I walked out into a perfect day yesterday. No clouds in sight, a light breeze ruffling the leaves of slender flowers, mid-70's temperature, and two white airplane streams hanging almost directly above me, bringing out both the blue of the sky and the smile on my face.
I've read some of the theories that those streams are laden with chemicals instead of ice crystals, but to me they're forever laden with memories of a ten year old girl lying in the grass, completely transfixed by the idea of air travel and imagining the fascinating lives of the people on the planes overhead. The stewardesses walking down the aisles, offering magazines and conversation in between lay-overs in exciting cities like New York and London. Travellers dressed up in their Sunday best clothes on their way to exotic vacation destinations or important business meetings. Otherworldly dreams of a girl whose only experience with planes was the model kits done by her next door neighbor.
My first real experience didn't come for another five years, when my older sister flew out to California to be in a cousin's wedding. I was a bit shy of 16 and she was 19, having just finished her first year of college. To my untrained eye, with her oversized sunglasses, straight blond hair and dark tan, she looked every bit as sophisticated as the travellers in my childhood dreams. The fact that she was flying student stand-by, or that we were running between gates hoping to finally get her a seat, did little to dampen my wonder. With smartly dressed stewardesses and captains passing by, and planes filled with well dressed passengers lifting off to far away places, it was all I had thought it might be.
My own first flight didn't happen for another eight years, when I was in law school and flew out to Nebraska for a regional Moot Court competition. We were a group of poor students, traveling on someone else's dollar, trying to drink as much liquor as we could between St. Louis and Lincoln. If we came close to my dream of the sophisticated air traveller prior to getting on the plane, we fell far short of it when we got off.
My best chance of living out my dreams occurred several years later when I worked at a law firm specializing in injuries occurring on railroads and waterways that put me on numerous flights to fairly interesting destinations.
There was a commercial on TV at the time showing a working mom dropping her kids off at daycare, hopping on a plane for a business meeting, taking care of business, then flying back to pick up her kids, still refreshed and looking great. That was me.
Except that it never was.
It's seven in the morning, my plane leaves in an hour and a half, and the kids are still refusing to put on any of the three outfits that are now in piles on the living room floor. There are no clean socks in their drawers and I 'm convincing the oldest that the brown spots on the pair retrieved from the laundry room floor are old stains and not new dirt. She's not convinced and refuses to put on shoes until I find clean socks.
We walk out the door twenty minutes later, me screaming that I'm going to miss my flight and the kids crying because they "hate this outfit" and their feet are cold without socks.
The oldest refuses to kiss me when I drop her off at school, with hair uncombed, and the youngest promptly tells her teacher that she's wearing yesterday's underwear.
I realize that I forgot all about breakfast and drive off hoping that it's somebody's birthday and that they bring in cupcakes.
I don't remember if they show a shot of the commercial mom sitting on the airplane, but I'd be willing to bet that she's alert, sitting straight, and intently reading "Business Weekly" next to a good looking, well dressed man who keeps sneaking glances at her.
I use the airplane to catch up on the sleep that I missed when the kids woke up with bad dreams the night before--probably from watching that R-rated movie. Slumped in my seat, mouth agape, with an unread copy of "People" sitting in my lap, I sleep for forty minutes until the grandmother next to me wakes me up to tell me that we're just now passing over Kansas City and wouldn't I like to see it.
When the commercial mom gets off the plane, she confidently walks through the concourse, taking long strides, swinging her briefcase and getting stares from all the men in the airport.
I'm barely moving, stopping every twenty feet to shift the oversized briefcase that's filled to overflowing with briefs and court records that weigh forty pounds and cause me to walk with a definite tilt. The makeup that I managed to put on in the car on the way to the airport is streaked with sweat, and my suit is wrinkled from using the jacket as a pillow on the plane. I think I might hear my name being paged over the intercom, but I don't have time to check.
I go about my business, tired and messy, and return to the airport three hours later for my return flight. Unlike the commercial mom who negotiated fifteen contracts, I'm returning from court where my opponent conceded the motion that I had travelled 600 miles to argue. I might have known that if I had picked up the intercom page.
When I pick up the kids, the teacher of my youngest informs me that my daughter has a rash which might be caused from infrequent changes of underwear and that she'll not be able to return to school without a doctor's note saying it's not impetigo. My oldest tells me that I forgot to pack her a lunch, which means she hasn't eaten all day. We pile into the car, fight about who's going to sit where and head home for a night of TV, where I swear at the friendly skies commercial.
I've had some flights in the intervening years, but nearly all have involved some number of children, aging grandparents or harried moms. Not to mention the more recent lines, security check points, smaller seats and infringments on personal space.
The dreams of my childhood seem doomed to remain floating in the contrails that criss-cross the blue skies.
Although I do have a window seat of hope.
My oldest daughter flies on a diplomatic passport and and sometimes gets escorted past a few of the lines. I'm thinking that if I tag along, I might too.