The photo of 25-year-old Albert Almora a few days ago tells the story best. The 25-year-old Chicago Cubs outfielder has his head in his hands as he copes with the fact that his line drive foul ball struck and fractured the skull of a two-year-old in Houston. It could scarcely be more personal for Almora, who is himself the father of a two-year-old child.
Today, another story of summer fun gone awry. A 14 year old from Raleigh North Carolina was put on a plane to Newark so that he could make a transfer and fly to Sweden. Instead, he boarded a flight to Germany. This follows another story of a 7 year old with high functioning autism who was placed on a flight from Las Vegas to Oregon. That story ended happily because the person sharing the aisle with the seven year old befriended him.
The top five airports in the US handle an average of 80,000,000 passengers a year. That is over 200,000 passengers a day. And it’s not where you might think. Atlanta processes almost twice the number of passengers as JFK.
Why is this in a family law blog? Because one of my part time jobs is travel agent for kids on vacation. Kids whose parents want them to fly unaccompanied. After all, the airlines think it’s safe, right. Well try asking the mother who was notified that her child would land 700 miles from his destination without anyone to greet him or anywhere to stay. I have personally made this mistake and it was a harrowing experience even though I was over 30 at the time.
We want children to have life experiences. Yet in our haste to enlist kids in these opportunities we sometimes forget that bad things can and do happen. As a lawyer, I see also that parents are prone to conflate their fun with fun for a child. Truth is tiny children cannot experience the wonders of Disney any better than Dorney Park or Shadyside. They cannot understand that their 9-year-old brother does not hit as well as Albert Almora.
Is this the ranting of an aging fraidy cat? I submit not. I recently did the research and argued in court that statistically a trip to Israel for a bat mitzvah presented less risk than one to Chicago. The child was permitted to go in the company of the other parent. Despite my inattention to which commuter flight I boarded in a rainstorm, I have traveled the Amazon and been plenty of places where young men are keeping me safe on the beach with the help of automatic weapons. Nevertheless, I assumed that risk, and I had no child to look out for.
There is another force at work as well here. When parents separate, there are often “issues” over how children should be managed. One parent thinks that baseball parks and unaccompanied flights are “fine” because management allows these things. Another parent is against all of it. What the indulgent parent tends to forget is that the stress endured by the conservative “fraidy cat” parent is absorbed by the hapless child. Thus, you take your son or daughter to a first baseball game only to have the child say things like “Are we safe sitting here?” “What if a ball comes at us?” “Shouldn’t we be behind one of the nets?” That child is not having a good time and after the third inquiry, I suspect that the parent who laid out $160 for the tix and $30 for the parking is not doing so well either.
So, there are two forces at work here. One is real risk. We tend to underestimate it or not give consideration to the fact that children don’t need the same quality of travel or entertainment that adults do (little league vs. big league; McDonalds beats Morton’s). The second is whether the anxiety of the other parent will crush the fun. That sucks, but so does throwing $250 on an evening out only to have the nine year old cowered behind the seat you paid for him to sit in. And, lest we forget where this story started, why not spare the 25-year-old outfielder or the 45-year-old flight attendant the anguish of trying to cope with your hope that things would not go wrong for your child.