My son, who we’ll call “Chance,” is an 18-year-old freshman in college in Colorado. He recently traveled to Italy for a study-abroad term. En route, he had a four-hour layover just 20 minutes from home in Virginia.

I knew he didn’t really want to see me, he just wanted to see his large chocolate-colored dog, Natalie.

Leaving the airport was risky – not only for the reasons you think – so I tried to figure out the next best thing.

The chosen day my other child had to be at a rehearsal in Georgetown and the timing was tricky.

It would be a lot easier if I could just take the dog, Natalie, to see Chance at the airport.

So we made some inquiries to assess the risk.

“No, only service dogs are allowed,” my husband reported via text at the gate (he was flying to Asia a few days earlier.)

“But it’s not enforced,” he added.

A few years ago we bought a doggy backpack for a 5-day hiking trip in California. A well-designed, bright red pack, with removable paniers. Not only did it take the weight of the dogfood out of my pack, but it slowed down our then-hyper lab/chessie cross so that she didn’t exhaust herself.

The frame of the pack looks very much like a service dog uniform.

It was worth the risk. Whatever that risk was.

A boy and his dog, or so I am told, are a beautiful thing.

So I parked in short term parking and planned to head straight in door number one, walking with confidence and purpose … and wearing the “I just had cataract surgery sunglasses” that somehow ended up in our junk drawer … to the restaurant where I’d arranged to meet Chance.

My other son, who we’ll call “Seth,” aged 16, was having no part of it. On the way to drop him off at rehearsal he advised strongly against my idea.

“Don’t ask me to bail you out of jail,” he said.

Everything was fine until I actually succeeded in walking straight in door one of Dulles International Airport.

I did not look at the security guards and I don’t think they looked at me.

But I couldn’t find the restaurant.

Eventually I took off the dark glasses, it was pretty dark in there.

Then I had to consult my iphone for directions.

“Yeah, not looking very blind right now, Mom,” I imagined my son commenting.

I was close, very close.

By walking to the other side of a bank of closed restaurants, I finally found the meeting place.

There was my son.

Joy, joy, joy.

Chance and Natalie
Chance and Natalie

Two happy puppies.

“Is that a service dog, Mam?” the waitress inquired.

Hmmm. I didn’t want to lie outright.

“She’s off-duty,” I said.

We asked if we could have the outermost table and we settled in, Natalie responding to my snapping fingers with obedience if not outright grace. On two snaps she was lying at our feet.

But that restaurant smelled pretty good.

We ordered, Chance a hamburger (so he could drop some of it on accident,) and I a beer. I needed it, I reasoned, recalling son number two’s admonition about not bailing me out of jail.

All went well until the three women at the next occupied table decided it was picture time with their toddler, who by the sheerness of coincidence known only to my family, had the same name as our dog.

“Natalie!” A woman holding a camera crooned, trying to get the attention of the toddler.

“No way,” I looked at my son, incredulous.

He was trying to catch the dog.

“Natalie, Natalie!” The woman called out again, “look HERE, Natalie.”

The dog was sure someone was offering her a hamburger.

But Chance was quick and so was I.

He held the dog as I grabbed my beer. The table suffered the equivalence of 10 points on the Richter scale, but no damage was done.