Our family history with our kids and flights is such that I didn’t want to speak too soon. But our eldest, Ryan, will be boarding a flight to Spain in ten days time. This after British Airways has caused me multiple heart attacks over the past two weeks by cancelling his flights, not once but twice. What?? I was not happy. Ryan was not happy. We both spent multiple hours on the telephone, live chat, and the like, trying to straighten it all out. We thought we were there. Then, they cancelled them, yet again.
It’s been nearly three years since we have seen Ryan. Since that day after Christmas 2019 in Bellevue. Before the world went mad. The pandemic didn’t help. In that time, Ryan earned his PhD. But, there would be no hooding ceremony where we would stand proudly with him in his gown and velvet hood, in his funny, tasseled hat, smiling, like we had earned the diploma ourselves. I think there might have been a Zoom graduation thing, but he didn’t even want to do that. Both he and his partner, Olga, who also earned her PhD, quietly packed up their apartment and moved on to their new jobs on the east coast of the US. Newly minted Drs.
Ryan was always the smartest kid in any classroom growing up. He was small and skinny, with his little round glasses. Jeff is an introvert, but Ryan makes Jeff seem gregarious. When Ryan was little, he and I had a routine. I would be cooking dinner and Ryan would come down into the kitchen. Invariably, he would get a glass of something to drink. If he left right away, he probably had homework. We never had to remind him to do his homework. But, if he stayed in the kitchen I knew he wanted to talk to me about something important. And it would usually take awhile before I would find out what it was. Time to turn down the heat on the pot on the stove, just keep stirring, and wait.
Ryan would begin circling me. Then, he would pepper me with facts. Non-sequiturs. This was the Did you know? phase of our routine.
‘Did you know that most of the stars you can see in the sky aren’t even there anymore? Most of them have been gone for millions of years.’
‘Did you know what it’s called when a lizard releases its tail to get away from danger?’
‘Do you know how long it takes light to travel from the Sun to the earth?’
Stuff like that. I understood my role. Even if I knew the answer to these questions I would say ‘No.’ Inviting him to inform me. Psst…I rarely knew the answer. We didn’t look each other in the eye during these exchanges. That was the point. Ryan was comfortable talking in this setting. That’s all I needed.
The circling would continue as whatever I was cooking was getting more and more done. Sauces became reductions. Chicken overdone. But I didn’t care. I just listened and answered appropriately. Delaying whatever I was doing. He needed to work up to it. Finally, Ryan would get to the point.
‘How old were you when you first had a boyfriend in school?’
Ah! I would try to keep my face blank, knowing that if I smiled it might scare him off. This was a big moment. Don’t blow it, Kelli!
‘Well. I think I was about your age.’ I said. The truth was my first boyfriend was in preschool, but I wouldn’t have said that. This wasn’t about me. He was just looking for reassurance. For many years, this was how we did things , and I missed it when the circling stopped. When he didn’t need my council anymore.
Ryan is brilliant, but also kind and honest. To a fault. I think he finds deception to be illogical and mean. He wouldn’t know how to be manipulative. It’s not in his nature. When Jeff and I had to make up our wills in Spain and determine power of attorney and our living wills, we named Ryan as the person who will make all medical decisions for us if we become incapacitated. And his partner, Olga, is the back up. Between the two of them, I am very sure if there are life and death decisions to be made, they will model it out logically. But with a compassion algorithm, as well.
Ryan and his partner have just purchased their first house where they live in Maryland.They have a dog and a cat he adores, and he works at a physics lab doing important things I can’t begin to wrap my head around. Solving the big problems. We speak often, and sometimes he even asks for our advice. But now, it’s about things for the house. Does this rug match with this chair? What I call soft problems. He handles the big stuff all on his own.
Because of the flight rebooking and airline shuffling, we can’t get Ryan all the way to Santiago on Delta Airlines, or their partners. So Jeff will drive 500 kms to Madrid to pick him up. I’ll stay home and open the food truck as Jeff heads out at 5:30 am to start the 8+ hour round trip journey to collect him. The drive home will give these two introverts time to catch up without me filling in the inevitable silence with which they are both so comfortable. LuLu kitty and I will close up at 2pm, then wait patiently for the sound of the gate opening so we can run out to greet him. I’ll hug him much too tight, after which he will pull away, pushing his wire-framed glasses back up his nose while smiling that lopsided smile. Just the same as when he was little. Jeff will carry his bag into the house and I’ll start cooking some of his favorites for dinner. Maybe, Ryan will come into the kitchen to get a glass of water after such a long drive, and it’s then I’ll hold my breath to see if he stays for a nice catch up, or heads upstairs to rest. But, even if he does stay, there will be no circling in the kitchen on the farm. The big house with the big kitchen island in the US is long gone. And, I have to remind myself that he’s 30 years old now, with a partner and a life of his own, so he doesn’t need me to tell him what to do. But, I kind of hope that for just these ten days he will let us have a few moments when we can pretend he still needs us. Because, after these three years, we sure need him. More than ever.