When we found out that the boys' summer day camp ended with several weeks to go before school started, my initial reaction pretty much what it always is when I don't have an easy answer: Panic.
What would we do with them for two and a half weeks? Yes, they are getting older and with Bug being 12, I don't mind him being home alone for small amounts of time. But 11 week days home alone seemed a bit much. Especially because I knew that they would use all that time playing Minecraft and MarioKart and eating Cheetos.
After discussing several options, Hubster and I decided to send Bug and Monkey out to spent most of that time with my parents in rural Utah. (I would have sent Duck too, because he is waging an unholy war on kittens, furniture, houseplants, and my sleep at the moment, but it didn't seem kosher, letting a 20 month old fly with a 12 year old.)
First, I'd like to apologize to the Southwest agent I talked to on the phone. Southwest has a policy that children between the ages of 5-11, traveling without an accompanying passenger 12 and older, is an unaccompanied minor. If you read that carefully, according to Southwest policy, my children, flying by themselves for the first time, could not be booked as unaccompanied minors. I may have lost my slim grasp on composure, as I was already anxious about my motion sick prone oldest child and my teaspoon sided bladder containing second child flying without me. I ask the poor women on the phone if Southwest expected my children to wander through a major Chicago airport alone. At that point she told me that I was more than welcome to get an escort pass. Instantly, I became a normal person again, but highly regretful of my behavior. I'm perfectly aware that it is not the fault of the person on the other side of the phone. Anyways, this is my public apology.
I found myself at an airport gate with Bug and Monkey, their bags carefully packed, snacks ready to go, travel papers in hand, and a constant reminder of proper travel etiquette and safety protocols pouring out of my mouth.
I stayed with them until their boarding passes were scanned and then, just like that, they walked away from me, down the ramp onto the plane.
The drive home from the airport was very quiet without the usually bickering coming from the back seats.
On the phone with Bug on their first day in Utah, I received a very quick run down on the day.
"When we got on the plane, it was very crowded. I think we were the last people on. There weren't any seats next to each other, so the flight attendant had to find us seats. We couldn't sit by each other! Grandma wasn't at our gate when we landed, but I lead us to baggage claim without any problems! We didn't get lost once! And I stepped on a cactus!"
I instantly started empathizing about his rough day (and actually, my mom had been heading to their gate, they passed each other at some point, but my dad was waiting at baggage claim). When I said I was sorry it had been such a rough day, Bug replied, "What? No! This is was best day ever!"
And that's how it was each day. They swam, and camped, and hiked mountains, and denied being home sick at all each time I called them.
When I met them at the airport at the end of their trip, they suddenly seemed so much older, much more than just the days they had been gone. After all, now they had traveled by themselves and had proven they could navigate an airport by themselves and had ridden horses by themselves and slept in a tent by themselves.
I didn't like how empty the house felt while they were gone or the constant little nagging feeling I carried in my chest as I went to sleep that I was forgetting something. I was so glad to have them home again. But I'd do it again. In fact, this is going to become a standard part of our summers, sending the boys to visit family on their own.
They came back, laden with stories of adventure and friendship and connection, but also with a new sense of accomplishment and confidence. Yes, we'll do this solo traveling again.