This time at least she didn't embarrass her daughter, a child who had acquired a sense of dignity in her ninth summer that she wanted to see displayed, like the flag, in public places.
This time she didn't double-check her daughter's store of stationery, money, zip codes, telephone numbers, timetables. She restrained herself from running down the check lists of her own anxieties - Things to Be Careful of, Things to Remember - as if she could wrap up her child for a month in a life preserver.
This time she simply turned her daughter over to the temporary custody of a stewardess who knew her only as the unaccompanied Minor in seat 9-D, and said goodbye.
They were vacationing away from each other again this August, vacating the joint territory of their home, the field on which they played out their lives together. While they were apart, some of the worn patches down the middle would have time to grow in and be green by the fall season.
As she walked back, past the security guard and the baggage counter, the woman ran down her own mental list for August. A month without timetables. A month without Having to Go Home. A month when she could let go of all the minor details that collected like carpet fuzz in the corners of her brain: lunch money, permission slips, appointments, missing books and socks. A free month.
Before she even finished this list, she began to contradict it. A month without having to go home is a month without pressure and schedules is time without form and rhythm.
For a minute she struggled to figure out which was her "real" feeling - free or rootless? - and then gave up. The "real" feeling was, as always, locked in ambivalence.
That was the thing about having kids. You decide to have a baby and end up with a range of feelings that run from the rapturous to the murderous with 4,000 stops between. One minute you wish they had boarding school for two-year-olds and the next minute you dread the idea that they ever grow up and go away.
Before you have children, you deal with only a corner-store stock of emotions. Afterward you discover an inventory that would rival the supermarket, and half of them are in competition with the other half.
The set of feelings she was dealing with today - having left her unaccompanied minor on the plane - were those of dependence and independence, distance and closeness. She realized that this was probably the middle summer of their time together. Half time. Nine years down. Nine to go. Nine years had passed since the first shock of dependency and nine more would pass before the final shock of separation.
These were the years when you try to work out the difference between protecting kids and smothering them, between fostering independence and displaying indifference.
The experts say (at one time, she'd been a child-psychology-book junkie and read them all) that parents should make kids feel secure, but not babied. They say to help them feel independent but not neglected. They say to be there for them and to let them go.
They say that parents should be dependable to their children, without becoming dependent on their children. They say parents should lead their own life, without neglecting their kids. They say that everyone is supposed to play the accordion of closeness and separateness in such a way that they all remain whole and yet attached to each other.
But they don't say how. Sometimes she wonders how many psychologists can dance on the head of a parent.
Well, she didn't really know anyone who managed to live that sort of balanced life everyday. Mostly the parents and children she knew careened away from each other and then collided together. The only happy medium was the one the mathematicians could make by averaging out their extremes. Their ambivalence.
Maybe this August she would take leave. It was her half time, too. She would be both free and rootless now in the fall she would begin the second half. Nine more years? Only nine years? "Both," she answered - striking ambivalence off of her summer list.