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Time Flies

January 7, 2015

“Look. A plane,” my son whispered. There’s a skylight over his bed, and since the trees are bare for winter we could see the lights on an airplane that must have taken off from Newark Airport a few minutes before.

His room was dark except for the corner where he’d switched on the nightlight. He and I were nearly nose to nose on pillows, nestled under a blue blanket featuring a llama that his Abuelos brought us from Ecuador and a green and brown afghan crocheted by my Nana when I was a kid. Under his pillow was a stain from a nosebleed he had two nights before. I had meant to change the sheet, but I forgot.

“Oh, cool,” I said, catching the tail lights of the plane and hearing its afterwhoosh overhead. I listened to the sounds of the frozen branches creaking against the siding and the radiator gurgling in the walls. A train rolled by a few blocks away and its whistle blared. Night noises. Soon I figured I’d hear him breathing when he finally fell asleep.

“I’m probably going to London in a couple of weeks,” I’d said at dinner.

“Lucky,” he’d said.

“Why did you say I was lucky because I’m going to London?” I asked him when the plane had passed.

“Because,” he said, “they have a lot of fancy hotels there. And cool museums. They have Big Ben.”

“I saw Big Ben last time I was there,” I said. “But from kind of far away. I didn’t go to any museums though. Would you like to go to London some time?” I asked.

“Maybe,” he said. “Well, no. It depends. Would I go in a plane?”

“Yes,” I said. A boat would take too long.

“I only want to go in a plane if I can sit in the fancy part,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You know, the part where they bring you dinner and take good care of you,” he said. He rolled over for a minute, flipped his pillow to the cool side, waited for me to respond.

I didn’t know how to, because I was wondering if he was getting his notion of flying from stories I’d told at the table, or from watching Home Alone.

I didn’t say anything, so he asked, “Do you fly in the fancy part of the plane?”

“It depends,” I said.

“On what?” he asked.

“Where I’m going. If I’m flying for work or with our family. How long the trip is. If I’m flying overnight and sleeping on the plane,” I said.

“What’s the longest plane trip you’ve ever taken?” he asked.

“Eighteen hours,” I said.

“Eighteen hours! That’s six hours more than half a day!” he said.

“It is,” I said, never having calculated it quite like that.

“Where were you going?” he asked.

“Asia,” I said. “Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong. Do you remember that trip, not last summer but the one before?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “That was a long trip. I don’t like when you go on long trips. Two or three days is okay, I guess, but when you go for a long time, it’s not good.”

“Well, if it takes almost a whole day to get there,” I started to say, but he interrupted.

“Did you fly clockwise or counterclockwise?” he asked.

I held up my left hand in a fist, blocking the skylight and the swaying trees. My right hand became the plane flying around the tiny fisted Earth. “Do you mean did I go this way?” I moved west across the expanse of North America and an imaginary Pacific. “Or this way?” I flew the tiny business class passengers in their lie-flat seats with their hot lavender towels and complimentary champagne and orange juice over Africa and the Indian Ocean instead.

“Yeah,” he said. “Clockwise or counterclockwise?”

“Well, a clock is a circle,” I said, joining the two mirrored Cs of my thumbs and index fingers together above us. “So you can go this way” and I indicated going one way with the tip of my nose. “Or that way” and went the other way. “But the Earth is a sphere,” I said, and I reformed my tiny planet. “So really you can go around it to the other side almost any way you want to,” and I made a dozen rapid orbit paths over Russia, over Greenland, over Chile, more.

“But which one is safest?” he asked, turning to look at me again. There was the little boy this summer who overheard too much NPR in the backseat and told me I can’t go to Nigeria because of Ebola.

“They’re the same,” I said, brushing his hair across his forehead. “Once you’re up above the clouds it doesn’t make a difference.”

“Oh,” he said, and I saw the even littler version of him that my sister always remembers, the one who said “Why?” again and again until some reason you gave suited him and he just said “Oh” and then left his lips in the shape of a clock long after the sound had gone.

I had loved that small boy so much I’d thought it was all the love I had. But the capacity for love is as endless as the paths I could take to get around the world, or the ones he could choose to who he will become. He is still a boy who wonders. I wonder, too: at him, at being his mother, at having the sort of job that puts me on planes that fly to the other side of the Earth, at how to love all of it without missing any of it.

“Why did the boy throw the clock out the window?” he asked me, trying on a joke he’d heard at school.

“Why? I asked, even though I know.

“To see if time flies.”

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