This one is close to me as a parent of a special needs child. You may remember a very similar story on national news recently.
A Mother’s Worries
So I was flying on a six hour trip from Houston to Washington D.C. with my daughter, Nellie. Nellie is only seven years old and has down syndrome. She can be very precocious, outspoken, and has a high pitched laugh that can drive you crazy.
Anyway, we were not able to sit next to each other and my seat was in the row behind her’s. I was on the aisle, there was a middle seat, and Nellie was sitting next to the window. I was worried that whoever might sit next her might not be very understanding, because whoever did would have Nellie talking to them the entire flight.
As late passengers arrived and boarded, a tall young man came on and proceeded to sit next to Nellie. I think he was probably in his early 20s, maybe a recent college graduate or something. He was wearing blue jeans, a New England Patriots sweater, and had white ear buds from his IPod hanging from his ears.
Well good, I thought. He’ll just tune her out. As the plane began to taxi to prepare to take off, Nellie got nervous. She looked over her shoulder at me and I could see fear in her eyes. “It’s okay baby,” I smiled and tried to comfort her.
The man next to her pulled his right ear bud out and looked at Nellie. “You okay?” he asked. She shook her head, “No, I’m scared.” He smiled, offered his hand to her. She took it and held on to him as we thundered down the runway.
The man laughed as the plane took off, and said, “Wheee!” causing Nellie to laugh and several of us around to join in.
Once in the sky he could have let go of her hand. He didn’t, he continued to hold her hand in his and listened to her talk about her Barbie collection and Sponge Bob Square Pants. The young man apparently watched that show as well as they started singing “I’m a goofy goober!” Again the whole plane to laugh and enjoy their antics.
I listened as he told her he had been in Houston visiting his old college roommate, and that he was returning home to Washington. He was a school teacher there.
They continued like this until the flight was over. When it came time to disembark, Nellie stood up and hugged him. He had made the trip worthwhile, just by showing that he cared. He cared enough to talk to and laugh with a special needs child. How many of us would ignore her, or worse? That young man is my hero, and he will forever have my love for what he did for my daughter.