for nearly 19 years (i’m certain i started to wonder nearly the moment i found i was pregnant) i have wondered what this day — this very day when we will lock the house one last time, lug bags down the walk, climb in the car, head off to college — i have tried high and low to figure out what it would feel like. to, um, send my firstborn, my lifeblood, my sweetboy, to college.
this is how it feels:
i awoke at 3 in the morning, just lay there, felt a pain in my chest. for once, though, didn’t think it meant i was having a heart attack. i knew what it was. the beginning of yet another labor. no water bag broke. no squeeze around the middle, from upside the legs. but it is labor nonetheless.
next came the hollowness. hollow. hollow. hollow. that’s how my insides felt.
wasn’t long till i tossed my pillow to the ground, climbed out and knelt there. (a girl needs a kneeler at this ripe ol’ age.)
i whispered every benediction, blessing and vesper i could muster, and a few i couldn’t even put to words.
then i got up. ambled straight to the college-bound bedroom, kissed the forehead i found lying there asleep. made a sign of the cross with my thumb, just the way the bishops taught me to do it long, long ago. that boy fluttered open his eyes, “hullo mommy,” he said, smiling, most likely seeing my tears.
for there were tears.
and there will be more.
right now, though, i find i have a long enough list of things that need to be done.
minutes ago, i was called to the college-bound bedroom. a packing crisis was underway, and the boy asked if instead of typing about his going away, i might just give him a hand. a real one. so i got with the program, and helped the boy re-pack a suitcase of breakable things he thinks he’ll just bring on the plane.
too late for a little mini-lesson on why that’s not so wise.
we’ll just add that to the long list of prayers: “dear God, don’t let the tea mugs and the laptop stand and the book ends bang up and shatter into a zillion pieces, not even when they get crushed by the 23 books the boy decided he can’t leave behind.” (never mind the 42 he already sent in a box.)
i’m not sure, though, if i really want that sorry short prayer taking up space on my God list today.
i might bump it off for one of the others.
like, this one:
“dear God, i noticed on the hurricane watch map, how you’ve plotted a course for that oversized whirling dervish now known as IRENE, and i saw how you’ve got the eye of that ’cane, pencilled right over the wee little town where my boy’s going to college. now, God, i don’t think you pull out this trick very often, the one where the hurricane ditches the seashore, heads inland 100 or so miles, straight through the holyoke mountains. so, God, i was wondering if maybe you’d pull out your big pink eraser, and re-do that line, the hurricane-eye line. i really don’t think it belongs over the college dorm where we will be busy ditching raindrops and hurling branches. because, God, in all of my hours of wondering about sending my kid off to college, i never once dreamed up a hurricane. never ever thought that was something i oughta add to my worries. but here you go, God, trumpin’ me in the creativity department. big time. so i’m just askin’, if you’ve got time today, could you please re-do your hurricane map. or maybe just turn it into a frog. a frog would be fine, God. a nice fat frog hopping around college. just asking. you do what you want. me, i’ve got to get back to packin’ my boy for college.”
and so, that big fat prayer now outa the way, i should move on to trembling. for that’s what it feels like inside when your motor is revving, and your nerves are all jangled. because you really don’t get it, don’t get how for 18 whole years your every night and every day is consumed with watch-keeping.
you watched that baby boy breathing, so long ago. made sure you saw the up and down of his chest when, in those rare moments, he took a long afternoon’s nap. why, you were making sure he was alive right there beside you. for you never, not once, put him down in a crib. you were the kind of mama who LIKED having a babe in your arms most of the time, who slept right beside him, who woke up in the night just to drink in the miracle of skin against skin. (no wonder this leave-taking is hard, you poor old mama, it’s wholly against every cell of your wiring.)
not so many years after that, you kept watch whenever you drove in a car, and you could glance in the rear-view mirror, gauge his mood, how his day went. you’ve been tossing an eyeball his way since as long as you could remember.
and now, no matter how hard you try, no matter what sort of magical spectacles you slip on your face, you won’t see what he’s doing, where he is, what sort of smile he wears, or how much his eyes sparkle.
oh, you’ll imagine. and maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll dream. you’ll see him bouncing around in your dreams. i know what it is to fall asleep hoping you dream about someone you miss. i did it for years, hoping to dream of my papa.
right now though, i need to imagine him strong and safe and thriving. i need to picture him in his glory hallelujah. the boy is headed straight to where he belongs (minus the hurricane).
i suspect i’ll ride the waves of this labor all weekend long. till the final push. when someone tells me it’s time. time to go now. time to look straight in his eyes one last time, time to open my heart for one last gulp of pure holy child.
i will whisper these words: “be safe. and soar on the winds. God be with you. know that i love you.”
and like that, i will wrench myself away. turn to the little one who will be sobbing by then. i will walk away from one child, hold tight to the other.
for now, though, there’s a long day of packing. and loving. and loving. and boarding a plane, straight for the path of the hurricane.
this is bound to be a drop-off for the record books.
irene, here we come.
fasten your seat belts…..
the photo up above was taken last night, the last night willie slept in this house before college. his little brother wanted him to climb in bed and read him a story. they picked dr. seuss’ “the butter battle book.” i listened in from the stairs, heard willie tell teddy, “i love you very much.” this morning there was a 5-minute hug in the hall. this parting is downright painful for the little one. if you’ve got a spare prayer, whisper one for him.
and there we go: i decided to write my way through this passage, the college send-off. and so i did. bless you for indulging me. and thank you for your patience. i know i am not the first to do this, nor the last. but in my book, it’s all new, it’s all raw, and it begged to be put on paper. so that’s what i did. i’m sure i’ll write at least once about the quiet that comes once we’re home.
for now, thank you, and bless you, all of you who come to this table, and sop up these stories and tears when they’re spilled. i would love to hear the tales of your heart-achingest partings, however they unfolded, whenever they came…