sometimes, when you’re a mama, you wish you could fix it all with an apple cut into crescent moons, and an oozy grilled cheese, and a wee ghost mug filled with chocolate-stirred milk.
sometimes, when you’re a mama, it’s nowhere so easy.
sometimes, say the night your firstborn promised the college essays would be done–signed, sealed, delivered–you find yourself checking the status, oh, every half hour. and it’s not too long till you realize this night could unravel right before your eyes.
and soon enough, you feel the weight of the world that bears down on the shoulders of the babe you once birthed to the world.
and as you sit there listening, sopping up heartache–his and, quickly, your own–you see in your mind’s eye the whole picture show of his life.
frame after frame spilling by.
and stunningly, awesomely, you grasp the enormity of the fact that you’ve been there for a front-row seat all the way along. and you cannot think of one other someone you have known so utterly wholly–every night fever and rash, every scuffle and pitfall. the girl who said no to the dance. and the one who this summer said yes.
and, by now slid down against the chair where he is curled, your shoulder against the sides of his thick rower’s legs, you think back to the hours and months before he was born.
you remember when your belly got to the brink of a room, any room, before the rest of you did. and how you loved that belly. how you tried on the clothes that would show it off well before you needed to wear them. because, after waiting a lifetime, you could wait not one minute longer.
you wanted this more than anything ever–before or since.
and you remember, back then, how you promised yourself, promised the unborn babe, promised the universe, and God too, that you would love that sweet not-yet-met someone so wholly and so completely, surround that sweet someone in such an un-pierce-able bubble of love, that babe would never be knocked back by the high waves of doubt and despair that, too often, threatened to topple you over–and did, more than just once.
and you really thought, back then, that committing to love was all it would take.
and so you set out to make it come true.
why, you’d practically wear that babe on your chest, barely put him down, sleep curled right beside him. you’d hardly go out, rarely bring in a sitter. you’d work from home, give up the downtown office–just to be minutes away, always.
you would do everything under the sun, for years and years and years, to keep that child from knowing the heartache that you could not bear to imagine.
the heartache that now seeped into the room, filling it like a hose with a spigot, as you sit there on a cold autumn night, watching him struggle to type in a chair with a screen that resists being filled with his thoughts, with his words, with his sketchpad for college.
you hear a depth of heartache that rips your own right out from your chest. and so, when the talking is done, you cannot walk back to your bed. you cannot leave his room, you realize.
you can’t type the words, can’t pull the thoughts from the utterly drained mind that is his–he’s been at it for days now.
but you can’t sleep down the hall. so you do what mamas do, sometimes. you stay where you feel the pull.
you curl up on the floor. lay your head on the emptied-out backpack, make like it’s the pillow.
and you close your eyes while the typing starts up again. the pads of his fingers tapping their way toward college.
and you feel the tears roll down your cheeks from under your closed eyelids. you taste the salt of the runaway one that rolls over your lips. you wipe it away before it’s noticed.
once upon a time you thought you could love your child free from all this. safe from all of this.
and at every turn along the way, you did what you thought would stoke him with strength, with joy, with lightness of heart.
but then on a dark night at the end of october, when all the colleges begged their assignments, you realized that, sometimes, in the end, all you can do is lie there and pray.
and wait for the dawn, finally, to come.
i write this for all of us, the mothers, the fathers, who keep vigil through these final days and nights, as high school seniors around the country, type out their thoughts and their big ideas for colleges who will or won’t let them in through the gates at the head of the line, the early decision line. and i write this for all those who love children at whatever stage, whenever and wherever and however they stumble and struggle. i know, because i have friends, that ours wasn’t the only house that felt dark last night as all the desklamps burned.
on a much lighter note, i promised a word on breakfast with ina, the barefoot contessa. she is, in a short string of words, everything you would hope she is. and so much more. she oozes goodness. engages in deep conversation. sparks up at a question. wraps it all up with a genuine hug. you get up from the table feeling as if you’ve just made a friend. one you’ve known for a long long time. which in so many ways, i did.
what dark nights have found you keeping vigil, curled up beside the someone you so thoroughly love?
Perhaps the training ground for college apps is the 6th grade packets that beckoned futilely all month, then demanded attention on the same day as a poem, a geography test, and a Halloween costume. And of course, when you’re 11, the costume is the most important project. The little procrastinator floated home on the high from a successful turn in the school play, then plunked down to earth and his desk chair. I got three loads of laundry done Thursday night, keeping lights on and a vibe in the house so it didn’t FEEL so late, and staying awake and close at hand but out of range of all those flying brain cells and pencil shavings.Son One is thankfully past his “this is my first draft, but if it’s good enough it will be my final draft” stage. Now he wants to write, so he will put a great deal of himself into his essay next year. I’d better stock up on the cocoa for the long night ahead.It’s a parent’s lot, to want to absorb that darkness for our children, but when they shine, have a success, it is all theirs and we wouldn’t have it any other way.Good luck on the applications. I hope, in this technology-driven, online-application era, that they still bestow admission with a big, fat envelope in his hand.
dear ‘nother barb…….bless your soul for meeting me where i was, only in the sixth grade version. your writing is soo wonderful i float right along. love the notion of trying to make it feel not SO late. keeping the house humming. and most of all i love your knowledge and your wisdom about how it is we open ourselves to be sponges for their darkness and know to turn ourselves into mirrors when it’s time for the glories and the triumphs to reflect beautifully back to them…….what i have forever loved about the chair is the wisdom found here. all of you who gather in the chairs–and it seems to flow in cycles, with gatherers flowing in and out as their lives allow–so generously put your wisdom out for all to see, and you share your stories in such a way that makes us all feel connected, tied at the heart. thank you much for putting your version of late-night drama on the table. it feels as huge in 6th grade as it does in 12th; i remember…..(and to think i still have a 4th bringing up the rear…..oh the night lights ahead….)