Delayed Satisfaction

I’m writing this at roughly 35,000 feet above sea level, somewhere above the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. I should be on the ground in Dallas, Texas, already, except my 5 am flight out of Seattle was delayed over two hours, due to some (obviously) unexpected mechanical problems. Even though I’m anxious to reach my final destination of Kansas City to see my 21 year old daughter and I have already missed my noon-departing connecting flight out of Dallas I am having perhaps the most enjoyable flight of my entire life. I’ve blogged recently about making a conscious effort to look at events through a different perspective and today’s flight offered me yet another opportunity to grow my grace muscles.
I left my house at about 2:20 am and drove north on an almost deserted I-5 to a hotel near the SeaTac airport to park my car and take the shuttle to the airport. I was delighted to see that there was no line to get through security. Granted, it was 3:20 in the morning, but, still, I’d expect a bit more activity in a big airport like SeaTac. I got to my gate and settled in to a comfy chair, spreading out my long legs for what I anticipated would be the last time until I disembarked in Dallas. I’m 6’8″ and too much of a cheapskate to pay for extra legroom on domestic flights. Once I got on board the plane I was happy to note that we were at about 60% capacity and, even better, there was no one in the exit row three aisles behind my assigned seat. Anyone who flies knows that exit row seating is the place to be if you’re looking for more leg room. I casually caught the attention of the nearest flight attendant and discreetly asked if I could switch to one of those coveted spots if no one sat there.
He told me to wait about five minutes more until everyone was on board, but that I was first on his list. My knees were silently praying for a miracle, while my eyes watched every single passenger slowly walk past the exit row seats. Much to my delight, I got one of the seats and, for the first time ever in my life, I had the luxury of being able to fully stretch out my legs while seated on an airplane. As a bonus, there was no one sitting next to me so I had the whole row to myself. Sometimes it’s just the little things in life that can make a 5 am Monday morning cross country flight just a little bit more enjoyable, even on less than three hours of sleep.
I even took to social media to thank American Airlines for the leg room surprise. It’s good to express gratitude. I was mentally prepared for an uneventful flight to Dallas and then on to Kansas City. I may or may not have hummed a few bars of a song I played in jazz band in high school as I stretched out my legs. Goin’ to Kansas City…Kansas City, here I come!
Then, just as our flight attendants were getting their yellow life jacket safety demonstration mojo on the captain interrupted with news that there was a mechanical problem of some sort so we would have a short delay while he powered down and restarted everything. Talk about a mood killer. After a few minutes the captain informed us that we were good to go. So, we taxied out a bit only to come to another stop. At this point the nearest flight attendant, Eric, (the same guy who switched my seats earlier) started talking to me, as his jetseat was a couple of feet away from mine. We talked about a variety of things and he couldn’t have been a nicer guy. 
Well, that short delay turned into something longer and before too long we were back at the gate while the mechanics worked their magic on the plane. As the delay stretched from 30 to 45 minutes many people worriedly started approaching the flight attendants, inquiring about their connecting flights. From my vantage point I was able to see and hear Eric and Deborah and Ana patiently address the concerns of each person, assuring them that American Airlines has a program in place that automatically rebooks passengers once a flight is delayed 45 minutes or longer. (I actually received a phone call from American while we were delayed to inform me that I had been rebooked on a later flight.) As the delay passed the hour mark and crept toward 90 minutes the flight crew continued to be as kind and compassionate as possible despite the increasing level of discontent among some passengers. I’ve been on dozens of flights over my life and have seen such professionalism among flight attendants. I decided to tweet about my positive experience and give a specific shout out to both Eric and Deborah as both of them had, at various points during the long delay, taken the time to ask me if I had a connecting flight to catch and to inform me that there would be multiple flights out of Dallas to Kansas City still to come this afternoon. Again, it only took a moment for me to intentionally show my gratitude.



Thankfully, just after our delay passed the two hour mark our pilot, Captain Stewart, announced that the needed paperwork had been completed and that the plane was good to go. I’m pretty sure an audible sigh of relief was heard aboard flight 1228. Eric returned to his safety seat and we resumed talking. He thanked me for being so patient and not complaining. I mentioned that I was actually quite grateful that the mechanical issues had been found while our plane was on the ground instead of while we were already airborne. He laughed a little and I mentioned something about the importance of perspective and that it wasn’t his fault, or the captain’s fault or the mechanic’s fault that there were issues. Besides, it’s a major inconvenience for the flight crew and various support staff as well. Several of the flight crew were returning home after a few days away from their loved ones and would also arriving later than expected. Some of them also had missed their connections (home), just like the rest of us. I’m sure that they were just as frustrated as the rest of us, yet there was no evidence of it based on their body language. They all were happy to assist passengers as quickly as possible and always with a smile. While we were still ascending to our cruising altitude I told Eric that I had tweeted American Airlines about the positive experience during the delay and he joked that I should mention him by name. What’s especially funny is that I had already sent a tweet that praised him specifically, even though he was only joking about me actually doing that. I told him that I’m trying to be more purposeful in expressing my gratitude and was particularly appreciative of his efforts that went above and beyond the call of duty. I hope American recognizes this entire flight crew for their outstanding efforts today. Disclosure: I was in no way compensated or even asked by American Airlines or any of the Flight Crew to write this post. I genuinely appreciate their fine work today in the face of intense customer dissatisfaction.

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The Perspective of My Messy Kitchen

At just after 2 am Pacific time last Wednesday morning I pulled our van into our driveway, arriving home with my youngest three kids (ages 11, 5 and 2) after a week-long vacation at Grandma’s house in Florida. Nearly 17 hours before, we had hugged her goodbye and made our way diagonally across the U.S., taking a variety of planes, trains and automobiles to get back to our home in the state of Washington. We were all exhausted from traveling, yet my kids were still excited to go hug Mommy, who was already sleeping. They ran in ahead of me as I brought in a couple of bags, dropped them on the floor inside the front door, and followed them upstairs. The first thing I noticed once I got upstairs was the clean floor of my girls’ room, which had been totally messy with clothes, shoes, toys, and plastic bins when we left a week earlier. My wife had cleaned it all up while we had been gone, so it was a pleasant surprise to find upon our return. It was a job that had taken her a considerable amount of time to complete and I made sure to thank her for doing it before I went to sleep that night.

At about 5 am my five year old woke me up, complaining of a headache and hunger. Obviously the three hour time change and long day of travel was catching up to her. I brought her to the kitchen to get her some yogurt and a glass of milk. I wasn’t prepared for the mess that was revealed when I turned on the lights in the kitchen. Every surface of the counter was covered with what appeared to be week-old wrappers and boxes from several restaurants, dirty dishes, mail, textbooks, half-filled soda cans and mostly empty cups. I slowly shook my head in disbelief, got my daughter her food. After two bites she was full and I put away her yogurt and milk in the fridge and turned out the lights. The messy kitchen could be dealt with later after I had more sleep.

messykitchen

My Messy Kitchen.

Thankfully, my younger two kids slept in until about 10 am that day, so I was feeling reasonably well-rested and appreciated the warm sunshine as we began our first day back home. The girls marveled at their now-clean room and I made sure to remind them that it was because of the hard work of their mother that it was so nice for them. They wasted little time in bringing some dolls and stuffed animals into their room to play on the expanse of clean carpet. While they entertained themselves upstairs I snuck away to the kitchen to assess the mess in the light of day. It was just as bad as I had remembered from the middle of the night. Only, this time I started to feel really angry at my wife and two teenage daughters. It felt like a literal and figurative F-you to see a full load of clean dishes in the dishwasher, dirty dishes piled up in the sink and on the countertops, and the rest of the mess all over the place. Even the dining room table, which had been completely cleaned (by me!) after our Easter dinner the day before we left, was full of all kinds of stuff that didn’t belong there. I debated taking my little girls to a nearby favorite cafe to eat because of the mess. I really wanted to teach my wife and older kids a lesson about respect and responsibility. I felt this almost righteous indignation because I had worked really hard to make sure that the house was tidy before we left so that there would be no excuse for it to be messy upon my return. I really wanted to just leave the mess for them to clean up. I didn’t deserve this extra work. This was literally their mess to clean up.

As I was starting to really get myself worked up over this my two year old wandered into the kitchen to ask me to make her some pancakes for breakfast. Pretty please with sugar on top, Daddy? Of course, even though there was not even one spot on the counters clean enough to to fit a mixing bowl, much less a griddle, I told her that I would be happy to do that once I cleaned up a little bit. Without being asked, she cheerfully started to empty the dishwasher. If my little one could help clean, I figured that I really had to figure out a way to get over myself and get a better attitude about this mess, but, oh boy, I was struggling. I decided some upbeat Christian music might help change my angry spirit, so I plugged my iPhone into some speakers and started cleaning alongside my little girl. It took a few songs until I really started to realize that cleaning up someone else’s mess wasn’t really the end of the world. Sure, it was irritating and disappointing. Yeah, it would’ve been nice to come home to a cleaner kitchen. But, as I began to clean, I started to gain a different perspective from my messy kitchen.

For one thing, while we were having a great time at Grandma’s pool and at the beach, my wife was busy working at her job to provide financially for our family and my teenage daughters were busy with school, homework and water polo practice. Because of my wife’s faithfulness in working hard at all times, even while I am on vacation, I am able to be a Stay At Home Dad. I am able to take these kinds of trips with my kids. Sure, it was a working vacation for me because my SAHD duties didn’t end just because I wasn’t at home, but it was still a vacation all the same. Also, it dawned on me that this was an opportunity for me to really practice what I preach, or, at least blog about. Just a few weeks ago I wrote What’s In Your Garden?, a blog post about cultivating kindness and gratitude in all of my relationships by focusing on the positives instead of the negatives. After all, since my wife had done a great job of cleaning up the girls’ room and my girls had taken care of their school responsibilities, cleaning up the kitchen shouldn’t be that big of a deal, right? Even if my attitude hadn’t fully caught up with that positivity, I was sure that it would at some point. Then, my phone rang, cutting off the uplifting music and my mojo along with it.

It was my oldest daughter, calling to talk about some other stuff. I wasn’t really in a mood to talk at that moment and I was, sadly, a little short with her, as I let my frustration with the situation in my kitchen affect my conversation with her. As I was talking with her and flipping pancakes my teenage daughters arrived home from school (it was an early-release day) and came in the kitchen to say hi, as they hadn’t seen me since we had gotten back home. Instead of returning their greetings, I shot a very sarcastic “Thanks for the mess, girls!” at them. So much for that attitude of gratitude. Epic dad fail. That, obviously, set a negative tone for the next few minutes, until I realized what a complete tool I was being. I asked their forgiveness (both my girls at home and my oldest who was still on speakerphone) and shared with them my feelings of frustration and that I was really trying to have a good attitude about it all. They graciously forgave me and I finished serving pancakes to my little girls while the older ones made themselves some lunch. After the kids all finished eating and cleared out of the kitchen, I finally had a chance to eat my own pancakes, enjoying the sudden peace and quiet. It was then that I fully released the burden of being angry about the messy kitchen. It’s just stupid stuff. What really matters to me is relationship with my family, not if my kitchen is perfectly clean.

It took quite a bit more effort on my part to get the kitchen cleaned up. I think I ran the dishwasher three times in the first 24 hours I was back and did a load of hand-wash items as well. I also took moment to consider the fact that we’re fortunate enough to live in such a beautiful home with plenty of food and dishes to get messy in the first place. And we even have a functioning dishwasher to help. It’s really all about perspective. It’s been almost a week since I came home to that messy kitchen. I realize now that it was an opportunity to really teach my family a lesson. Only, the lesson was one of grace, not one of punishment. And it was not just their lesson, but mine as well.

EDIT: Please note that I’m sharing this to encourage others to examine what’s really important in life. In no way was I trying to embarrass my wife or daughters for not cleaning up the dishes. It’s only a temporary mess that was cleaned up within a couple of hours. Much more meaningful to me are the lasting relationships in my life with my wife and daughters.