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“How did this happen?” seven-year-old Aviv asked suddenly one night.
“How did what happen, sweetie?” my wife Jody replied.
“How did it happen that Amir and Merav get to go to America and I have to stay here,” Aviv pronounced with a mix of confusion and rising consternation.
Meanwhile, thirteen-year-old Amir and his eleven-year-old sister Merav were in a very different head space.
While Amir spent his last minutes before we left for the airport with his nose to the grindstone (the computer in this case), juggling several simultaneous chat and Skype sessions while doing some impromptu bug testing of my new company’s software, Merav broke out in song every few minutes and hugged me, unable to contain her excitement.
“We’re going to America!” she squealed with glee. “Alone!” she added.
Yes, our two older kids were about to become our very first, bonafide B.U.M.s.
Blum Unaccompanied Minors, that is.
It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Amir and Merav would get a chance to spend a few weeks in California with their grandparents on their own. We were sure they’d have some incredible adventures, unmitigated by prying parents, while getting to know that other half of their dual citizenship a bit better.
But as the moment of truth approached, I was a nervous Nelly.
Jody had already gone over all the rules of being a good guest.
“Remember to always say please and thank you.”
“Always offer to help.”
“And don’t leave your towel on the bathroom floor,” I added.
“Because when you left your towel on the floor when you visited your grandparents, they almost kicked you out, right Abba?” Merav said, recalling my ultimate family fashla.
“And well they should have,” I said.
The babysitter arrived and it was time to head to the airport.
“OK, let’s go through this one more time,” I said in the car as we sped down Highway One in the direction of Tel Aviv. I began my instructional narrative one final time. “Now, when you get to Newark, the escort will take you through customs…”
“Will there be TV screens on each seat?” Merav interrupted.
“Yes…then you go into the customs area where you have to identify your luggage. You don’t have to take it, but…”
“Can I have the window seat, Amir?”
“Sure, whatever, Merav. Hey Abba, do you think we’ll get a hot stewardess on the plane?” he asked, entirely serious.
“First of all, that’s not an appropriate question,” I answered. “And second, they’re called flight attendants now, not stewardesses. Now then, you’ll be walked to a waiting room in Newark until it’s time for your next flight….you got all that?”
“What? Huh? I wasn’t listening really,” Merav said.
“Me either,” said Amir.
I would have thrown my hands up in the air. But I was driving. And we were out of time.
As we parked the car and headed through security on our way towards the check-in counter, I started acting out my nervousness by telling anyone and everyone around me of our unique situation.
“It’s our first time,” I said, hoping to elicit a compassionate smile or some reassurance from the check-in agent that our kids would be well-tended. Jody rolled her eyes.
“Come back at 9:45 PM. Meet at Counter 17,” the agent said matter-of-factly after she’d processed our Unaccompanied Minor forms and taken our payment.
“That’s it?” I said.
“Is there something more you need?”
“No, not really, I guess…”
A couple of other kids were already hanging out with their parents. They had large orange ribbons on their backpacks.
Enough with the ribbons already!
As we waited, it occurred to me that this wasn’t any worse than when we sent Amir and Merav to Scout’s camp just a few weeks before. There, it was other kids running the show. Here at least it was a professional.
The agent arrived a few minutes late and immediately started marching us towards passport control. No hello or chirpy introduction:
“Good evening, my name is Mandy, and we’re so happy you’ve chosen to send your children half way around the world with just me in charge, an unsmiling bored desk clerk who was corralled into this dead end job after I spilled one too many tomato juice cocktails on a passenger’s lap...oh, well, I digress….”
“I’m going to miss you guys so much,” I said to the kids as we said our goodbyes.
“We won’t,” Merav said, then quieted when she realized that wasn’t what I wanted to hear. But she couldn’t contain herself.
“We’re going to America!”
And then they were off. Fading into a small blur as they disappeared into the bowels of Ben Gurion.
24 hours later, they called from Papa Mike’s cell phone at LAX. They’d made it fine.
Yes, the escort in Newark almost put them on a plane to San Francisco instead of Los Angeles, and they lost their kosher meals, but they made do. The things that bother us as parents, the small organizational details that make us wacko, they don’t phase our kids at all.
After all, they’re going to America. Alone. Just a couple of B.U.M.s. And we’re going to be just fine.
All of us.