Without turning on the light I tiptoed into her room, careful to step over the gaping backpack spilling its cargo of papers, gym clothes and books; over DVDs and laundry and other indistinguishable shapes strewn across the floor. When I got to the bed I felt my way across the comforter, past the dog who was trying to be invisible so as not to be scolded and sent away, past the mountain of pillows she swears she needs to sleep, until my hands found what I was looking for. I leaned over and kissed my daughter’s cheek.
Taking advantage of the fact that she was only half awake and couldn’t rally the usual adolescent rebuff, I buried my face in her hair and kissed her again.
“I’m off to the airport,” I whispered, breathing in the scent of a sleeping child. “I’ll miss you so much.”
“Well,” she replied in a reasonable tone, her voice muffled by the pillow, “Why do you go then?”
I laughed softly. “That’s a very good question.” I kissed her one more time, two more times, and tiptoed out.
Even as I checked my baggage, boarded my flight and and texted one last goodbye before I thumbed through the in-flight magazine, her question rolled around the corners of my mind.
When school schedules, work commitments and the budget allows, we travel as a family. Occasionally, I’ll take a trip with a girlfriend. But other times, usually lured by a low fare, irresistible hotel bargain or simply the desire to see a place I’ve never seen before, I set out on my own.
I don’t have to travel. I could do the bulk of my work without ever leaving town. But travel feeds my mind. And my mind feeds my work. But the most honest answer to my daughter’s question is that I go because I can. I go because it would be a shame not to.
I go because we live in an amazing time. For all our gripes about fare increases, security, occasional delays and crowded flights, right now, like no other time in our history, the world is open to anyone, even a middle-aged mother of four who sometimes likes to pick a place on a map and just fly away.
It’s not like I’m leaving infants to fend for themselves. Three of my children are off on their own. Only the sleepyhead - the teenage “baby” - is left behind with Dad for a few days. And, like I said, we all travel together whenever we can.
I suppose, in a way, this penchant of mine to catch the occasional plane - solo - helps us both be more independent. I sample tiny bites of life with an empty nest. She makes do without the mother who will drop everything to deliver a forgotten lunch or can be talked into a banana-split as an after-school snack.
I tell myself I want to set an example, to leave my children with a sense of adventure and the sure and certain knowledge that it’s OK to wander as long as you always come back home. But really, who’s kidding who? There is another reason I go. Teenagers are hard to catch and harder to hold. If I have to get up before the sun now and then to show a little love, then that’s exactly what I’ll do.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org