It wasn’t like we were stepping foot in a “Higgins” boat, preparing to storm the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. We weren’t boarding the ill-fated Titanic. We were, however, on the precipice of what could be an extremely frightening situation—boarding a plane with three kids under the age of five.

Eyeballs locked on us like we were terrorists as we first made our way down the undersized aisle. Ashley was carrying our three-month-old drooling baby (Owen), and we also had our four-year-old (Avery) and two-year-old (Sophie) in tow. I noticed that people began fervently praying as we approached. I initially thought we were carrying a strong anointing, but then I realized people were praying that they wouldn’t be stuck next to us.  One older gentleman even said, “Keep walking.” In that moment I realized we were “that” family.

We did keep walking—more like shuffling—as we made our way to aisles 25 and 26. Unfortunately, our seats were split between two separate rows (3 in row 25 and 1 in row 26). Ashley displayed heroic courage as she said, “You sit behind us, and I’ll sit here with the kids.” She planted herself in the middle seat, placed Owen on her lap, and instructed Sophie to sit on her left and Avery on her right. I watched from a safe distance as one person after the next walked by and did a double-take. I also witnessed others sitting near us, who apparently were stuck with the bad luck stick, each pull out their saucer-like- headphones. I guess they came prepared.

Ash doing her thing–without even looking.

I could have pulled out my own headphones and slipped into “nap-land”; However, better judgment prevailed as  I remembered I didn’t desire to sleep in the garage or live a life of married celibacy. I poked my head over the seat every few minutes, at first asking how I could help, and then just trying to catch a glimpse of greatness. I was in awe of watching Ashley navigate the situation. She looked like she had 8 arms as she changed diapers, pulled out snacks, gently stroked the side of Sophie’s face, picked up Owen’s pacifier after it had fallen for the hundredth time, and even found time to hand me some food through the cracks of the seats. What a gal.

There were moments when the kids teetered on the verge of a breakdown, but Ashley pulled hard on the yoke each time to prevent the spiraling nosedive.  People continued to stare, but I think she was slowly but surely winning the affection of those in the surrounding rows.

The flight was out of Washington D.C., so it was naturally filled with political lobbyists, aids, and others who maintained a frenzied pace in life.  Many appeared to be single and ambitious—which meant they had extra large headphones. They were people who understood “juggling”, but their juggling was designed to achieve career and political goals, not prevent child tantrums. When they weren’t staring at us, they were staring at their computer screens trying to beat some approaching deadline.  It reminded me of something Walt Harrington had written:

“I worked in Washington, D.C., for fifteen years. It’s a city that has arrived where the rest of America wants to go. It had the highest average household income in the country, the highest proportion of male and female professional workers, the highest percentage of people with college degrees. Yet it’s a city where people don’t have friends—they have associates. It’s a city of frenzy, with working husbands and wives racing to day care before the dollar-a-minute late charge kicks in at 6 p.m. It’s a city that honors work and achievement over all else, where people live for future ambitions without relishing present accomplishments. It’s a city where people seem incapable of living in the moment. It is a city without memory. And Washington is America’s future.”

While this isn’t true of everyone who calls D.C. home, it’s still a scary picture. I looked around the plane and saw the flame of ambition burning brightly. As I watched people momentarily pause from their work in order to watch my family, I wondered if they had any desire to have kids of their own. Were these up-and-comers in the political and corporate world wrongly praying that God would spare them from the sheer terror of having kids and becoming “that family?” Perhaps they’ve sat on too many planes with crying children, and they’ve shopped in too many grocery stores filled with red-faced-open-mouthed-screaming-kids.  They think they know better.

I admit that having young children will try you at the depth of your soul.  My kids have been the red-faced-open-mouthed-screaming-kids on more than one occasion. Just recently, they were all three screaming in unison. It sounded like a bad Dwight Yoakum song, and I wished I could have pulled out my own satellite-dish- sized-headphones. The challenge of raising kids is easy to see—and hear. Anytime kids have a meltdown, eyeballs are naturally attracted to the unfolding scene. People seem to enjoy watching kids meltdown, as long as those kids don’t share their last name and are not sitting next to them on the plane.

What’s harder to see for onlookers is the joy of being “that” family. It’s the joy of having your young daughter wrap her little arms around your neck and give you a kiss on the cheek. It’s the joy of watching a two-year-old trying to learn how to wink.  It’s the joy of seeing a three-month-old baby light up the room with a smile.  It’s the joy of seeing a 30-year-old pretty little blonde gal wink at me through the seats. It’s the joy that results from doing life together as family.

It’s certainly messy and challenging, and at times embarrassing, but it’s beautiful. I can’t think of a better way to spend my life. I can’t think of a better legacy to leave. 

The stares became less frequent as the flight went on, but I started to notice a different stare. It was the gaze of a four-year-old named Avery, with big blue eyes looking out upon a big blue sky. She said, “Wow. That’s a big world out there.”

Yes, it is Avery.

But it’s a lot more beautiful because of children like you.

The Joy of Being “That” Family

8 thoughts on “The Joy of Being “That” Family

  • July 11, 2014 at 4:31 am

    Well written, Gabe. You and your bride deserve a medal, not only for the bravery of flying these days with three young ones, but also for victory and calming the fears of many a frequent flyer who have lived through poorly behaving children. Blessings on both of you and thanks for sharing your story.

  • July 11, 2014 at 11:11 am

    Great story. Great perspective. You rock!

  • July 11, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    I’m not sure I deserve a medal, but Ash sure does. Thanks, Bill!

  • July 11, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    Wonderful read for me this morning. After spending too many days lately working on a case with Child Protection Services , I needed a reminder of what a blessing “that” family can be. Including my own!

  • July 11, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    I love reading what you write….made me think of Christie….I spent a week with her and a 5 year old and 15 month old twin boys. It seems overwhelming to me but as I spent time and tried to help, I realized what a wonderful mother she is and the kids she and Brian are raising will be a blessing to this world. Keep writing, Gabe, you are an inspiration!

  • July 13, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Love your heart for people, Eric. You’re a great man.

  • July 13, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    Thanks, Barb. Wow…Twins! Tell Christie and Brian hello…

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