“Heeeeere we GO!” Becket squeals as the airplane slowly lifts off the ground and becomes airborne. I have been on over 200 flights in my life, and I still find this moment miraculous. I love that my son shares my penchant for the window seat and the amazing perspective it provides as we make our way across states and countries and continents together. Becket is giggling so hard now as we rise into the air; even the woman sitting in the well-kicked seat in front of him has to smile back at us for a moment. He is all boy – filled to overflowing with vibrating energy, sense of adventure, and unmitigated joy.
We watch evening-time Atlanta, Georgia transform from streetlamps, neon signs and zooming traffic into a velvet pocket filled with precious gems twinkling and winking and sending us on our way. We smile at one another, sit back in our seats and breathe a contented collective sigh.
Then it happens. “Mama, where’s Mush?” It is as if the emergency exit door has just been opened and I have been sucked out into the barely breathable atmosphere. My stomach lurches and I physically feel my heart stop. I make a quick but futile search effort of our seats knowing all the while I will not find Mush. While the interior monologue of my mind is keening over and over “Oh no oh no oh no oh no.”
Mushrif the Moose has been with me almost as long as Becket, and they have rarely spent the night apart from one another. He is named after Al Mushrif; a Children’s Garden in the center of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, where we were staying with dear friends when Becket was four months old. The garden is a lovely place for children that provides a blissful shaded oasis of trees in a blindly hot environment. Mushrif the Moose is a mouthful for even the most eloquent of souls, so he very quickly became Just Mush.
As you may surmise from his origin, Mush has been all over the world with us. He is well loved to the point of tatters. He is a hot-coco color brown with two soulful, almost liquid black eyes, two bumpy antlers, and a jaunty red bow tie. Mush began his existence with the softest of soft ribbony fur coat, the only thing that could substitute for tiny fingers wrapped around my own hair, in calming my newborn.
Now, after many a sanitary fiasco (including, but not limited to, landing in a mystery puddle in an international airplane bathroom – eeeeeeeesh) and many many scalding hot water “baths” in our washing machine, Mush looks more like a brown lump of matted oil changing rags. However, he still wears his crooked floppy red bow tie with an air of shabby elegance. He is threadbare and dilapidated and would be full of holes, but for several requested emergency surgeries. “Mama quick! Can you help? Mush needs another procedure!”
I know it sounds more than slightly off-center to even utter this, but I do feel Mush a family member. I don’t even think I could estimate the number of times I have uttered “Where’s Mush, have we got Mush?” as we headed out the door to play-groups, shops, schools and adventures across the globe.
We have come close to losing Mush twice in the past. The fist was London’s Heathrow airport where we noticed his absence as we were waiting to board a flight home to our then New York City abode. We went racing back through the airport checking each place we had passed on our way to the gate. A very kind custodian saw the look of frenzy in my eyes and asked if he could help. I quickly explained the situation and gave him a brief physical description of Mush – strangely without the slightest inkling of embarrassment. The gentleman looked at me with understanding and uttered the most hopeful “I might have seen a lump like that near the ticket agents.” On we raced all the way back to the check-in desks. Mush smiled shyly up from underneath the bench. He looked a bit peevish, as though he felt sorry he had caused me so much trouble by not being able to speak up and call out to us as we moved away, our hands and minds full of the labyrinth of scrutiny and security ahead.
The second time was on a cold winter day in a hotel room at an indoor water park outside Chicago. We were packed up checked out and buckled in, after an exhausting two days of over excitement and goose bumps and shrieks rebounding off of walls. Becket was well overdue for a nap, and I knew he would sleep the whole way to our Lincoln Park town home. Then I heard the fateful words “Mama, where’s Mush?” We rummaged and scrummaged and came up empty handed. I sprinted back up to our now neat and tidy room, which was pertly awaiting the next visitors. I saw the tiny outline of a be-skirted woman pushing a cart all the way at the end of the seemingly mile long hallway. “Hey wait!” and I was off at a run. She was kind and sympathetic, but very firm that she had cleaned all the rooms on our side of the hall and was certain that she had not seen anyone of Mush’s description. I begged her to allow me to search and followed her into the housekeeping area where I proceeded to work my way through the mounds of dirty and soiled (water, please let it be water!) bedding. The relief I felt as my hand closed around a crumpled rumpled lump of matted fur brought tears to my eyes. There is no doubt in my mind that the gathering of woman (most probably mothers and mothers of mothers) who watched me cuddle Mush felt my visceral joy, because they exploded into applause and laughter.
Now as we race away from the Atlanta International Airport (where we have, ironically, just spent the week with the same dear friends who now reside in the US) I search my mind for the last image of Mush. It was of him lying on the seat behind Becket as we sat and waited to board our delayed flight at gate C3. After that my Mush Mind is blank. I know in my heart we had risen in our excitement to finally be on our way and looked only forward as we jostled with the mass of people trying to get on as early as possible in order to secure a bin for carry on luggage.
I stab my orange HELP button and wait while a slightly miffed attendant makes her way to our seats. Becket looks up at her with Cindy Lou Who eyes while I tell her our dilemma and ask if she can do anything to help. She deftly sidesteps any involvement and recommends we see the ticketing agent upon our arrival at the next airport.
I am happy to say she is the last unhelpful person I encountered in our quest to bring Mush home. Three days, two amazing airline employees, several phone calls and a Federal Express truck later, and Becket is standing at the front door tearing open a cardboard box as the driver watches with a smile. Mush comes sliding out of the box and is crushed in a two-fold hug from boy and mama.
I am struck by the POWER of “The Kindness of Strangers” (thank you Tennessee.) The small amount of time it took for the people who helped, to help. And what a profound difference it had on our lives. If you are EVER presented an opportunity to help in this way – a dirty terry cloth blanket nearly ripped to shreds in the corner of an elevator, a locket of seemingly zero worth but filled with two teeny pictures inside the pried open heart, or any obviously well loved thing you may happen upon – and you know in your heart that it is not worth a dime, and will probably cause you a bit of an inconvience… Please. Please, for the small people or the elderly people or the sentimental people… or the Mamas of these people… Please take the time to turn the item in to someone who can help return it home.
It is only when we hold him back to smile into his shiny black eyes that I notice a glint of gold shimmering off his chest. Somewhere along his journey home, someone has pinned on Mush, right next to his droopy dapper red bow tie, a badge of courage, a testament to his travels; his very own set of wings.
And I can actually feel the time, the love, the kindness of strangers.