As my mother tells the story, the first time I flew on a plane alone I was six. In mid-air there was a tornado warning so the plane had to circle Detroit --- where my aunt and uncle were waiting to pick me up -- until it was safe to land. I don't remember anything about the flight. All I remember from that trip is my cousins drank the milk out of the bottom of their cereal bowls and I thought it was disgusting.
Flash forward to this summer when my own children were embarking on their first solo flight to Louisville to visit my parents. We had made it through security at LaGuardia quickly and had more than an hour to kill at the gate. Plenty of time for me to get more and more nervous. My kids -- ages 6 and 8 -- happily watched StampyLongNose and Taylor Swift videos on the provided iPads. I couldn't help but be glued to the TV overhead where CNN repeatedly and loudly covered the story of a fatal plane crash in Washington state. A family's private plane had slammed into the side of a mountain and only the teen daughter survived. I looked around. Why is CNN the default channel in an airport? Was I the only one watching this and panicking? My daughter seemed unfazed as I finally said, "You know, that was a really small plane. Big planes are much safer." She looked up from "Blank Space" and said "I know Mom." And went back to Taylor. Clearly I was the only one choking on my fear.
What seemed like an eternity later, Delta called my kids' names for early boarding. Be calm. Be calm. The last thing I wanted was for my kids to see me freaked out. It would be OK. They would be OK. I remembered what my husband had said the night before when I couldn't sleep: "They are more likely to die in a car crash on the way to the airport!" He's right. Look at all these planes going off all day every day? Seriously? What are the chances? I put on my game face. I could do this! I could smile and pretend like this was the most natural thing in the world -- to put your children on a flying piece of metal in the sky for two hours. Alone. Sure.
As the gate agent took their tickets, I pulled out my phone "Smile!" See? I am documenting this awesome moment of independence. I'm not freaked out. Why should I be freaked out? Right? Right!
"No time! Keep moving!" the agent barked. The kids started their way down the ramp to the plane just like any other passenger. (Where is the flight attendant to escort them? Why isn't anyone saying, "Don't worry, ma'am. Your kids are in good hands?" I am definitely writing a letter to customer service later about this!) "Let me at least hug them!" as I chased after my little travelers, starting to pull their carryon behind them. "Hurry up!" The gate agent had no tolerance for me. (A father himself? Doubt it.) Ignoring him, I smiled and hugged them for all of five seconds. They responded in the same way they do when I hug them at school drop off or say at a birthday party. As if to shrug and say, Mom, why all the fuss?
Clearly I looked as worried as I was: A kind woman — no question a mother — approached me as she and her husband were boarding the flight. "My husband is a cop. We will check in on your kids and make sure they are OK." Parents unite! It was comforting to know someone would be looking after them. But I also knew, deep down, that just as I was fine in a thunderstorm 35 years before, my kids would be fine, too. And unlike me flying solo to Detroit, they had each other. I could already envision my daughter, always playing the Mom, making sure that her brother's seatbelt was fastened. That his tray table was secure. I could imagine her saying, "Stop kicking the seat!" too. Yes, they would be fine.
When wheels were up and the kids were in the sky, I left the airport, glued to FlightAware on my phone till they landed. A few minutes after, my mom texted me a pic of the kids beaming grins with Grandpa. My son had bunny ears behind my dad's head. They were fine. They were happy. When I asked them about the flight on the phone later that day, they didn't answer the question. They were too excited to tell me about the slide at the local swimming pool and how they dared each other to jump off the high diving board. Exactly how high was it? Was there a lifeguard on duty? I wanted to ask. But I caught myself and instead said, "That sounds like fun."
Chandra Turner is the executive editor of Parents magazine. She lives in New York with her husband, two kids, and dog, Blue.