An old Facebook Note from 2013.
I noticed the young mother because she was alone and in charge of three beautiful children. The oldest, a girl, looked to be only 6 or 7 years old. The middle one, a boy, was probably around 4. And in her arms she carried the third child, an infant not quite one year of age. We were waiting at the same airport gate and appeared to be sharing a flight to the west coast. I always feel sympathetic toward young women traveling alone with small children. For my part, air travel increasingly seems like something conjured up from the fiery abyss and a young mother with small children in an air travel environment is always under stress.
A large number of the passengers were crowding around the gate even though boarding had not yet started. For whatever reason, people who will be boarding late in the process often have a tendency to crowd around the gate. I'm not sure what accounts for that, but it's probably the same thing that causes the last people who ordered at Starbucks to barge their way up to the counter where the drinks are being delivered and wait for their drink there, in front of everyone who ordered before them.
At any rate, the young mother, with her three kids in tow, was soon surrounded by, and in close quarters with, a crowd of anxious passengers milling about. It was at this point that her babe-in-arms started to cry. The baby was coughing and slightly gagging and very red-faced from the crying. The anxious mother was trying to extricate herself from the crowd while simultaneously attempting to keep her other children close beside her. She eased her way over to a nearby trashcan at which point the baby's gagging became more acute. Alarmed, the young mother kind of turned her baby's face toward the trash can just in time for the baby to eject the contents of his stomach all over the outside of the can.
You won't be surprised to learn that the baby's vomit acted as a kind of force field, with all of the crowding travelers suddenly less interested in milling about the young mother and her kids.
It was just then, as the perimeter around the young woman began to grow, that I noticed her tears. Quietly, without hysterics or sobbing, the tears were suddenly flowing in a steady, silent stream. She had taken some tissues out of her pack and was trying desperately to clean off the exterior of the trashcan with one hand while holding her crying baby with the other. She was doing this while anxiously trying to keep an eye on her other two children.
By now, the crowd was giving her a very wide berth and no one wanted to go anywhere near the trashcan. As the empty space around her continued to grow, the young woman's tears continued to flow and she seemed on the verge of being overwhelmed by her predicament.
And it was then, just in the nick of time, that the random grandmas came to her rescue. I say they were grandmothers but I don't really know. They were the right age for being grandmothers and they all acted like they knew a thing or two about mothers and children.
Out of the blue, and in the midst of her tears, the young woman and her children were descended upon by 3 older women brandishing huge smiles and plastic containers full of disinfectant wipes. They surrounded the young family and when, presently, one of them noticed the flowing tears, they put their arms around her and assured her that things were going to be ok.
Two of the grandmas took charge of cleaning up the baby's aromatic deposit while the third woman ushered the mother and her children up to the front of the line. The tears were still a steady flow but there was a smile on the young woman's face and an unnecessary series of apologies on her lips.
We travel through airports and on planes and, for my part at least, I don't consider the degree to which I may be in company with people who are carrying heavy burdens or are weighed down by loneliness.
And though you never know what's really going on in a stranger's life, it's comforting and gratifying to know that there's a sturdy platoon of grandmas who stand ready to do battle in the cause of tenderness and compassion. And they all seem to be armed with a large supply of disinfectant wipes.