“Miss you,” The girl said. Then the boy said it. Then his mate said it too. There was some hugging and kissing through the open doors of the car. There was one more quick wave to the children. Then Neanderdad was away and strolling through the terminal, rolling bag in tow and a spring in his step. The usual hassles surrounded credentials, luggage and lines didn’t bother him a bit. The crowds didn’t bother him. The overuse of cologne by strangers didn’t bother him. Nothing bothered him. Neanderdad was basking in the glorious glow of freedom. He pondered this absently as he put his shoes into a plastic bin.
“You will be thrilled to go on business trips,” an older, wiser parent had once told a younger, newly encumbered Neanderdad. And at the time Neanderdad had grunted his disapproval. It was, after all, unthinkable to wish to be away from one’s offspring even for a second. But Neanderdad had to admit to himself that, even as he was being uncomfortably probed by a metal-detecting security wand, he was thrilled to be on his own. The realization left him with a vague sense of concern, but it was the truth.
There were so many simple joys to being unencumbered. Neanderdad browsed magazines at the newsstand without having to worry about the shelves becoming denuded by grabby hands. Neanderdad ordered a sandwich with the pleasing thought that he’d actually get to eat the whole thing. He carried no diapers, sippy cups or wipes. There was no backpack full of plastic distractions or extra clothing tucked under his arm. He didn’t have to worry about sharp corners, steep stairs, grimy surfaces or creepy strangers.
There was the leisurely stroll to the gate. There was the uninterrupted read of a newspaper. And during the wait for his boarding group at the gate, there was the slight smirk as Neanderdad watched two exhausted looking parents deal with their their little boy’s catastrophic meltdown. As the toddler flailed about, literally kicking and screaming on the terminal carpet, Neanderdad simply put his headphones into his ears and turned up the music. The tantrum was almost comic, set to music this way and viewed from his wonderful point of detachment.
On the plane, Neanderdad quickly and serenely plummeted into a fitful nap. He had no responsibility, so why not. And when he finally awoke, he was just in time to watch the in-flight movie. He hadn’t seen a first-run movie in almost a year. While the movie itself was mediocre, the experience of watching a movie uninterrupted was glorious. The earphones helpfully drowned out the toddler, who had continued his tantrum on the plane. It was only after the movie reached its conclusion, and as he watched the child squirm in the seat across the aisle, that Neanderdad started to feel a nagging sense of….something. Perhaps it was the boy’s shoes, which were the same model as those worn by his own son.
On the way to the bathroom Neanderdad caught the eye of the overtaxed parents and smiled sympathetically. And on the way back, though part of him wanted to simply get back to his seat and vegetate, Neanderdad found himself chatting with the parents and interacting with the child. In fact, he managed to use his portable electronic device to distract the upset child by showing pictures of his own kids. Distraction was an effective strategy he’d learned with his own clan. By the time Neanderdad was getting off the plane, he was waving goodbye to the family and they were wishing him the best with his children. He walked away feeling like a parenting colossus. How easy it was to be brilliant for a few minutes, when the energy was high.
At the rental car stand, they offered Neanderdad a choice and he didn’t pick the minivan. He didn’t pick the family sedan. He went with the convertible sports car. There were no car seats or baggage train to struggle with. He simply tossed his stuff into the back and roared away. HIs undistracted race to the hotel was set to a blaring soundtrack completely devoid of Beethoven’s Wig or the Wiggles.
The hotel where Neanderdad’s business conference was being held was upscale and Neanderdad reveled in it. He took a break from his preparations for the next day’s conference to swim in the pool and use the gym, unheard of luxuries in his regular life. Then he walked the grounds and stopped for an early beverage at the Hotel Bar and socialized with a few colleagues. Through it all, he was completely free of that nagging sense that something important was forgotten or that some lurking danger remained for him to uncover.
But something funny started to happen as Neanderdad, three time zones ahead of his family, started to settle into his hotel room. He found himself overwhelmed by the silence and bored by the television. He didn’t know what to do with himself. And so he initiated a quick videoconference with his family to see what they were doing.
Through pixelated, jerky snapshots of their reality, Neanderdad talked with his offspring and wife. The children wandered in and out of frame, a flurry of motion. Occasionally, they screamed to him, as if to overcome to spotty connection.
“Dad! When you coming home?” The boy said as he chased the dog out of frame.
“Daddy, I have a bruise,” his daughter said cheerfully, pointing at a spot on her blurry knee.
Neanderdad chatted briefly with his wife, assuring himself that everything was okay. Then, there was a thick feeling in his throat that he couldn’t quite explain.
“Miss You,” Neanderdad said to his children. But they were already out of frame. They had already raced off to dinner with a distant scream of “Bye Daddy.” Then his wife logged off and Neanderdad was left with a pitch black screen.
“Miss You,” he said again. And as glanced around the sterile, empty hotel room. And he really really meant it.