School holidays, and they’re gone again. On a plane to see their Dad. We’re at the airport and I’m trying to tell them who to talk to and who not to, and what to do if the stranger sitting next to them wants personal details, but they know exactly what they’re doing. They’ve become seasoned travellers since their father moved away. Now since the eldest is old enough to be the in-flight “guardian”, they can fly unaccompanied. Which is scarier to me than an actual plane crash. In fact if there was a plane crash, it may briefly cross my mind that it might be caused by the two of them arguing about, and in turn wrestling each other for the window seat, the last sweet in the packet that was meant for sharing, etc and distract the pilot. “Destination?” enquires the woman at the check-In counter. “Um..J…” I open my mouth to answer and at the same time scratch around for their birth certificates in my bag. “JOBURG!” they say in ecstatic unison. As if the place is a giant theme park. Its not. Momentary blind panic gets me every single time I can’t find the documents in the first 2 seconds of looking. Even though I’ve already checked that I have them twelve or thirteen times since I parked the car. They already have their bags off the trolley and are peering at the scale to see whose is heavier. For no apparent reason this can elevate ones status quite decidedly. They are delirious with excitement, and I’ve finally hauled out the white envelope that I’ve been moving out of the way to peer past in my bag. I’m trying to be excited too. I’ve already mentally listed the things I’m going to do while they’re gone apart from work. Watch a 5 ‘o clock movie. Control the remote. Be spontaneous. Be free! Damn I cant think of anything that will get me as excited as they are now. So I settle on nothing. Doing nothing. I’m going to do nothing! Somehow this doesn’t thrill me either. I’m sure I’ll think of something. It crosses my mind that I’ve possibly become one of those parents who claim to be nothing without their kids. The ones who live for driving them around and making sure they have clean school uniforms and organising play dates. The ones I am vocally scornful of.
“Stop being ridiculous. Wine! Woo-hoo. Right now..Straight from the airport! Phone a friend” I try some over the top self encouragement in an attempt not to cry a little bit. Oh wait..its Monday, its 9am. I hand the envelope to the eldest after they’ve been given their boarding passes, and begin the same speech he has heard 20 times about putting them directly into his fathers hands upon landing or there will be no return plane trip. He nods and stuffs it into his jacket pocket while he is helping himself to a handful of green sweets that the airline has cleverly left on the counter for its passengers. Obviously these are especially for unaccompanied children passengers, who by the time the sugar hits their blood stream will be airborne in a tightly confined space without parental supervision. I ignore them shoving them into their mouths and pockets, and make a mental note to re-iterate the no sweets from strangers lecture when they get back. I dawdle, they run, to the passengers only gates. I hug them very tightly before they go through and try to think of something meaningful to say. I suddenly need them to forget all the times I’ve been a monster parent, like make them change the channel on the TV to something other than football or Disney, or made them tidy their rooms, or gave them cereal for supper, or had an evening of wild dramatics and banning all things electronic over homework not being done…Because I know that Dads house is the fun house. He takes a week or two off work and crams it full of mini-getaways, football watching marathons, rugby matches, pizza dinners out. I know its guilt. I also know the cost of it is coming off my maintenance. They don’t. Please please don’t let it be so fun that you don’t want to come back, I silently, selfishly plead. “Be Good. Have Fun!”, is all I can think of as they dash off to join the queue to the boarding gates “Stick TOGETHER!” I shout. A few people look at me alarmed, not sure who I’m yelling at or whether they heard the word “bomb”. I try and look apologetic and unthreatening. The boys haven’t even heard me. I stare through the glass partitioning and wait for my youngest at least to turn around all teary eyed needing my reassurance that everything will be fine, they’ll be fine without me, for almost two weeks! I watch them put their bags through the scanner. .pick them up..walk past the area where Im standing . Any minute now they’ll turn around. I resist the urge to call and wave frantically. Okay, they’ll pop their heads back around that wall and wave. Oh. Okay, Ill just phone them later. They looked a bit like they were laughing,…I sit and wait for the plane to take off. I watch it until what I thought I was staring at suddenly comes to land on the roof of the baggage trolley on the runway in front of me, as a pigeon. I text their father to let him know they are in his airspace, which means therefore, now his responsibility. I try not to think about how much I already miss them. How its all their stupid fathers fault that Ill never get these eleven days without my kids back, how selfish his decision was, why should I have to go through this because he chose to be the part time parent?! On the drive home I sing at the top of my voice, something I am expressly forbidden to do if one or both of them are in the car, or near the car in fact just generally. It’s only eleven days I tell myself. Then I remember why this trip is harder to deal with than the others. One of those eleven days is my sons eleventh birthday. And I want to wake him up with tea and presents and see that look of pure birthday joy as he opens his eyes just like I have every other birthday. I deserve that at the very least. More than his father does. Just as I realise I’m singing along to a song called ‘Fiery Crash’ and I have a panic that its fate telling me something, I get a text message. “We’ve landed. Dad is taking us out for pizza and is getting tickets for the rugby for Nic’s birthday! He will love it. Miss you”. Then I get another one from a friend saying “Come away with us this weekend”. And I realise that I’ve had momentary lunacy. The kids are going to be more than fine. It’s okay for me to admit that they have way too much Mom by the time they leave. They need a break. And it’s also okay for me to admit that they need as much Dad as they can get, including the odd birthday now and again no matter how much I think he doesn’t deserve it. I see now it doesn’t matter what I do or what they do in those eleven days. What matters is that I’ll be right in the front waiting when those doors open at the arrival gates, and not say a word when they both speak at once or argue about the details of the trip. What matters utmost to me though, is that when they are leaving, they’re going to their Dad, but when they come back, they’re coming home.
To celebrate my independence and control of the remote, I am watching Gone With The Wind. No, really, that’s not an intended pun. I actually am. All three and a half hours of it from 1939. By a stroke of luck and possible fated intervention, its on TCM tonight, the boys most hated channel. Also, I’m having wine and popcorn for supper.