boy wandering

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

boy wanderingGo 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?


Can Your Baby Not Cry on the Plane Please?

For travelers nowadays, things couldn’t be more stressful. At airports you’re being asked to open your bags, show your ID 70 times, or practically strip down to then be patted down because the scan didn’t like you.

Don’t get me wrong, I support new airport security measures completely and for the most part have encountered pleasant airport employees only trying to move things along. But when you’re about to embark on a five hour flight with an 8 month old child who has just discovered what crawling is, believe me, even the most patient of people can become agitated.

Take for instance TSA checkpoints. Allow me to give a word of advice to moms everywhere. Don’t pack baby oil or petroleum jelly in your travel bag unless you want to send every airport bomb scanner (called Explosive Trace Detectors) into conniptions.

I get it, you’re looking for a bomb maker. Trust me, the only explosion here is the poop bomb in my son’s diaper.

Speaking of taking your child through TSA.

Sure, I expect to have to remove my baby from the stroller. Yes I can take my shoes off. Even my belt. Go through my bag? I will gladly open it. But do we really need to ‘wand’ my baby?

Forgive me for being paranoid, but will I be able to have grandchildren if he is a frequent flyer? Just saying – do you know the long term effects of that wand?

And really how naïve of me to think that once I got through the checkpoint, things would be any smoother. Remember your car seat must be FAA approved. If it isn’t, don’t lug it around the airport because it will need to be checked at the gate.

So there I was, with my son in my lap. Fortunately for me, he’s a flirt and made many friends before he threw his first tantrum.

But of course that too came, just before take off. It’s my fault really. The doctor told me to give him a bottle on the way up and down to keep his ears clear. I took the bottle out. He saw it. He wanted it, badly.

Right about now, standing would soothe him, but then the plane taxis out and you are trapped in middle row 24G. Fortunately, harmonizing with my boy is the baby one row in front. At least we don’t get all the dirty looks.

Even after they stop crying, life doesn’t get much easier. Matthew slept after his bottle, in my arms, until they served dinner. Of course, with my hands full of 23 pounds of squirming baby, I didn’t even entertain the though of “chicken or pasta.” That was not going to happen.

After three hours, I needed a break. Now if I were designing an airplane today, I would create a play area for kids in the back of the plane. A place where moms can give each other a relieved smile and their kids can give everyone else in the plane a break from banging the back of chairs, throwing cups into the aisles, and piercing loud screams.

While my flight was not equipped with a play area, I did find a place of relief. The bathroom. Believe it or not, once given a sterilizing wipe, my son ogled at himself in the mirror for a good twenty minutes. For anyone who was waiting to use the bathroom, I’m sorry, but sometimesfor the good of all, we must appease merely one.

In short, now that summer is here, it’s time for everyone to take those family vacations. Just remember that when you’re flying with a baby, don’t pack the baby oil, take lots of extra bottles of food and be certain to bring an extra dose of creative humor.

If you do this, you’re trip won’t be without many aggravations and mishaps, but perhaps your child will sense your lower level of stress and that in itself can alleviate a whole heck of a lot more.

And to the airports and their staff, yes, we all complain about the longer lines and extra waits, but from my perspective, I thank you for doing your best and making me feel more secure in flying with my munchkin.

Drive thru life

Driving-thru Life

Drive thru lifeWe have reached the age where most of us spend more time in our cars than we do in wakeful hours at home. You can get just about anything done in your car. We have drive-thru windows for fast food, coffee and donuts, and even banks.

Heck, even fine dining has jumped on board. Just call your order in and drive up to the valet in a half an hour, your order will be waiting curbside.

As for me, I never imagined that I would contribute to this craze. But I have in the past and now, toting a toddler, I do more than ever. With Matthew strapped safely in the backseat, it is often just plain easier to grab something on the go rather than do the car seat to stroller load and unload.

Besides, if you’re looking for a quick bite, nothing will get to you faster than a drive-thru. The whole restaurant seems to be designed around them. My experience is that they are faster. It’s a traffic thing.

What I want to know is where have all the drive-ins gone? As I sit in a full parking lot scarfing down a Big Mac and fries, antagonizing everyone who thinks I’ll be pulling out, I can’t help but think that drive-thrus are a step backwards compared to drive-ins.

They are remedial wanna-be’s. Drive-ins were designed to be a social gathering premised around your car, its style and comforts. Drive-thrus are designed around traffic.

I had some of my fondest memories as a child at drive-in theatres. These gems have been replaced by limited seating multi-plexes. The only use for drive-in theatres now is as stage props in multi-million dollar movies about tornadoes.

It’s all about speed these days and screens as large as a building that once played our favorites are only viewed as they fly across your wide screen, ripped up from their skeletons by massive funnel clouds.

Sure I realize that the concept of any type of drive-in doesn’t make a whole lot of financial sense. If I owned a restaurant, a drive-in wouldn’t be in my business model. I would opt for the more economically practical drive-thru, racking up my customer count by the carload.

But as a consumer, I miss drive-ins, all of them. And I don’t think that I am alone. Ask anyone who owned a convertible in the fifties, they’ll tell you about the fun times and the good old fashion fun that society seems to have forgotten.

Back then it was part of the social core, a watering hole in the center of town. It is something vaguely remembered at places like Bob’s Big Boy who holds a night of classic car showings with burgers and fries in the parking lot. But those aren’t a normal thing anymore, merely a novelty in a time when time is too precious to even savor.

I wish I could reason that my nostalgia was a result of living in the fifties, but I’m a product of the seventies when these traditions were already dying. It just seems like many of the simple pleasures are lost. Everything is commercial and quite frankly not memorable.

Perhaps I can place my wide screen TV in my picture window, turn up the surround sound, get a big bowl of popcorn and some soda pops to go with it, and invite all my friends to park their cars in my drive-way so we can enjoy a movie the old fashioned way. Don’t laugh, it could catch on.

mom blowing bubble for son

Baby Zen and Pure Insanity

boy using ipadInsanity was once described to me as “the result of doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result.” It was soon after that I realized that the same person had to be one of the most insane individuals I have ever met. I suppose recognition is the first step.

At first I thought that this was a reasonable definition, based not on a dictionary, but by practical experience. However, upon careful evaluation of it, it appears to be in direct conflict with the notions I have gathered in my dabbling in the Zen arts.

Years ago, as a young actor unaware of the process of acting, I was advised to read a book by Eugene Herrigal, Zen In the Art of Archery. It was my first real study of anything Zen. At the time I did find it to be a very curious study.

Here you had a University Professor who left his position in Europe to study archery with an Archery Master in Japan. The student shot his bow. The Master refrained from teaching. The student, although very frustrated at times, stayed with him for something like seven years.

He did this for the one moment when he knew that he had achieved Zen in this most difficult of arts. It was elusive; he was not a master by a long shot. But he understood what it meant to be the archer, the bow, the arrow, the target and the air in which the arrow flew.

He would now spend his life trying to get that feeling to reoccur, and reoccur more and more often.

Similarly, it was described to me when I was playing competitive tennis. Being overly emotional and never in the moment, I found I often lost matches that should have easily be won.

Trying to get a handle on this problem, I consulted a coach I knew. And of all that he said, one thing stayed with me vividly, “we play tennis day in, day out trying to find that sweet spot that ends in the perfect shot – effortless yet powerful. We live for that feeling.”

Champions have naturally mastered making this an everyday occurrence. And it all happens because we do the same thing over and over again, taking the need for thinking away.

My son does this just in the attempt of learning to stand and walk. He tries over and over, but expects a different result – to not fall down this time. And when he does, it is as if time stands still with him.

You can see the calm elation on his face. And when he falls, he doesn’t get frustrated or go insane, he simply moves on and tries again. This is what I would call “Baby Zen.”

Repetition, then is not what leads to insanity, but is the work needed to find greatness allowing one’s genius to be expressed.

To flip the coin once again though, aren’t most geniuses pretty much considered crazy anyway? Maybe there is a correlation? Hmmm….

kids playing football

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