Kim and the girls were flying out to meet me in Portland, Oregon at the tail end of the Open Source conference. Their plane had been delayed many times and it was getting late Portland time. It was already early the next morning Cleveland time.
Sarah waited with me in the lobby of the Doubletree. She probably should have gone up to bed long before but she wanted to see Kim again and she wanted to meet the girls. It must have been 10:30 when their cab finally pulled out in front of the hotel. Usually it was Elena that would come running to me, but this time it was Maggie who saw me and took a running jump into my arms yelling “daddy”.
There may be nothing better than that feeling in the whole world.
Elena shook the sleep off and came running up behind Maggie and gave me a big hug as well. I started out to help with the luggage. Kim walked in the front door of the hotel and said “hi honey. Do you have any money?”
I fought the urge to lecture her about being prepared and about how it was dangerous to travel without money. I paid the cab driver and got the luggage.
The girls love hotels. Elena announced that she was hungry and so we stopped at the front desk for their free cookies. Each girl had their cookie and their mini travel bag on rollers and we headed for the elevators. Kim tried to talk to Sarah but the girls had latched onto her and were performing. They bounced off each other – talking to her – showing off the things they knew – asking her questions.
They paused in the elevator to look out through the glass walls as the lobby disappeared below. Once out of the elevator, they spotted the ice machine. Could life be any better than that?
We headed to the room and Elena convinced Sarah that she was still hungry. Sarah snuck into her hotel room quietly so as not to wake her roommate and brought Elena back an apple. Elena talked about that for months.
One week later we were back in the same hotel getting ready to leave Portland. We stopped at the front desk so the girls could get one more cookie for the road and took the light rail to the airport. The line was long and the Continental counter was crowded but we were still well over an hour early by the time we got to the front.
“Oh,” said the man behind the counter, “you’ve been upgraded.”
“Thank you,” I said, but I really can’t leave my wife in coach with our two kids.
“Well,” he said, “I have room to upgrade one of them as well.”
We talked about it a minute and Kim decided that me and Maggie could sit up front. We made our way to security and I got pulled out of line going through the metal detector. I had set something off.
“Anything in your pockets sir?” the guard asked.
I felt for coins, keys, or other bits of metal. “Nothing,” I shook my head.
“What about your belt?” he asked.
“I’ll try it,” I agreed. I took my belt off and set the metal detector off yet again. They pulled me to the side and used the wand detector on me. And there it was. I’d put my cell phone in my shirt pocket and forgotten about it. The guard rolled his eyes. I apologized. At that time I was traveling two weeks out of the month. I was so worried about getting my kids through that I’d done something this stupid.
The kids weren’t alarmed in any way. Kim used to get pulled aside for her shoes before they made everyone send their shoes through the scanner. We picked up our stuff and repacked our bags and headed for the gate.
Maggie settled into first class and pulled out a book and a snack as if this was where she belonged. Did she want a drink before we took off? No thank you. Not yet.
It’s a year and a half later and Maggie still complains about the meal. The truth is, she loved it – except for the soup. But for some reason she remembers how much she hated the soup. I loved watching how grown up she was and how well behaved she was. It was one of those dad moments when I thought I was going to burst.
Elena came up to visit us. “So,” she said with her hands on her hips, “how’s it going?”
“Pretty good,” said Maggie. “I liked my chicken but the soup was horrible.”
“Ooooh,” said Elena, “you have your own bathroom.” Elena used the bathroom a lot that summer. She never met a new bathroom that she didn’t want to try. She made eyes at the stewardess and the woman let her use the bathroom instead of sending her back to coach. I asked Maggie to help her and she did without a fuss.
After Elena finished in the bathroom and Maggie was back in her seat, Elena gave us the classic stewardess farewell “Buh-bye”.
“See ya,” I said. And Elena headed back to rejoin Kim.
After the movie I asked Maggie to go back and switch with Elena. Elena sat in her seat and listened to music in the headphones. She kept looking at me and then looked away when I would look back. She wanted me to notice what a big girl she was. She sat with a magazine in her lap. The stewardess had brought her a drink. Elena didn’t really need first class on an airplane. All she needed was a lime or a lemon in her drink and she felt pampered. She sipped her ginger ale with a lemon and chatted to me about this and that as if she were making small talk on a date.
We started our descent and the stewardess asked Elena if she wanted a cookie.
“Yes, please,” she said. “And can I have one for my sister?”
The stewardess gave her a second cookie and stood out of the way while Elena raced back to coach to give Maggie her cookie. Again, a year an a half later, what Maggie mainly remembers is that Elena didn’t give her a choice of which cookie she could have. Half full offered a cookie to half empty.
We landed in Houston and had to rush across the concourse to our connecting flight to Cleveland. We were one of the last to board the plane. As the gate agent swiped my ticket it beeped.
“Sir,” the gate agent said, “you’ve been upgraded.”
I looked at Kim. “Take it,” she said.
“You take it,” I said back. I turned to the gate agent and asked, “Can my wife have that upgrade?”
“Sure,” she said, “we’ll just put it on her ticket instead.”
Maggie and Elena and I settled into the first row of coach while Kim sat in first class. This was the perfect configuration for an airplane for us. Right in front of us was the wall of the bathroom. Elena was as close to the bathroom as she could possibly get without sitting inside it.
“Daddy,” she said, “I need to go to the bathroom.” I asked Maggie to take her. You could hear the girls talking and singing inside. The passengers around me laughed.
The pilot announced that we would be delayed taking off. The girls went up to visit Kim in first class. Two trips to the bathroom later we were ready to take off.
I sat in the middle seat bracketed by my girls. We ate, we played, we read, we colored, we watched the movie. I’d been upgraded.