I’d rather drive a French autoroute than a Canadian highway any day. Behind the wheel, the French, for all their vociferous opposition to radar controls, are predictable. They don’t pass on the right, they don’t hog the passing lane, and when a fire engine approaches from behind in rush hour, they do the Moses-and-the-Red-Sea thing promptly and without head-scratching. Driver training in France is more rigorous than in Canada or at least Alberta. and you don’t see any 16-year-olds behind the wheel, either.
So it was plain sailing down the A8 this morning from junction 39 to Nice airport, about 60 kilometres (40 miles), on my way to pick up the Swedish daughter. She was getting a bit fed up in Stockholm, spending most of her uptime trying to figure out how to make the analysis of satellite images more accurate, as in being able to pinpoint ‘there’s gold in them thar hills’ to within a 3 metre radius instead of 3000. She’s clever like that, but it can get a bit tedious, apparently.
I was ridiculously excited to see her. It’s only been four months since the last time, but she is so entertaining and educational (no one else I know talks about rasters) that I could have her around every day and never tire of her humour and her company. She had an early flight out of Arlanda airport, which meant getting on the bus sometime around 3AM. It’s a long ride, and she’s been told that the night bus is sketchy.
The last trip she made here, she sent me a text when she got to the airport. In fact, she had messaged me throughout the night, having decided not to take the night bus but to spend the hours between 11PM and 5AM at the MacDonald’s closest to the airport. Text messages from your kids when they’re anywhere but in your basement have the effect of being both reassuring and worrying. You know they’re ok because you just got a message from them, but at the same time, the fact that you now also know they’re sitting alone in an all-night restaurant in the Swedish nowhere kicks your imagination into high gear.
So when I woke up this morning, having not heard from her, and without a reply to the email sent to her while she was supposedly aloft (Norwegian Air Shuttle has Wifi at 30,000ft) I figured I better contain my excitement. What if this meant that I’d be the last, lonely one after everybody else waiting for the Stockholm arrivals had had their hugs and back-slaps and gone home? Maybe I’d better temper my excitement – turn it down to medium-low so, you know, it wouldn’t be as much of a crash when I realised she’d missed the flight. But then I’d have to try to find out why she’d missed it, and that wasn’t even worth thinking about.
I ran into somebody I knew who was also waiting for a Stockholm passenger, and we chatted, my eyes flicking to the arrivals doors every time they swished open. It was better to have someone to talk to, to distract myself from the slight queasiness in my gut. I’m stupid that way , worrying about stuff that will probably never happen. My cousin told me it’s like paying interest on a debt you’ll never owe.
She was there, of course. Easy to spot, six-footer that she is, with a head of auburn curls. I excused myself from the acquaintance and launched myself at her, in our own little version of that choke-worthy scene in Love,Actually. Apart from appreciating the fact that she’s exactly and conveniently my height, I loved the opportunity. She’s not a hugger, generally, except for hellos and goodbyes of long duration, and this was an especially good one.
All the way back down the autoroute she talked, mostly about school, about the difficulty of working alone in a field that not many others are familiar with, and the exhilaration of finally finding somebody who speaks her language. Raster language, that is. She was bagged from being up most of the night but spilling over with news and excitement, partly, I guess, from having somebody who hung on to her every word.
She doesn’t think she’ll ever want to have children, she’s said. Her reasons are lucid and thoughtful, and even if they weren’t, they’re hers and that’s enough. If she stays true to her current thinking, she’ll almost certainly be better off financially and will be able to concentrate on the work that so interests her. I don’t yearn for grandchildren anyway, and would be absolutely OK if none of my kids ever had any of their own.
I was thinking about that as I waited for her to come through those doors – that she’ll likely never find out what it’s like to love a child of her own. She won’t miss what she doesn’t know, most likely, and maybe she’ll be able to give all the love she wants to somebody else. If things go that way, she’ll have somebody whose arrival at an airport puts her into a state of high excitement. But for sheer emotional fireworks, nothing can top what it feels like to love a child. For me, at least.
My husband loves his kids and loves the time he spends with them, but doesn’t miss them when they’re not there and doesn’t yearn to be with them. That’s where we differ, which might be a common-enough paternal-maternal reaction. I don’t know – what’s your view?
She’s upstairs now, catching up on some sleep. I’m totally thrilled to have her around for a whole week, but will have to contain my hugs. This little story hasn’t got a tidy wrap-up, but I care not. I’m just happy.