smith,” they reminded me) were in the middle of their first airplane experience, which, to me, consisted mostly of them receiving an endless supply of caffeine and Pringles from their Delta chaperon which they consumed and promptly expelled via gross amounts of energy and trips to the plane bathroom. It also included them shortening our flight attendant’s name from Franklin to Franky.
Can I just say, though? I had a blast. Even though I felt like the in-flight babysitter, I was reminded about just how much a little brain absorbs in an hour. John learned how to correctly spell “enough” (after about five attempts). Jacob learned the German word “Schlug.” He even wrote John a note that said, “U schlug me.” When John asked what it meant, I said, “to hit,” but Jacob quickly (and correctly) added, “or to strike, Aunt Courtney.”
Yes. That’s right. They started calling me “Aunt Courtney.” How does this even happen?
Here’s where I learned something: the ease with which they designated me as “family” pinpointed something sparse in my own heart. When was the last time I stretched myself a bit to truly embrace an almost-stranger as family? To treat them with the same respect and care as I would my husband, brother, parents, and friends? Not so often.
As we approached what John and Jacob called the “Mother Cloud,” I was thinking about asking Delta to cut me a babysitting check. On the way out of the Mother Cloud, though, I was surprised at how much I deeply valued that hour and a half with those boys.
I’m afraid Franky didn’t feel quite the same way.