I have the kind of driver’s license picture women only dream of. It was taken two days after I returned from my Hawaiian honeymoon. You can practically smell the coconut wafting off my golden brown skin. My eyes are bright, having absorbed a bounty of gorgeous sunsets. My smile is soft and wide from a week of fresh love. The winds from Waimea Canyon are still blowing through my hair. Even my neck appears longer, reaching into the future and all the wonders that await. I remember getting dressed before going to the DMV and having to put on a belt because my favorite jeans were too loose. How inconvenient.
Fast-forward five years, and you will find me waiting in an airport security line, hunched over with a convertible car-seat carrier the size of a shed on my back. In one hand, I am dragging a wobbly suitcase, and the other is clutched to a small boy who is kneeling on the floor, groaning up at me with his discontent. A large bag filled with snacks and crayons and airplane toys sways across my middle like an udder. The rest of the bags are under my eyes. I have a sneaking suspicion my shirt has crept above my midriff, but there’s nothing I can really do about it now.
It had been a hard trip. Flying solo with my 3-year-old son, we went to visit friends in New York. Somewhere between Milwaukee and Detroit, my son had lost his mind. People had warned me about “phases” like the Terrible Threes. Well, it hit on American Airlines Flight 312. After three days of tears and trauma, sleepless nights and desperation, all I wanted to do was go home.
As we approached the TSA agent, I let a small sense of relief creep forward. We were almost there. I handed him two crumpled boarding tickets and my shiny, golden driver’s license. He glanced down at the picture, then back at me. “Hmm,” he mumbled. Cocking his head to the side, he looked down, then back at me again. He squinted. His pen hovered over our boarding passes a good three beats until he finally squiggled his indecipherable marks. “Close enough,” he said.
“Close enough?!” I spat, snatching the tickets out of his hands with what I can only guess was an appropriate amount of offended gusto. I tossed my head in indignation, hoping my tangled hair would whip him in the face.
We hobbled forward and somehow made it onto our last flight without incident. On the plane, my son was finally content. As he scribbled in his coloring books, I sat and stared at my driver’s license. My carefree, glowing face grinned back at me. Did I really look that different? No doubt, years of sleepless nights had taken its toll. Yes, my hair was shorter, my skin paler and my face rounder. But that wasn’t it. The difference was coming from the inside. In the picture, I was genuinely happy, and it translated into a special glow—that, and the mai tais. In contrast, that day at the Buffalo airport had not been a happy one for me, and apparently it showed too.
My gaze shifted to my little boy next to me. He pinched his purple crayon and looked up with a sweet, small smile. What does he see when he looks at me? I may never get back to Hawaii, and Lord knows I will have my fair share of tough days, but I’ll be damned if anyone is confused by my driver’s license photo again. I have much to be happy about, plenty of glow left and a ridiculously expensive new eye cream to fix this.