According to WorldData.info, JFK, formerly Idlewild, is the largest international airport in the United States. LAX is second, but if you look at the statistics, it's not really a close second. There are a handful of airports with more destinations, but it's going to be the airlines that matter. The airlines tell us who is coming and going, to and from where. If you've never been to JFK, it's hard to imagine what seventy-four different airlines look like.
JFK is the US International Gateway. Here is a list of the 69 airlines currently active. Take a minute to scroll though the names. How many countries can you identify by the airline name alone? How many US airlines are on the list? Who is missing and why? If the majority of your travel has been confined to the Continental Forty-Eight, you'll notice pretty quick. I almost never book a flight out of JFK unless I'm leaving the country. JFK doesn't want to send you to Milwaukee; it wants to send you to Azerbaijan, and Kenya, Kuwait and Qatar, Lebanon and Jordan, and the UAE. It doesn't want to send you to Los Angelas either; although that's where you're headed if you need to cross the dateline on your way to the East.
JFK: the last bastion of the American Melting Pot. For real.
Mike and Lucia spent six years in the Stamford Public School System. It was a near academic disaster for Mike, but Lucia thrived. Socially, it was probably the best thing that ever happened to Mike. They were fourteen and nineteen when we left. We stayed that one last year for Mike to finish high school, although sending Lucia to hell in eighth grade was nearly fatal. We kept them in Stamford for one reason; Diversity.
That's important. Do you understand? It's not about teaching tolerance. Tolerance is a grace note you can hope for in an inner city school system. The purpose of Stamford was to bring them up in an environment where they were a clear minority, culturally, socially, and economically. The purpose was to keep them there until they knew nothing else. This is the world, right here in your face every single day. This is what it looks like and you are an integral part of it, but you are not the sun.
I don't think we would have left Stamford if Elizabeth hadn't done a funny thing at about fifteen months. Sometimes this happens; bright, engaged, affectionate toddlers push back and look away. If they've started to talk, maybe they stop. Yesterday they looked you dead in the eye and laughed, and laughed, and laughed. But in the morning they turned their head away and pushed at your chest until you put them down.
If it is your third baby, you maybe don't worry so much. If it is your first baby, maybe you don't know any different. We took her to the doctor and a diagnosis of any sort, other than something clearly medical, isn't a thing you want to happen that early. However, that doesn't mean you do nothing. We signed her up for the Birth to Three program and a play therapist came to the house twice a week.
Elizabeth sang before she ever spoke another word. If we walked out of sight she would sing all of the Sesame Street song, in perfect pitch. I don't think she spoke to us directly until she was two and by the time she was three we were feeling a lot better, but we just weren't sure. We put her in daycare part time, despite her stay at home dad, in an attempt at socialization. It worked. She got our attention again the day she wrote her name, and Cameron's name, and Aisling's name on the terrace in chalk. She was three.
We moved to Weston for the school system which I remembered from the eighties when Weston still had farms to go with a damn fine public education. We thought she was doing OK, but we just weren't sure and wanted the best support system we could find if she needed help. I didn't pay much attention to the current demographics because sometimes my imagination flat out fails me.
We were pleased with Elizabeth's first couple of years, but were often frantic about Lucia who spent lunch in a bathroom stall right through the end of eighth grade. In ninth grade, a total stranger bonked her over the head with a biology book and pronounced her 'best friend'. Weston chewed her up and spit her out anyway.
Elizabeth was bullet proof. She didn't get herself chewed up until her Junior year and she certainly survived that. It was JFK that chewed her up, spit her out, and sent her sliding across the floor.
On August 25, 2012, Elizabeth was eleven and Lucia had just turned twenty-one. Lucia turned twenty-one at the tail end of a summer long backpacking trip across Europe. Not the comfy sort of trip; the 4200 cubic centimeter pack, a Eurorail Pass, and $3,000 sort of trip. It worked out to about 33 USD a day and maybe that sounds viable until you look at the average cost of a hostel. I don't really know how she ate, but to be honest, that's probably for the best. She'd been gone thirteen weeks and Elizabeth was bouncing off the walls.
We were sitting at a tall table at Arrivals. I had my eyes glued to the door that refused to open, and Elizabeth had her eyes glued to the room. In retrospect, I'm glad we had a good long wait; it gave her some time. She might not have noticed and then everything ever after would have been different.
Just come down here so I don't have to yell.
Momma. Where are the Americans?
The Americans. Where are they? Why are we the only Americans here?
I don't know what you mean.
These aren't Americans!
Elizabeth! Lower your voice.
these aren't Americans
Um. OK, maybe not all of them but they don't have to be US Citizens to be on US Soil, you know. And, anyway, how would you know? Have you accosted anyone?
No! I've been right here on this chair.
OK. Let's try again. Why do you think... oh. shit. (shitfuckpissgoddammitheather)
OK, I can't say for sure, but I have to assume that at least 90% of the people in this room are Americans. I'd say more, but I don't really know. Can you tell me why they don't look like Americans to you?
No. It really is.
I don't know.
Well, sweetie, this is America, right here in front of you. There are probably at least a dozen different languages and even more dialects spoken right in this room. It's pretty cool.
We must look weird.
Yes, Elizabeth, I'm pretty sure we do look weird. We look weird and out of place and probably a little confused and that's OK. Did you learn about the Melting Pot?
The American Melting Pot? (this is my SUPER good student)
Nope. What's that?
Come here, I'll you a story...
But the door opened and the river of arriving passengers flooded the room.
I stared at the ceiling that night trying to figure out how the hell I was going to undo this terrible mess.
As it turned out, I didn't have to undo anything. She undid it herself.