We had expected tears, meltdowns, and other assorted flavors of preschool objections to being moved. As the day approached, however, Zachary seemed to have made peace with the fact that he would be leaving behind the only life he remembered. He told us he did not want to move, he expressed very clearly his concerns about leaving friends behind, but he seemed remarkably calm for a three-and-a-half-year-old who knew his life was about to be turned upside down but had absolutely no idea what the new place and the new life would be like.
Other than an emergency stop in rush hour traffic to pee on someone’s gate, he took the ride to the airport hotel in stride. He slept fine in the hotel that night, and ate well at breakfast the next morning. He played happily at the airport, chattering on about who-the-hell-knows-what the whole time.
They called our flight, and we gathered our children and absurd number of carry-on bags filled with books and trains, and headed for the elevator to join the masses getting ready to board flights. And there, in the elevator, it happened. J pushed the button. The button Zachary wanted to push.
I hauled a hysterical child off the elevator and plopped him down on a step, informing us he could come on over whenever he calmed down. We stood, J, Benjamin, and I, four or five feet away, waiting. Thirty seconds or so later, Zachary pulled himself together and whimpered his way over to us. He and his father worked out an elevator-button pushing agreement, and we were able to proceed towards the gate.
Heathrow is a large airport, and the hallways can seem to stretch forever. I pushed the stroller, Benjamin seated and Zach standing on the buggy board, while J played pack mule to our wide assortment of crap. Halfway down the long walk to the gate, Zachary started crying again. I thought we were just dealing with residual whine from the elevator incident, and I snapped as I stopped to listen to his problem, “There had better actually be something wrong.”
“What’s wrong, Zach?” I asked, hoping we could make it quick so we could, you know, actually make our flight.
In a very small voice, almost afraid of what he was about to express, he told me. “I don’t want to leave.” He was crying. In earnest. Not those tearless tantrums designed to manipulate his parents, but grief-filled sobs of heartbreak.
There was no response but to pick him up, sit down in the closest chair, and hold him on my lap. There was nothing I could say to make mitigate the loss and heartache that life dictates we all learn to cope with. All I could do was be present and feel it with him.
And, in that moment, it was clear to me that, although the doctors may have cut that umbilical cord in September of 2004, there was something they had left intact. Something that flowed not from me to Zachary, but the other way around. Something that has only grown over the last 43 months. It was clear to me that his emotions flow towards me, that his grief and his joys are shared in a way that is deeper than empathy, stronger than concern, and more basic than love.
As I sat there in the middle of a hallway of people rushing to make their flights, holding a three-year-old who was mourning a loss he could not even comprehend, I realized that every pulse of his heart is echoed in mine.