By Robin Lentz Worgan
In the Philadelphia Airport, on the way to visit my parents in Florida, we sit by the window awaiting our plane. Young mothers come by with toddlers. Three preschool-age boys play hide and seek and remind me of my son, silly and loving at that age, now 15 and mute, save for asking for food. Nearby, a mom lifts her shirt to breastfeed her baby and I cannot help but stare. I envy the lost feeling of having someone so close that you can hear their heartbeat, so attached to you and dependent on your every move.
When they call our flight number, we line up to get on the plane. Since Southwest Airlines does not provide seat assignments, I quickly realize that we have a low number, which means we will board the plane last. I walk up to the front with my charges, just my two younger children out of my brood of four and say, "Excuse me, I have my little ones with me. May we board early?" The blue suited man in charge glances down at my daughters, and says, "Sorry, you'll have to wait."
As I turn towards the back of the line, I can feel the eyes of two moms with strollers looking at me. My face grows hot as I follow their stare and examine my girls. My "little ones" are not so little. They are eight and ten-years-old. They do not need bottles, strollers or diaper changes. They are instead capable, independent beings, but they are my youngest who grow both quickly and slowly before my eyes. Quickly because I am so busy keeping up with four children that I miss out on just being with them. Slowly because I don't want their childhood to end.
Our family has not been on a plane trip in five years so I guess I am in a bit of a time warp, yet surprisingly they have grown-up without me being ready for it. When my four kids were little, we took several plane trips and I never would have thought to bring a book for myself. I prided myself on bringing snacks, books to read aloud, Etch-A-Sketches, songs to sing, and having the stamina to walk up and down the aisle many times with tireless toddlers.
As I take a deep breath and board the plane, I feel the aching need to accept my new mommying position. They are no longer babies. That time is past. So when the airline attendant says, "Sorry, I do not think you will be able to find a seat together, I say, 'Oh, that is fine. Girls, we won't be able to sit together so find a seat." Immediately, each of them turns her head, stares at me with wide eyes and exclaims, "MOM!" I quickly define their reaction and then flexibly adjust again, as we mothers often must. "Can we please try to find seats together? " I ask and the airline folks make it happen. My perspiration pauses and my heart pace slows down, I realize their reaction to sitting apart has alleviated the pang in my heart as I realize, "They still need me to sit with them!"
We buckle our seat belts and Winnie, my 10-year-old, sticks in her iPod head phones while Lila begins to read her book. I look across and spy a mother nursing her baby and opening crackers for her toddler. While this new mom tends to her little ones, I will get to read my magazine, or book, and converse with my girls without having a running household list in my head. As our flight takes off, I page through a magazine. I also stare at my girls and try to take in their newly realized age. Winnie curls her hair now in the morning and her body is slowly changing before my eyes yet a look into her blue eyes reveals the same ones that nursed happily until two years old. Lila moves positions often. She has tons of energy and has begun putting her hair in a ponytail so she is ready for anything; her second teeth are coming in fast yet watching her thumb through her book, I notice the marks that remain on her thumb from when she sucked it. I thought she would never give up sucking her thumb and then one day, she just did. It seems so long ago yet it is only a little over a year.
Across the way the nursed baby girl begins to cry and cry. I watch the mother adjust, sing, rub, walk, and on second thought I find myself now easily moving away from lamenting the passage of my girls' babyhood . I look again at each of them, block out the crying across the way, and ask, "Cards anyone?"