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Why I Let My 9-Year Old Wander the Airport – ALONE

Go ahead and judge away. I can feel the scoffs, sideways looks and complete shock at the idea that a mother would allow her child to wander an airport by himself.


I’m that mother! And proud to be her!


Letting your child develop independence is something I see questioned by parents all the time.

  • What age is the right age to leave them home?
  • When should they have a cell phone or email?
  • When can they hang out at the mall without parental supervision?


For me, I was comfortable letting my nine-year old walk our dog, but not beyond the corner of our block. He was comfortable to stay home by himself if I had to run to the grocery store for 30 minutes or meet someone for an hour.


Before you go looking up the child neglect laws, know that there are currently only three states that have age requirements for leaving a child home alone. All others, including ours really use a “maturity test.” Note: some husbands may not pass this test.


The maturity test ultimately boils down to knowing your child is able to feed and clean himself when at home along with being safe. Does your child know what to do if the doorbell rings? What about a fire? Not only does your child need to be comfortable staying alone, they need to know how to reach you or someone on the “safe list” if something does go wrong.


Now that we got that out of the way, if I have so much faith in my son, what’s the problem letting him walk 15 minutes to the park? After all, he has a cell phone and it’s a three-minute drive if anything goes wrong.


Simple. Our kids just aren’t growing up in the same types of neighborhoods we did.


You don’t need to read thousands of pages of sociology, psychology or whatever other –ology to know this.


There are the predators to worry about. Drug dealers, pedophiles, and gang members are just the short list. Of course, there are the other over-reacting neighborhood nudges that will call CPS on you for letting your child drink from a water hose.


Then there are those who talk about bullies and mean kids. These are also a problem – though I feel a healthy dosage of interacting with mean people builds stronger character for the real world.


Living in a big city like Los Angeles only exacerbates the issue.


So here I am, a single mom of a nine-year old boy, organizing everything to get him out and about. Playdates, sports, tutors…. It’s exhausting!


It just so happens that my son, at eight-years old, became an aviation history nut! I mean the kid went from reading The Cat in the Hat to WWII aviation hero autobiographies (Jimmy Doolittle to be exact!). Of course, I wanted to fuel his interest and passion.

WWII T6 Training Airplane at sunset

Condor Squadron Flight – Point Magu, CA


As fate would have it, one day, as I was trying to find a restaurant at the corner of the valley’s local airport, I got lost. Don’t ask how you can miss a restaurant at the corner of an airport, but it happened. Not being a dude, I stopped to ask for directions.


It’s where I happened to stop that fate made a perfect introduction. Just yards from my car was a line of shiny old war planes. I didn’t even realize it as I was asking directions. I only took a second glace when I saw my son’s gleeful look.


For those who aren’t in the aviation world, accessing airports, pilots and planes is daunting – they don’t let any old fool near airplanes, right? But they let this fool and her son in!


Welcomed as if we were long lost relatives, the pilots, mechanics and crew walked my son around the T-6 Texans. My son met actual WWII veterans. This group, The Condor Squadron, flew these birds in formation throughout Southern California at memorials, parades and other events.


Suddenly my son liked Taco Bell, cause that’s what one of the pilots offered him, hence its pilot food! He sat respectfully through the flight briefing. He was asked if he wanted to go up in a Cherokee when the guys mission was over. If he hadn’t been hooked on aviation to that point, he was after that day.


Of course, as a mom, I asked a ton of questions. I met wives and girlfriends and got the inside scoop of what the Squadron was all about. I whispered in his ear about listening, being helpful, earning his keep. If he was above and beyond good, maybe the group wouldn’t mind having him come by every so often.


I’ll admit, I was hooked too. If my son had been passionate about football, we’d be at the park for hours every day. We’d watch every game we could and I’d get him anything and everything to stoke that fire.


I had been trying to do that with aviation, but was really at a loss. It was an opportunity I wanted him to have. It was strange; they took him in like he was one of their own children. They’d laugh and say, “He reminds us of us, when we were kids. Except we were looking through the fence.”


A few months of being a hangar rat he came over, “Mom,” quietly whispered in my ear, “can I walk down to Si’s hangar?”


We had me Si a few times; an elderly gentleman who is a true aviation legend. I agreed and he headed down on his own, on the airport grounds 45 feet from an active taxi-way, weaving in and out of parked planes.


I watched for a moment and then retreated back to the pilots lounge. I didn’t hover and I didn’t even think twice – everyone at the airport knows everyone. Eyes are everywhere (just like when we were kids). Not 10 minutes later, my phone rang, “Mom, Si wants to know if I can go up with him in his Piper Cub?”


Agreeing, I walked down as they conducted their pre-flight check. There were two reasons I went to the hangar: 1) make sure this was Si’s idea and not my son begging; and 2) to get pictures, of course.

Piper Cub plane preflight

An afternoon in the sky with Si Robbins


In sharing the pictures with others, I got the “so cool,” responses along with a few “best mom ever,” accolades. But it also came with the negative, “Are you sure he’s safe?” “How can you let him walk around an airport?”


Wow. Seriously?


My shy, quiet son found something that made him light up. It inspired him to seek knowledge. Aviation and history gave him a reason to speak to those of earlier generations; to learn respect.


It also gave him a reason to work hard without expectation. Sure, he was going up in a really cool airplane with an aviation hall of famer. But those instances of going up were few and far between the hours in the hangar cleaning up, getting hurt and chilling with the guys while mom was inside (or getting greasy at times too).


He knew that if he did anything wrong, disrespectful or wreckless, weekends at the Squadron were done.


I saw the way these men took care of their planes. Sitting in their mission briefings, I knew safety was their first priority. Si was someone who saw in my son the future of aviation and took joy in sharing his knowledge.


Yep. I let my son walk around an airport alone. I let him take the controls of an airplane under the watchful eye of a certified instructor at age nine. He was allowed to learn how to drive a standard-shift tow tug. He was expected to do the work the guys asked him to in the hangar.


Even the work that involved razor blades, chemicals and precarious tools. Why?


Because I had never felt that my son was in a better environment than being in that hangar. A group of men, young and old, treated him like family. They chided his serious nature, challenged him physically and showed him how to be productive in a group, even if that was helping with the BBQ in the afternoon.


For his efforts, he was rewarded with time around and in the planes. How many kids can say they saw the 4th of July fireworks from above?


And like the days of old, if he had done anything wrong, the watchful eyes of all at the airport were there, each and every one happy to let me know what was going on. It’s the way a lot of us grew up; we just had safer neighborhoods to do it in.

What do you do that helps your child develop independence and a sense of curiosity in the world?


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