I packed my kids' suitcases and drove them to the airport. We browsed the souvenir stands
then sat in a restaurant in Terminal C, eating burgers and sushi. The entire time, I was a
mess. Because I was about to put my babies on an airplane to their grandparents'
For many American kids, spending time at grandma and grandpa's house is a summer tradition. My husband grew
up doing this, spending a few weeks each August at his grandfather's ranch,
where he and his brother gathered a lifetime's worth of anecdotes about
drinking fresh milk and the goat that ate a football. But this tradition of
shipping the kids off to the grandparents was foreign to me. In my family, the
grandparents bought plane tickets across the Pacific and stayed at our house
for the summer.
As I looked around the
Southwest Airlines terminal, all I could see were happy families dressed in
bright colors, excited to go to Hawaii, Disneyland and who knows where else—together. To my left, I saw two parents with toddler boys, including a
round-faced preschooler wearing an oversized T-shirt with a familiar star logo
I couldn't quite place. My boys wore giant plastic lanyards around their necks,
with a scarlet letter marking them as boarding group A. You know, the group
that needs a flight attendant to help them board the plane, because they are
minors traveling without their parents.
I wasn't really prepared when I
heard my kids' names being called on the loudspeaker. It was their turn to
report to the boarding gate. Before I could launch into any wordy, teary
goodbye, the flight attendant whisked my boys down the tunnel. The family with
the two small boys was boarding early, too. Then another flight attendant
carrying a bouquet of star-shaped mylar balloons. I guess the extra fee for
unaccompanied minors comes with some perks.
In a sight no parent wants to see, two giant fire engines came toward the plane.
Glumly, I watched the rest of the
passengers board. Were they flying for business or pleasure? Which one of these
people was going to sit next to my kids? Would they find my jostling boys
amusing or annoying? Or would they spread their oversized arms all over the
armrests, cramming my little ones into their seats? Soon enough, all the groups
had boarded, but the plane remained docked. I stared out the window, looking at
the brightly painted plane sitting on the tarmac.
A gate agent announced that the
flight would be delayed a few minutes. My mind started to race. Was something
mechanically wrong with it? Was the pilot OK? Then, in a sight no parent
wants to see, two giant fire engines came toward the plane. The plane wasn't
even moving yet! I wondered if it was too late to go pull my boys off the
The fire engines shot out
plumes of water, forming a giant arch over the plane. Like Noah seeing a
rainbow after the flood, I felt like things would be OK. Was this show for my
children? So many things were unexplained.
The familiar announcer's voice came
back on, explaining that Southwest Airlines was a proud sponsor of the
Make-a-Wish foundation. The round-face boy in the other family that boarded
early was a cancer patient on his way to Disneyland. Tearfully, I watched
the plane taxi down the runway and take off.
I stayed in the airport for a few
extra minutes, thankful that I could put my boys on a plane by themselves to
visit their grandparents.