Children Are People: Little, Whole People.

I’ve had the privilege (yeah, let’s call it that) of flying with my daughter six times in the first two years of her life. That’s six trips, twelve flights, more than twenty-four hours on an airplane. She was three months old the first time. I held her the whole flight in a window seat. When we stood up at the end, the guy on the aisle looked over and said, “Whoa! You’ve had a baby this whole time?!” Besides his lack of observational skills (and the odd insinuation that perhaps the baby had not actually been there the whole time), we thought this was a great compliment.

Fast-forward to toddler days. I don’t think anyone would make the same mistake now. It’s stressful to fly with a toddler on your lap, there’s no way around that. They’re loud, unpredictable, stubborn, active, and sometimes they move their limbs like those vintage mini-puppet toys where you push the bottom and their arms and legs collapse at awkward angles:

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So flying with these little people is always an adventure. But one I’m more than willing to take on so Abigail can see grandparents and cousins and great-grandparents and aunts and uncles. Because my little child is a person and I want her to experience as much life as possible, even when she is not yet two years old.

We recently flew home from five glorious days of vacation in Texas. There was lots of sun, swimming, sweets, and very little sleep. Michael went home a day early so it was just the two of us. We got on the plane and spotted a window seat on the third row. Yes! The worst part of the flight is always those last ten minutes it takes to unload after the plane has landed. Your kid knows the flight is over and you should be getting off, but you’re not. It’s airplane purgatory. So the third row was a win!

We squeezed by our new friend on the row (I’ll call her “Aisle Seat”. She was probably in her 60’s, so maybe a grandma? Cross our fingers . . .) and we settled into our tiny, cramped home for the next two hours.

One by one everyone boards and keeps walking to find another open seat, even as the flight attendant announces that this is a full flight. I get it. I really do. I know how relaxing a flight can be when you don’t have a bouncing, laughing, poking, kicking toddler on your lap. I don’t blame you for walking past us. Not even a little bit. But then the door closed and the middle seat on our row was still empty (win again!) and “Aisle Seat” turned and said this: “Well, looks like you lucked out. I guess nobody wants to spend the next two hours next to a screaming baby.”

Like I said, I get it. An airplane is obviously not an ideal place for a toddler, but it’s necessary to let people travel back and forth to see loved ones. But just a few thoughts:

1. At this point, my child has not made a sound and has been quietly sitting in my lap looking out the window at the luggage carts and other planes and clouds. No screaming.

2. An airplane is a public place. Any time you venture into public, you run the risk of being inconvenienced. I have a responsibility in public to help my child act as much like a civilized human being as possible. I recently abandoned a half-full shopping cart in Target and carried my screaming child outside to the car under my arm like a sack of potatoes. But there’s no outside on a plane. There is just this tiny seat.

3. I will do my best to make this experience as pleasant as possible, I promise, but my child isn’t an electronic device that I can turn off or put into airplane mode. She is a person. She has a personality and feelings and right now she’s sad because she just said goodbye to her grandparents in the parking lot. But we’ll do our best.

I wasn’t rattled, like I said, I get it. So in an attempt to disarm “Aisle Seat” a little and ease the tension, I responded, “Well, she’s awfully cute, so I guess they’re all missing out.” “Aisle Seat” didn’t laugh.

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Of the 130 minutes that we were in the air, Abigail cried for approximately 10 of them. Man, we tried so hard. We got out all the toys and all the books. We ate all the Cheerios, played all the games, and sang all the songs (quietly). There were a few minutes where I thought Abigail’s charms might win “Aisle Seat” over. But just when I thought we were gonna make it with a decent amount of dignity, “Aisle Seat” got up and walked to the front. And complained to the flight attendant.

I know this because the flight attendant (bless her) then came over and started banging cups in Abigail’s face to “entertain” her. Confused, Abigail took the cups, stacked them together, and put them down. The flight attendant cheerfully said, “Maybe that will help,” and walked away. Not to be deterred, “Aisle Seat” grabbed a cup and the bag of Cheerio’s (that I was holding), got a handful of Cheerio’s out of the bag, filled the cup, and started shaking it at Abigail. (At this point, I was just trying not to laugh.) “You’ve got to keep them distracted,” she said. Them? There’s only one of her. And she’s doing pretty good for a toddler on a plane, but she is having a rough day. Maybe you are too, since you’re now on your second Jack Daniels on a two-hour flight.

As the plane touched down, “Aisle Seat” said, “I hope you have someone coming to pick you up because I don’t think you can handle all that.” Oh, I think we’ll be ok. I will manage to gather all our belongings and we will go on to live our lives after this flight.

Just to be clear, I’m not bitter or mad at “Aisle Seat” and I’m recounting this experience mostly because it’s funny to me. I can’t say enough that I get it and I literally feel a burning wave of nausea every time we step on a plane because I don’t want to be a burden on anyone, ever. I feel eyes piercing into us as we walk down the aisle, but then I remember, hey, this is my little person that I get to travel with today and I like her, even on bad days. You might get to sit by her and get a few Cheerio’s in your lap or you might get to sit by the guy that busts out his Salmon Caesar Salad five minutes into the flight.

I told Abigail before we got on that flight that I was so glad she was with me. I always get sad leaving Texas and I was happy to have her company as we traveled home. And I meant it. I’ll put up with the awkward sorry-we-bumped-into-your-tray-table . . . again . . . because she’s a person and I enjoy being with her. An airplane with a toddler isn’t my ideal place to spend a Sunday afternoon either, but it’s still two hours that I get to spend with someone I love.

For all the things that children can be: loud, rude, unpredictable, annoying, selfish . . . oh wait, adults can be those things too . . . They are people. Feelings, emotions, good days, bad days, all of it. Little, whole people.

What My One-Year-Old Taught Me About Fear

My sweet child is young and is still learning so many things about this great, big world. Just this week she learned that if food is hot to the touch, it will also burn her mouth, so she should put it back down and wait before eating. This was a lesson learned by trial and error (and many looks that said, “Why did you let me eat that?”). Currently, she is learning just how much she can irritate the dog (i.e. pull his ears, legs, tail, poke his eyes, yell at him, etc…) before he loses patience. She’s also learning the delicate timing of how fast she can get away from him when he’s had enough.

But there are plenty of things she doesn’t know about. Like sharks. She doesn’t know about sharks. She has pictures of fish in many of her books. You can ask her to point at the fish and she will. But she doesn’t know that some of those “fish” grow to be very large and have very sharp teeth and can eat you.

We took our sweet girl to the beach this month. She had only been in water a handful of times so we were prepared for some natural fear of the water. We were also prepared for a downright paralyzing fear of the sand, due to her being OCD and never wanting any dirt on her hands. She will literally spend 30 minutes picking invisible specks of dirt off her hands and feet. She carries wipes with her at all times, just in case there’s dirt somewhere and it might get on her. We can’t explain this phenomenon but we do take full advantage of it.

So we were a little nervous about the sand and the fact that it would be completely covering her at all times. As kids often do, she surprised us and immediately loved digging in the sand. The ocean, on the other hand, took a little more time. We tried over and over to put her little feet in the water and she would pull her legs up as fast as she could and wrap them tightly around us.

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But I was determined. I wanted my baby girl to have fun at the beach and I wanted to show her that she didn’t have to be afraid. The problem is, the ocean is downright scary. She doesn’t know it, but there are plenty of things to be legitimately afraid of in the ocean. Like sharks. Ok, so obviously a shark is not going to attack in three inches of water, but the ocean is seriously a breeding ground for danger. Stingrays. Jellyfish. Crabs. Oil spills. Undertow and riptide. (And when you’re 2 1/2 feet tall, you can add plain old waves to the list of really scary things.) This stuff is real! I know when I was a kid, I would swim in with reckless abandon as kids do. But I can’t remember the last time I went further than knee deep in the water. Because, sharks.

So I had a major, pivotal, decision-making moment while holding my terrified one-year old in ankle deep ocean water. I’m afraid of what I can’t see in the water. And rightfully so. There are plenty of dangers lurking. I can choose to stand here, ankle deep, and let our experience with the ocean be shallow. And my daughter (eventually) will learn to let fear control her. That’s not what I want. I want her to be wise, discerning, informed, careful even…but not fearful.

So I nudged her along. I carried her along the shoreline and every three steps would dip her and sweep her legs through the water and tell her to kick the scary waves back into the ocean! She kicked and kicked and laughed and laughed. Mom’s arms and back got more and more sore. I would put her down for a second to stand on her own and she would reach back up for me. Then, finally, I put her down and without warning, she ran full speed into oncoming waves. They knocked her down, rolled over her head, she laughed, got up and did it again. And again. And again. And again.

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So Mom had another choice to make. I can let my one-year-old have more fun at the beach than me…or…

I broke a very long streak of basically never putting anything more than a kneecap in the ocean. And I have my daughter to thank for that. I wouldn’t say we overcame our fear. I would say we found joy in spite of it.

I know there are healthy and appropriate fears. It’s ok to be afraid of snakes and spiders, particularly poisonous ones. It’s not ok to never go outside because you’re afraid of snakes and spiders. Scripture tells us “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” and “Happy is the man who fears the Lord.” (Psalm 111:10a and 112:1a HCSB, respectively) To fear the Lord certainly doesn’t mean to avoid Him or to stay away from Him because He is big and terrifying. There are unknowns and plenty of danger lurking, but our fear should make us run straight into Him. Like the ocean, He is vast and mysterious, but He still offers us a chance to know and enjoy Him. We fear Him because if we are really following Him into unknown places, He won’t always be safe and comfortable. But there will be joy. So much joy.