It was the third night without sleep. On the first two nights, I woke around 2 a.m. and after an hour of trying to sleep again, my mind accepted this reality and began to make to-do lists. On the third night, the blame went towards excitement, the joy of taking my daughter on an airplane, on leaving California, on having another adventure.
We left on time. There were many bags packed. After deciding the night before I did not need to do a trial run of packing refrigerated bags of IV fluids for my son, I discovered they did not fit in one vessel but must be spread between two. We loaded the van and left, on time, to deliver two beautiful children to my parents for safekeeping during the course of six days. Six days without my littles. Six days playing on repeat in my mind the trauma of forced separations by hospitalizations. They were excited. At four and six years old, little else matters but being at the great vast space of Grandma’s house with boxes of Legos, trains and books at their disposal to dump out and play with all day with interruption only for meals shared on barstools and countertops.
We journeyed. My seven-year old’s bright smile at my presence in the back of the van carried us for the first hour. The two hours after that were spent in debating tiredness and mind wandered. I was wound too tight for my mind to wander, to create brilliant possibilities. All I could see was what lay ahead of me.
At the airport, I felt a nauseating feeling rise up inside as the anxiety of our next steps presented itself. We checked our bags. Witnessing our debate and the agreeableness of Peter’s cheeks, the gentleman asked if the smaller suitcase had baby things and told us we could check that for free. Gratefully, we unloaded one more bag.
“I’m a beast of burden,” my husband said, with three duffle-type bags around him and one rolling ice chest full life-saving nutrition for our boy. Miriam carried the coats. I pushed the stroller and carried my own bag of books.
Next, we came up to the security gates. With 90% uncertainty in my voice, I called the number provided by TSA. “We…uh…have medical supplies…liquids…I’m supposed to call.”
“Do you have a reference number?”
“Yes!” As I gripped the papers with shaking hands, that much I knew. I had the reference number. The person on the other line transferred me to Brandon, a supervisor. He said he would come out, and to look for a tall Asian man, 6’5, long hair and very handsome. I relaxed a little with his humor, particularly when he greeted us with a smile, possessed by a short, bald man with a great personality.
He moved ropes for us to help us through security. As he searched Peter’s medical supplies, I felt our private life on display, as if my underwear had just fallen out of my suitcase. I danced around supervising the supervisor.
“I understand,” he told me, “my brother was just like your son. We lost him when he was 21. I understand.” While anxiety still remained, his words and intention warmed my heart.
We found our gate, spent $5.09 on the water to make us smart (or so it says by calling itself “Smart Water”). Soon it was time to board the plane. I waited anxiously to see who would sit on the aisle. The man came as one of the last stragglers. He was uncertain about taking my husband’s window seat because he preferred bathroom access to the view.
The flight attendants helped, “we’re trying to get this family together.” She said as they moved people around.
Miriam volunteered, “You’re right, mommy, they are really nice.”
I explained all I could ahead of time to Miriam. During the drive, she asked questions that made logical sense following all the explanations of how security checkpoints operate. At the end of her asking what happens if someone brings dangerous things on the airplane and neither the flight attendants nor pilots nor good people on the plane can stop the person, what happens? I cut to the chase I learned from the Child Life Specialist and said, “No matter what, we will do everything we can to try to keep you safe.” I did not tell her about the 9/11 planes or all the shootings at public events that kept me up at night a week ago while we prepared for the trip. With that last reassurance, she moved on to other topics, which meant I hit the mark.
We received the good news that conditions were favorable and our plane would land one-hour sooner than expected. At hour 3.5, Peter was done with the sedentary lifestyle and began to cry angrily for freedom. Kyle stood him in the aisle while we made our descent and picked him up each time a person passed, so close to the bathrooms as we were.
Upon landing, we gathered our belongings and made our departure. The emotions continued in a swarm around my heart while we gathered his supplies, collected our luggage and used syringes in the airport which was, fortunately, quite quiet at this late hour. After a long drive and Big Boy Burgers, we reached our destination in a 15-passenger van with a cousin and his wife, desperate for sleep and happy to settle in.