Christmas comes and goes here. It’s a chaotic whirlwind of buying, wrapping, and opening presents that I spent money on which I didn’t really have. I do this for the joy of watching their faces light up, just like any parent does, I suppose.
Christmas also brings a day of preparing Mia to travel to her dad’s via airplane. She’s grown accustomed to flying alone–she’s been doing it for a few years now. Tonight, the day after Christmas, I got us ready, thinking if we left by 6 o’clock we’d have plenty of time to make the 6:50 flight. Missoula has a tiny, very empty airport. There’s never a line, and usually when we get there 45 minutes early, we end up waiting for a half an hour.
We got there at 6:22. I know this because the woman at the counter said it three times. When she thought it was me traveling with two children, she said there’d be just enough time to make it, since they had just started boarding. When I said Mia was traveling alone, she said she couldn’t let her on.
“What?” I said. “But it would take us ten minutes to get to the gate.”
“There’s paperwork to fill out,” she said. “There’s just not enough time.”
For the first time in my life, I begged and pleaded. I asked her again. And again. She said there was a flight leaving in the morning that she could get us on, and waived the fees and extra cost. Someone called her on the walkie-talkie about a passenger with a medical problem who had to disembark and get on a later flight.
“Is there a delay?” I said.
“No,” she said.
“Please, isn’t there anything you can do to get her on this flight?”
“Ma’am, there’s nothing I can do here. You got here after the 40-minute window to check-in and board. I’m waiving the fees for you to get on the morning flight but that’s all I’m going to do for you here. Now do you want the morning flight or not?”
Mia was openly crying, the baby was squirming in my arms, and I was desperate. I knew Mia’s dad would be upset. Mia was now refusing to go at all. I called to tell her dad about it and he also couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t let us through. But he’d missed a flight before, too, for the same reason, and was forgiving. Maybe it was the tone in my cracked voice, and my apologizing. He talked to Mia a bit and I went back to the counter to change the ticket.
I sat with Mia for a few minutes before leaving. I was shaking a little with anger, stunned that we’d missed the flight for the first time in these years of back-and-forth traveling.
“I’m so sorry, Mia,” I said.
“It’s okay, Mom,” she said. “It wasn’t your fault.”
It actually was. I’d taken out the trash, had to defrost the windows of the truck, and ran back inside twice to grab things we’d forgotten before we left. I’d figured if we’d gotten to the airport with 30 minutes to spare we’d be fine, and was obviously wrong.
I got both the girls Happy Meals, got home, and started scrubbing the house, as I do when I’m frustrated with something I can’t control. I took down the tree, picked up the living room a few times, cleaned the kitchen, and scrubbed the bathroom. Mia wouldn’t go to sleep for a couple of hours, a trend she’d started since not going to sleep until two in the morning on Christmas Eve.
We’d gone to Coraline’s grandma’s house for the evening, much to the horror of our dog, who rarely gets left alone for more than an hour. Coraline’s family in town has quickly become ours. Mia calls the parents of Cora’s dad “Granny” and “Grandpa,” and they treat her like a bonus grandchild. We laughed and told stories and the girls opened a small pile of gifts. I even got a scarf and money for coffee, along with a gift certificate to go on an ice skating date with Mia. I got choked up at one point, sitting there amongst Granny, and two aunts, an uncle, and a cousin who is just six weeks younger than Cora.
“Thank you so much for everything,” I said. “And for accepting us like this. This is so unexpected. I haven’t spent the holidays with family in four years.”
Christmas morning came after a few short hours of sleep. Mia quickly tore through her gifts, and pretty much opened Cora’s as well. After the late night, I was so grumpy about basically being a vessel for gifts to flow out of and not much else. But I was able to get Mia one really nice thing, purely by donation of a couple of musicians in town: her very first guitar.
I cringed at her wanting to carry it around, knowing that it was worth almost as much as my new laptop. She spent hours in her room, trying to play “Wagon Wheel” and singing and dancing to Katy Perry and Taylor Swift.
Most of the day was spent in pajamas, and by the time we got ready to leave to a friend’s house for dinner I realized the only thing I’d eaten was various chocolate treats and bacon.
Mia joined the crowd of kids at my friend’s house like she always does, while I shyly spoke to the adults like I always do. Coraline walked around, letting people dote on her and pick her up and help her up and down stairs, which has been a new personality trait in the last few months. Before that, if anyone tried to engage with her at all, she clung to me even harder and often cried. Being able to sit and relax knowing other adults were keeping an eye on her was incredible. And so was dinner. And the company. We left with very full bellies and leftovers, which I ate most of today.
I know I probably won’t sleep tonight, nervous about getting up at four, getting everyone out the door, and making the flight in time. Most of the time when Mia’s gone I camp out on the couch watching whatever I can find on Netflix, too mopey to venture out much at all.
This week will be a little different. I have a large book proposal to edit. There’s also this gentleman who wants to cook dinner together and spend afternoons giggling. It all feels so promising I get a little caught up in it all. I guess we’ll just have to see.