About halfway to our gate at Denver International Airport, Annabelle stopped in her tracks and her Hello Kitty suitcase (actually, the Hello Kitty suitcase she stole from Sophie, who didn’t care since she was wearing her elephant backpack) dropped to the ground.
“Mama, are we still in Colorado?”
I understood. We’d been in the airport for more than an hour, and so far, as I explained to Annabelle, it had been a lot of hurry up and wait. “That’s all a part of traveling,” I explained. “I don’t like it,” she replied.
Me, either. It’s a lot more fun to hurry up and wait with a pile of magazines and a Starbucks — better yet, a vodka tonic. I hadn’t brought a shred of reading material on this trip — four days in Denver, to visit my sister Jenny and her family, my first solo trip with my two girls — I knew reading wouldn’t happen. I was right. My sister even brought her copy of People into the bowling alley, hopeful we could look at it while the kids bowled, but I knew better. Sophie had to be watched every second. Twice I caught up with her in the shoe rental kiosk.
For the most part, I have to say that Sophie was better than anticipated on this trip. Much better. I don’t give the kid enough credit, I know that, and I suspect Jenny thought that on occasion, over the course of our visit. She was polite about it, but the last half hour of her time with us must have changed her mind.
When she had her third kid, Jenny became the proud parent of not only Sam, an adorable lump of cheeks and hair with (finally!) our family’s coloring, but also a Honda Pilot. I have to say that after a weekend in it, I’m having some mini-van envy. The three older kids fit nicely in the “way back,” as we used to call it in the days of our mom’s Volvo station wagon(s), while Sophie and Baby Sam each took a window in the middle aisle.
Somehow, on this final trip, Annabelle wound up in between the two. Big mistake. I wasn’t thinking about it, I was too eager to get coffee before the airport (I knew my only chance for caffeine was whatever I could slug down in the car) and didn’t realize Jenny had graciously put Annabelle up with the other kids, so she wouldn’t be lonely after we’d dropped Ben and Kate at school.
Within a few blocks, Sophie was whacking Annabelle with books. While I ran into Starbucks, Jenny swapped Sam and Annabelle. Now he was in the middle. Another mistake. She handed Sam two graham crackers, and while Sophie refused crackers of her own, this child who had been only sweet and loving to her cousin for the past four days, suddenly became, as Ray and I like to refer to her from behind our hands, The Ball Buster. BB for short.
It’s like a split personality. Suddenly, the BB went from hitting her sister, to grabbing her tiny cousin’s wrists and trying to force the graham cracker into his mouth, then she really went for it and wriggled half out of her carseat (I have no idea how, I get carsick if I turn around in a moving car) and started locking and unlocking the door and rolling/unrolling the window. I yelled at her, to no avail. (I am a huge pushover; it never works when I yell. I’m waiting for Sophie’s fine motor skills to catch up, so she can flip me off. I’m sure it’s coming soon.)
FInally, my sweet sister turned around and growled, “Sophie! Stop it! Get back in your seat and leave Sam alone!” Like magic, Sophie calmed down, settled into her seat, and didn’t move for the rest of the car trip.
Sam, however, immediately burst into tears.
So you can imagine how excited I was about traversing the Denver airport with my two angels. (Annabelle really was an angel — she does have her moments, but more and more, that kid is too good. Like Sophie, she has a sixth sense about when I really need her to behave. The difference is, she DOES behave.)
To be fair, Sophie did hold my hand while we walked through a line longer than any I’ve ever seen at Disneyland, to get through security, and she didn’t bolt when I let go of her to find our boarding passes and my ID, take my shoes off, then the girls’ shoes, seal my lip gloss into its clear plastic bag, find and turn off my phone and put all of our junk into three separate plastic bins. At least they didn’t make us do the full body scan. Have you seen those things? Jesus Christ.
But Sophie WAS being her BB self. With the hand not turning purple from her mother’s firm grip, she insisted on poking Annabelle every 30 seconds or so. In between, she yelled, “YOU’RE BAD!” and stuck her tongue out at random strangers. I swear, keeping her from actually touching anyone was harder than getting into graduate school. Finally, we were out of security and on the elevator to the train to the concourse (have you ever been to this airport?) and then on the train, and then in for a 15 minute walk to our gate.
A few gates shy of ours, anticipating total disaster, I stopped for bribes — a small bag of M&Ms. We arrived at the gate, where I begged for seats together (that wasn’t actually hard, given the whole “YOU’RE BAD!” thing) and finally crashed, literally, on the carpet by the window, with a few minutes to spare before boarding.
The M&Ms were a disaster themselves — they don’t just melt in your mouth, not if you’re Sophie, but I was gloating privately over the fact that I’d easily located a paper towel in my bag to wipe her off when she decided to bolt. I grabbed her around the waist as she leapt toward a crowd, and she swung her head back violently — and straight at my mouth.
I actually had to ask Annabelle if there was blood. Not my proudest moment as a mother. No blood, my six year old assured me, and in my best imitation of my sister, I yelled at Sophie to calm down and be good. Then I shoved the rest of the M&Ms down my throat, gathered up the girls and our stuff and, mustering the last of our collective energy, we crawled onto the plane. Annabelle refused to sit next to Sophie (smart girl) so I settled in the middle seat and prepared for her to terrorize (sorry, bad word choice) the plane.
Instead, we three fell fast asleep, me holding onto Sophie’s foot, Annabelle’s head in my lap.
We touched down in Phoenix and a text message appeared: “I just found Sophie’s medicine,” Jenny wrote. Her heart medicine.
I had left behind the one thing I can’t replace.