She sat there. A young mother flanked by two twirling girls. Her tired eyes darted between her babies and her bags. A clumsy stack of carry-ons and a car seat and a stroller waited nearby. She fiddled with her phone. She doled out snacks. She broke up skirmishes.
And she waited.
She waited for her husband. He was returning the rental.
She waited for her boarding passes. A nice man clutched them mere yards away.
She waited for home. Away was nice, but home beckoned.
And, as always, she waited for other things. Answers to questions that nipped her. Relief from exhaustion that gripped her. Balance between things that tugged her. Presence in a moment that would flee.
And her husband came along. And her girls crooned one word.
And this simple word made her smile. A big smile. A goofy smile. A crescent of pride and exasperation and love.
And the kind man brought the tickets. He told this small family that they would have to wait a bit longer. He said several bad words. Issue. Problem. Weather. Canceled.
They had choices. None was great. Wait eight hours for the next flight out? No. Pay thousands to switch airlines? No. Stop over in another state where they might also get stuck? No.
They booked a flight for the next morning. They called a hotel. Booked a surprisingly affordable suite. They rented another car. They explained to a confused little girl that the plane was too snowy. And she was sad. Mostly because she wanted to get home to her own forgotten toothpaste. Her parents' paste was "too spicy."
The suite was blanketed in yellow and gold flowers and toile. There were lush drapes and stacked towels and little soaps. There was a little crystal bowl of dried cranberries which a certain someone declared "too scrambled." The little girls zipped around, chasing each other, stopping only to hug and hit. Mother and father?
They surrendered to a day they didnt design. To a stop they didnt expect. To moments they never imagined.
There were rowdy races down long hotel hallways.
There was a swim in a vast hotel pool.
There was a DVD marathon on a yellow couch. There was an early dinner at a local seafood restaurant. The girls bounced on either side of the big booth, tossing crayons, nibbling fries. Mother and father?
They shared a shrimp cocktail and blue crab dip.
Back at the hotel, before bed, that young mother realized something. She realized that there was a curious sweetness in being stranded, in being sidetracked by something bigger.
She realized that going was good, but that stopping was grand.
She and her husband pulled tiny pajamas from suitcases and made the couch into a bed. In her mind, she combed through the day. Through the moments of frustration and anger and anticipation. Through the moments of silliness and resilience and judgment.
And from these moments, she picked a favorite. It was a relatively small moment. A tiny speck on a long day. In that moment, the mother sat at the little desk in the hotel suite. She tried to connect to the Internet. To one of her worlds. And she had trouble. And she panicked a bit that she wouldnt be able to have that conversation that had come to nourish her. That conversation with certain strangers who weren't strangers.
But then. She was yanked outside of herself. By two little creatures running naked on a sunny yellow carpet. The big girl wore nothing but a pair of New Balance sneakers. Gray. Stained by yellow highlighter. The little girl ran after her big sister screaming and pointing, Shoes! Mine! At this blur of porcelain skin and blonde hair and blue eyes, the mother swelled with pride and clarity. At this fleeting portrait of affection and competition and life, the mother melted. At this glimpse of her girls and her genes and her glory, the mother felt the wilting of waiting. And an answer or two arrived.
Bedtime kisses and snuggles. Lights out. The little girls settled in. Mother and father?
They retreated to a vast bed decked in friendly flowers. They kept their voices low. But they talked. And talked. About silly little girls and big bad dreams. About furious devotion and deep doubts and unexpected detours. About gray skies and new balances. They talked about the thicket of time, the chasm between control and contingency, the certainty of uncertainty. In hushed tones, they talked about landscapes. Of life. Of love. Of longing.
And then they turned off the lights and went to sleep.
Before she succumbed to the slumber that would take her swiftly, that young mother thought of the words of a wise man named Samuel Johnson.
Our brightest blazes of gladness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.
And these words made her smile. So did the thought of snowy planes and spicy toothpaste and scrambled cranberries. So did the image of naked baby butts.
Warmed by the bright blaze of an unexpected adventure, an unplanned exercise in standing still, that mother closed her eyes to wait some more.
For a new flight.
For more stranding sparks.
Twenty-eight hours after leaving our family's place in South Carolina, we are finally home. And happily so. But I must admit that we enjoyed our first ever hotel stay as a family.
What was your worst travel day ever? Have you ever been stranded somewhere? Did you curse the inconvenience or embrace the detour or a bit of both?