Shortly after committing to move to Thailand, we were surprised and thrilled to hear about a local event called “The Sky’s the Limit”. From what we heard, it would be a chance for kids with disabilities to experience an airport and airplane in a low-stress environment. We had to apply to be chosen for the program, and I waited anxiously from the time I mailed the application in mid-May to June 5th, when we would find out. Bubba got accepted, so we set aside any plans for the afternoon of June 20th and started getting ready.
One of the organizations who sponsored the event was kind enough to write a social story about it, which is kind of like a kids book that describes what will happen and how a child should respond appropriately. For example, “I may have to wait in line to go through security, and I will need to stay calm.” (I was really tempted to add a page about not sniffing people in line, but we probably need an entire social story just for that.) I sat with Bubba and read the story to him on Saturday morning. He liked it enough to read twice, and then wanted to look at pictures of the Pacific Ocean. We let him pack his backpack and a suitcase, because this was the real deal! He shoved his favorite blanket and the wooden boat Daddy made for him in the backpack, threw a Nerf ball into the suitcase, and called it good.
At the airport, we were greeted by a host of super friendly volunteers who checked everyone in. We all got matching t-shirts and promptly put them on, then went to the Alaska airlines counter to check in. They printed out real tickets and Bubba got to watch his suitcase disappear down the ramp. We then proceeded to security.
The boy did great in security, although I didn’t feel like it was a true experience since they let us go through the employee line. (Though I’m not complaining!) Ethan did get chosen for the random security pat-down, so that was fun. It gave me a taste of how tricky it could be in the future, when trying to collect my carry-on, Bub’s carry-on, Ethans’ carry-on, and shoes while getting out of the way and holding Bubba’s hand.
The Boise airport is such a breeze that from that point on it was pretty relaxing. Well, I should say it was relaxing for me, because I wasn’t the one chosen by Bubba to go for a walking tour nor did I have to take him to the bathroom. But I think (hope) Ethan got some relaxing in as well.
It was sweet watching all the kids running to the windows every time a plane took off, especially since their reactions were not the same as nuero-typical kids. Lots of spinning, flapping hands and fun noises. Seeing their joy expressed with no disapproving glances was beautiful.
I really should have gotten a picture of what came next, but there was a guy with a camera interviewing people so I volunteered Ethan to talk about the experience. It was for the airline to show to their employees, so he told them what a great thing it was that they were doing.
They finally called our flight and we got in line. One of the volunteers for the event was walking around with headphones for any kid who wanted them, and Bubba didn’t hesitate. He put those bad boys on and proceeded to loudly announce that “NOW NO ONE CAN HEAR ME!” (I hated to break it to the poor kid that we actually could hear him just fine, but figured for the sake of fellow passengers it had to be done.)
Bubs got a photo with the pilot, then it was off to board the plane. He did great waiting until we got to our seats and buckled up right away. At this point he just kind of took it all in and cuddled up with his blanket.
They did all the regular announcements and then we started taxiing. My absolute favorite comment came from a little cutie sitting up ahead of us, who squealed, “It’s working!” We just rolled around outside the airport for a while and I figured that would be that, but then . . . my favorite part of flying: take-off! We didn’t actually take off but we did get up to speed. It was fantastic. Oh, and I think Bubs enjoyed it too. 😉
After that, it was a quick photo in front of the plane and then back through to get his checked luggage at the carousal. Then our lucky boy was given a gift bag, which had a coloring book, cardboard airplane, little passport book, and more. He had a smile on his face when we left the airport and seemed to think it was as great as a trip to the park!
When Ethan and I were talking and praying about surrendering to full-time ministry, we knew it wouldn’t be easy with a child with a disability. We knew it was likely we would have a long flight to whatever country we ended up in, but prayed that God would show us his mercy. When someone told us about this event I just felt God reassuring me, reminding me that He is there in the little things as well as the big ones. We’ve spoken with Bubba’s doctors to have a game plan for the actual flight, but it was such a blessing to be able to do this practice one; to let him know what an airplane sounds like and looks like and feels like. He did so far above and beyond what we expected. We will still have our bag of tricks for the real flight, but we’ll be boarding the next plane with an added measure of peace.