Saturday, October 10, 2009

It Takes a Village

When I was 15, I went to Mexico as an exchange student with a small group from my high school. On the way there, our 1st flight was delayed and we missed our connection. This was before the days of cell phones and widespread internet. The airport staff, dealing with a lot of irate passengers, continually brushed us off. We called our school, and the head of the exchange program was not helpful. Lacking enough change, we couldn't all call our parents. Having run out of options, we prepared to sleep in the airport.

Suddenly, I heard my name being paged. Surprised, I listed to see if I would hear it again. There it was, I was being instructed to pick up a red courtesy phone. I picked one up, told the person my name, and was instructed to come to the ticket counter, and make sure my classmates were with me. So we gathered our stuff and found our way to the ticket counter, all the while wondering what was going on. We got to the counter and were lead to a back room. We crowded into the room, and a woman sitting behind a desk looked up. She surveyed the group of teenagers, and then looked at me and said "You need to call your mother. Now." and handed me a phone. As it turns out, my mother had gotten a call from the teacher at our school informing her that he knew we were stuck in Texas. That's it. They are stuck, and I know. Well, that was NOT acceptable. Armed with a phone book (yes a yellow pages) she tracked down the number for Continental's unaccompanied minor department in Houston. She appraised the staff of our situation, and the staff quickly stepped into action. We had a chaperon, a hotel and food within 30 minutes of that phone call. The airline did not know we were unaccompanied minors (that was the fault of our teacher and the agents that booked our fights and checked us in) and none of the other parents thought to call the airline. Thankfully my mother did, and she didn't call and say my daughter is stranded, she said my daughter and her classmates are stranded, and gave the airline personnel our names, genders, and approximate ages. In fact, when we arrived the woman behind the desk checked us against what my mother said, first, and then against the computer. Thanks to my mom, none of us slept in the airport. And all of the other kids excitedly told their parents how "[my] mom got us a room in a NICE hotel! And free FOOD!"

When we returned from Mexico we all waited together for our bags. Slowly, parents began to arrive and stand with their children. My parents were nowhere to be found. The other parents noticed that I was still alone, and asked if my parents were there. I said no. Once their child had all their bags, they said goodnight, and left. One by one, all of the parents started to leave, without a second thought or backward glance. It was late, the airport was fairly empty, and I was a teenage girl, alone, in an airport in a city about 2 hours from my home. I went to look around for my parents, and did not see them. Aside from being scared, I was nervous, worried...all I could do was wait, and everyone was leaving. When I returned to the baggage carousel, I saw my classmate and his parents, who happened to be elderly, the last people still there. Maybe it's because they grew up in a different era, but they did not leave me alone. They waited with me until my parents came because it was the right thing to do. And I am grateful for them, may God rest their souls.

I know that I was not the responsibility of any of the other parents, but what about doing what's right? They all came, knew I was the only child whose parents hadn't arrived yet, and in some cases knew they lived within 30 minutes of me, and said goodbye without a second thought. Not a single backward glance. No concern for my safety or well being. I, simply put, was not their problem. What if my mother felt the same about their children? What if she had told the airline employees that her daughter, who was the youngest in the group, was an unaccompanied minor, but not mentioned the other kids? Would they have felt slighted, offended, would they have called her selfish or uncaring when they discovered that I had slept in a 5 star hotel and eaten two free meals at a nice restaurant, while their children were left to fend for themselves? I was 15, and a few of them were 17 and 18, technically not unaccompanied minors. But because my mom told the airline employees that we were together, they kept us together. My classmates were not my mother's responsibility, but she did what was right, because we were all children.

In the years since then, I have had numerous other scenarios like this. My family will drive other children home or wait with them until their parents pick them up. But when the shoe is on the other foot, when we are late or stuck in traffic, we arrive to a child standing alone, the parents of the children that we wait with and drive home saying "bye sweetie, tell your mom I said hi" as they pull off.

I know that we are "different", but wish we weren't. I wish that when people stepped in to help, parents didn't automatically get defensive, so that they could accept constructive criticism. We can't separate the good from the bad if we don't listen. I wish people thought about other children the way they think about their own. Your children are amazing, and unique, and wonderful, and special to you, and other children are exactly the same to their loved ones. Maybe if we applied the golden rule, ALL of our children would lead happier, safer lives. Just a thought.

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