I'm on an airplane en route to Los Angeles. I have such fond memories of traveling to LA as a child. We had family in Beverly Hills and traveled there every few years. The glamour of Rodeo Drive and the famous neighbors were a trip in itself. When I was 16 years old and beginning to consider college and moving away from home, I traveled there alone to stay with relatives and college friends of my parents. One day, early on in my visit, I vividly recall walking outside to enjoy the morning sunshine. A neighbor, still wearing her housecoat, with the most vibrant head of red hair I had ever seen was also outside and retrieving her morning paper. We exchanged a brief hello and friendly wave. She looked so familiar but I couldn't quite place why I recognized her. Later over breakfast I mentioned that a kindly neighbor and I exchanged a pleasant wave and "good morning" but that I couldn't quite place why she looked so familiar or why I would recognize anyone so far from home...
"Oh, that's Lucille Ball."
Whao! Dairy State Teen in greener pastures. Seriously? My hosts, "had some 'splaining to do." I love Lucy! Always have. In fact, when my first son was born and awake for the fifth time in five hours and nursing in the wee hours of the morning, occasionally we would quietly have Nick At Night to keep us company. Lucky for us it was usually I Love Lucy.
Decades later, here I sit aboard an airplane returning to Los Angeles. And once again, I don't quite recognize the person next to me. He looks so familiar but I can't quite place him. Like most men of his generation, he's plugged in and logged in. No ears to hear me and eyes glued to the screen in front of him, unable to see me. His loss as I consider myself a fairly decent conversationalist. I certainly love to talk about my children but I know that can be so boring to travelers so I often keep my private life private and discuss a variety of other engaging topics. Actually, I enjoy listening on airplanes more than speaking because I find the stories of strangers fascinating. Suppose it fits with my profile as a writer. I like new stories and interesting people.
I wonder about the story of the man next to me. Curious where this journey will lead the stranger next to me. Will he enjoy his time in California as much as I intend on enjoying mine. What sorts of things will he be drawn to on this trip? Will his travel lead to meaningful work or mostly a life of leisure? What educational and career opportunities does the world hold for him? Will he return to Minnesota if he falls in love with California. He's an attractive young man. Is he in love with anyone now? Is she good to him? Will she be as good to him as I can be? Will she love him and keep him safe. Will he be blessed with children? He has such a childlike way about the way he moves. He's actually not moving just now as he's fallen asleep. So sweet... His dirty blond hair has fallen over his right eye and he's leaned a bit into my seat area. I won't move him though because I'm enjoying having him close...
As a little boy I would teach him," this is your friend's bubble and that space is your space and bubble. " I would make an exaggerated pretend circle around myself and then one around him. But recently he has built a wall where there was once only a temporary bubble circle around himself. It feels like a lifetime ago when I could crawl into that bubble circle and hug and kiss him. I could wrestle him and tickle him until we were both gasping for breath between our loud, uninhibited belly laughing. Now I am outside the bubble, looking in.
Gazing down at my seat mate, he vaguely reminds me of the little boy who liked me to play with his hair and tell made up stories using his name as the lead character. The little boy I used to know wanted to spend every waking moment with me. How many times did I read Curious George and Frog And Toad before he would agree to nap? Countless afternoon episodes of Mr. Rogers, together on the couch and even more hours outside, we were joined at the hip. Sometimes together, and then eventually over time, alone he began to explore if I promised to watch from the kitchen window.
It seems like only just yesterday that a very, very excited little boy ran in from the backyard asking for help with his Oshkosh Bygosh overalls as he did what I affectionately called the "Potty Dance". Shifting his little toddler self from one foot to the other and back again, barely standing still long enough for me to undo the overall clasps. "Potty. Hurry Mommy!" Then, having reached his destination, bathroom door slightly ajar he would yell to me in the kitchen, " I found a frog. A big one! I'm going to name him Frog. He's my best friend. And, I'm going to need another Tupperware and put holes in the top please. And I'll bring him in my room so he can sleep next to Fish. Okay Mommy? Mommy, okay?"
"Sounds like a plan Boo. What do you think Frog likes to eat?"
"I'm not hungry."
"Oh Mommy, actually I am. Can I have some Ritz Bitz in the blue bowl please?"
And out he comes, heading in the direction of the kitchen, struggling to clip his overalls back together- his latest attempt at independence.
"Flush and wash please." He turns back the other direction while yelling over his shoulder.
"I needed your help first." My bad. If only I knew then that the day would so quickly come when he'd no longer ask. When he'd no longer share all the names of his friends (Should I just call that one Girlfriend when reminding him she is not welcome upstairs to see Fish?!) When he'd prefer to eat out alone rather than in the kitchen with me.
When did the young man next to me stop asking for my help? And when did the tables turn as now he carries my bag and tells me, "Jeez Mom, you need a nap." Tomorrow morning we will begin our first campus tour in what is sure to be a whirlwind weekend of looking at potential colleges for the stranger next to me. This is but another leg of the journey that will take my son further away from me and that much closer to all that I have imagined and dreamed for him.
Time to turn off all electronic devices as the plane is beginning its descent into LAX. I guess you could say I of course always knew that this moment would be coming but so soon? It feels like the journey just started. What if I need more time? What if I'm not ready? I have more to say. There's more I want to do together. I'll stay up late with you now instead of turning in early. We could watch old reruns of I Love Lucy and eat Ritz Bitz.
He as gotten my carry-on down from the overhead storage. He's motioning me to enter into the aisle in front of him. Everyone seems to be moving forward so I will journey forward as well. Rather, I will just fall in behind. This is his journey now so lead the way my son. California here we come...