And just like that, she's gone.
We pulled the kids out of school Wednesday and Thursday to do our return plans. Wednesday we loaded up the car and drove to Rochester where we stopped at our favorite kid-friendly museum, complete with a butterfly garden.
A moment. Just a tiny moment. A butterfly landed in Katie's hand and she shared it with M. It paused and flitted away. Gold and dark and deceptively strong under its beauty.
We returned to the hotel and called in a delivery of sandwiches from a local pizza place. Rob and the kids said they'd head to the pool and invited M, who shrugged it off. She sat, knees pulled up to her head, on the bed. Quiet. Rob asked if she was ok and the tears started falling. I pulled her close and she sobbed for ten minutes onto my shoulder. Rob and the kids slipped out to the pool to give us privacy. She asked for the translator and began pecking out a message. "I forgot. Nothing reliable."
It hung there. My heart broke.
Pause. A head shake and a sniff to collect herself. Deleted. "I forgot pajamas."
Right. It's about pajamas. I gave her my spares.
We cuddled and cried. She showered. She ate. We all slept. Each activity carrying the weight of being the last time.
As she slept I rummaged out a few pounds of luggage. Rob had weighed the checked bag again and it was definitely 3 pounds overweight. I pulled out body washes and soaps, some extra tights and socks, and other things. I left the toothpaste. "I'll steal face wash from an orphan, but not toothpaste. I have my dignity." The suitcase was a constant source of anxiety regarding weight and content. Huge distraction.
Thursday we woke and dressed. No one wanted breakfast. She said her goodbyes with August, Katie, Jorge, and Rob (respectively: shy and sad, weepy and very sad, totally disinterested and annoyed that we were interrupting him, and encouraging). The shuttle to the airport took less than 10 minutes and we walked right up to the ticket counter (at pickup I'd waited in a 20 minute line, so this was unexpected).
The bag weighed 47.5. I reached into my backpack and tossed one of her bags of socks and tights on: 49.5 (shove it in). A sweatshirt she had planned to carry: 50.0 (shove it in). Done.
Unfortunately, the morning desk agent was far less friendly and accommodating than the evening agent I had at pick-up. There's a special ticket you can buy for kids called an "Unaccompanied Minor" ticket. If you get one of those (and pay the $300+ extra fee) then the guardian at either end of the trip is specified on the ticket and gets a gate pass; and for all connections in between an airline employee is assigned to chaperone the kid from gate to gate and ensure their comfort. M didn't really need this level of assistance from the airlines the whole time because there were chaperones traveling with the groups of kids. On her arrival journey, she had school and agency chaperones as co-travelers both on the actual planes and making connections. They got her directly to the gate of her final flight. From there, she sat on the plane and, thanks to the kind desk agent, I got a gate pass to pick her up at the arrival gate of her final destination. Zero time spent navigating an airport alone.
On her return flight, the plan was for me to get her to the first gate and watch her board. Traveling chaperones would meet her at the gate of her first connection and stick to her (and her classmates) all the way through to her home country. But the morning agent insisted that since she had flown all the way here "without a chaperone" and was flying the rest of the way back "unaccompanied" too, she would have to figure it out. No amount of explaining that, no, she really had not flown unaccompanied at all mattered in the least. I had to leave her at security.
We sat at the side of security in friendly silence, as always. I walked up to security to ask about extra ziplock bags and was told they were available at the security screener. I burst into tears and said the 15 year old non-English speaking child I was sending through would have to figure that out herself. The security agents were appalled and one off-duty officer went to the airline desk and complained. Called the supervisors. Complained more. All without my request or knowledge. But he got the same response I did. Finally about 20 minutes before her flight boarded I walked her through to the first check point and stood as she went through security. I ran back to our waiting area with the glass wall and waved, tears streaming. I got an embarrassed little wave as she rolled past; and that was it.
I stayed until her plane boarded. The three security guards I had talked to were doing rounds, though, and would occasionally smile as the passed me on their way toward her gate, them smile and nod as they walked by again. Calming a mother's heart. Once she was airborne I took the shuttle back to the hotel (where Rob and the kids had been tracking her flight and watching her plane take off in tears) and our crew headed out.
When she arrived at her first connection, the chaperone assigned to meet her called to say he had her. We were already on the long drive home. He called back a few minutes later to let her talk. "Ay Ma-REE-na"" The same way she started every call to her teacher that she checked in with during her stay. "It's [M]." I wished her a safe trip, said I was so glad she called, and that we loved her.
The house, somehow, feels quieter. There's an empty end on the table. An empty bed in "the girls' room" (formerly known as Katie's room). We're going to bed at 11PM like normal humans. And I miss her.