Ah… alone at last with a latte in the airport and plenty of time for people-watching before my flight.
That chubby little boy over there with the teddy bear backpack is just precious. Sitting criss-cross-applesauce in his chair. Blue eyes, dark lashes and dimples for knuckles. Aw…
Lordy … what’s up with the guy drinking the Starbucks in the white linen pants and bright orange golf shirt? Mirrored sunglasses and a rusty tan… so cheesy. A fast talker I’ll bet. Why’s that lady moving her lips? Carrying on a full conversation with herself, hand gestures and all. Oh Geeze, a policeman with a dog. Is he sniffing our luggage? I wonder if they’re looking for drug runners. How exciting…
Uh oh, time to board.
Once a year, I leave my family and go off on my own for a few days to attend a newspaper columnists’ conference. I’ve done this for the last four years in a row, and although I love to people-watch in airports and eat out for a few days, it’s not what you’d call … easy.
My active-duty Navy husband, who has left home for work more times that I can count, just simply packs a bag and goes. He does not ask about how our daughter will get to her tennis lesson. He does not make a list of meals ideas for us to eat while he is gone. He does not remind the kids to walk the dog. And when he returns to us, he dumps a suitcase full of dirty laundry by the washing machine before finding a good place to relax.
For me, on the other hand, leaving home is a tad more complicated.
Planning begins weeks in advance. I write grocery lists. I cook. I jot reheating instructions on index cards. I make phone calls to arrange rides. I do laundry. I clean. I draw diagrams regarding pet care, chores, and logistics.
Don’t get me wrong, my family is 100% capable of running a home in my absence. However, 21 years as a military stay-at-home mom has conditioned my family to depend on me.
When I get home in a few days, I won’t dump my dirty clothes by the washing machine, because there will already be a mountain of laundry waiting for me. To their credit, my husband and kids will run around throwing things in closets so the house looks decent, and I’ll smile and avert my eyes from the dirty toilet bowls and sticky countertops.
Four more days before I have to deal with that.
“Boarding zones three and four,” is called and I walk through the human Habitrail and board the plane. Thanks to people stuffing oversized carry-ons into the overhead bins, I am forced to wait in line in First class, staring at the privileged sitting comfortably in their oh-so-roomy chairs. What makes you so special, I think as I pass by the flimsy curtain on my way to the cheap seats.
Coach class looks like a mouthful of teeth crowded into a narrow palate. From my cramped window seat in aisle 23, the air is stale and at least 10 degrees too warm from human breath and body heat. Just as my armpits begin to dampen, the pilot taxis and takes off, banking sharply to the left.
Strangely, as I look down at the toy houses splayed out like The Game of Life, I feel a pang of homesickness for my utterly dependent family. Roping suburban streets studded with turquoise pools get smaller and smaller until the aircraft wings swirl into the steamy summer stratosphere.
In the tiny space left between bags on the floor, I click my heels and mutter to myself, “There really is no place like home.”