This morning we got up early at our regular work-day hour and drove my parents to the airport. This sounds like an early morning, but not a particularly stressful one. However, I have been fielding calls about the details of plane travel from my mother for over a week, and the leavings of those conversations left me as anxious as a mother dropping her child off at school for the first day. It isn't that my parents haven't flown before, but they have not flown in many years, not since a few years before 9/11, well before the advent of internet airfare booking.
It all started this May when my uncle passed away. My parents didn't feel they could make it out for the memorial service, so they told my aunt they would come out to Phoenix to visit her in a few weeks, once all the company that had flown in for the funeral left. Mom asked me to look for airfare "on the computer" for her, because she doesn't have a computer or internet access and wouldn't know how to do more than play a good game of solitaire with a computer if she had it. So I gave her some flight dates and prices. But then one thing and another happened, and suddenly it was September.
I finally booked a flight for them one slow afternoon at work, for which my mom was effusively grateful. But as the trip approached, the phone calls began to come.
First the questions were broad. "What is this about liquids on the plane?" and "Tell me again exactly what I can't bring on the plane."
Then they got more specific. "Can I take my nail clippers? What about my nail file?"
"What about the bottle of hand sanitizer I keep in my purse?"
Then finally she just began to list the contents of the purse she was carrying on the plane, and the suitcase she was going to check. She opted for taking the full bottles of her shampoo rather than 3 oz.bottles in her quart ziploc in her carry-on. I suggested she might want to put them in ziploc anyway, which she thought was a great idea.
But I think her panic really began to mount when I began to recall small details that have been added to the airline travel experience in the last 6 years. You know--take your shoes off, check-in 90 minutes before your flight, don't make jokes about blowing up the plane. My mother remained unconvinced that both she and my father would have to take their shoes off.
By Thursday night, I thought we had covered enough ground that I could get some of the details down firm.
You know, such as who is picking you up in Phoenix, etc. They were going to take the shuttle.
Which shuttle? The one from the airport.
But which one? There are probably 10 shuttle companies. The one that drops you at your door. Apparently it went to my aunt's neighborhood.
But how much does that cost? She didn't know but she thought $60.00.
Per person? Per person.
But you could rent a car for less than that. No, that's not true. It is. No, it costs hundreds. Travelocity says $60.00 for the amount of time you're there.
By the end of this conversation I knew I had chosen the wrong path and whipped my mother into a travel induced frenzy. But I couldn't help it. Their basic ignorance of the complications of air travel and the plucky "we'll get there" attitude made me crazy. And I couldn't stop myself from puncturing her Pollyanna bubble with the facts.
At the same time I began to run over in my mind all of the minute details that travel entails, and question whether they were, at this point in their lives, capable of navigating that obstacle course. I checked them in online, got their boarding passes printed for them, and did everything I could this side of walking them up to security.
So when they overslept this morning because the three alarms they set didn't go off, I think they began to panic, believing this sign that all my doomsday neysaying was a version of reality that was conjured by daring to Take the Plane. By the time they got to our house they both were as skittish as teenaged colts.
We managed to get them to the airport on time anyway. In the car Mr. Bump and I coached them on the layout of the airport, recounting to them where they needed to drop their bags off, which way to go to go over the bridge to Concourse A, what to do in security. We did all but draw them a map on a stray napkin. Finally we got there, dropped them and their bag off at the curb and pointed inside to the exact counter they needed to go to to drop off their bags, making them promise to call when they got there.
We then went on our own way for the weekend, a trip up north to visit friends and Mrs. Bump (the other one). I kept an eye on the time, hoping that their plane was on time, that they had found their way, that my father's nervousness (more well masked than my mother's) would result in him making further statements about how a plane could be bombed, if you really wanted to. I had warned him in the car that that particular conversation needed to end in the car, but Dad's always a wild card.
It was after two when I checked my voicemail on my cellphone and found a message from my dad, stating that they were there and "everything went fine."
Whew. That was a breath I hadn't realized I was holding. More than ever, I find myself feeling that the roles of parent and child are reversing. Suddenly I am the one that knows the ways of the world, can explain the details of things, from landscaping and homeownership to the layout and workings of various airports. They are uncertain, and scared of new things. I find myself vacillating from the sadness of it all, to feeling good that I can be in this position, and guide them through new experiences. I feel so grateful for the life they gave me that I would do anything to make their lives easier. I just wish they would stop thanking me for it. I keep telling them it is the least I can do, but they don't agree. Booking the flight for them was such a big thing for them, because they felt they needed me to do it. It feels nice to be needed. But it is painful, too.