Now I know how the border collie feels, standing in the field with the grass tickling its belly, knowing a sheep has escaped over the hill and beyond the copse of trees. I know how the eagle feels the first time the eaglet screeches from a distant canyon, soaring on shaky wings. I know how the dolphin feels…oh, gimme a break. Child Harbat was away for two weeks with her grandparents, a magnificent adventure for her and a quieter time in our house. The longest she’d been away was two days so this was a real test for everyone. I knew she’d be able to handle it and the first week was, for my wife and I, a heaven of quiet and calm. Once Number Two was in bed the evening stretched ahead like an arrow-straight ribbon of macadam—drive on, it beckoned. Time overflowed from our cups. But gradually I began to miss the conversations, the vibrant and exciting life force my daughter brings to every day. Her discoveries, thoughts, and always the endless questions. For the last days before she returned I looked forward to the moment more than Christmas, imagining her walking up the jetway with her little backpack, seeing the excitement on her face after flying clear across the country by herself.
Let’s think about that. A little girl not yet six can fly alone from one side of the continent to the other, a journey of thousands of miles over deadly terrain. Southwest Airlines was much more accommodating than I expected, letting her grandfather walk her right onto the plane ahead of everybody, except a woman in a wheelchair who apparently stole CH’s bragging rights as being Passenger Numero Uno. There was great excitement as a praying mantis was found on her seat and escorted outside by the flight attendant. And here’s where the story gets hazy. I have no report on the real facts other than what comes from CH’s mind. According to her, she took the praying mantis outside and put it on a flower. When I asked how she found a flower on the jetway, she moved on to other topics. Apparently she sat in a row of seats facing backwards, one just for kids flying alone. And she slept on the plane until the flight attendant woke her up and got her off the plane. And she found a baby toad that licked her face. And she made a tomb of rocks for a butterfly that her cousin accidentally crushed. Did you miss the transition where she started talking about summer camp and not the flight? This is EXACTLY what it’s like trying to get information from her. I’ll never really know what happened on that flight except she arrived safe, happy, and escorted up the jetway by a kind flight attendant who apologized for giving her several hot chocolates. No problem, I sez. She’s here and in my arms and I can kiss her and hold her little hand and watch her pull her Hello Kitty backpack on wheels and listen to her stories of toads and rainstorms and pedicures and rainbow ponies.
Sometimes having your kid away for a little while is good. Remember what you love most about them. Try to put some distance from those ruts in your behavior: the nagging to get ready, clean up, brush teeth, be quiet. When you are in the still, you’ll remember what it felt like before you had kids, when you could eat a meal quietly and not scrape it off the floor. You’ll rediscover hobbies, books, movies, TV shows. You’ll be able to clean a child’s room without screeches of protest or freshly accumulating piles of toys and clothes. Then there will come that moment when the child returns home, your life goes back to noise and energy and you think, there’s nothing I’d rather do right now than watch this celebration of happiness.