Can You Make Me a Paper Airplane?

At the table adjacent to ours, a trio of high school girls was studying for an anatomy test. I know because they were quizzing each other, loudly, on the finer points of the skeletal system. For the first time in about 20 years, I heard the words “metacarpals” and “tibial tuberosity.”

As I sipped my chai tea latte, only one word flickered through my science-challenged brain: brutal.

“Mom.” I glanced over at Grace. She was holding out a page from the coloring book I’d brought. “Can you make me a paper airplane?”

I smiled. “I’m sorry, honey, but I don’t know how.”

“You don’t know how?”

When we’re little, we think of our parents as superheroes. There’s nothing they don’t know, or can’t do. This perception probably peaks around age 7 and then plummets by 16, when we’re full-fledged, omniscient teenagers. 😉

Grace, and Anna too, stared at me in horror. I shrugged. Paper airplanes are Stanton’s forte, not mine.

“Well, ask someone,” Grace suggested.

I glanced around the back parlor of our coffee shop. I wasn’t going to interrupt the intense anatomy test study session, that was for sure. Two other women were huddled by the oversized window, deep in conversation and their second 16-ounce cups of coffee. A man was nearby, a portfolio of papers splayed in front of him. Another gentleman was chuckling at his phone.

“Not right now, honey,” I said.

“Why?” Grace asked.

“Why?” Anna repeated.

I tilted my head at them. “I’m feeling shy right now.”

Anna tilted her head back at me. “Aww,” she empathized.

I love my coffee shop dates with my daughters. Just sitting together, hanging out…

“Mom! I have a great idea!” Grace’s brown eyes were sparkling. “You can ask your phone!”

Indeed I could. “OK,” I agreed, digging my phone out of the diaper bag.

I Googled “how to make a paper airplane.” Grace slid the coloring page across our table. Anna licked pumpkin chocolate-chip muffin from her fingertips.

Paper Airplane 3-13-17

A few minutes later, I had transformed that coloring page into a paper airplane for my 5-year-old. You would have thought I’d hung the moon, Grace was so happy.

“You did it! You really did it!” Grace said.

“Yay!” Two-year-old Anna clapped.

And from the table adjacent to ours, the high schoolers were now debating true ribs, false ribs and floating ribs.

In all honesty, I really enjoyed my high school anatomy class. I had an excellent teacher, Mr. Smedley, who made the subject interesting and relevant. Anatomy is one of those subjects where you actually can use the information in everyday life when you grow up.

But then you do grow up, and what most impresses your children—at least one afternoon in a coffee shop, anyway—is that you can make them a paper airplane.

Paper airplane making was one of my Poppy’s finest skills. He served as an airplane mechanic during World War II and later flew airplanes as a hobby. He loved all things aeronautical.

When I was a freshman in college, Poppy mailed me a letter. I was homesick during those first few weeks away from our Pennsylvania hometown, and I loved hearing from my Poppy. Appreciated that memento of home.

I saved Poppy’s letter for a long time, but don’t have it anymore. It got misplaced, or lost, or recycled when I moved from my freshman-year dorm to my sophomore-year one.

But then you do grow up, and what most impresses your children—at least one afternoon in a coffee shop, anyway—is that you can make them a paper airplane.

That’s, possibly, the hardest thing about moving, whether across campus or across the country: You can’t take all your stuff with you, so you have to rely on your memories of what the stuff meant.

Luckily, I do remember. I remember that Poppy had drawn an airplane after his signature on the letter. He loved all things aeronautical, right? Yes. And the letter, and the airplane, meant he loved me.

Human beings are resilient, I’ve been told. And I believe that’s true. Every day, I make a conscious effort to, simply, “choose happy.” To focus on the good. Leave people and places better than I found them. That sort of thing.

But there are times when I’m feeling sad, or stressed, or shy, as I was in the coffee shop that afternoon.

During these times, I give myself a moment to acknowledge these emotions. Sadness, stress, shyness. For example, I wish Poppy could have met Anna; he would have loved her. I acknowledge that sadness, that sense of loss.

After I’ve had my moment, I do my best to move forward. To refocus on the good. Celebrate all the good things.

You can’t take all your stuff with you, so you have to rely on your memories of what the stuff meant.

As we journey along, we face all kinds of assessments, from high school anatomy tests to mortgage applications to annual physicals. Someone tells us if we’ve passed or failed based on theoretically objective standards.

Were we good enough? Or do we not get to pass “Go”?

I don’t know, but I suspect, that as we near the end of our journey, we give ourselves a self-assessment or sorts. We reflect on the path we carved—the choices we made—the affection we gave, or withheld. What we’re leaving behind.

“What’s the difference between true ribs and false ribs?”—our end-of-journey self-assessment almost certainly doesn’t include questions like these.

No, more like… “Did I do good work? Did I choose love over hate? Did I do the best I could for my family? Did I take walks, and watch the sun set, and play Marco Polo in the summer and build snowmen in the winter?”

Did I make paper airplanes?

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s