winging it

by bam

i checked the bylaws. nowhere in the constitution of parenting does it say that l’il mamas are decreed to stay by the sides of the wee ones.
well, here’s a confession then: i stuck anyway. yup. here i am, mother of 14-year-old, mother of 6-year-old, and today, for the very first time, i step on a plane, wave adios out the window.
cumulatively, and for effect, i think i can wring that to seem i’ve not been away in two decades of parenting. not flown away. i did have that little road trip to pick up the limping-along camper, back in the summer. and i have had a few spells in a hospital, that luxury inn that includes railroad-track stitches in its special spa package.
but on a plane, looking out over clouds? without refereeing who sits by the window, who sits in the middle? just moi and a book? for four hours? you’ve got to be utterly kidding.
now the other side of that dizzying equation, of course, is that if i’m leaving the boys, the boys then are home without me. (i was always something of a whiz when it came to those flip-flop properties–transitive, commutative, and all their switching-around cousins. and, besides, who’d miss a chance to show off the sharp edge of her sorting-out skills?)
the prospect of three boys (one, technically a man, another technically close) alone in a house with a stove, a drawer full of knives, and a smoke alarm that’s, well, fidgety, might make for a, um, fidgety mama.
me? n-n-n-noooo. n-not at-t-t all.
there arises then, a bit of a quandry, the sort that some of us mamas love to chew, like trident till it tastes like leftover unscented rubber.
do i leave said boys to fend wholly for their sweet little selves? do i throw bag in the cab, bid them adieu, and think not another disjointed thought for three days?
or do i do what many a mama has done–i’ve seen it myself, yes i have–where she maps out each and every minute of each and all possible manipulations of time, space and energy, too?
i’ve heard reports of color-coded manuals, flip charts, bar graphs. heck, maybe by now some mama somewhere’s whipped up a power point. complete with background thrashing. and clanging of pots and pans. just so no one gets homesick, i’m sure.
i’m tellin’ you, the life some of these mamas are leading makes for very thick mapping. depending on degree of control of the one who most often pushes the dishwasher ON button, there is no end to the spelling out of all sorts of no-budge items on the family agenda.
“be at 41.86 N latitude, 87.68 W longitude at 1818, greenwich mean time. not one minute late,” a type triple-AAA might insist in her typically overwrought way. (whereas you might say simply, “be in chicago, 6ish.”)
indeed, handing off the lives of the little ones is no simple task in the houses of mothers whose minivans zoom infinite laps in perpetual marathons, each beepin’ day.
lucky for me, i drive an old wagon and it sits at the curb, idle, for hours on end. days, even. we’ve not yet gotten with the overdrive program.
so of course, given the latency of our ho-hum, mid-lane life, i opted for a handoff somewhere cozily in the middle.
they–that would be the boys–got one typed sheet. three days bulleted. a line or two (like don’t forget the water bottle for soccer) got emblazoned in bold. sort of like nagging in print, i suppose.
i stocked the fridge with all the essentials: milk by the gallon; oj; challah; cherry garcia; chicken breasts; cherry garcia; stouffer’s mac-n-cheese, garcia again.
what else could they possibly need? they know my cell phone. i just have to remember to pack the recharger.
but, jeez, i really do think, by now, after peeking over my shoulder for all of these combined 20 years, you would think they’ve got the idea. think there’s a bit of a rhythm even they grasp: get up, eat, play, eat, play, eat, play, go to bed.
whatever, however, those details are blurred, stumbled over, done in their very own way, will be their business to know, mine to salute.
it is really a mighty fine lesson in just letting go. the house will still stand. the dishes will be there, sticky with chocolatey cherries perhaps. but nothing that cannot be scrubbed.
the weekend is theirs to frolic, and do as they please. i’ll get reports, i am certain, of just how exotic it was to do it their way.
as for me, i will miss them terribly. wholly. completely. they are, more than even i know, my ballasts. they keep me afloat. keep me, some days, from taking on water.
i can’t quite imagine a plane without them nearby. can’t remember what it is to not see the light in their eyes as we squeeze hands for take-off and landing.
i guess, in the end, the truth of this tale is that each of us, in our very own way, must put a toe in the water of winging it all on our own. it’s not a bad thing to try on for size the world without the ones we assume, day after day, will be there to breathe the same air, to know the steps of a dance that all of us dance, without instruction.
just so, at the end, we can fall back onto each other. can hear the sound of our laughing. as we tell the stories of the world as it washed over and over us, on the days when we winged it alone.

late breaking report: i just said goodbye to boy no. 1. that wasn’t so hard. it’s the one up in bed still. the one who still squeezes my hand as we walk down the street. the one who has tagged along every trip to the place where i’m going. he was there when we rushed out for a funeral. he was there when we went shortly after, to fill the house of my brother with sound other than that of a heart that was broken, was spilling. today i head out to a wedding. that very same brother, once lost and alone, is now brimming with joy. we couldn’t all get there, so i go alone. carrying all of us very much in my heart.

what wisdom do you gather when you go off in the world without those you are most accustomed to leaning on in the course of a day? how do you hand off the ins and the outs of your life?

see you monday, cross your fingers….