Any parent with young children knows how stressful traveling can be—especially on a plane where plenty of eyes will be on you if your child is having a tough time. How strangers react during a trying time with your kids can make all the difference. They can make a trip worse or elevate the experience for everyone with a little bit of empathy.
Mother of two Jessica Rudeen knows this first hand. Her Facebook notifications have been blowing up since she shared the story of how a total stranger turned a stressful trip with her baby and toddler into a pretty great day. The post has been shared nearly 5,000 times, and with more than 700 comments, it's clear how much Rudeen's story resonates with others.
Rudeen and the stranger, Todd Walker, met while boarding a plane. Seeing Rudeen was overwhelmed and flying solo with her two kids for the first-time, Walker offered to hold the baby. Rudeen agreed, handing him her crying 4-month-old while she tried to calm her 3-year-old who was melting down as they found their seats.
"I learned a long time ago it takes a village, so I handed the baby over and tended to my toddler," Rudeen tells Motherly. "Trying to calm two kids and not be concerned or distracted about what other people might be thinking, while also worrying about being kicked off the plane made me pretty anxious. My mind was racing and relief set in as the plane was taxiing."
Walker, who was sitting in the row with the family, helped get Rudeen's daughter settled with a movie. When the toddler offered him some of her markers and a coloring page, he gladly obliged. By the end of the flight, they were best buds—Rudeen's toddler showing Walker everything out the window and Walker playing along in wonder.
"She was so cute and wanted to share her colors with me and look out the window and we just hit it off," Walker tells Motherly.
As luck would have it they had the same connecting flight—one Walker makes frequently for work—so he took the child's hand and helped guide the family through the airport to their gate. He even changed his seat in order to sit with them again en route to Wilmington, North Carolina—Walker for work, and Rudeen to visit family.
No, Walker isn't an airport angel from above, just a man with two grown children who recalls his wife once having a similar experience when their children were young. A stranger helped her too, so when Walker saw Rudeen with her hands full, he knew he had an opportunity to pay it forward.
"Flying is stressful," Walker tells Motherly. "I had little kids once. I think most people on that plane have had little kids themselves, and we have all had that fear of our kids not doing well on the flight. So I just wanted her [Jessica] to know that hey, it's okay, we're gonna do this together and be fine."
During their time together, Walker learned that Rudeen lives in Bentonville, Arkansas, not far from where his son goes to school at the University of Arkansas. Rudeen's dad lives in Kansas City near Walker, making it somewhat likely their paths would cross again. However, Rudeen wanted to be sure that Walker knew just how appreciative she was.
When she arrived home, Rudeen put out a plea on Facebook: "This man showed me kindness and compassion that I've never known from another person. I'd like to find him." Within hours the post was shared hundreds of times, and the two were reconnected with plans to meet up again soon. Walker says he is looking forward to his wife meeting Rudeen and her children, and getting to know her husband as well, who wasn't with Rudeen on this trip.
"He definitely made an impact," Rudeen says. "I hope now that we've connected, we will have lifetime friends in him and his family."
Rudeen says she will never forget Walker's compassion, and how he went above and beyond, not only in helping her and her children board the plane, but in keeping her toddler occupied during the flight so she could tend to the baby, and guiding them all to their connecting flight. No doubt she'll be looking for opportunities to pay it forward too.