The mum of a three-year-old girl with autism has written a heartfelt open letter to a kind stranger who entertained her daughter throughout a plane journey – and thanked him 'for not making me repeat those awful apologetic sentences that I so often say in public'.
Canadian Shanell Mouland, 36, and her family were on their way home from a trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida and had taken a connecting flight from Philadelphia.
Writing on her blog, Go Team Kate, Shannell titled a post: "Dear 'Daddy' in Seat 16C Flight 1850 From Philly."
She then described the challenges of raising an autistic child and explained that she had been especially nervous that day because she had split from her daughter Kate's father, who was sitting in another part of the plane.
The kind man Kate was sitting next to allowed the little girl to call him 'Daddy' for the duration of the flight.
Shannell wrote: "I don't know your name but Kate called you 'daddy' for the entire flight last week and you kindly never corrected her.
"In fact, you didn't even flinch as you could probably tell that she was not confusing you with her own 'daddy' but instead making a judgment regarding your level of 'safety' for her. If she calls you 'daddy' then you better believe she thinks you are alright."
She added: "The moment you sat down, Kate started to rub your arm. Your jacket was soft and she liked the feel of it. You smiled at her and she said: 'Hi, Daddy, that's my mom'. Then she had you.
"You could have shifted uncomfortably in your seat. You could have ignored her. You could have given me that 'smile' that I despise because it means; 'manage your child please'.
"You did none of that. You engaged Kate in conversation and you asked her questions about her turtles. She could never really answer your questions but she was so enamored by you that she keep eye contact and joint attention on the items you were asking her about. I watched and smiled. I made a few polite offers to distract her, but you would have none of it.
"The interaction went on and on and you never once seemed annoyed. She gave you some moments of peace while she played with her Anna and Elsa dolls. Kind of her to save you from playing barbies, but I bet you wouldn't have minded a bit. I bet you have little girls, too.
"Not long before we landed Kate had reached her limit. She screamed to have her seatbelt off, she screamed for me to open the plane door and she cried repeating, 'Plane is cwosed (closed)' over and over. You tried to redirect her attention to her toys. She was already too far gone at this point, but the fact that you tried to help your new little friend made me emotional.
"In case, you are wondering. She was fine the moment we stepped off the plane. Thank you for letting us go ahead of you. She was feeling overwhelmed and escaping the plane and a big, long hug was all she needed.
"So, thank you. Thank you for not making me repeat those awful apologetic sentences that I so often say in public. Thank you for entertaining Kate so much that she had her most successful plane ride, yet. And, thank you for putting your papers away and playing turtles with our girl."
Shannell's open letter was viewed tens of thousands of times on her blog – and led to her being reunited with the kind stranger.
One of Eric Kunkel's relatives forwarded him the post and he was amazed when he realised he was the one being praised.
The married businessman from New Jersey said: "O read it and then went to [the Moulands'] Facebook page and the rest is history."
The Moulands and Kunkels have now become good friends.
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