This is not a post I ever imagined writing.
I took my first solo trip when I was 13, flying from Washington D.C. to San Francisco unaccompanied and absolutely sick to my stomach through the entire flight.
I used two barf bags, which I held in my lap because the passengers next to me were both deaf and sleeping. A kind but ultimately doomed flight attendant disposed of these for me when she realized my predicament.
To top it off, upon our descent into San Francisco, our plane hit a downdraught and lost nearly 5,000 feel of altitude in a single moment. We dropped so fast the flight attendant actually hit the roof of the plane about a dozen seats in front of me.
I took my first big foreign trip when I was 15, traveling with a youth performing group to Austria, Romania and the Soviet Union.
I got in trouble for stealing a blanket from Austrian Airlines, and for a little while, I fell in love with a blonde girl from New Jersey named Pamela.
This past Saturday, I took my 16-year-old son Cole to Chicago’s O’Hare airport at 3:45 a.m. Perhaps the earliest airport run I’ve ever made.
It was the first leg of a two-and-a-half-week journey to China. He would join his grandparents in Oregon, before making the Pacific crossing to Beijing.
The 45-minute run up 294 to O’Hare was uneventful. I tried to pass along every tip and piece of advice I could remember, and he responded with his typical, Ya, ok, ya.
I felt the pressure of the waning miles as I tried to squeeze in every last trick and tip I’ve learned on my own journeys.
We arrived just shy of an hour before his scheduled departure, so I walked him to the security line.
I checked his tickets and his ID, and we asked the security guard if this was the right line. She quickly waived him into the line.
I was left standing there with a million thoughts going through my head.
I realized I did not give him a hug, because he had stepped into the security line so fast. I suddenly felt very guilt.
Then I started to wonder if I had done enough to prepare him for this trip. Did I tell him how to navigate the trains at SeaTac? Did he know how to manage getting on and off a flight on his own.
I walked slowly back to my car and texted him to tell me when he made it to his gate.
He still hadn’t texted me by 5:30. I started to worry that he was going to be late to his flight. At 5:40, he said he was halfway through security. I started looking up Alaska Airline phone numbers.
I was pacing in the parking garage, realizing he hadn’t even taken his first flight, and I had failed him completely. I should have had him there two hours before his flight.
At 5:50, he texted me saying he missed his flight.
I walked back into the airport toward the Alaska Airline gate angry and prepared to fight a ticket agent about the long security line. But I already knew how futile it would be.
At 6 a.m. he texted me again, telling me that he made it to the gate along with an elderly couple. The gate agent felt so bad for them, that she held the plane.
I texted him the only thing I could think of at that point.
Have a good flight, I love you.
He replied: Love you too.
If you know me, you know I’m pretty easy going, and I give my kids a lot of space, a lot of trust and a lot of independence.
I’ve been working towards an empty nest based on the idea that I will easily turn them loose on the world to begin their own adventures.
Now I’m not so sure of my plan.
I couldn’t help but feel that the family was incomplete after only a day without him. We’ve traveled separately for years, and recently we have let Cole stay home by himself when we’ve taken weekend trips around the Midwest.
But this was different. There as a distinct feeling that something was missing. Setting the table for dinner was strange, and I found myself wanting to tell him something about my day or the World Cup matches, but he wasn’t just not there, he wasn’t available.
It really is a strange feeling, one I’m not used to, and one I’m not sure how to deal with exactly.
When he arrived in China, the first thing he did was text me a picture of the front page of the English-language newspaper China Daily, complete with a headline that read: “Hundreds held in Xinjiang terror blitz.”
Xinjiang is where they were headed.
There are things you don’t text your parents on your first solo international trip.
For me, there is also the envy to contend with.