"Aunt Katie," Smallest said, her arms around my neck after I smiled and stooped to pick her up without dropping the luggage I carried from the plane, "did you - did you - did you ride on the plane? Was the plane ride fast?"
"It must have been," I replied, reaching to smooth Little One's ponytail and smile at my parents who'd come to fetch me from the airport. "I'm early, aren't I?" And, after stopping for breakfast, we came home and I fell into bed to catch up on some dearly missed sleep.
The phone rang, awakening me from a deep sleep, and I blinked a couple of times to try to gather my thoughts - remember where I was and why someone was waking me in the darkness - but picked up the receiver and murmured my thanks before glancing at the clock. 4:10AM had shifted to 4:30 by the time I was ready, clothes packed in my small bags and confirmation number scrawled on a sheet of hotel stationary so I could print my boarding pass before catching the shuttle to the airport.
***"We're lost," I pointed out helpfully to the colleague assigned to cart me from airport to meeting to meeting to meeting and back to the hotel. He was also responsible for general care - making sure I had water and food and changes to freshen up. I enjoy that part of commercial support - the only focus is intellectual. So I put tremendous effort into being engaged and charming and smart during the hours they're showing me off but then relax in the moments between.
Hence, I looked around at the tangle of interstates that curved across bridges and underground but not, apparently, to where my hotel existed. At least in any pattern my host or his trusty GPS could navigate.
"It went well today," I offered as we waited in a slight snarl of traffic and sparked a brief flurry of compliments on how interested everyone had been and how well I'd done and how much I'd helped. I nodded graciously, thinking a reward of getting to the hotel would be lovely, but reminded myself to be patient and watched the light filter through the clouds and remembered how completely charming I find New England.
Upon finally reaching the hotel - having dinner and showering, charging miscellaneous communication devices - I called home and sent some email and tried to relax. Finally, when I scowled at myself for not resting promptly enough, I made a call after midnight to the front desk, thinking I'd not need the wake-up call (I always wake up on time!) but it wouldn't hurt to be extra careful.
***"Pretty day," I offered as we sat outside, waiting for the next meeting to begin. I drank the water my host bought me and closed my eyes to enjoy the sunshine, finally blinking them open when my phone rang and taking a call to answer questions and offer advice before returning to my admiration of the splashes of color in the flower bed and that ivy-covered building over yonder.
It is pleasant to deal with collaborators - to review our portfolio and take note of interest and gaps, funding and projections. Then I listen, trying to sort through local expertise and strength to find that click of alignment. Sometimes it fits immediately - any easy arrangement and linking of obvious goals. But I enjoy the times when it's less immediate - where it takes attention and creativity and a few moments of wondering if this hour together is going to really suck. Though it sometimes does, those instances are rare - when two groups of smart people have good goals - to help people live better lives, really - there's usually a way to combine efforts. It's just a matter of sorting the pieces and aligning them properly.
And even as I grabbed a cookie at my first meeting, nibbling the edges as I shook hands and collected business cards, I nibbled on a salad before the second, drank coffee before the third. And tried to piece together puzzles and make notes so the next section could be built faster and easier.
***I waved at Mom and the girls as they dropped me off at Departures.
"I want to give kisses," Smallest cried and I assured her I'd walk around to her side to say good-bye, leaning to hug Little One before telling her I'd see her tomorrow. I kissed Smallest, hugged Mom and rode the escalator to take my place in the security line.
I pranced to the counter when my upgrade was announced, snuggling into my giant seat in business class and deciding a cocktail before 8AM when I had upwards of 14 hours of work ahead of me was tempting but unwise.
Instead I sipped water and nibbled on Combos - I enjoy the cheese and cracker kind - and revised presentations, reviewed spreadsheets and typed replies to a few emails. Then I stared out the window at the scattered clouds - fluffy and wispy by turn - and the landscape vibrant with growth and life below. And I looked forward to what was next - the people and places and things to learn - even as I was eager for it to be over.
Soon, I promised myself, I'd be able to curl in my bed and rest from the physical and mental exhaustion that this day would bring. But until then, I relished the moments that would tire me.
In reverse order.