Our son was about to make the long trip last week back to his dorm in West Virginia, and predictably, the dreams started again. Not, thank goodness, the same dreams I had before he started school a year-and-a-half ago. Those were full-blown nightmares. Now they tend to be little, anxiety-inducing scenarios. Manageable. The fear has subsided to a more normal and reasonable level. I worry, but it doesn’t take over my life.
It doesn’t help that I’ve heard horror stories from friends and at least one family member about the disasters their kids (and yes, I consider 18 a kid) have encountered while traveling alone. Flying is harder and more complicated than it used to be. People get bumped. Flights are delayed, sometimes multiple times. Weather causes chaos and panic among people already edgy about flying. Putting your kid on a plane is like sending him into the wilderness with a pocketknife and hoping for the best.
OK, I exaggerate.
Yes, it’s scary and dicey. But they’ve got to do it. Traveling alone is a skill to be learned like any other skill, such as taking a test or learning to drive or making a smoothie. It’s a passage into adulthood. They need to learn how to do it before they (and their nervous parents) can move on and be truly independent.
For parents whose kids have specific needs, moving on can be especially difficult. In my son’s case, his very limited vision prevents him from navigating a huge, bustling airport quickly. He is capable of making his way from point A to point B, but it takes him longer than it does normally sighted people. That can and often does mean the difference between making a connecting flight and being left on the ground.
So, for him and other young adults like him, part of the learning process is understanding your limitations and knowing when to ask for help. The “asking for help” part starts with making the reservation. Every airline offers accommodations for special needs passengers. The relief we all felt when we discovered this was immeasurable, and I will forever be grateful to the lawmakers who made the Americans with Disabilities Act the law of the land in 1990.
My son, who usually hates being reminded that he is “different,” in this case accepts the assistance and feels no shame. He realizes it’s a necessity.
And I have realized, after watching him make several of these solo trips, that my baby is quite capable of handling long flights, airline delays, discomfort and shifting schedules. He’s armed with the ability to call, email and text if he encounters something he can’t handle. I’ve seen his confidence grow with each trip, which fosters confidence in me.
I think I’m finally moving on. Now if only those dreams would stop.