The security agent unzipped the backpacks and laid them out on the screening table. Something within both of them had caught the attention and concern of the agent at the monitoring station. There were too many options to consider as to what the contraband could be, so I primed myself to stay ready to explain away whatever he pointed out. The boys started walking over. The security agent pulled out the lunchboxes that were packed in each of the backpacks. He slowly unzipped the first one.
“What are these?” The agent pointed to the objects in the lunch box that had caused concern. I did my best to maintain a straight face as I explained the sport themed cold packs. The security guy didn’t seem too amused by the frozen football and soccer ball keeping the food cold. Apparently, they had begun to thaw, and the moisture played havoc on the screening machines. Eventually, he was able to laugh it off, so I was pretty sure I’d be avoiding the interrogation room.
After a quick stop at the terminal A Starbuck’s, we trekked over to the gate. The boarding process had begun, so we took our place in line. We had made it through the check in and security process and arrived at the plane on time. As we made our way down the Jetway, fatigue began to set in. Maybe I was too tired to continue to imagine the potential tantrums or episodes that could have turned the flight into airline incident worthy of national news coverage. But as I watched them board the plane and saw the excitement in their steps the little demons I had imagined faded away. I just saw tired little guys who were eager to fly on an airplane. I travel so often for work that “excited” would hardly be the adjective I’d use to describe my feelings when it comes to getting on a plane. Watching them take in the experience (Ethan flying for the first time) helped me see this trip in a different light. It began to feel fun again. Fresh… almost new. We found our seats.
Part of my strategy for the early morning flight was that I was hoping there would be empty seats around us. I figured that might tempt anyone who was assigned the aisle seat in either of our rows to seek refuge elsewhere. Just in case. Dillon and Kendra (and Ethan on the lap) ended up with a free seat on their row. The gentleman next to me decided to move to give Jaden and I some extra space. Everything was coming together. I thanked him for his kindness and turned to watch Jaden staring out the window at the dewy airplanes waiting in the cloudy dawn. Ethan and Dillon were sharing the view from the row behind us. “Airplane!” Ethan shrieked. He was beside himself with joy and the full-toothed grin was plastered on his face. He made a few trips back and forth between our rows to make sure he saw all the angles of the planes to our right. When the time finally came to buckle up and prepare for take off, he popped his head over my seat and with his precious index finger pointed skyward yelled, “up!”
The plane ascended slowly through the clouds. They were so thick that at one point on the climb we could not see the wings outside our window. The smoky plumes washed over the plane and my nervousness and pessimism faded with them. The haze began to thin and visibility beyond the wings again became possible. A towering pillow of cotton and chalk appeared as the plane began to level. Jaden and Dillon dubbed it “Volcano Cloud”. It was shaped like El Capitan and appeared swollen as if it was ready to erupt streams of clouds across the sky. The boys imagined the possibilities of the contents of that cloud and wondered what we might find if we flew through it. Ethan was awestruck. He would point to himself and say “Up. High.” and raise his little hand above his head. This had to seem like magic to him…the boys were all locked in the zone… and I was right there with them.
After we flew beyond Volcano Cloud, we ventured into Cloud Valley. It was the Grand Canyon of clouds. The boys chattered in amazement. Mountains of clouds towered skyward and blocked the horizon. We would occasionally clip a peak and strands of cottony cliff would tumble across the wing. Hills rolled onward below us. Sporadic gaps in the tapestry exposed the brownish landscape below and it appeared that boulders spotted the snowy riverbed we traversed. We were explorers. Pioneers. Astronauts. Aliens. The metaphors abounded.
None of us slept during those 4.5 hours. Kendra and I played the back and forth game with Ethan and took turns escorting the boys to the restroom for relief from their apple juice drinking binges. We would alternate imagining out the window and playing games or drawing in our notebooks. Exhaustion finally overtook them as we lifted off for our short flight from Charlotte to Charleston. Jaden and Ethan succumbed to sleep. Dillon soldiered on and stared silently out the window. His body was resting, but his eyes were searching the skies.
The weather was gorgeous when we landed in South Carolina. The stress from the check-in counter was thousands of miles away. My calculations were off. The combination of factors I identified did not result in disaster. Not even close. I didn’t care to ponder the error in my approach. The boys had behaved as boys their age would be expected to behave on a trip that long… definitely no worse, and quite possibly even better. They enjoyed themselves. We enjoyed ourselves. It was everything it should have been. I found myself smiling as I edged my way down the aisle to exit the plane. I couldn’t remember the last time I enjoyed air travel. But I realized we took a trip down a route we can never take again, and I was glad that I was able to see the mountains for the clouds.
Thanks for coming along for the ride!