Sitting Next to Kids on Airplanes

08.13.12

Mr. G and I flew home from San Francisco Sunday morning. Since it was Southwest we sort of had to scramble to find two seats together (not that we can’t survive solo) and in the second row there was a boy about our son’s age sitting against the window. He had the little placard around his neck identifying him as an unaccompanied minor.

Since I’m “the mom” I sat down in the middle and gave my husband the aisle. I also did this because I’m smaller than my husband but on a not completely subconscious level I knew that it would be more comfortable for me, a woman to be sitting next to this boy traveling alone.

Sitting next to him I said, “Hi.” He said, “Hi.” and looked uncomfortable. I asked him if he was returning from camp, the boy made no eye contact and said, “No.” He was silent for the rest of the flight. Someone had given him a lecture about not speaking to adults.

When I was getting off the plane I told Mr. G about this and I told him it was sad that a child didn’t know how to speak to an adult. I also found it peculiar that there were two unaccompanied minors on the plane and that both were at window seats. Why not seat them together? Why not put them on the aisle where they could actually be seen if there was so much concern about how the whole world is a child molester?

I told my husband that it made me sad that kids were taught to be fearful and to override their own judgement. It’s not normal for a ten year old child to be afraid to speak to people. We’re doing these children no favors. Frankly it was uncomfortable for me to have a boy next to me that wasn’t empowered to make a decision for himself. Kids fed this sort of stranger danger bullshit are dangerous for adults and my mind zipped to how horrible it must feel for a man to not be allowed to sit next to a child on Quantas airlines or to go into playground areas where there are chess tables.

I understand statistically speaking that men are more dangerous to our children than women. I also understand that there’s a level of grooming that happens and that teaching our children that strangers are not to be trusted is simply wrong. We need to teach our children that their own instincts can be trusted, they should trust themselves more than they should trust any adult including coaches, religious leaders, camp counselors, teachers, neighbors and anyone on staff at Penn State.

Empower your kids. Stop making them afraid of the world and stop making the world afraid of them.

Empty Nest

08.11.11

This morning we got up at 5am to get Jane off to the airport. Her flight left out of United at LAX which is a dismal dated terminal on the far South end of the airport. It’s the terminal left over for the puddle jumpers that are flown by kids straight out of the airforce and flight attendants who are decidedly unglamorous. United Terminal 7 is the ugly stepchild at LAX, and we had to find our way to gate 88. I want to know what happens at gates one through 87.

Last night I’d checked Jane in online and then called to pay the $99 fee for an unaccompanied minor. I was told that because she’d been checked in I’d have to wait in line at the airport. A lot of us had to wait in lines this morning.

Jane hugged her Dad about eight thousand times and I looked at the two of them and felt left out. It’s not an uncommon feeling, it’s not a bad feeling either. It’s just this otherworldly sense that two of the people you love most in the world are absolutely and totally devoted to one another and they’re busy being in each other’s space that there’s this force field around them that keeps you out but also draws you in. It’s not bad, it’s the same way I sometimes feel when Jane and Alexander share a joke and his laughter rings through the air.

Unlike other airlines United only allows for one adult to escort a minor to the gate. Since Mr G has an office job I was the one who got to walk her to the gate. We went through security and a jovial TSA agent explained to us that someone had put an animal through the Xray. I didn’t believe him.

After maneuvering through security I bought Jane an orange juice and three magazines. We then went to Starbucks and waited in line behind a woman with excessive amounts of restalyne in her top lip and her micro mini dog. She was calling everyone she knew to ask about radiation poisoning and eventually asked two pilots in line if the xray is considered dangerous. Apparently Lola the purse puppy was accidentally placed on the conveyor belt and then passed through the xray machine.

Darwin, I think. Jane snickers, she is my daughter.

We get to the gate and they call Gottlieb, before the plane boards a flight attendant takes my daughter away. We hug. We kiss. We hug again. This is not the way we say goodbye, but this isn’t a goodbye we’ve ever said before. I ask her to text me when the plane lands and I remind that if anyone bothers her she should make a scene. I whisper to her that I’m proud and excited for her, we kiss and she walks away. She doesn’t look back.

As my daughter disappears onto her flight I sit at the window and cry. I don’t pull on sunglasses, I don’t care. I just cry. Mostly because I’m so happy for her.