I have never thought of a gate at an airport serving as a Rite of Passage – but today it did.
My sixteen year old granddaughter, a/k/a Angel Baby, walked through that gate at the airport alone – alone that is without either her parents or myself with her. My last glimpse of her was as she turned to wait on her friend who was handing her boarding pass to the agent, and then the two of them walked off into the tunnel as she had called it until I explained it was a Jetway. How could this be? Yesterday she was three and we were taking her to see the stage performance of Bear in the Big Blue House, at the Oklahoma City Civic Center. Today the performance is at Will Rogers Airport and I’m the one watching it.
It all started about a year ago when her theater group – she is an aspiring stage actress – announced they would be taking a trip to New York City over spring break for anyone that wanted to go. Of course, Angel Baby’s parents knew immediately they needed to commit to sending her on this trip of a lifetime. Over the five days they are in New York, they will take in several stage plays, do some workshops, shop and tour the City of Broadway, bright lights, and what she hopes is her future.
At the same time her parents committed to this trip for her they asked me if I would arrange my schedule to be here for her to help her get to the airport, etc., as this is usually the time of year they take their vacation. I said, ‘Yes’ knowing I wouldn’t miss this for anything. Last week, my son and his wife, left on vacation leaving Angel Baby in my loving and sometimes possessive hands.
She had two days of school to finish out, the weekend to get through and then this morning – Tuesday – we got up early, leaving my house at 3:30 to make it across Oklahoma City to the airport, through security, and to the gate in time for her 6:00 a.m. flight.
‘You went to the gate?’ you might ask. YES! I did! I asked Angel Baby several times if she wanted me to or if she was ready for me to leave; the answer was always, ‘No – go with me.’ I did. It was only yesterday that she said to me, “I wanted you to come with me.” Really! She had never said that before and even though it was with great fear and trembling on my part, I knew her parents were right, she needed to try her wings. This trip was full of chaperones – many parents had decided to go along so there was no need to worry. But…!
Being the doting grandmother, I managed to get the name and number of someone on the ground in NYC that we could trust and turn to if there should – God forbid – be an emergency. Then I made her program that information in her phone. She did so without any hesitation; later at the airport, I overheard her telling her friend that she had so-and-so’s number in the event anything went wrong.
This isn’t her first flight. She had flown several times with me and/or her parents; but that was the deal, it had always been “with.” On the drive to the airport she chattered like a magpie, telling me every line in a play they are working on at school. She laughed a lot and talked a lot until we got to the airport then she was suddenly quiet. IT was here! She was leaving her security blanket and going on her own.
We were ahead of the other kids and parents at the airport; therefore, we were first through security.
Then we sat at the gate and waited.
We practiced reading the arrivals and departures schedules so she could successfully change planes in Atlanta, talked about boarding zones, and watched people. She felt sick. Nerves, no doubt. I showed her the pressure points on her wrist to ward off air sickness and told her there were barf bags in the backs of the seat if she needed them. She won’t. Her friend came and she relaxed a little. There really is comfort in numbers – for her and for me.
We slipped her carry on bag into the sizing bracket – it fit. She wrestled with whether or not to check it through and decided to keep it with her, just as her mother had told her. I explained that even though it fit, they might want to take it from her on the Jetway, and that she’d have to let them do it. We put another name tag on it, just to make sure.
Then we waited.
First, they boarded those who needed more time in getting to their seats. Then they boarded Zone One. Then it was time for Zone Two and I pushed her forward, telling her she’d have to “go” as no one was going to wait on her. Reluctantly, almost timidly, she took the lead as she and her friend pushed their way forward. I watched her standing in the doorway of the gate, marveling once again at her 5’9″ of height. After all, she was only three yesterday!
I stood and watched, camera in hand, as they stepped across the threshold of Gate 22 into her future.