03 June 2010

You've got to take what you give

(Today's writing prompt: "Define freedom." )

Early morning. Usually around 4 am. The taxi generally gets here at 5 am. The taxi company knows me.

"Going to the airport?" the operator asks cheerfully when I reserve a cab the night before.

I ask them to tell the driver not to honk. I still haven't lived down the morning the driver was sitting on the horn and woke the entire neighborhood.

After a shower, I choke down a fast breakfast of scalding coffee and a slice of peanut butter toast. One last check of my luggage (tickets, tickets, id, wallet), and I kiss each child goodbye.

"Bye, Mommy," the daughter mutters drowsily. "Come home."

I always do. It's part of the bargain.

I also tell the cat, who is by now sitting on the pink bag (a single day), or the rolling carry-on (2 days), when I will be home. Then I stand in the biting morning air to wait for the cab (and ensure that he won't honk).

Once I'm buckled in, the driver asks me my preferred route to airport, and I tell him the fastest way. I've had nice drivers, surly drivers, and one who could only follow the GPS in a sort of sweaty panic.

What's my ultimate destination? he asks.

Oh, this one is chatty.

I create a business meeting if I'm not feeling chatty.

Or I might say I'm visiting friends, with a tiny burble of laughter. This is closer to the truth, though the "friends" part can be a bit of a movable feast.

For a moment, excitement takes a back seat to lack of sleep. I watch the quiet roads under the peach street lights. I am a wife. I am a mother. I am guilty as hell.

So begins the process of reminding myself that allowing myself 36 hours away from my responsibilities isn't just ok, it's life saving. Time alone doesn't happen that often, I argue against the voice that jeers at my first world anxieties.

I pay the driver with polite words, and he wishes me well.

The airport is jarringly bright. I find the end of the first security line and begin the process. I've done this so often that I have everything ready: id, boarding pass, toiletries in a quart bag, no jewelry, no belt, easily removable shoes. I always exchange pleasantries with the security personnel. One afternoon, the man checking my boarding pass told me that I was the first person to respond to his greeting all day, and that made me terribly sad. No matter how tired I am, it takes so little to say "hello" back to the person who just said "hi" to me.  Lead by example, I remind myself, as I wait patiently at the metal detector and hand my boarding pass with a smile to the person on the other side.

Once through security, my routine is established. Put my shoes on, check gate information, the Ladies, Starbucks for a large bottle of water, find a seat at the gate.

My children will do fine without me for a brief span of time, probably better seeing I don't have to hover around them every second of their lives. Their father could stand a little extra time with them. This is good for everyone.  I tell myself this.  Recite it like a mantra.

I listen to music and surreptitiously check out my fellow passengers, determining who has been visiting and is going home, and who is home and destined for elsewhere.

Elsewhere, I think. I like elsewhere.

Perhaps I am guilty as hell, I tell myself. But perhaps I've earned this with all the endless hours of shuttling people here and there, and helping with events at school. How many millions of cupcakes have I baked over the years, for parties, to be sold as refreshments? How much pro bono have I done? How many times have I stood in the doctor's office, the teacher's room, negotiating my way through some work catastrophe when the spouse was on the other side of the world?

I remain unconvinced.

My flight is called, and I join the next line as my section is called to board the plane. Even now, it's a routine, and I stow my luggage, sit and buckle myself in. Eventually, the doors close, and the pilot comes on to explain how this airport requires takeoff to happen. Seatbelts are demonstrated.  We taxi around and around, joining another queue, until finally we are at the head of the line, and stop, engines revving. It's like being at the starting line at a race. I ran track in school, and I remember that quivering moment, second by second, until the gun went off, signaling the beginning of the race.

The wheels leave the runway and I see the sun break over Saddleback to the east.

Freedom.

Go listen to some good music: "Freedom" from the album Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 by George Michael. I know some women who are so hung up on their responsibilities that they won't take the time to exercise--I'm not that bad--and others who don't bat an eyelash at just hopping on a plane for a girlfriend getaway. I still wrestle with it, obviously, but I come home so happy that I've almost convinced myself it can't be all bad.

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