It was almost midnight when I picked my son up at the airport last Thursday. I arrived a few minutes early, so went to the observation room in hopes I might actually see his plane land. The huge glass walls mostly showed the reflection of the room itself, so I had to lean way in and raise my arm above my head to register the inky black airfield. As I looked at my reflection in the glass, superimposed against the blinking lights of the tower beyond, the strange mix of the archaic and the futuristic struck me. I was in my farm jacket, my hair hanging messily about me – an untidy figure in a clean, modernistic room of glass; the farmer come to meet the sky ship.
This time I was lucky, for as I casually turned my head to the right I saw two lights approaching at what seemed to be a breakneck speed. I couldn’t see the plane itself, but knew my son was there somewhere in the darkness between the two lights. I watched as it zoomed past, wondering how on earth something like that can possibly stop in time, and never taking my eyes off of it as it then turned and taxied briskly back towards me. As the plane came closer, I saw big, fluffy white snowflakes in its lights. My son was home safe, and it was snowing. Perfect.
As I expected, Elihu seemed taller. But more had changed than just that. No longer did he run into my arms as he had at nearly every other reunion. He stood, shy, waiting, giggling somewhat uncomfortably. Huh? I hugged him, I exclaimed how happy I was, and after thanking Dave (our friend at Southwest) we were off to baggage claim. But what’s this? Tears? Already? What the hell just happened? This: apparently I made ‘too big a deal’ of seeing him. I ‘treated him like a baby’. Oh man. Are we here already? I mean, really? I swear sometimes there’s a teenage girl lurking somewhere close to the surface… sheesh. But I try to honor his feelings, after all I remember very well that horrible kind of embarrassment that only parents can create, and it’s made worse because they keep telling you you have no reason to be embarrassed… Well, yes, you do! If a kid’s embarrassed, no matter how hormone or insecurity-induced, if it’s what the poor kid’s feeling, it’s real! So I have to respect it at the very least. I let him talk, cry, explain. Might also be the late hour, I think, but I don’t say that. Eventually, we reach a new understanding. I’m not to call out his name, run towards him, nor open my arms in hopes of a huge, public reunion. I will simply stand there, arm around him as I sign the release, maybe give him a subtle sideways squeeze and a quick kiss atop his head.
In my mind’s eye I play the scene of my adorable six year old boy squealing with delight at seeing me again. I remember his little lisp, his tiny body. Did I savor those moments? I guess I did. I can’t have regrets. I just need to switch gears, because those days are over, and we’re entering a new chapter. As we drive home through the fluffy flakes I wonder at the new stories ahead of us. This week alone there will be plenty, from lessons to chores to his first school assembly (he sings the harmony part and will likely carry his section with great pride and confidence…) and the many other unexpected events that will pop up before us. We two live a full and interesting life here, and now that we’re both refreshed from a week away from the routine, we’re ready to begin it all again…