It takes a village

A couple of years ago I was taking a flight with my children sans husband. About two hours in, somewhere between take off and my wit’s end, the seatbelt sign came on.

I had just lulled my colicky newborn to sleep in my arms, and my oldest daughter – who had been particularly defiant during the first few thousand kilometers – refused to buckle her belt. In fact, she refused to sit in her seat by any definition of the word ‘sit’ or the word ‘seat’, despite the tone of my angry, urgent whispers.

A flight attendant was surveying the aisle, as they do, when she came upon our (literal) standoff. She bypassed me entirely, looked directly into my daughter’s eyes and said quite firmly, “Please sit down and put on your seatbelt.”

My little girl, not more than four, plunked her bum into the seat and buckled up, lickety-split.

Moms and dads might bristle when another adult takes a discerning tone with their child, but I’m guessing there are times (like this one) when they (like me) are totally ok with some intervention from a well-meaning stranger. That’s because, at least in my case, kids are more likely to comply.

I’m not suggesting that every intervention is a good thing (obviously it’s not), nor would I surrender my own responsibility to teach my children manners. I’m just saying that sometimes, it takes a village. Or a stern, scrupulous flight attendant.

Some of my greatest community-minded lessons have been delivered by the community. I’ve been guided (and scolded) by teachers, principals, coaches, friends, parents of friends, friends of my parents, strangers, police officers, that guy who sold hotdogs outside my favourite Halifax bar some time between 2003-2005… You get my point. My parents sought to teach me the same lessons, but it was the attention (negative or otherwise) from strangers that was seared into my brain forever.

My husband and I value and encourage a sense of connectedness and belonging in our girls, especially since, as East Coast ex-pats living in Alberta, we don’t have our natural habitat of family, friends and life-long neighbours. They need to learn the values, knowledge and skills to effectively navigate their own world without being chased down Brunswick Street by an angry hotdog vendor. (Although there are some lessons they’ll have to learn on their own. Like don’t put coins in the mustard. It was an accident!)

After the seatbelt sign was turned off and we were free to move about the cabin, I sidled down the aisle with my kids and diaper bag in tow for a quick bathroom break. The flight attendant was especially smiley, and offered to hold my newborn as I helped my other daughter find the flush button.

The flight attendant then looked at me and said, “I’m sorry if I was a little harsh before.”

I was touched. And I immediately eased her mind. She was just doing her job, and coincidently helping me with mine.

It’s too bad I didn’t keep in touch with her, actually. I could really use her help next week when I take my kids to the library…