A sea of pink-tipped clouds...

Today I flew to Chicago, by myself, happy and sad at the same time. I know I should relish every drop of solitude that I can get to trickle out of the bottom of the cup, but one of the paradoxes of being a mother, I've found, is that you desperately need alone time, but desperately miss your kids when you get it. It is a life vocation, comparable to nothing else, because it is a type of work that is encompassed by love and worry, a type of work that can never be banished from your mind. Sometimes I feel that I will never relax again. Talking this week with another mother friend whose children are adults, I realized that the fears with small children over choking and sickness are replaced with other fears as time goes on.

All to say that I have to learn to trust God more.

And despite saying this, I will not deny that there was a complete ease about checking in today, a simplicity that was precious, like water in the desert, despite being picked "randomly" (as always) for a special extra security check, and despite having my cream-top yogurt and Mango and Antioxidants drink taken away from me. Flying has become like paying to be arrested, I thought, as I was standing in a machine that blew air at me to make sure that I didn't have any hidden weapons or drugs on my person. I can't believe they took my yogurt away. When our kids are grown up we'll be telling them, "I remember the days when they gave us food on the airplane and- oh yes, the days when we were allowed to wear our own clothing, now we have to wear specially manufactured uniforms." It's funny, though, flying without my kids. It's not as if they aren't completely well-behaved in an airport--they're great--it's just that it takes so little effort to move my own gangly body through the line, down the hallway, into the seat.  It's amazing. It's nothing like the effort it takes me to wrestle little people into car seats, just to go to the store. And yet every so often I found myself peeking up over the seats at the kids sitting three rows down because aren't they magical? Kids are just the most amazing small creatures, and even when I'm exhausted because all of mine are sick I am watching someone else's, missing YaYa's hand on my cheek.

Anyways. I sat on the airplane and read my new book, "Freddy and Fredericka" by Mark Helprin, which so far I am delighted with, and looked out the window. For some reason my mind allowed me to have a little glimpse of pure observation, and as we were heading up above the clouds, I thought, I can't believe I can fly. Really, we can be above the clouds, looking down at the mountains around Tahoe, catching sight of a frozen lake, marveling at a seemingly endless view of farms in a perfect grid, an ocean of clouds, the sun setting over Lake Michigan. We can FLY. I can be in Chicago, coming from San Francisco, in four hours.

My friend Renee and I stayed the night in San Francisco, after she drove me down to the City yesterday, and along the way we ended up, at the end of a search for Wonton Soup, in one of the gaudier, junkier Chinese restaurants that I have ever seen, with its aquariums of dirty crabs and lobsters. (The wonton soup was Renee's craving, not mine, although I have somehow transferred my pregnancy cravings of previous pregnancies onto my single, non-pregnant friend, and by saying that, I don't mean to imply in any way that I am pregnant or will be soon, I'm not and I won't.)

We also stopped for coffee (at which point I got hopped up on a decaf Americano) and also for a hunt for a book for me to read on the plane, a long search at the end of which I picked out the book I had been intending to buy all along. I am a queen of wasting time in a bookstore, and I needed to make sure that there was nothing else I wanted more. I mean, I couldn't let it go, like, I have to be totally positively sure that I want THIS book more than ANY other book in the store at this precise moment. What if I'm not in the mood to read this?  I have a lot of that with novels. If I'm feeling insecure about my mothering I don't want to read a book about a woman who breaks down and abuses her children. If my husband is away, I don't want to read a book about someone's husband being killed. After I watched The Story of Us, with Michelle Pfeiffer and Bruce Willis, I cried for a long time, and it took Chinua forever to convince me that we aren't them. Oh yes, right. Fiction, what a concept.

This trip to Chicago was a sudden decision, and was the only response I could think of giving to a friend's deep hurt and crisis.  I should just go and be there, I thought, and not surprisingly, Chinua said it before I did. I'll only be gone a few days, and a friend helped with part of the ticket. This is what I love about a community that stretches across the country, that we can say, "I'm here," even when we can't be there all the time, that we can imperfectly love each other.  It's got to mean something, this stumbling love we share. God has not given us any small task in commanding us to love Him and love one another, but the gifts He gives are more than enough to make it happen.

I love my friend, the one that I am going to see. She has amazed me so many times, and I think she is still like an unlocked door.  We have barely seen the beginnings of the beauty that will come from within her. And she is hurt, and all I can do is say, "I'll come over." It feels so small. I begin to wonder, lately, in the midst of so many crises, what it takes to get through.

It's kind of like flying, I think. Everybody thinks you have weapons in your toothpaste, and they take away your yogurt and your lip balm, we have to be in this climate-controlled chamber in order to survive, and it's not exactly effortless, but we're flying. It's a miracle. We're getting there.