My son called to say their connecting flight had been delayed, its departure pushed back from 7 to 9 p.m., then 11, then midnight. Then came the question of whether the flight would even leave that night, which meant the kids would either camp out overnight in the airport (not so bad in a large city terminal stateside, but not so great in the islands, where the airports close down but for the cleaning crew by midnight), or take an offered hotel voucher and find themselves a place to sleep. "I see a hotel across the street," my 17-year-old son told me on the phone. That didn't comfort me at all. What kind of hotel? And would the girls, two lovely 15-year-olds experimenting with head-turning fashion, be targeted for the lack of adults in their company?
Yes, my noisy mother-brain was clattering off the rails. I knew the airport in St. Lucia also closed down at midnight. Yet in St. Lucia, my mother waited calmly. "Don't worry, they will be safe," she said, knowing exactly where my brain was careening to. "I'm sure the airport will stay open for them. And Ozzie and Zai say they will meet the flight no matter what time it comes in." There is a saying in the islands, "Good frien' better than pocket money." Ozzie and Zai are two of my mother's dearest friends in St. Lucia. In that moment, I was insanely grateful for them.
Back in New York, my husband calmly played with his iPhone apps, awaiting for the outcome. "Relax," he told me periodically. "They will be fine." In Puerto Rico, my son (the other person in our family whom I suspect knows what it is to wrestle with a noisy brain) stationed himself by the gate so he wouldn't miss any updates, and sent the girls to find food. Where did they go? I peppered him. Are they safe? "I have no idea," he said with mock sang froid.
Fortunately, New York cell phones work in Puerto Rico. I called my daughter. She and Gabby were giggling like 9-year-olds as she answered. Where are you? "In a McDonald's eating." Inside the airport? "No, outside, but not too far. Oh, mom, ____ is calling on the other line. He might have information." So I hung up. I knew my son had charged her to answer her phone if he called. And I guessed he was calling to make sure they were alright; my panic had no doubt panicked him. After an interval, I called my daughter back. "We're headed back to the gate now," she said. "We're walking through a tunnel." Are there many people around? "Um, not really. The airport is kind of closed."
Can you say, imagination running riot? Of course, they made it back to the security area without incident. And shortly after, the airline made the decision to depart at midnight rather than wait till morning. The airport in St. Lucia agreed to stay open to receive the flight. My mom's friends were apprised of the new arrival time.
At that point, my husband turned over and went to sleep. I lay awake, checking the clock, holding my breath, as if my tight-lipped force of will would keep the plane in the sky and land my three children safely (because Gabby was my child, too, at that moment). Finally at 2:36 a.m. my daughter sent me the best text ever.
"hahaha. here. i'm so happy."
"Me too!" I texted back.
Half an hour later, my son called from my mom's house. "Thank you, son," I told him. "For what?" he asked. "I know you were the one holding it down," I replied. "Yes," he laughed. "The girls were on an adventure." He kindly didn't add, But I had you to contend with.