"What do you want to be when you grow up?" Mom asked Caleb as he brushed his teeth.
"What do you want to be when you grow up?” Mom asked Caleb while they ate lunch.
“A surfer,” he answered, his mouth full of food.
It was their favorite game. Caleb wanted to be a snowboarder, a race car driver and a fire fighter. Every day Mom asked him what he wanted to be, and every day Caleb’s answer was different.
But then one day, Mom stopped asking.
Caleb was very sick. He wasn’t allowed outside for a long time. Instead, he had to stay in a hospital room. It had a window, and looked out over a beautiful park.
“Let’s focus first on getting you better,” Mom said, when Caleb told her he wanted to drive a garbage truck.
One especially sunny day, Caleb sat at the window and watched the children play below.
“Mommy, when can I go outside?” he said, letting out a big sigh.
Mom carried him back to his bed without answering. She picked up the globe that she had placed on a shelf in his hospital room.
“Where do you want to fly today?” she said as she sat beside him.
Caleb was confused. “What do you mean?”
Mom spun the globe. “Touch your finger to a spot on the globe and we’ll fly there.”
Caleb touched Africa. Mom smiled.
“Close your eyes, Caleb,” she said. “Let’s fly to Africa. It should only take a minute.”
They stretched their arms out and closed their eyes. They left the hospital room far behind them and flew out over the ocean towards Africa.
“I feel the breeze on my face!” said Caleb.
“I smell the wind across the savannah,” said Mom. “I think we’re close.”
“What do you see, Mom?” Caleb asked.
“I see gold! Gold grasses!” she said. “Do you see them?” Caleb nodded. “I see short, stubby trees, and tall, skinny ones. Over there I see a watering hole! There’s a hippo in the water! Do you see it, Caleb?”
“I see a giraffe eating at a prickly tree branch,” said Caleb.
“I see a lion stalking a wildebeest, and an elephant stomping through the underbrush and leaving a trail behind her. Do you see her calf walking beside her, Caleb?”
Caleb saw it.
And just like that, Caleb and Mom spent an afternoon exploring Africa.
The next day was sunny again.
“Mommy, when can I go outside?” Caleb said as he sat at the window.
“Where do you want to fly today?” Mom said as she carried Caleb back to his bed and picked up the globe from his nightstand, where it stood since the day before.
This time they flew to the jungle in South America. They saw howler monkeys shouting from the treetops. Colorful toucans flew through the stormy skies. A long, black river, brimming with piranhas, rolled lazily along, and jaguars stretched out in the tree branches.
Caleb and Mom flew somewhere new every day. The snowy banks of Antarctica, where the penguins danced and played. The beaches of Hawaii, where surfers sliced through the waves. Snow-capped mountains and the Grand Canyon, where yellow, orange and golden rocks sparkled in the sunlight.
Sometimes Caleb felt too sick to fly. He lay on his bed while Mom lay beside him. She flew anyway, carrying him in her strong arms, and she whispered in his ear about the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal and the sparkling lights of Broadway.
And so the days passed.
And Caleb started to get better.
One day when Caleb and Mom had just returned from flying to the Great Lakes to see bears and moose, the doctor walked in, carrying Caleb’s thick hospital chart. He made a few notes, read some of the papers, and then looked at Caleb and Mom.
“How’d you like to go outside tomorrow, Caleb?” he said, and he smiled.
There were still rocky days ahead for Caleb. He and Mom continued to fly almost every day, even after he’d left the hospital and returned to school. Most nights, after Caleb’s teeth were brushed and his story was read, they’d fly somewhere together.
Then one night, long after the hospital visits had stopped and most of Caleb’s life had returned to normal, Caleb lay in bed beside Mom. “Where should we fly tonight?” he asked.
"I have a more important question,” said Mom. “Caleb, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
Caleb stared up at the ceiling, which he’d decorated with paper airplanes and cotton ball clouds.
“Well,” he said. “I think I’m going to be a pilot.”
And wouldn’t you know? That’s exactly what he did.
Caleb is a real boy. I grew up playing soccer with Caleb's mother. On March 6, 2012 he was diagnosed with leukemia. He and his family have a long fight ahead, but even in the hospital, Caleb hasn't lost his beautiful smile.
If you'd like to help Caleb and his family along on their journey, please consider donating. Also, prayers, happy thoughts, and virtual hugs are always appreciated.