When we flew out to California for Gender Spectrum we got more than we bargained for on our flight. No, not an unexpected inflight meal… another child. A little girl who said she was “almost 13″ and flying alone latched on to us like we had the only life preservers on a sinking ship. I’m always weary of these situations when someone gets too close too quick, but she’s a little kid I reminded myself. Of course my infectiously gregarious daughter seemed delighted to have a flying companion (other than me apparently!) and they began to chat and laugh like they’d been next door neighbors their whole life.
There goes Mommy-Daughter bonding time out the window! Still, I sat back comforted by the fact that my daughter was so good-hearted as she asked questions of her new pal. It was a Hallmark movie until I tuned into some of the louder than normal answers to these benign inquiries. Soon I heard a litany about how she has flown alone since she was six years old, how her divorced parents battle over custody and vacations, which parent is “the winner” this month, how she loves to talk to people on the plane, about a 9 month old sibling that passed away in a mysterious way, her desire to eat 100 cookies on the flight, and the myriad of ways she successfully hits her brother and gets him in trouble by crying first. Hope’s face looked confused after 30 minutes and I’m sure my wish-I-had-a-poker-face reflected serious concern.
It started to dawn on me that she was more than an unaccompanied minor on this flight. Perhaps she was unaccompanied on her journey through this lifetime. At times she sounded like a crass adult, sarcastic and curt about life’s circumstances. There were moments she sounded cunning like when she talked about manipulating the flight crew into giving her a few energy drinks for free when she had the money to pay for them. Then at other times she sounded younger than Hope, or even Will. Moments where she couldn’t relate to the emotion of the situation. Her view of the world and society’s rules, so skewed and illogical.
One flight, I reminded myself, this is one flight and perhaps just a sliver of this little person’s reality, truth or fiction. She’s an active young person with a creative mind and perhaps this is a chance to let her imagination run wild. Okay. Maybe this is a clear representation of her reality. Okay. Despite what was the truth, I believe in compassion first and foremost.
That is, until she started to get mean with Hope. Pinching, tackling, nasty remarks, throwing food at my daughter… I couldn’t take anymore. I started to discipline a child who was not my own. Once my voice got that serious tone to it and my once peaceful smile turned to a rather tense frown she looked at me like I stole her candy bar. I laid down the ground rules and suggested I sit between them if she couldn’t behave respectfully. Hope looked at me with such relief, like she was quietly comfortable with the fact at least she was an accompanied minor. Flanked by a protector, advisor, trusted confidante and enforcer. She was safe.
Once the 72 cookies our friend ate started to digest she sunk into a slow sugar haze and I had a few moments to reflect on this experience. Hope and I gazed out the window at the vast mountains and valleys with a sense of wonder and disbelief. The world is so big.
We’re lucky to have each other. I’m grateful that I have these two little children in my life to unlock life’s most important mysteries for me, to absorb my life lessons and grow beyond my wildest limits. I’m not letting this experience go, not in a million years.
Hope snuggled me as if to say thank you as I was lost in thought contemplating the countless children out there on the land below, unaccompanied minors in life, struggling for a sense of security or structure. All the kids who are sent out into the world alone because of their gender identity or expression, away from their family and home. No guide. No map. Nothing.
Could we find ways of supporting these young people who are traveling by themselves on this life journey? Act as a mentor? Volunteer to share life lessons and lend an ear? Teach them yoga, the gift of breathing into our bodies, calming our minds and feeling the power within?
When the plane reached the gate I gained a new perspective. The little traveller haphazardly flew past the eight rows in front of us so she could get of the plane first and I didn’t object. Our time together had run its course. Still I’m left with the awareness of all those lives spread across this country, children who have no family waiting for them at the gate.