We’re flying back to Portland. It’s been a very quick 3 days in Los Angeles with my family. The kids don’t want to leave. It’s sunny and Oma and Opa’s is always fun. But they are troopers, my kids. Amazing little troopers.
The day we flew here (after a 2 hour drive to Portland from Eugene), we got on the road EARLY. Yes, early. With a 4 and 7 year old. But we were packed, had Starbucks, iPods and iPads and good music. They were cooperative. They shared. And as we walked into the Portland airport, down the LONGEST damn stretch just to get to the gates… we held hands sometimes. And my heart soared. I love the days when they are all positive attitudes and sharing and cooperation. Children often reflect what you’re feeling. And I’ve been working on finding my calmer, happier, more optimistic center. So days like this make me soar.
Now, as we’re flying back… it’s a late flight from 8:30-10:50 pm. At about 9:45 Elizabeth pronounces “it’s time to go to sleep” and slumps over into me. I’m holding her head. There’s still an array of books, headphones, markers, iPods/iPads, etc scattered over our 3 tray tables, but now I’m crossing my legs into a strange position, jamming my back against the armrest and holding her sweet head. This is motherhood. We hold a lot… babies, bottles, dirty clothes, backpacks, jackets, the stuffed animal they swore they’d hang on to, tiny Legos, etc. But those moments when you’re holding THEM, that’s Motherhood. Parenthood really. Fathers do it too.
Somehow, I manage to, while holding her head steady, pack up the array of goodies except the iPod my awake (and still cooperative and cheerful) son is holding. We start our descent and I realize… I either have to wake her or carry her. She is 50 pounds. And thanks to some recent stress and health issues… I’m down to about 115 pounds. This could get interesting. And I have my heavy “mom backpack” to carry. But for now, as we fly, I’m holding her head and holding back tears. Has it really only been 4.5 years? Is this really the last little one I rocked in a chair all night and breastfed? Is she really the tiny thing who slept on my chest as we would pass out on the couch together. Is she the one who weaned herself at 9 months because food was more interesting, only to go through eating therapy 10 months later because almost all food caused her to throw up.
I had already held her this trip. At my brother’s wedding reception as she crashed out on my chest. I slumped into that hard reception chair , so I could recline a little and let her sleep there. Performing the familiar mom reach I used to do in restaurants when they were babies. Cradling her head in one arm so that she wouldn’t fall over, while the other did the best to feed myself cake and coffee. Luckily, as we left the reception, the husband of my brother’s new sister-in-law carried her back to the limo for me. At first I refused the help. I can be that way. But he pointed out I was stressed and skinny and tired and in spiked heels. He would carry my daughter for me.
Now I don’t have this help. On the plane, we’re the last family on. I can wake her or carry her. I carried her. I didn’t wake her. I couldn’t. I put on that stupid backpack, heaved her up to my shoulder, wrapped my arms around her and squeezed down that airplane aisle with an amazing, encouraging, helpful William (all of 7 years old) guiding me and encouraging me. Soaring again. I’m soaring again. A few months ago, right after ovarian surgery, when I shouldn’t have, I carried this same heavy child after we attended our first Country Fair in Eugene. It had to have been over a quarter mile. It was stupid, but she was hot and exhausted and had been a trooper during a VERY long day at the Fair. So I carried her. I find myself thinking of this is I walk through the airport. I’ll be thankful this time. Thankful I can carry her still.
We’re walking down that RIDICULOUSLY long stretch again, toward long-term parking and I spot a bathroom and debate # 2 starts. I’ve booked a last minute hotel, not eager to drive the two hours to Eugene at 11:00 pm, but don't think I’m going to make it there before I have to use the bathroom. I held it on the plane as I held a sweet, blonde mess off hair attached to my daughter. I’m going to have to set her down. Shit.
By some miracle… she doesn’t scream and thrash and cry when I set her down. In fact, moments before I reach the bathroom, she lifts her beautiful messy head, blinks at me and says “I’ll walk now mommy. I can do it.” And after the bathroom, all 3 of us walk to long term, holding hands I’m suddenly grateful for the long stretch as I feel their little hands.
After a short drive, we make it to our hotel. The kids are excited by a hotel, but exhausted. Yet our joint can-do, we’re a team, attitude means we somehow get settled into jammies, with teeth brushed with little drama. The plan is to squeeze in as much sleep as possible before hitting the road to Eugene tomorrow morning so I can get them to school and me to work. That’s the plan.
I’ve not been asleep long when William begins screaming. He’s like me and panics about throwing up. And he has to. Throw up, that is. Here in our hotel room, where I don’t have my oh-shit towels or a change of linens or my endless supply of garbage bag liners or ANYTHING but our suitcase and backpack… my boy is sick. He makes it to the bathroom and here I am, holding a head again. Holding him and stroking his head and trying to calm him. And trying to calm me. I have a sick feeling rising in the depths of me. I know this illness. He won’t just puke once.
I am right. Somehow, he makes it to the toilet every time. Every 30 minutes, then every 45, then every hour. From 12:30 to 7:00 that poor child vomited and I held him. Held his head, held his hands, held whatever he would let me as he grew increasingly despondent - finally collapsing on the bathroom floor because it was cold and felt good. I lay right down with him. Facing him and stroking his little face. I know how much he hates to vomit. I hate it too. I still cry and want my mother.
I call downstairs and ask for a late check out. They are all kindness and say we can have as late as we need. No charge. At 7:00 am, we finally sleep. I sleep until 8:00 am when my daughter wakes. She’s hungry. She’s missed the drama. I stumble down to the breakfast buffet and load up a tray and feed her and take a few bites and tell her mommy must get a bit more sleep. I turn on the TV and sleep until about 11:30. We get up, pack up and check out by 2:00 and make the drive to Eugene. William sleeps for much of it. Armed with McDonald’s coffee, I somehow stay awake. We get back to my place and I settle them both in for a lazy afternoon and evening of TV so I can sleep a bit more. I make a “couch campout” at one point and sit between them. At one point, I have two sleeping heads leaning against me. They fall into the crooks of my arms and here I am again. Holding heads.
These moments won’t last forever, I realize. Sure it sucks when they’re sick. Yes, I now have to figure out how to catch up my desk at work because I miss the day we drive back from Portland and the next day to be with my sick son. But these moments, these two heads against me, they won’t last forever.
I lean my head back against the wall and sleep sitting up. I’ve done this many times before. Who knows how many times I have left? I’ll hold on for now and be thankful. They will probably not remember this day. But I sure will.