it is as if someone turned out the lights, left me in a room, and told me to find my way out. only, they littered the path with chairs that were tipped, and piles of clothes, and all sorts of stuff that grabbed at my ankles.
and, before i could grope through the dark, i had to plop myself down in front of a box with dials and knobs and whatchamahoolies and try ever so hard to re-calibrate, to find the fine balance, the delicate line, between that place where the signal’s always been clear, been robust, and the newfound somewhere that i’ve never been before: the place where i mother from afar.
and thank God almighty that this particular gymnastic act–the redefining of my place in the life of my faraway boy–is one that comes with trapeze, the safety net of human understanding and forgiveness, and trying again and again to get it right.
so far, it’s been bumpy. on my end, i mean. i’ve klonked into chairs, tripped over clothes. can’t quite find that fine line where my own brand of embracing meets up with the newfound insistence–his insistence, that is–that the boy live his own life, spread his own wings.
and sometimes it catches me chuckling. (truth be told, sometimes it finds me in tears.)
let’s try a tale from the light-note department (or else i’ll be sniffling again): the other noontime, for instance, on what was for my boy the first day of classes.
as i am wont to do on such an occasion, i felt the magnetic pull of the wide rows of candles, the ones tucked into a cove in any catholic church. the ones guaranteed to yank God by the sleeve, and get his wide-eyed attention. or so i’ve believed forever and ever.
in this case, it was the big downtown cathedral that whispered my name, barely a mile from the place where i type. so i up and departed my typing desk, wandered through the big city, down the leafy side streets, and up through the two-ton doors that harbor the chamber where the cardinal and all of his flocks kneel down to pray.
i looked and looked and could not find the single place in any church that most deeply stirs my soul: the vigil lights, the prayer candles, straight tidy rows of beeswax votives, all queued up beside the offerings box. the place where, with the flick of a match, you strike your intentions and watch the smoke and the prayer rise heavenward.
only there were no candles in the cathedral. none that i could find in any nook or cranny. so i headed to the back where the man in the uniform sat (this is new, a security guard for a gold-washed church). i asked if perhaps they’d done away with old-fashioned vigil lights. he uttered not a word, pointed down the nearby stairs.
in the basement? i thought. in the bowels of the cathedral?
not one to argue, certainly not in a church, i did as instructed (even if the instructions came without words) and down i tiptoed, wary of what i might find there at the bottom.
lo and behold, the shiny stand of candles stood. only they weren’t candles. and there were no matches. this was, after all, the big bad city, and you can’t leave a match unattended. not in the cellar of a church that not long ago suffered a terrible fire.
and so i did what a mama in 2011 would do. i clicked the switch and on popped that battery-operated prayer candle. and, heck, as long as i was going high-tech (and as long as i was alone, down there in the cardinal’s prayer pit), i figured i oughta yank out my blackberry, that squat black box i barely know how to work. i groped till i found the camera icon. then i played along. clicked, and captured the prayer-wafting bulb. long as i was on the high-speed highway, i figured, i might as well send this snapshot off to the boy at the college. and so i did, along with a note that as long as it was tucked in his cellphone, we oughta consider the prayers on active duty.
i laughed as i launched my long-distance prayer light. felt just a wee bit proud of my capacity to bend to circumstances, to adapt. to carry on as i always have. only across area codes, mountain range and ZIP code.
the gulping thing is: the boy was too busy, too deep into college, to let me know that he got it at all. (pretty much, that’s been the case for the whole of the last two weeks. which i’m trying soveryhard to absorb, to roll with, to not let it eat me alive.)
and so i find myself feeling a bit like a schoolgirl, one with a bit of a crush on a boy who’s not paying attention. suddenly, out of the blue, i’m not sure what to say. how often to say it. not inclined to play coy. certainly not with this child i bore, this child i love more than life.
but so downright uncertain. so not wanting to intrude. to ask too much. to bother.
this room that i’m in here, it’s plenty dark. and i find that i’m tripping all over the place.
i am certain, i am, that i’ll find my new rhythm. but right now, right in here, i am learning long-distance. and it is the most uncomfortable patch i’ve known in some time.
it is a truth of life that, as we come round certain bends, we need to re-negotiate even our most heartfelt connections. i had a blurry sense that it might be hard to be so far away from the boy that i love, and i knew his landscape was meant to be one without me. but i hadn’t quite realized there’d be this layer of not knowing how to be, where to be, not wanting to barge in, but not wanting to vanish altogether.
you who’ve been down this road, how did you find your way. you who are along on this journey, do you find it’s a dance for which you’ve got two left feet, as they say? some say it’s as simple as learning how to text. you can send off quick “how you?”s, and get immediate one-word replies. some say it gets better once they come home for a visit and you realize some things never change. but right in here, i feel like i am teetering at the edge of a cliff. and the rumbling in my tummy gives me an ache……
Oh, it is so, so hard, the “holding on loosely.” We want them to think of us, to miss us, and they will, they do, sometimes. But most times they are busy living their new adventures and experiences — rather like the one being on vacation and the one left at home … time passes disproportionately for each — too quickly for one; too slowly for the other.As someone said at the table on the prior posting, turn to those who love you and hold tight to their hands until you feel strong enough again to face the new normal. There is no getting around it, only through it. We’re all here for you, holding your hand at this shared table which you so graciously provide.
Oh, my, for one with two left feet at her most graceful, the whole mother-of-a-high-schooler experience has been like a middle school “lighted school house” dance. I do like sending a prayer candle over the phone. I thought “this would be a great app!” So I looked it up, and of course it’s already out there. But to get back to your thought, perhaps, as moms, we have to — as always — rely on our instinct; to know that yes, he got the candle, and no, he didn’t reply (after all, who made sure he wrote thank you notes?), but YOU know that he got it, thought “Yeah, that’s Mom”, maybe a little eyeroll if anyone was near, and inside he felt that candle glowing. Still glowing. And the love from Above and from afar is warming the cockles of his own heart. And when hot fudge sundaes appeared in the dining hall for dessert, he’ll know it was the candle’s doing. And when you send him pictures of candles every now and then, from the church, Shabbat, a birthday, little bro’s jack-o-lantern, the advent wreath, or the next power outage (heaven forbid), each one will light his heart anew. And maybe even put all easy questions on his next calc quiz. When he tells you about the quiz, you’ll prompt “was it the candle?” and he’ll grin, but you won’t be able to see it over the phone. Skype.In a year I’ll sidle up to the table and reread your post. I’ll be dancing the same steps, and will need to know I’m part of the same big square dance.
bless your hearts both of you……a bit of update: we went to a gathering the other eve, of all sorts of parents from our firstborn’s kindergarten class and beyond, from back at the laboratory school at the university where he started his classroom life. to a T, all those parents were bemoaning that they were being “shut out” of their freshmen in college’s new lives…..one parent hadn’t heard a PEEP from her freshman at MIT in THREE WEEKS!!!! and while we were sitting there, her phone made a warbly noise and, lo and behold, there he was, making his debut appearance on her phone….i think this might be a widespread condition, and one you don’t hear so much about. i’d heard ALL about kids who text home 100 or a 1000 times a day, and i knew i didn’t hope for that. i hadn’t heard much about the fact that these kids who are connected to the digital world every living/breathing minute might be so overwhelmed they aren’t thinking that there are far-off families trying to get used to the abrupt and precipitous decline in words flowing back and forth….so for those of you who’ve not yet stepped off this curb, i hope you will be spared the shock and awe of thinking it’s your particular kid who is the only one in the world who is not phoning/texting/emailing home sweet home….there’s a broadband of lonely hearts out here….but, for the record, as the weeks go on, it seems he’s finding the keys for home…..
I am on my third offspring at college. I am so used to college kids not checking in, that when my daughter recently called me. I was sure something was amiss, and said, “What’s wrong?” She replied, “Well, I am calling to check in with you, as you have not called me for a week!” The shoe may one day be on the other foot!