When your son’s been away, on a long trip, miles from home, re-entering the routine of life within the family fold is not always easy. The task of re-establishing the rhythm between the mother and the teenager traveler can be particularly difficult. There’s always a mound of laundry. (Socks are missing. I thought I told you, you can’t fold a tie. What happened to this nice shirt?) There’s plenty of homework to catch up on. (You’d better prepare for all those tests on Monday.) “Mom, why are you hounding me? I did fine all on my own!”
I sit on the edge of his bed. Scratching his back, now broader and longer than the bony seven-year-old back of years ago. The back scratching soothes him and it buys me some time…for more talking…for more questions to be answered.
Cassie: What were your favorite parts of the trip?
Max: Dinner with Grandma and Pop, the visit with Joe, walking the City….showing people.
Cassie: Did seeing the 9/11 Memorial make you sad?
Max: Yep….a little. (pause) How many more questions?
Cassie: A few more. Sheesh. (Pause.) Where did you eat with Grandma and Pop that first night?
Max: Some fancy diner place…near Carnegie Hall.
Cassie: Was it all red inside?
Max: Yea. You know it?
Cassie: I think so. What’d ya have to eat?
Max: Steak. So what? All these questions. You’re living the trip through me?
Cassie: Very funny. Yes, a little bit. I like to picture it.
Max: I’m my own person.
Cassie: I know. But you’re a little bit of me, too.
It takes bigger and longer strokes to reach the edges of his back and to cross the width, from one shoulder to the other. He says his shoulders hurt a little (despite all the training) from carrying his trumpet, just so, during the parade marching on Thanksgiving Day. This back is so much more expansive than those of the other children. He’s the first…the eldest…the one who will leave me before the others.
When I am courageous enough, I let myself imagine what that time will be like, when he goes away, when he really leaves home, goes off to college. I’ve read every detail of my friends’ accounts, listened carefully as they spoke every word about leaving their first born at the college dorms…that very first time. How will I do it? Will I be graceful in letting go? Will I put the dishes in the dish washer at my house in those first few evenings without him, my other children making noise and bustling around me, and imagine him, alone in the dining hall of whatever college campus? Will I get lost in thought as I rinse and load, trying to figure how the pattern of his new life, away from us, away from me, will look? Will it help to attend the Parents’ Weekend…so I am able to picture him going about his new, separate, young adult life? I can imagine him rushing across campus to get to class, playing his trumpet with the college orchestra, meeting up with friends at a party. When that time comes, I will not control a thing. I won’t be suggesting the food choices. I won’t be discussing the books he’s reading, or prompting a theme for an upcoming paper to be written. I won’t be doing his laundry. He’ll have friends I might never talk to. Someday, he may bring home a girl for us to meet, for me to rest my motherly gaze upon. How will that go, I wonder?
Is this how you attempt to live with your children once they’ve grown older and left your home? You try to live with them within the imaginings of your mind? You wander with them through the college campus…the first job interview…the fun party…the discovery of it all…in your mind? He is his own person, but as the mother you’re allowed to do that, right? To imagine? I mean, it’s all you have left in between the precious visits when you try to embrace the broad back within motherly arms that have grown too short. The boy is a man and he towers above you now. You rise to your tiptoes to try to look into his eyes. The college boy feels awkward while hugging you because you won’t let go and you try to squeeze him in your arms.
I’m here, still scratching the wide back of the teenager son. Only five minutes or so have passed. He’s done answering questions and his bedroom is quiet except for the gentle hum of the floor fan which is always aimed at his face for optimal comfort during sleep. I scan the black book shelves that line one wall of his smallish bedroom. All of his trinkets, trophies, books and decks of cards rest on the shelves neatly, but there’s a layer of dust covering every single little thing. I was going to clean this room while he was away on his trip but I never got to it. The inside of my nose tickles at the thought of wiping the shelves and brushing the dust away from all the many items. I think about how much I hate the dust, which is adding day by day. Time passes. The child continues to change. I’m still scratching…here… but not for much longer.