"We say goodbye to Grandpa forever?" Choke. I must answer without sobbing.
"No. We'll see Grandpa and Grandma again." But there is a lie in this truth: in no time at all, five-year-old Quinten will be gone forever, replaced by six- and then seven-year-old Quinten. The next time he sees Grandpa and Grandma it won't be the same. It can't be the same.
"The day after the day after tomorrow?" He's only recently learned this phrase and the meaning behind it. This is the furthest he can conceive of the future. More than a week might as well be a million years to him.
"No. It will be longer than that." I don't lie to my kids. Delaying a painful truth doesn't make it any less painful.
"I HATE saying goodbye to Grandpa and Grandma!" I've been trying to strike the word "hate" from our family vocabulary, but I can't correct him on this one.
"Me too, buddy. Me too."
We share my handkerchief, soaking it through. My sleeve is soaked with tears, and I don't even try to hide it. We are the last passengers to get on the plane, and the stewardess asks if he is ok. I say yes, because even thinking of a longer, more honest answer, threatens to shatter the veneer of control barely covering my grief. Later I manage to get as far as, "We just said goodbye to Grand... my parents." Deep breath. Blink away tears. Let the nice lady get back to her work.
Quinten continues to cry for the next hour. He stops for a few minutes, then resumes again. I wouldn't stop my tears if I could, but I hold back my sobs until he is asleep, leaning on me, still holding on to my arm. I know that if I let it all out in front of him Maxine will join us in breaking down completely.
Maxine is sad as well, but she remembers saying goodbye; she knows that reunion is possible. She has just experienced it, and loved it. At eight years old she has a broader perspective of time than Quinten at five. This was painful, but she clearly remembers her friends and home. Quinten's universe barely spans a few weeks ago to a few days from now.
My parents wait in the security check line with us for a while, but when Quinten start crying, and Maxine joins in, my Mom has to leave, and Dad with her. The gravity of a five-year-old can only be overcome through distance, and the tidal forces after one hug will rip you apart.
It doesn't help that it is five in the morning.
It doesn't help that I had set my alarm wrong and only woke up when Dad knocked on our door.
It doesn't help that I had slept less than three hours.
It doesn't help that I don't want to go either. I want so badly to stay with my parents, to not take Maxine and Quinten from their Grandpa and Grandma. I don't feel like I am going home, I felt like I am leaving home.
I tell myself that this wouldn't hurt so much if the visit hadn't been so good. If we had stayed in my parents home instead of renting a condo, we would all be so sick of each other that we would be sighing with relief at this moment. If I had brought the kids to Kansas out of a sense of duty I would be satisfied with a job well done. If we had come just to see the sights we would be taking all we need in our cameras and eyes. If we had only planned to eat American food until we couldn't eat any more we... Well, I am pretty much satisfied on that front.