Tanner, my 14-year-old son, recently traveled to the East coast from our home in San Diego. It was with a program for motivated 8th graders, where they tour from sunrise to late at night in the cities of Washington D.C. and New York, with a quick stop in Philly. It is an amazing trip for the kids, especially for those like Tanner who have a great interest in our country’s history and our current, diverse cultures.
My wife Felice and I took him to the airport early in the morning, happy for him that he would have this lifetime experience of awakening, but a little tentative too, sending him off for a week in the care of others. As we gathered at the airline ticket counter I noticed that other families were feeling the same, with looks of concern by the parents and forced, nervous laughter and jokes by the kids, most who had never been away from home for more than a one-night sleepover. They want to grow up, but at the same time not let go of their anchor, their protectors, and you could feel the hesitant uncertainty.
When it was time for the students to line up at the security gates I wanted to run up and grab him and take him back home…but, of course, I didn’t. He soon smiled and waved goodbye, as Felice and I walked silently away, lost in our private thoughts.
We had told Tanner to call us at night on his cell, or at least send a text message. That didn’t happen, as he shared a room with three other jocks who spent every night (we later learned) after they returned to the hotel joking, laughing, bonding, conspiring against the maids and security people until 3 0r 4 in the morning. Communicating with the folks wasn’t on the agenda with this group of hormonal knuckleheads – proving once again that the apple indeed doesn’t fall far from the tree.
The week passed too fast for the boys, less so for the parents. And then it was time to drive back to the airport for Tanner’s return flight. We were the first parents there, and shortly there was a large crowd. I was positioned so that I could look down the corridor where they would be walking after deplaning. After what seemed like a long time we still hadn’t see him. Most of the other kids had reunited with their parents with lots of hugs and laughs, but still no Tanner and his roommates. Did they miss the plane? Kidnapped? Arrested for being Californians?
Suddenly we saw one more group, and it looked like his LA Dodger cap, but that can’t be him. This person walks differently, kind of cocky with attitude, and this dude’s wearing sunglasses. Tanner never wears shades! These guys look much taller, older…grown up. And then he waved.
When we got home Tanner and I sat down for our ritual bowl of bedtime cereal. I asked him, “tell me in one sentence what you got out of the trip – what was the best part?” He looked at me for about 5 seconds and then simply said “Dad, I came back a different person.” He didn’t need to explain.