I noticed the woman behind me gazing at my kids. Her own children, probably college kids, stood next to her, immersed in their own worlds. She caught Claire’s eye. “Are you excited to go to Rome?” she asked.
“Yes!” Claire said. “My mom says it’s going to take 9 hours to get there. And when we get there it will be morning!”
The woman beamed at Claire. I’m sure she was remembering what it was like to travel with her kids when they were younger.
We chatted for a bit. She was from Tennessee. I told her my kids were pretty good travelers, but this was still a big trip for them. “So when we all arrive in Rome and you’re feeling tired,” I said to her, “just think of me and you will feel instantly energized that you aren’t the most exhausted person getting off the plane!”
She laughed. “You are brave, that’s for sure!” she said.
Right then, it was time for us to board. Tommy was already whining about being hungry and tired. “I want my iPad!” he screamed.
I gave it to him. “Remember,” my sister had texted me earlier, “snacks and movies, movies and snacks. And maybe a nap.”
It still took me forever to settle him. He wanted a snack, and then he wanted another snack. He couldn’t figure out the entertainment system because he can’t read, and then he tired of it and wanted to go back to his iPad.
All of this happened before we even took off.
At some point during this, a couple sat down next to me. I was across the aisle from my kids (neither of the big kids wanted to sit alone, so I told them they could sit together) and I had to keep leaning over the aisle. I glanced over at them at one point, and saw they were holding hands.
(Ugh, I thought. Newlyweds. Because this is who I sit next to on planes, apparently.)
I eventually had to sit down, and I apologized to them for all the commotion. They were super nice about it.
“Well, doing this alone means that I’m going to be constantly up and down,” I said, “so I’m sorry if it bugs you.”
“We don’t mind,” the man said. “You’re brave to take all three of them by yourself.”
I smiled, and then with a laugh I said, “well, I’m brave or stupid. Honestly, I think there’s a fine line between the two.” He laughed good-naturedly.
We chatted a bit longer, and as these types of plane conversations with strangers often go, we started talking about anything and everything. His wife chimed in too, and amazingly my kids let us talk for a while. Eventually, I started to tell him about my life, and about what had happened to Shawn.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. I could see he meant it.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Well,” he said, “now that I know your story, I have to say that you’re doubly brave for traveling with them.”
“Maybe,” I said. Or doubly stupid, I thought.
The night before, I’d woken around 2 am. My heart was racing, and I immediately thought about what I was going to do the next day. 3 kids. 1 parent. Multiple weeks in a foreign country. So what if we were on a tour for part of the trip? I still had to figure out what to do if Austin got sick or if Tommy refused to walk or if Claire had an allergic reaction. It was all on me. I mean, it’s always all on me, but back home I have my dad and my community.
I sat up in bed, taking some deep breaths. “I am not going to be scared of this,” I said out loud to nobody in the middle of the night.
I mean, of course I was scared – I am scared, since we’re still on this trip – but what I should have said that night was this: I’m not going to let my fear of doing things without Shawn rule my life. In the past year and a half, I’ve spent so much time letting fear make my decisions. I’ve told myself and countless other people I’ve met who are hurting, “go easy on yourself when the worst happens to you.” I believe that statement. It is one that everyone who is grieving should practice.
And yet – I know I won’t face my fears without a little bit of a push.
Right now, I’m trying to push myself. I’m also trying to push my kids. I’m trying to show them that we can do something new together.
I’m not just talking about traveling. I’m talking about life.