I used to love flying. I loved having an hour, or two, or five, in which to sit quietly and do – what? Read a good book; skim a fluffy insubstantial magazine; stare out the window and dream. There was never any guilt about passing the time this way, because there was really nothing else I could be doing. I couldn’t wash dishes, or pay bills, or exercise. All I could do was sit and be quietly, blissfully introspective. “Captured time,” my husband calls it. I like that term: it hints at something elusive, which is exactly what quiet time usually is.
But then something happened that forever altered those mellow trips in Boeing libraries.
I had kids.
My most recent airline trip was a few weeks ago. Our little family of four was traveling from California to visit my in-laws in New York. It was our first time schlepping both kids cross-country (Matthew, almost three, had done the trip twice before, but Luke, my ten-month-old, was airborne for the first time).
How to describe the flight? Well, it was an endless stretch of periodic tantrums, cheerios spilling into the seatback pockets, soft drinks whisked away from quick little hands, my husband crawling like a sniper under the seats to recover lost Matchbox cars, the challenge of trying to convince a toddler that a seatbelt is not a negotiable item. It was, in other words, one of the longest trips of my life. It was a far, far cry from those quiet reading sessions of yore.
But though I could go on and on about the challenges of the flight, it would not be completely honest to do so. The fact is, there was a grace to this trip that took me totally by surprise.
For most of the flight, Scott entertained Matthew while I held Lukey. He sat, or squirmed, or slept on my lap. And an hour or so in, it hit me: this is a really, really precious experience.
You see, I don’t hold Luke often enough. It’s actually painful to write that, but it’s the truth. Because he’s a relatively easy baby – less demanding of my attention than his older brother, who always wants me to fix his train layout or read him a book – he tends to watch from the sidelines. He chills out in the fenced-off area of the living room that we’ve dedicate to him, wrestling with his floppy toy monkey, or he plays in his exersaucer, swiveling in the seat like a busy executive. He doesn’t get nearly as much cuddle time as Matthew did at that age, simply because he was not born first.
So there was something rare and precious about that long plane ride. There was nothing else to do but hold him, as he stood up on sturdy legs or slept sweetly on my lap.
And I drank in all those details that I don’t relish often enough. I smoothed his hair, which is getting long in the back, like an 80s mullet: a look that only a baby can pull off. Often he’d stand up straight on my lap, looking over my shoulder at the rows behind me, and I’d watch his face. It would break into a gummy grin, showing off his two bottom teeth and the ridges where hard small bits of white are just breaking through. I’d turn around, and sure enough, a fellow traveler a row or so behind us would be smiling at Lukey in the huge exaggerated way that we all do with babies. He’d laugh and bounce up and down in response.
When, later, I opened the SkyMall catalogue, Lukey was intrigued. He reached out his hands and tried to pick up the items on its pages, a pudgy thumb and forefinger working in a pincer grip. He seemed surprised that he was unable to feel them, and it was as if I could see the little connections forming in his mind as he absorbed the realities of two-dimensions. And it felt like a moment to keep in my heart, suspended forever, like an insect trapped in amber: a moment that I want to return to whole and entire in years to come.
Because there will be a day when he’ll know the difference between two-dimensional images and reality. And there will be a day when he’ll be too big to sit on my lap, and when he won’t grin openly and frankly at friendly strangers. As the mom of a toddler, I’ve seen how the time zips past. An individual day can seem endless, with the feedings and tantrums and laundry, but the reality of life as a parent is that it goes by at a disorienting speed. And one of these days, Luke will be a tall gangly teenager surrounded by an invisible bubble of personal space into which embarrassing Mom will not be allowed to enter. In those days, I’ll probably think back to this five-hour trip and wish I could live it all over again.
Of course, it’s so easy to get caught up in the practical. If there were a way to visit our family without a long plane ride, would I do it? Yes, I would. If I could do the “I Dream of Jeannie” thing and nod my heard pertly and transport us instantly to my in-laws’ New York doorstep – well, I’d do it in a New York minute.
But I’m glad I didn’t have that power this summer. Arduous and exhausting as the trip was, it was beautiful, too. Because I don’t remember half of the novels I’ve read in planes over the years, but I’ll always remember the weight of Lukey in my lap, his chubby fingers reaching for something he can’t possibly grasp as we fly along in our bubble of captured time, somewhere between earth and heaven.
Copyright 2009 Ginny Kubitz Moyer