It’s been one of those weeks, when I’m intensely aware of my role as mother being…not diminished, exactly, but definitely entering new territory. And I know I’m not alone, since many of you are also in the same zone, with children who are no longer children, launched from high school to the great beyond. If it didn’t hit me back when we went to a college reunion where our eldest was raking in tips as head bartender…well, go ahead, just insert a Doonesbury reference right about here. The recent scene in our driveway, when our sons hopped out of the car and untied the Christmas tree that they had picked up for us, the alleged grownups, was evidence enough that life has moved on, most fantastically.
And I do mean fantastic, in the fantasy sense. The notion of one’s offspring ever being old enough to do so many things that our kids, our young men, are now capable of…it was all so unfathomable, when I was trying to get the grocery shopping done with a fussy baby in a frontpack, or with two inconsolable toddlers, each crying over the muffin that I had unceremoniously cut in half. The years flew by, they gained skills, and still, it was hard to imagine one’s children as functioning adults—oh, wasn’t it just a few weeks ago?—when they struggled with oral book reports, or missed the cut-off man on a throw from deep left field. They grew long and gangily, their voices changed, they became independent individuals, but still, they need parenting. They need some help. They needed me.
Now, hmm. Not so much.
It’s an amazing continuum, from full on life-support provider, to cook and transportation provider, to official witness and documentarian, to where we are now. And just a little bit daunting, how un-required my services are these days.
Which is not to say I’m feeling useless, or abandoned. On the contrary, one of the lovely bonuses of the pause between fall and spring semesters, the quiet in the schedule for all of us over the holidays, has been spending time all together, as well as one with another. A trip last week to the MFA, when we had the same idea as everyone else (let’s catch the Sargent watercolors before the show ends!) provided me and my college-age son with a lovely and unexpected visit to some less exalted galleries, full of glorious calligraphy and amazing ceramics. I love just being in quiet spaces like those, and waiting for my son to point something out to me, and tell me what he thinks.
Then, on Saturday, we hopped on the Red Line to catch a late afternoon showing of American Hustle, and finding it sold out, located another theater (thank you, smart phone technology!) with a later start time. Together we hopped back on the subway, enjoying our mission to see as many Oscar contenders as possible before his midyear break was over.
With tickets in hand and time to spare, we found ourselves walking around Boston Common and the Public Garden, visiting my son’s favorite statues. It floors me, how much history he knows—far more backstory than the statues alone reveal. There’s one he particularly loves, of a Polish hero of the Revolutionary War named Kosciuszko, whom I urge you to do a little Wikipedia search on. The guy’s name should be as well known as Lafayette’s, and yet, here we are, two centuries later, wondering why he deserved a statue. Or at least, there I was. Thankfully, I have a son who knows why this man was cast in bronze, with the plans for a West Point fortress clutched to his breast. Spoiler alert: Kosciuszko was befriended by Thomas Jefferson, who, as executor of his will, never made good on his wish to apply all his worldly goods to the freedom and education of African slaves. That bit, I learned from my son and his amazing memory (thank you, AP US History), and his acute sense of justice and fairness. I am so grateful to have these little moments to see his heart, full on.
Meanwhile, our older son lives just close enough by to make fairly regular visits home. It’s an extra wintertime bonus for us, that he’s working as a ski coach on the weekends. That gives us the excuse to overlap up north. The fact that he’s so utterly not in need of my helpfulness has somehow enticed me to wake up ahead of him, when he’s heading off to coach, and pack him a lunch to go. It feels like the least I can do. I’m a sucker for providing food as a source of love, whether it be in the form of applesauce or roast chicken with rosemary or ice cream birthday cakes. As my sons have grown older and their palates for adventurous eating have expanded, it’s my pleasure to offer up new twists on old favorites. That, and provide the most primitive proof of my love for them.
So, there’s no great reveal here, just the observation that what has been creeping up upon me for years and years has arrived, so definitively. I walk with my kids, my young men, in places familiar to me, and as E.B. White noted when he described returning to his childhood fishing haunts with his son, time has gotten all topsy-turvy.
“We stared silently at the tips of our rods, at the dragonflies that came and went. I lowered the tip of mine into the water, tentatively, pensively dislodging the fly, which darted two feet away, poised, darted two feet back, and came to rest again a little farther up the rod. There had been no years between the ducking of this dragonfly and the other one—the one that was part of memory. I looked at the boy, who was silently watching his fly, and it was my hands that held his rod, my eyes watching. I felt dizzy and didn’t know which rod I was at the end of.”
E.B. White, “Once More to the Lake,” 1941.
Yeah, there’s a whole lot of that going on in my life, these days.