The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Home Again August 15, 2013

I held up my end of the bargain; when I first saw my son at the airport I didn’t squeal with joy, I didn’t jump up and down, didn’t rush in to get my arms all wrapped around him, didn’t smother him with kisses and ‘I love yous’. Nope. I was cooool as a cucumber. And thankfully, he noticed. Thankfully, he was pleased – and relieved – by it. He just stood there waiting, while I presented my ID and signed for him, absolutely consumed by a toothy smile, with an all-about-to-burst-with-a-secret sort of glow about him. It was clear that he was supremely happy. And it felt nice, actually, doing this his way. Cuz he was jonesin to get next to me just as much as I was jonesin to get next to him. But moms, I’ll have you know I remained cool. He leaned in and said sotto voce ‘you’re ok; it’s just the way you keep saying “I love you” over and over that embarrasses me. You’re ok, you’re good“. He even took the lead and held my hand. And in baggage claim he sat next to me on the bench and leaned his body into mine. “My Mommy” he kept saying over and over. A ha! That’s the trick. As it was with me and my ex – as it is with any human relationship – you can turn things around on a dime by simply stopping a behavior. Shift the power. Reverse the polarity. All because I’d backed off, now I was the recipient of the overt affection! And yes, of course, I loved it. What a lovely reunion it was. He took up my hand as we walked back to the car, and, still beaming from ear to ear, and he just kept saying over and over again to himself “I got my mommy. And I’m going home.”

We made a stop at the store on the way home, and once more the newness we felt with each other was apparent. Elihu, in his short-sleeved white oxford shirt, dark jeans and slip-on sneakers looked striking. Well-dressed. The sight of him impressed me and refreshed me. His hair was a little longer than usual after his long time away, but it suited him well. ‘What a handsome kid’ I though to myself. Turns out he’d been sizing me up with new eyes too; told me I looked thin. Wow. Maybe he’s a little biased, but I’ll take it. (Clearly, we were each seeing the other in the energized space of this homecoming. Through rose-colored glasses, you might say.) Then later at home, sitting at the table during a lull between catch-up stories, he rested his heads in his hands, leaned forward and smiled at me. “You really are pretty”. Oh my. Be still my mother’s heart! What more could a mother possibly ask? I lingered there for a bit, smiled back at him, and told him that he’d made my ego positively sing. I thanked him for being the best child a mother could ever know, then broke the moment by playfully shrugging off the flattery. I ‘tsk tsk-ed’ myself up off the chair and walked away, shaking my head and waving my hands in the air.

A lovely first evening. Corn chips with salsa made from the garden. New tricks on the trampoline, A nice visit with the new fish in the improved pond, a moment to get reacquinted with Maximus. A visit from Grandma, a re-telling of the running-out-of-oil-in-the-Mohave-Desert story, a synopsis of Sea World in San Diego, and a demonstration of how two large quartz crystals (from said desert) rubbed against each other in a dark room emit a soft, orange glow. As much as could be condensed in a short visit. Mom had to get back to dad, so then I fed the kid a very just-thrown-together, picnicy sort of supper; a salad made of our garden’s greens, and some cajan-spiced chicken from the grill. Followed by a dutch cocoa cookie and a jam session on the drum set downstairs. If that wasn’t just perfect enough, we then went out to check on the flock.

Elihu’s head count finds the whole, happy gang safe inside.. We coo, we smooch, and I gather up far too few eggs – which doubles our motivation to take the non-producing gals to the Amish butcher on the first week of school. That’s what we always plan to do in the early fall. We mighta bagged on it last year, but I think we two finally have the resolve to do it now. We are done wasting our precious money on dead ends. We renew our resolve to become ‘real farmers’ once again. We will gather up the non-layers and new roos and take em all in. We’ll make the trip to Arnold’s grains once a month rather than make peicemeal trips to the corporate, over-priced Tractor Supply. Yup, we know what to do, and this year we’re gonna do it.

Back inside, pajamas on, Elihu calls to me from his room. “Sleep with me tonight?” he asks. I’d wondered where we were with this now. He’d been completely on his own all summer, no one to read to him at night, there were no real bedtime rituals in the tour bus… plus he’d found the gentle rocking on the road to be the best thing ever to soothe him to sleep. Maybe getting to sleep here might take some getting used to again. I paused, considering the possibility of back-sliding into his needing a lot of my presence at bedtime. I loved him so dearly, I really had no other pressing work, but still…  I’d had hopes that this year he’d be a little more self-reliant when it came to getting to sleep. “Just for tonight. Ok?” he said in a small voice. How could I not? I went into his room and laid down beside him, and we began to recount the day. Such an amazing variety of experiences, from the ‘worst calamari of his life’ at Harry Caray’s at O’Hare to smooching his chickens. He said it all felt like a dream. As he looked around his room he remarked it was hard to believe he’d ever been away. “Yeah, life is like that. In the end, it really is all kinda like a dream. When ya think about it,” I said, “everything you’ve ever done til now is just a memory.” Then we laid there in silence, thinking. Thinking, breathing, and then finally… sleeping.

 

Touchdown, Takeoff December 2, 2012

It was almost midnight when I picked my son up at the airport last Thursday. I arrived a few minutes early, so went to the observation room in hopes I might actually see his plane land. The huge glass walls mostly showed the reflection of the room itself, so I had to lean way in and raise my arm above my head to register the inky black airfield. As I looked at my reflection in the glass, superimposed against the blinking lights of the tower beyond, the strange mix of the archaic and the futuristic struck me. I was in my farm jacket, my hair hanging messily about me – an untidy figure in a clean, modernistic room of glass; the farmer come to meet the sky ship.

This time I was lucky, for as I casually turned my head to the right I saw two lights approaching at what seemed to be a breakneck speed. I couldn’t see the plane itself, but knew my son was there somewhere in the darkness between the two lights. I watched as it zoomed past, wondering how on earth something like that can possibly stop in time, and never taking my eyes off of it as it then turned and taxied briskly back towards me. As the plane came closer, I saw big, fluffy white snowflakes in its lights. My son was home safe, and it was snowing. Perfect.

As I expected, Elihu seemed taller. But more had changed than just that. No longer did he run into my arms as he had at nearly every other reunion. He stood, shy, waiting, giggling somewhat uncomfortably. Huh? I hugged him, I exclaimed how happy I was, and after thanking Dave (our friend at Southwest) we were off to baggage claim. But what’s this? Tears? Already? What the hell just happened? This: apparently I made ‘too big a deal’ of seeing him. I ‘treated him like a baby’. Oh man. Are we here already? I mean, really? I swear sometimes there’s a teenage girl lurking somewhere close to the surface… sheesh. But I try to honor his feelings, after all I remember very well that horrible kind of embarrassment that only parents can create, and it’s made worse because they keep telling you you have no reason to be embarrassed… Well, yes, you do! If a kid’s embarrassed, no matter how hormone or insecurity-induced, if it’s what the poor kid’s feeling, it’s real! So I have to respect it at the very least. I let him talk, cry, explain. Might also be the late hour, I think, but I don’t say that. Eventually, we reach a new understanding. I’m not to call out his name, run towards him, nor open my arms in hopes of a huge, public reunion. I will simply stand there, arm around him as I sign the release, maybe give him a subtle sideways squeeze and a quick kiss atop his head.

In my mind’s eye I play the scene of my adorable six year old boy squealing with delight at seeing me again. I remember his little lisp, his tiny body. Did I savor those moments? I guess I did. I can’t have regrets. I just need to switch gears, because those days are over, and we’re entering a new chapter. As we drive home through the fluffy flakes I wonder at the new stories ahead of us. This week alone there will be plenty, from lessons to chores to his first school assembly (he sings the harmony part and will likely carry his section with great pride and confidence…) and the many other unexpected events that will pop up before us. We two live a full and interesting life here, and now that we’re both refreshed from a week away from the routine, we’re ready to begin it all again…

 

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…