I think my son has morphed into a tiny adult overnight. We’re flying back to Dubai after a blur of a week in San Francisco. A week that consisted of long naps, too much sugar and more cereal consumed in the middle of the night than I care to remember (thank you, jet lag). As I watch my son wheel his tiny roller bag through the airport, I’m suddenly hit with a flashback of the two of us cruising Brooklyn together many years ago. Except instead of the walking, talking, self-assured traveler of today, back then he was just a gurgling peanut strapped to my chest. The image had me silently weeping in my seat.
Traveling 8,000 miles with a five year old in the span of a week is an adventure all its own. But the fact that we had seven days of uninterrupted mother/son time —time for me to get to know this funny, thoughtful, quirky little kid better than I ever thought possible—made for one of the most memorable vacations I’ve had.
From the moment we boarded the plane he had me in stitches. As we settled in to our nearly 16 hour flight, Will turned to the flight attendant and asked, with a face as sober as a judge, how many minutes until we reached San Francisco. I could hardly contain my giggling. It took us both a minute to compose ourselves (and a bit longer to do the math) while the whole time Will sat patiently, with the most earnest look on his face, waiting for an answer.
Once we reached San Francisco, he spent the better part of the week ribbing his cousin Sofia. Despite the fact the two are only a few months apart, Will easily assumed the role of the pesky younger brother, never missing an opportunity to torment his poor cousin. One night at the dinner table as Sofia was recounting her day at the zoo, Will kept punctuating her sentences with a squeaky “no you didn’t.” The more she retold her story, the louder he interjected until finally she was up out of her seat, pointing and screaming at Will while he sat there with the satisfied look of a cat next to a bird cage, and you could almost see tiny tufts of feathers escaping his mouth.
As an overall travel companion, Will earns high marks. His exuberance for every aspect of our trip was endearing (the airport! The subway! Breakfast at grandmas!). And his desire to travel with nothing more than a bag the size of a lunchbox was fabulous, unlike his father who insists on taking the kitchen sink with us. Will, on the other hand, cares nothing for clean laundry and has a style only Mark Zuckerberg could love—same shirt, every day, no questions. (Of course, Will prefers a brightly colored Power Rangers shirt but that’s how you roll when you’re five).
Although Will travels light, his emotional baggage can pack some heft. I won’t lie, there were some epic meltdowns. There were days when I was the world’s worst mommy because I wouldn’t buy him a yoda costume or let him eat Nutella for breakfast, or because I wouldn’t stop the car so he could refill his Pez dispenser (did I mention the sugar??). His outburts usually happened when he was overly tired (which, due to jet lag, was 80% of our trip) and when he could seize on my equally exhausted, time-zone ravaged patience. Those moments did not register as the picturesque ‘mother/son bonding tour’ trip that I imagined.
But what I think has most amazed me about this kid is how he’s reached the age where more often than not he will verbally communicate his thoughts and feelings. And that’s a cool thing to behold. Like in the car when we were driving along, bopping our heads to the radio. It was the first time we didn’t have kids music playing 24/7, and I couldn’t tell whether he liked all the punk and classic rock tunes I had chosen. I turned down the radio and asked him what kind of music he liked. After a minute of careful consideration, he tells me in his most assured voice, “classical.” A bit surprised, I ask him why and without missing a beat he says, “because there aren’t any words and so I get to make them up!”
There are also moments when he is so unequivocally in touch with his emotions that it catches me off guard. It’s the last day of our trip and Will is inconsolable. He wakes up crying and rebukes my offer to cook him his favorite breakfast. He’s angry and sulking all over the apartment, and before I even get the chance to tease it out of him he stares at me with big watery eyes and says, “I don’t want to leave! I want to stay in California forever!!” He still refuses to move even when I remind him of his home in Dubai, and all of his friends, and a brother and father that are anxiously waiting his return. He chokes back tears and finally tells me how much he misses his “family in America” and how he’s tired of always “leaving and coming back.” His emotional outpour was everything I had been feeling myself that morning, although instead of thrashing in his sleep or swallowing knots the size of golf balls he—unlike me—actually admitted his feelings and communicated them.
Floored. That’s how I felt most of the week. Gobsmacked that this child of mine has now matured into a little boy. A boy who can play independently with a stack of legos for nearly an hour, who throws out ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’ unprompted, whose shoes I’m convinced are big enough to fit a teenager. This tiny man-in-the-making is growing up, and if I ever wonder how quickly time is passing and whether or not I’m seizing all the moments I can with him, I’ll remember this trip and feel grateful for everything that happened– even the jet lag.