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Lisa Belkin Headshot

A Helicopter Mom In A Hurricane

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This was supposed to be a story about saying good-bye. That's because I was supposed to drop my youngest son off at college this weekend and come home to write about my newly emptied nest.

But the Hurricane-that-would-be-Isaac had other ideas. Instead of starting classes first thing Monday morning, Alex was evacuating to Houston. And rather than penning an ode to hands-off parenting, a celebration of my new relationship with my young adult son, I was following NOAA radar updates, making plane reservations and being more than a little hands-on.

Like Isaac, I had started out on a different path. I'd vowed to to spend a lighthearted couple of days unpacking stuff and shopping for more, then exiting, calmly and without tears. After that I was going to squelch what some might possibly describe as my hovering tendencies and wait patiently him to call me. If he asked for advice, I was going to say, "I'm sure you will figure it out." I wasn't even going to check the weather in New Orleans, because that might tempt me to remind him to go buy those rain boots that he was adamant he didn't need, even though, let's face it, he has never had to slog around a rainy campus every day...

But I digress.

We arrived Saturday morning with two duffels of stuff, then supplemented that at big box stores around town and got him started on a nest of his own. We kept half an eye on the brewing storm in the Gulf, the way one does with these kinds of news stories, and at one point I felt sorry for friends who were dropping their daughter off at college near Tampa the same weekend. Come evening my husband and I left for our hotel as planned, while Alex did whatever it is new college students do on their first night in a dorm. (I didn't ask for details. Only overly enmeshed mothers ask for details.)

I found myself awake up at 2 a.m. Sunday -- not worrying, really, just, you know, awake for no real reason -- and checked the weather online. One meteorological model of many was now predicting that Isaac would hit New Orleans. Surely that outlier had to be wrong? If there were reason for concern, we would have heard from the university, no? They would take care of him, right? And he would take care of himself.

Still, I compared the return policies of every airline that flies routes about an hour from New Orleans, found that Southwest had the simplest refund policy, clicked though screen after screen on the hotel's sluggish Internet, then emailed the flight details to friends in Houston asking who might be in town. Just in case.

By morning, the odds were still overwhelmingly in favor of landfall in Mississippi. By the time we said our (cheerful, tearless) goodbyes and left for the airport Sunday afternoon, New Orleans was still under a hurricane "watch" not a "warning." Shortly after wheels up, the flying screens on JetBlue told a planeful of new freshman parents that the storm was now aiming directly at their children.

Another mom, one who cannot let go, might have spent the flight staring at the Weather Channel. Since I am not such a mom (and also maybe because my husband dimmed the TV so I couldn't see it), I watched "Mad Men" videos on my iPad instead. (Betty Draper -- NOT an overly enmeshed mother. My new role model?)

We touched down a few hours later to news that classes were being canceled in anticipation of Isaac and that while students could shelter in place on campus, the school would also provide buses to the airport through the day on Monday. All around me on the plane parents were trying to sound calm as they talked of flashlights and bottled water with their children. I asked Alex what he wanted to do. After all, he is an adult and can make his own decisions, and he didn't need his mama to swoop in and rescue him from a storm (or admit that she'd been holding a reservation in his name all day...).

He opted, calmly and matter-of-factly to leave. It's possible that I wept a little with relief, or fist-bumped the air just a bit. But I did those things quietly.

Also, I might have called him seven or eight times as he made his way to the airport and onto a plane. But I only asked twice whether he was sure he'd brought his photo ID and his phone charger. Okay, maybe three times.

I guess some kinds of helicopters actually fly quite well during hurricanes.

Isn't that when we need them most?