After a six-hour delay at Newark Airport with the toddler and the infant—a delay that, by the way, ended in our flight being cancelled—I needed a drink, a stiff drink. It was dusk. We waited outside Delta’s departure gate for Caleb’s mom, the same gate where she dropped us off in the early afternoon. A warm drizzle combed the air, clearing the cigarette smoke. Cars and taxis plowed through, dropping people off, picking people up, honking and shoving, somehow squeezing in. Caleb gripped Levi who kept trying to jump in the busy street. I sat on the sidewalk by our bags, openly nursing Virginia. It was too hot and humid to cover myself with a blanket, see. People stared. Well, fine. It’s just a boob, I thought. Besides, it’s not as if I came up with how babies were made to eat.
Weather caused the delay. Inside the terminal we’d watched out the wide window on parked planes and seated baggage handlers as the sky rolled out into comforters of gray. “Should we stay or leave?” Caleb asked after the gate attendant—dark and curvy with black shiny hair—announced again that our plane was stuck in Charlotte. We were trying to get home after spending the Fourth with Caleb’s clan. His grandmother is ninety-four—a mother of ten, grandmother of twenty-three, great grandmother of twenty-seven—and this was her final Fourth of July celebration to host at her home on Indian Lake. She just moved into assisted living and her home is now for sale. People were calling it the end of an era because Grandma Liz has put on the Fourth for her bright giant family these last thirty years. She hangs flags and banners, buys red, white, and blue beads and plastic American flag top hats. Patriotic pinwheels twirl and shine down the perimeter of the backyard all the way to the lake. The kids swim and kayak and play King of the Raft. The adults watch from the dock and hundred lawn chairs in the grass, eating BBQ and drinking beer, telling stories and laughing with heads thrown back, loving each other through the simplicity of catching up on life.
Meanwhile Grandma Liz sits on the back porch, sipping the fruit of her labor. People wait in line to speak with her. She’s spunky in her bare feet, orange tribal mumu, and black-rimmed cat eyes. Her glasses contrast chicly with her soft white hair. Silver bangles wrap around her forearms, so when she moves she clinks. She speaks sharply and deliberately, no wasted words. “People used to tell me I was crazy for having so many children,” she said when it came my turn to give her a hug. “Now they say, ‘Oh, you’re so lucky!’ See, because there’s always someone over here. I’m not lonely.”
At the start of this year’s celebration, everyone gathered round Grandma Liz. Her porch became her stage and, sitting up tall, she declared, “I have the best children and grandchildren. Nobody has ever lived a better life than me.”
Beautiful, I thought. Wow. What a powerful thing to say after ninety-four years of life. I, however, was not feeling this way today when the gate attendant got on the loud speaker again and announced our flight was cancelled. In our six hours inside the terminal Virginia pooped through her onesie twice and soaked my shirt with spit up. This was nothing compared to Levi. He lost it over a toy monster truck that belonged to someone else. How my toddler screamed and threw himself on the ground—red in the face, real tears gushing out—over that silly monster truck! In fact he made such a scene that the owner of the truck—a five-year-old boy eating fruit snacks and wearing a Paw Patrol tee—hid it in his backpack then asked his mom if they could move seats. We moved instead—not because of Levi’s meltdown, but because now he was running away from us. He weaved through the hustling crowd coming out of security, his bright blonde hair flashing between legs. A young woman in leopard-print leggings and sleek white sneakers was speed walking while staring at her phone when Levi sprinted by. She almost tripped over him, jumped back and shrieked. “Wild animal on the loose!” I said as I passed her, jostling poor Virginia’s head on my chase.
It’s amazing how fast a miniature human can run. Levi almost escaped the terminal before Caleb scooped him up. The boy flailed and screamed. He was tired like the rest of us of waiting and merely expressing what we all felt. Still, it’s no excuse to act like a fool. But it’s tricky to discipline in the airport. “I don’t think we should spank him in front of all these people,” I said to Caleb. “Should we do timeout in a bathroom stall?” To this Caleb replied, “Gross.”
Now we waited on the drizzly curb to be picked up. When Caleb’s mom arrived we all packed into her Volkswagen Golf. “I bet you’re psychotic,” she said to Caleb and me on the drive back to Grandma Liz’s. “How did the kids do?”
“Virginia got an A,” said Caleb, head heavy against the car door. “Levi got a D-.”
Caleb’s mom laughed. “At least he didn’t fail.”
“Yeah.” Caleb sighed. “Yeah.”
We flew out two days later on a Monday. All Sunday flights were booked. I was itching to get home, back to my nest where it’s easiest and most comfortable to care for my kids. But here’s the silver lining. Sunday was beautiful and we spent it on the lake. Virginia napped on an outdoor chaise lounge while Levi, clad in his blue lifejacket and nothing else, tried to catch the minnows. Remnants from fireworks littered the yard. The sky was blue and the air smelled muddy like the lake. People were out in speedboats skiing. Geese floated along the banks and, would you know it, a bald eagle soared by, its white head and tail feathers aglow in the sun. I lounged beside Virginia while Caleb played with Levi. Watching them I sipped the fruit of my labor. And let me tell you. This is always more nourishing (and better tasting) than a stiff drink.