The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Up and Away November 22, 2012

Up at 3:30. Laundry’s in the dryer, Elihu’s bag is packed, including his carry-on, which is a large FAO Schwartz shopping bag from our summer trip to New York City. He’s bringing his Christmas gifts for his little brothers early, and one wouldn’t fit into the suitcase. I remind him several times that the book he’s brought to read is in the bag too – so when someone offers to stow the bag in the cabinets above his head, make sure to get the book out first. That’s all I can do. In the past, he’d most likely forget, and sit idle the whole trip, not wanting to make anyone get it down for him. This time, he’ll probably remember, he might even ask for help if he needs it. He’s getting older. He’s doing more for himself, but still, I advise, I remind, I worry…

I touch his soft, perfect face while he sleeps and behold this boy who’s fast changing… The other day he told me he really wanted to have a beard when he was older. Will a beard actually grow one day from his velvet-smooth cheeks? If I try, I can kind of imagine it, but secretly I’m a bit horrified. Yet is this not what parents aspire to? Raise our children to be healthy, happy autonomous adults who may live as they choose?  I’m far from ready. These days it seems he’s readier than I am. He’s been flying alone for four years. It’s no more eventful to him than a car ride to the grocery store. He’s smart, he’s funny and he’s got a natural savvy about life in general which far exceeds his years. But in the end, he is my little boy. And knowing that in a few hours he’ll be speeding through the sky away from me at hundreds of miles per hour, his plane becoming a mere speck in the sky… that thought has me feeling a little light-of-being, a little empty. It’s always in his leaving – and then again in his homecoming – in which I feel the passing of time most acutely.

But I’m excited for him. He is seeing his father at long last! And his baby brothers (for the most part I omit the word ‘half’ as a descriptor, depends on how equanimous I’m feeling at the moment). “They’re not babies” he reminds me. “It was a figure of speech, baby” I answer him. He smiles. We choose some paper to wrap their presents ahead of time. We finish, and they look nice. “I’d be happy to get one of these, wouldn’t you?” I ask him. Elihu waits for a minute. He’s looking down. For a second it looks like he’s thinking about something else. “Thanks,” he finally says, “I know this isn’t easy for you”. I tell him it’s all ok – I really am so happy for him – how excited I am too to know that his brothers will love the presents. He doesn’t stay in the sentiment long, it seems he believes me. All I can do is hope that he really does feel my support. He’s right. It’s not always easy, even now. But it does get easier. And knowing how excited he is helps motivate me to move past my own hurt.

He’s been hugging me a lot today, saying extra “I love yous”, getting ready in his heart to make the parting. To switch parents. We’re alternately easily frustrated with each other and needy of each other’s affection. It’s been just us for months now, and frankly, we could both use a little break from each other. And yet…

I move around the house getting ready. The kitchen cabinet handles are sticky with his clementine-wet hands. I see the charge lights on his toy helicopters blinking, ready. His drawing paper is out and waiting for a new bird sketch… signs of a nine year old boy living here. One minute they’re parts of the house as usual, the next, they’re strange, ghost-like suggestions of the absence all around me. I try not to let my mother’s mind wander to that unspeakable, remote possibility that my son may not come back… I leave the sticky door handles to remind me of him, just in case. I scold myself for being so morbid. I remind myself to stay positive, to cancel those thoughts immediately… This trip is nothing new or remarkable, he’ll be fine. A parent has to let go eventually, right? Maybe our time in practice will help when the time really does come for him to move out. Maybe.

I’ve just returned from the airport. It took a while for his Southwest flight to get going. The only person in the vast observation room at the Albany airport, I watched as the plane was de-iced, watched the plane taxi away and waited. And waited. Finally, as I began to despair that I must somehow have missed his plane take off, the morning sun crested over the hills just as his plane sped past, the wheels lifting off the ground precisely as the sun freed itself from the horizon. A movie moment. I watched it all the way as it got smaller and smaller… until it banked and headed west. Finally, the tiny dot was gone.

As I was leaving the garage I called his father to tell him Elihu was safely off. Strangely, we often talk for a while on these occasions. Fareed chats about things going on in his world, we catch each other up on our parents, we try to make sure we’re on the same page about Elihu. It’s all so strangely civil – more than civil actually, maybe, not sure if it’s the word, but it’s something close to friendly. In the past it’s thrown me off – it’s like I see a window to the man I used to love and share my life with, and it almost seems he’s still there, that this has all been a dream… But now, somehow, it’s easier. Easier to understand. After all, we both love our boy so.

I get home, have a snack. I smile to myself when I feel the sticky surfaces. I wipe them clean. I take a bath, and just as I get out and wrap myself in a towel, the phone rings. It’s Elihu, safe and sound. Father and son are together again and both so happy. And for now, I’m a free woman. Clean the house? Work out? Walk in the woods? Meditate? Go to hear some live jazz on the weekend? So much possibility! Wow. The sky is amazingly clear right now, I’d better fly while the flying’s good…

 

4 Responses to “Up and Away”

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