Noah and I made it to Cairo from London safely last night.
I travelled the world by myself some years ago. I went whitewater rafting down the Zambezi below Victoria Falls – with a lifejacket since I couldn’t swim. We also bush safaried on the Zambezi with lions and crocs and hippos around us and I was ok. I abseiled on some insane boot camp in Scotland a few years later, crying all the way – note to self, death-defying stunts rarely change your life or suddenly imbue you with the courage to fulfill your dreams – and I made it through somehow.
But travelling alone with an infant for the first time is, without doubt, the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. The sheer logistics of it – packing for a five-month old, negotiating Heathrow’s complex liquids rules (how much milk?), going through security with your baby in a new stroller you’ve only just got the hang of while juggling his overstuffed changing bag and (stupidly) a carry-on case, all while trying to make it to your gate on time (parents travelling solo get no kind driver to whizz them there – I asked) is enough to drive the most measured of us to insanity.
Granted, I made several rookie mistakes (do travel light and make sure you understand how your stroller works beforehand) but I made it through, mainly – as Blanche Dubois says in Streetcar – because of the kindness of strangers. I’ve said this before but I’ve never felt more vulnerable than when I was pregnant and than I do now, as a still-new mother. Whether it’s a hormonal shift or the weight of caring for a precious little life or the endless daily challenges of new motherhood, I am raw and open and exposed like never before.
So, while thankfully my child was a trooper, I was a nervous wreck – if I could have taken a moment to sob quietly in the toilets, I would have. Crowded places like airports can be terrifying if you’re vulnerable for any reason. But for every person who rushed past us, there were others who stopped to help, and this is an ode to all those lovely people whose little acts of kindness made our lives easier yesterday.
To the wonderful woman in security in Heathrow Terminal 2 who held Noah for me and talked to him as I tried to close his stroller, and the woman on the other side who put all my things together as I tried to put him back in, thank you. To the man in Boots who let this harried mum buy his milk without making her delve for her boarding pass (‘because parents have enough to deal with”), thank you. These are not places where I expected kindness and your actions moved me to tears.
To the woman also travelling with her child on the same flight – but not encumbered by bags like me – who offered to go ahead and tell them I’d be late – and then helped me put his stroller away at the gate, thank you. To the lovely family I sat next to on board who gave me lots of tips and held Noah for me when we disembarked so I could gather our things, thank you. To the man on the other side who joked with Noah, the couple behind me who got my bag down from the overhead bin and carried it out, and then the Egypt Air steward who wheeled it to immigration for me, thank you, thank you, thank you.
I have struggled with vulnerability and asking for help my whole life but I now rarely have a choice, so these little acts of kindness mean more than you will ever know. Sometimes we hold back from offering help because we’re shy or embarrassed or don’t want to intrude (as a Brit, I get that). But kindness, in whatever form – whether it’s an encouraging smile or holding the door open for someone or letting them go ahead in a queue or helping a struggling mum find her feet – is one of the few things in life that costs nothing but can be absolutely transformative.
As the saying goes: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.