I sat next to a snot-nosed kid on my completely-full holiday flight and I loved it.
Truth in advertising, she was my own daughter, but I think the point still stands. Kids supercharge our sense of thankfulness because they see the beauty in everyday life that so often escapes us adults. If you want to know what appreciation and gratitude looks like, hang out with a youngster on an airplane.
We’re spending Thanksgiving with family in Minnesota, and both our daughters were thrilled at the prospect of the flight. It wasn’t their first flight ever, but you’d think it was the way they dutifully crossed off each calendar day in pursuit of their single-minded objective: the airport. Even my eight-year-old’s cold (the runny nose mentioned above) didn’t diminish her desire. She wanted to fly, and she wanted to see our family, and she wanted it all. Now.
She packed her own backpack, and suffered the drive to Denver.
When the scattered big white tents and the scary big blue horse came into view, she started to quake. And when the time came to board the aircraft, she was ecstatic. On board, she opened and closed her window. She asked about the baggage trucks outside, and where our bags were on the flight (under the plane). Snapping her seatbelt became special. With care, she pulled down her tray and neatly placed her berry-flavored fruit snacks alongside her thermos of water. Even though she didn’t need any food, she opened the in-flight menu with all the exuberance of someone stricken by starvation.
“Daddy, look, this side is breakfast, and this side is lunch. Oh, and I bet Mommy would like this.”
She wasn’t buying, but she definitely was hungry — for life experience — in a way we adults have too often become numb to.
It’s as if we were all issued a pair of glasses at birth. We only get one pair, so we clean them, wipe them, care for them all our lives. But no matter what we do, as the years go by, they fog up. The lenses aren’t as clear as they once were.
Spending time with children can give us a momentary glimpse of what life’s like with a fresh pair of lenses. A true appreciation of every second. That’s a gift.
When I think of the thanks I should give this Thanksgiving, it is to my (and other) children that I give thanks.
Because, when we pulled into the air… well. Let’s just say I wasn’t there alongside the Wright brothers in 1903 when Orville pulled off the ground into the air for the first time, but I know for a fact there was no less joy in my daughter’s exclamation “We’re flying!” this past week.
She just looked out the window and talked to nobody in particular and to everybody at the very same time.
“I like flying in airplanes. They go so high in the sky.”
“We’re above the clouds.”
She was full of so much wide-eyed wonder, you’d think she’s spotted Santa and his reindeer out alongside the plane.
Of course, every flight has its share of turbulence. She had that ear-popping pain produced by pressure, likely made worse by her cold. It hurt.
Yet, somehow, even that made for a nice recovery. The woman sitting directly in front of us offered a stick of gum, which was our daughter’s first — she loved it and the gum mostly held off that momentary discomfort.
I recently listened to a storyteller tell some jokes about the preference for not having kids. The punchline was that people often use the term “childless” in a negative sense, and the storyteller preferred “child-free.” Emphasis on the word “free.”
While I respect that position — nobody knows how much kids cost in finance and frustration than a parent — it comes with a distinct downside. In this case, child-free comes with a cost.
As demanding and difficult and (occasionally) disastrous as children are, they remind us to be thankful. To maintain a sense of wonder in everything, and, in turn, to be grateful for the life that provides so much wonder. You don’t have to have to be a parent to benefit from this perspective. Just an observant adult.
To learn to appreciate even something as mundane as a routine holiday flight. Just as we landed, our daughter looked up, tapped me on the arm, grinned, and asked,
“Daddo, when can we get back on an airplane?”
Lt. Col. ML Cavanaugh, Ph.D., is a senior fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point.