It’s cool that there’s WiFi on the plane. And also a little creepy. There are so few spaces left where we are unreachable. The TV channels on JetBlue’s Hub broadcast today’s news. I don’t have to miss a beat. I can get off a flight better informed than when I boarded, after a busy day, stuck in traffic, caught up in my own head space of packing, planning, preparing. We’ll be landing two hours late, having flown a circuitous route out over the Atlantic to avoid “heavy air” inland, but the longer than usual flight is a chance to catch up.
I am flying to Florida for our almost-annual week’s vacation with my mom. I’m especially excited this year because my younger brother will be there with two of his three small children. They live in LA and I don’t like the distance: I can’t follow them on a day-to-day basis – their likes and dislikes, which stories or games are their favorites, their signature bon mots…those peculiar phrasings so charming in little kids.
I remember when their dad, my brother Welles, was their age. He is seven years younger than I, which is a hiccup in time now, but when we were kids, it was a chasm. He used to say, with great conviction, “I amn’t” instead of “I’m not,” a sensible contraction, when you think about it. Welles has such an interesting mind, with a keen spatial and mechanical intelligence that I utterly lack. He can take apart a car engine or a camera and the parts will be strewn all over the place, looking to me like techno carnage. But it makes complete sense to him and he’ll repair and reassemble it all in a heartbeat. When he was three or four, he built a beautiful Lego structure that resembled a helicopter/eighteen wheeler hybrid. He was sitting on the floor of our parents’ room, totally absorbed in the act of creation. Mom and Dad were still married at the time, and one of them asked him what he was building. Without missing a beat, he said: “it’s a contraption.” Big word for a little guy.
He still loves contraptions. He is a cinematographer by profession and rebuilds classic cars for fun. He taught himself welding so he could design a wrought iron gate for his house in Laurel Canyon. Now he has three children, seven years, three years, and seven months old. It pains me not to know their little eccentricities, their “amn’ts” and “contraptions.” His oldest child and only son, Sam, is a quirkster. Sam’s brain works on its own terms. He’s not the easiest child to parent, the kind of kid who keeps you up at night worrying – will he fit in, will his brain wire itself into something less contrarian, will he find friends and love outside the circle of family care? My kids are old enough now that I know the answer to these questions will be yes, ultimately. But there will be turbulence, no matter which route they fly. I can’t wait to give Sam a big hug, and do my signature Donald Duck sneeze for him, which he loves. Or at least he used to love it, the last time I saw him. Now that he’s seven, he may have outgrown it. That’s his sister Tess in the boots, in a photo Welles took. She is more delicious than foie gras. Also a classic bossypants, to hear her mom tell it. I love a woman who knows her mind.
I’ll also see my niece Daisy in Florida. At 29, she’s the oldest of my nieces and nephews. I was able to spend more time with her as she grew up, because my older brother Randy lives just under an hour away. I’ve seen her for scores of Thanksgivings, been to her youthful performances (a sequined, saccharin and epic Christmas review comes to mind) and her final high school viola recital. I attended her college graduation, when she was profoundly hung over but joyful, and have followed her career as a social worker with interest and awe. It’s hard work. She has a new guy in her life, and I hear from Randy that he’s good to her and they are happy. So I’m looking forward to meeting him. My aunt-ly antenna are tuned: He’d better be good to her, because she is a pearl.
And then there is mom, who turned 80 in September. She feels fragile and vulnerable. Stuff goes wrong and she’s unused to it: a cataract here, a prolapsed this-or-that there, a skin lesion, a hernia, a virus that once would have been an annoying few days now is three weeks of bronchitis or worse. I tell her she’ll never die, she’ll just keep shrinking until one day, she’s no bigger than Tinkerbell, all light. And although she is more petite than ever, she is also more beautiful than ever. I somehow got watching the new Netflix series “Grace and Frankie” the other night and was struck by how much Jane Fonda reminds me of my mom. She doesn’t have mom’s sparkle though. Sorry Jane. Mom’s mind is sharp as it’s always been, which is saying something. She’s a thoroughbred, intellectually. I wish seeing her was easier.
But we all live a flight away. That’s how it is in this new millennium. So I’m up here at 35,000 feet, scribbling away, suspended in time. My seatback screen is tuned to CNN where the crawl informs me that the GOP conservatives are plotting to stop Trump with a “Unity Ticket”, Governor Snyder admits the state “messed up” in handling Flint’s water crises, and Bernie Sanders has conceded Missouri to Hillary Clinton. When we land, I won’t have missed anything important.