a mother’s heart finds its place in a canyon of moving boxes
dispatch from 20009: in which canyons of boxes in every room are ours to conquer, moi and the one i birthed first. . .
i write to you this dawn from the singular place on the planet i wanted to be this week, a point on the map now highlighted in illuminating shades of radiant. a kid i love is a professor now, and i am here where, in my book, a mother belongs: by his side, tearing open his boxes, tallying the lost and found, turning a blueprint of rooms into a place called home.
i’ve planted the kid in five points on the map since the day he left home for college, and each one for its season became a place i peered in on, checking the weather, counting the miles, watching police reports. his dot became mine by extension.
i’ve spent years now considering places called amherst and new haven, portland, manhattan, and now the nation’s capital, specifically adams morgan, a neighborhood where RBG graces the banners that waft from the light poles, with the words “live your truth.”
the kid has decidedly hopscotched across the country over the course of the last decade. but his itinerant days might be over, as a tenure-track post prompts me to think i’d better get used to the latest in zip codes. and, anyway, unpacking boxes, finding places on shelves, has become my sub-specialty. it’s a task i take on with all the love in the world. i don’t think i’ll ever extinguish the place in my heart that tells me my number one job on the planet is to soften the blows, trod the circuitous path, keep stretching my arms clear across the landscape, and always, always find space and time for side-splitting giggles and tears when they spill from both of our eyes.
the kid is 29 but nowhere in the manual i was handed in the delivery room can i find a line telling me there’s a time when the mothering stops. mothering over the decades is a three-dimensional wonder: it deepens and widens, is layered with strata of life’s most wrenching and glorious moments. just last night as we were giggling and whispering our way to sleep––me on un-sheeted bed (we’re working our way from kitchen to bedroom), him on inflatable mattress––i told him how even though i see the professorial glasses he wears these days and feel the heft of his six-foot-three pillar of flesh and bone when he wraps his arms around me, i also see plenty often a flashing picture show of his life at various points along his continuum: i see––clear as clear could be––the wet and squirmy little thing placed in my outstretched arms the very first time; i see the six-month-old who let out a belly laugh for the very first time; i see the toddler who looked up from the kitchen table one breakfast and asked, as if it was the most ordinary of questions for a three- or four-year-old, “mommy, what is facetious?” meaning what does it mean, this very long word not normally found in preschool vocabulary. and, yes, i see the kindergartener who set up a lecture hall in our living room, with a circle of stuffed-animal pupils, a chalkboard and easel, and 26 spongy alphabet letters. the professor wore suspenders and tie and bare feet, and instructed his class on the fine points of D, O, and Q.
it’s a curious thing, this mothering the grown human being. there are those, i’ve been told, who believe a mother’s role is to step into the distant background, loosen the grip on the ups and the downs of those you’ve loved every day of their lives. i’m not among them, though i can go––and i have––whole weeks without more than a short burst of texting. i find it only gets richer and richer, the closest i know to “love as you would be loved.” mothering to me is a spectacular testing ground: day after day, i re-define and refine the extraordinary intricacies of loving, of where to position myself in the tableau of his life, how much of the weight to bear, and when to stand silent and when to come running.
what i know, after a lifetime of fumbles, of occasional hits and plenty of misses, is this: the width of my brain has only grown wider over the years, as each of my boys carry me into realms i’d otherwise never explore. and my heart and my soul, they’ve at once defied the laws of physics, both deepening and rising to depths and heights i’d never ever imagined. and so, as long as i’m needed and able, i shall tear away the endless strips of packing tape till my fingers are raw and my boy has a place to call home, his very own faraway home. six hundred miles from mine.
since i’ve been busy unpacking this week, i’ve not had much chance to gather up a commonplace-y bouquet. but i did find this, from the late great bard, leonard cohen, on sainthood:
“What is a saint? A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a man setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory. He rides the drifts like an escaped ski. His course is the caress of the hill. His track is a drawing of the snow in a moment of its particular arrangement with wind and rock. Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with the angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid bloody landscape. His house is dangerous and finite, but he is at home in the world. He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men*, such balancing monsters of love.”Leonard Cohen
“achieved a remote human possibility. . . ” contemplate that for a while….
in book news: it seems hard copies of The Book of Nature have been plopping onto front stoops all over these united states, and heavenly folk, especially friends of the chair, have been sending along snaps, each of which makes my heart do a little bit of a gallop. it’s still a couple weeks till the official pub date––the vernal equinox, march 21; bring on the springtime, bring on the book!––so these early sneak-peek arrivals are both surprise and delight. and i am hoping to set that book soaring with a grand circle of chairs, as night falls on that first day of spring. see here for more details, should you be so inclined. (we’re gathering on march 21 at 7 p.m. central time, via zoom, one of the rare silver linings to emerge from our years in pandemic––or at least i count it as a silver lining, bringing me poets and thinkers from all across the globe.)
before i get back to uprooting books from their boxes, here’s the question (to ponder or drop us your thoughts): of all the mothers you’ve known or watched from some distance or close proximity, what are/were the defining qualities that allowed you to see and see clearly just what it means to love in the deepest mothering way? (and, remember, mothering for me is a verb not tied to any particular gender or state of procreativity, but rather to any and all who love with a tender loving attention and care, and the undying prayer that in some way they might both lighten another’s load and magnify the wonder of being alive…)