Just got off the phone with my son. He’s spending five consecutive weeks at his father’s home in Illinois. It’s the longest we’ve been apart from each other during his nine years on the planet. He can do it, I know, but it’s still kinda hard for him (me too.) Kid’s been feeling a bit voiceless in all this shuffling back and forth from household to household. I listen, and I tell him that I hear him. That I understand what he’s saying, that I respect his feelings about it all. I ask if he’s told his father what he’s just told me. He tells me no, because if he did, he knows his dad would just ‘yell and smack him’. Now I know that’s probably not exactly what Fareed would do, but I do know that he’s been known to smack Elihu a time or two, and that he’s done so in some pretty public places. I know what Elihu means. And I understand the impression his dad has created of his own fatherly might. I tell Elihu to let his dad know that he just wants to express his feelings – that he’s not asking for anything but his dad to simply listen and hear him. He answers “I just know he’d say ‘suck it up'”. And I agree. He would. When I explain to Elihu that both he and his father need time together, Elihu easily agrees, it’s just that he wonders if there isn’t another solution.
Then my son, who has been upset over missing his summer vacations ‘at home’ for the past several years, offers his idea: if he agrees to spend every last holiday and break with his father, he hopes he might earn a whole summer vacation here. Well, only problem is – he already has nearly every holiday – and every break – there in Illinois. Hmm. There must be an equitable solution here. I think for a minute. This is really important to Elihu, and our presentation of our case to his father is critical here. “How about,” I start, “we invite Daddy here for as long as he can visit – and any time he’d like, during the summer?” It feels possible. His father can come out for a week each month if he wants. Elihu notes that his dad will likely have gigs that interfere. “So tell him to block out those weeks and not take any gigs then” I add. “Have him plan his visit into his calendar just like it was a gig.” There’s quiet on the other end for a couple seconds. “Yes” he finally says. “Yeah, that might work…”
And so we worked out our goal, our strategy. I realize it might not fly with Fareed – especially if it stands to eclipse a paying gig, but who knows. There’s also Fareed’s ‘other’ family to consider. I know he likes to have them all together there in Illinois – that way it doesn’t take him away from his other two sons, plus it gives him time with Elihu. It’s kind of a convenience for him. I understand. But still, it’s an option worth presenting. I’ll leave it to Elihu to pose it to his father. I’ve told him that I’m behind him on this, but he needs to get his father to listen. That’s not something I can do with much success, as Fareed might think I’m trying to interfere with their relationship, to strip away his time with his son. I’m certainly not – in fact I’m always encouraging it – yet I’m not sure Fareed sees it that way. (This really makes me sad. You’d think there’d be a bit of inherent trust of some sort after a quarter century of shared history… but it ain’t necessarily so.)
Elihu feels a bit more at ease after we navigate through that issue, something which I guess has contributed to his headache tonight. (Seriously, what nine year old should have a stress headache? Sometimes a tiny voice in the background worries if it might not be something more serious… I cannot be alone in my maternal worryings, can I?) Elihu seems to be a little lighter now, a little happier. He goes on to telling me about his two younger half-siblings, and how they’re kinda rowdy and will soon be going to Montessori School. Elihu talks about how Montessori will bring out the best in them “in spite of themselves” and uses phrases like “such that” and “in so doing” as he speaks, and oh how eloquently he speaks, this nine year old boy of mine. It seems he has turned a corner. Not simply for the mature use of language or the complexity of his thinking. There’s something else. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but something about him is changed. He himself asked me tonight if he might not attribute his recent sentimentality about things to his growing older. He noticed that he’d grown so tall that his head now brushed a bird ornament he had hanging in his room, when in the past he’d walked well underneath it. Noticing that had made him wistful. I told him I wasn’t sure, but it made sense to me that his emotions should be registering this change too. I also told him that I’d been sensing in these past two months that something about him was changing. (I’d recently had a moment of real panic in which I fully understood – maybe finally believed might be a better choice of words – that my son was no longer a cute little boy, a child I could lift up and carry on my hip, but rather he was now a young, capable boy very close to becoming a young man.) The chubby wrists were gone long ago, yes, but even after that he had remained a ‘cute little boy’ for a good long while. But now, he wasn’t that boy anymore. I too, was wistful.
After nearly an hour on the phone, we agreed it was time to say good-bye. He parted as he does with family he loves (grandparents, parents, Martha): by saying “love you so much”. He emphasizes the “so much” in such a way that it sinks deep down; anyone listening gets it. His love comes through, his intention is strong. And yet there’s also a hint of sorrow present in his parting declaration of love. A sorrow that comes naturally of a family divided, a family that can no longer live under one roof. Sad though he may be, he sure is loved, that kid. From both sides. And he knows that, which is, as we all can agree, the most important thing.
Before we hang up, he asks me to come to him tonight in his dreams, and I ask him to do the same. So tonight I’ll be on the lookout for that familiar, fine, young man. Only he’ll probably be just a bit taller than the Elihu I remember.