April 16, 2003
Sneaking Up On Me

This time, I don't even make it all the way out of the airport. Usually I am able to hold things together at least until Hourly Parking. A couple of times, in recent months, I've become a little weepy while passing through Baggage Claim. Once, I broke down completely, right in front of the Alaska Airlines ticket counter. (I'm not sure, but I believe that might have been the year that Flight #261 went down off the coast of California, mere hours before I was due to put the girls on #361 to TicTac.) Usually, though, David and I are all the way out of the terminal and in the Subaru and halfway back to Alameda before the waterworks kick in.

Not this time.

This time it all sneaks up on me early, like a surprise party on the one day you forgot to comb your hair. My son hasn't even boarded the plane yet -- we are still sitting together at Gate 6, calmly waiting for his boarding call -- when I'm suddenly overcome by an absolute tsunamai of sadness. Everything has been fine until this moment. He's only sixteen, so I have been allowed to pass through a bazillion levels of airport security and wait with him in the upper terminal. Until now, we've spent the time talking, laughing, making fun of other passengers, eavesdropping on nearby cell phone conversations ... all of the usual Mom-and-Son airport stuff ... when I suddenly feel this huge emotional storm approaching out of nowhere.

Oh my god! I think, panicked. I can't let him see me cry! We've had such a great weekend together. Lots of shopping. Lots of sightseeing. Lots of food. Lots of hanging around the apartment with his incredibly groovy mom. I'm not going to spoil it now. I swallow a couple of times, hard, and order myself not to cry.

Or to cry so noiselessly and so efficiently that my son doesn't even notice.

But something gives me away, I guess: the sudden silence, maybe, after sixty minutes of nonstop maternal jabber. A sniffle. An involuntary intake of breath. He looks over at me and sees my eyes puddling with tears, and he rolls his own eyes in mock disgust. "You're not going to get all weepy on me, are you?" he says. "I'm not coming down here anymore if you're going to CRY all the time." 

He's teasing me, in that sly, sarcastic way that sixteen-going-on-seventeen-year-old males have perfected, over the ages, but his underlying tone is very gentle. He understands that this sort of stuff is tough on a mom ... even the world's most incredibly groovy variety of mom.

I blink -- once, twice, three times, very fast -- and smile. "I'm just sitting here thinking," I say to him, with deliberate offhandedness.

And it's true. I am just sitting here thinking. It's like giving birth to them, over and over and over again is what I am thinking. Every time one of the Tots flies down here to visit, it's a little bit like those last frantic days of pregnancy: the anticipation, the planning, the build-up, the preparation ... the mad scramble to make room for the new arrival ... the uncontrollable cravings for weird revolting foods. And then they arrive, finally, in a blur of noise and hugs and cameras flashing, and it's even more exciting than I expected, and they're even more beautiful than I'd hoped for, and for the next little while it's all about keeping them fed and clothed and healthy and entertained ... making sure they're properly buckled in the backseat of the car ... making sure they have enough blankets at night ... making sure that they TRY ON the goddamned $70 baggy jeans BEFORE I hand over my credit card to the salivating Macy's salesclerk ... and pretty soon I find myself lost in the whole deliriously wonderful process of hands-on motherhood, all over again.

And then they go home, is the other thing I am thinking, and it's a little bit like losing them all over again.

"So what are you thinking about?" he asks, interrupting my morose train of thought.

I smile at him. "I'm thinking about how nice this weekend has been," I say. "And about what a great kid you are, and about how much I'm going to miss you." And with this -- right on cue -- the floodgates crumble.

Within seconds, my face is an oilslick of snot and Maybelline.

He nods. "I figured it was something like that," he says. And without another word, he reaches over and puts his hand on my knee. We sit that way for the next little while ... not speaking, not moving, not looking at each other ... just me and my beautiful boy, waiting in companionable silence for the plane that will take him home.

I'm going to be a mess by Hourly Parking.

son #o in front of alioto's restaurant on fisherman's wharf, san franciscoson #o with a really big crab he ISN'T listening to abba. trust me on this one.son #o and his stepdad at pier 39, watching the sea lions
click to see enlarged images

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