Crossing Off the Days (or, "Stuff Edward Scissorhands Cannot Do")

My daughter is super talented. She made a calendar a few months ago. Out of paper and markers. It's harder than it sounds, what with all the drawing straight lines and counting the right number of days of the week and making sure the numbering is correct. Not just anyone can do it. Edward Scissorhands, for instance, cannot do it.

My daughter hung her calendar up on the wall and faithfully crossed off each day as it passed, counting down the boxes until she was going to get to leave Saudi Arabia. For, like, evah. Not because Saudi Arabia isn't a great place to live, because it is, if you like heat and dudes with nightsticks policing your behavior. Unfortunately, my daughter doesn't like those things -- don't worry she is starting therapy this week -- so she was pretty excited to leave, for, like, evah.

On the calendar box containing her departure date, she wrote in big capital letters, "WE LEAVE!!" I was less excited for her departure date than she was, because I didn't get to go back home with the family. Evidently the government requires its employees to work at least two out of every three months? So I had to stay behind and work for two more months before Uncle Sam will loosen the pursestrings and pay for my plane ticket home.

There they go. There they go again.
Finally, my little girl had crossed off all the days up to her big departure day. I threw nine bags, one wife, and four kids into the back of our Suburban at 8:30 p.m. -- the children are still small enough that they think it's normal to be thrown in the car, but my wife sometimes protests and calls me "brute" or "scoundrel" when I chuck her in the car. I rather like those labels. They make me feel like an English dockman. Or a member of the Sex Pistols (maybe just a roadie for the Sex Pistols).

When we arrive, the Jeddah airport is a zoo of humanity, the way it always is. There is no order. There are no parking spaces. Cars park anywhere. Everywhere. Dudes are leaning up against their idling cars, smoking. Their cars are idling in the middle of most lanes of the drop off zone. Guys honk and drive in reverse. Pilgrims are pushing carts stacked with Zamzam water -- water from the sacred Zamzam well in Mecca. They're taking the water home with them, a souvenir. Shannon comments that water is a funny thing for Saudi Arabia to export. She's so witty, that Shannon. I want to hug her, but we are in Saudi Arabia, so I just look at her fondly, but not too fondly, because, Saudi Arabia.

The guy at the check-in counter checks our bags and hands us five boarding passes. There are six of us, I silently and sadly note, but I don't get a boarding pass because I'm not leaving. I think the guy at the check-in counter did his job far too quickly and efficiently. Why couldn't he take 45 minutes to figure out our e-tickets, like they did last year when we were trying to leave on vacation? Then I could hang out with my family for an extra hour.

I can't go past the gate to the passport check lines. So I stand and watch until Shannon and her four little ducklings get lost in the swirl of people, and they're gone. It's one of those moments where you're in the middle of a cacophonous crush of thousands of people, amid furious noise and motion, but you're still all alone somehow.

The house is empty and quiet when I get back from the airport. I stand in the dark for a minute, thinking how everything is where I left it, how no curious little hands will be misplacing my stuff for the next two months, how no little voices will disturb me for the next two months. The thought makes me blue.

I flip on the light and I notice my daughter's calendar, hanging just a little crookedly on the wall behind the front door where she left it, dangling by a single strip of badly cut tape. She crossed off all the days, except today. She forgot to cross off today before she left, to draw a big, happy X through her "WE LEAVE!!" announcement.

I read something once in the Dad Handbook about how you're supposed to share in your children's happiness, even if they're happy about something that makes you kind of sad. So I swallow the lump in my throat and I find a big, fat marker, and I cross off her last box for her. Done. Good job, Susu!