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Darks clouds hung low, not ominous at all, no thunderheads but threatening nonetheless.  I ducked my head slightly on the way from my office to my car in an attempt to shield my glasses from the light rain.  Despite the clouds, I felt buoyed, an odd feeling considering the reason I was in my car — I was on my way to pick up my daughter and take her to the airport for her trip to Amsterdam, then after a two day layover on to Istanbul and finally Ankara.  She was about to embark on a journey that has been a dream of hers since she was a girl, a new life teaching overseas.  It’s a bold and exciting adventure, something that makes me very proud of her, any thoughts of missing her overshadowed by the joy of anticipation.  The big day was here!

The drive from my office to pick up Alyssa at her mother’s apartment slowed as the light rain turned heavy.  An overly cautious motorist delayed my arrival by at least five minutes as she poked along at a speed 15 mph under the limit, on a section of road that curved in a way that made it impossible to pass.  I wasn’t too worried.  The flight out of O’Hare was scheduled for 6 PM.  We had allowed three hours.  There was plenty of time.

We loaded her five suitcases into my car in the midst of a downpour, all her bags wedged into the small “trunk” area and back seat of my VW Tiguan.  Alyssa had carefully packed three large suitcases and a big wheeled duffle bag to the maximum weight limit, her life’s belongings relegated to those four bags.  Another small suitcase was also stuffed, yet small enough to qualify as a carry on according to the airline guidelines.  I watched as Alyssa embraced her sobbing mother in a long hug, then jumped into the passenger seat next to me, tears welling in her eyes as we drove away.

The tollway moved slowly, bumper to bumper traffic inhibited by torrential rain, visibility a challenge, especially as the outside temperature dropped and windshields began to fog.  We didn’t worry, the car filled with excited chatter as we talked about her trip, her plans, all the networking she was already doing.  Alyssa already has friends in other countries, people she can contact when she wants to travel to other parts of the world.

Along the way, our cell phones sent us flash flood warnings, conditions that were already obvious.  Many lanes along the tollway were already obscured by rising water.  When we turned into the lane to go to the international terminal, the underpass to the terminal was dangerously flooded.  I stopped the car, then gunned the engine with a little prayer that we would make it to the other side.  The car actually floated a little bit!  We pulled through the parking lot gate, took the parking ticket, then joined the crowd looking for parking spaces.  Fortunately, someone pulled out of a space close to the terminal and I grabbed the space.  Alyssa took responsibility for her new suitcases, a set with four wheels on the bottom that roll easily.  I took the large two wheeled duffle and two wheeled suitcase.  We negotiated the crowded covered walk way into the international terminal.

Where was the United check in?  I slapped my forehead for not checking the terminal number with Alyssa before getting to the airport.  O’Hare is a hub for United, so even the flight to Amsterdam would fly out of terminal 1 — on the domestic side of the airport.  Undaunted, we took the elevator down to the train that would take us from international terminal 5 to domestic terminal 1, only to find out the the shuttle trains were shut down.  We had to descend to ground level, get in line for a shuttle bus that would take us to the correct terminal.  The wait was short, our time to check bags and get Alyssa through security to her flight gate getting more critical, but the three hours we had budgeted was still on our side.

The shuttle bus dropped us right in front of the United terminal 1 check in.  We dragged her luggage to the check in kiosk, retrieved the bag tags and ticket, then checked four of her bags at the bag drop.  Her other bag was small enough to be a carry on, something Alyssa had checked carefully as she packed.  After transferring her four bags to the bag drop agent, we embraced for our goodbye before she made the trek through security.  I didn’t want to fight the tears, so I didn’t, my arms around my little girl for the last time this year.  I didn’t want to let go, held her perhaps more tightly than ever before.  I let her go, said a short prayer with her before she headed off towards the TSA line.

As I watched her go, the women at the bag drop counter asked me about my tears.  Through those tears, I told them this was the last time I would see my daughter until next year.  They were clearly touched, both expressing little “Awwwwwww, that’s sweet!” as I walked away.

Before leaving the terminal, I visited the restroom.  I would be stuck in Chicago rush hour traffic in the middle of a rain storm, both not conducive to people with tiny bladders!

Something told me not to leave, to head back towards security.  It was a good thing.  When I started back to the TSA entrance, my redheaded daughter was stomping towards me with that determined look she gets on her face when she is upset and trying not to cry.  When she saw me, she did cry.  I hugged her, asked her what was wrong.  TSA security had checked the size of her carry on, told her it was too large, that it would be a $200 charge to check it.  She would have to go back to United customer service, pay the $200 and check the bag.

I don’t have $200 to spare, she sobbed, and my flight is about to board!

We rushed to the United kiosk, only to find out that it was less than 60 minutes to departure.  Bags could not be checked electronically, they had to be manually checked by a customer service agent and paid for.  The check in line was long, not moving, and boarding for her flight had started.  Time was now at critical mass!  I stopped the customer service agent who was walking the line, asked him what could be done to expedite my daughter through the line, told him why.  The jerk just shrugged his shoulders, pointed at the line, and moved on!  I hadn’t been rude, was very calm, and was determined to stay that way.  I hugged my daughter.  She was in tears and asking me what to do.

You will make it, I assured her even as a bit of panic was threatening to creep in.

We left the line, went outside to the curb side bag check.  The agent was apologetic, sincere in telling us that he could not check bags for international flights.  I steered Alyssa back inside the terminal, directed her to get back in line while I approached another bag drop counter, asked the agent for assistance.

You will need to see a customer service agent, she told me.

I already have.  He doesn’t see the urgency nor does he seem interested in helping at all, I told her.

The agent at the bag drop flagged down another agent, who listened to my story, then looked up Alyssa’s ticket and told me that he could help if his terminal would allow.  It did.  I paid him, he printed the ticket as I motioned Alyssa to come join us.  He took her bag to the gate as I hugged her good bye, this time for the last time (for this trip).

She texted me a few minutes later.  When she arrived at the gate, it was only a few minutes before the flight was to depart.  They had already taken her bags off of the plane.  Apologizing, they loaded her bags again, let her on the plane.

The next morning, she messaged me, told me that she and her bags had arrived safely in Amsterdam.  She had a window seat and a whole row to herself on the plane — so her fortunes changed drastically once the drama was over.

I am praying tomorrow’s flight to Istanbul goes well.  I am sure it will.  She says there are no bag restrictions for that flight.

One left the nest, one remains.