dispatch from 02139…
here on the banks of the charles river, it’s seeped in, that one thing i knew was coming, that one thing i prayed might be kept at bay.
but of course, it couldn’t, wouldn’t be.
not when traveling with young soul, tender soul, boy on the brink of those tumbling years, those years when friends mean everything, when the familiar is lifeline, is equilibrium.
and so, at the dawn of most days lately, and past nightfall, when the bedclothes are tucked up around his chin, that’s when i hear the sigh, the deep, deep hollow sigh. the boy misses home, misses friends, feels unmoored.
“please, can we go home?!?!” he asks, begging and insisting in the same short breaths.
are there words in a mother’s lexicon that cut more sharply against the vessels of the heart?
one morning, not so many days ago, when i’d dried the tears, whispered words meant to stitch together the tatters, when i’d coaxed and promised and pleaded, at last he climbed down from the top of the bunk bed, surrendered more or less to the school day up ahead, and as he stood there, calm by then, bravely slipping arms through soccer jersey, he asked:
“mom, has there ever been a time in your life where you wished you could go back to a decision and make it over again?”
and i knew, of course, before the last word of the sentence rested on my eardrum, that the decision in mind here was the one back in january, around the dinner table, when we’d asked that fifth-grade boy what he’d think of up and moving to cambridge for a year, and he replied, without missing a beat, “sounds great. i need to see the world!”
and here, standing on the hard-planked floor of his little room on franklin street, in cambridge, in the heart of 02139, he was wishing with all his might that time was silly-putty, could be pulled and twisted, turned back, re-formed. that just maybe he’d said nope, no way, i’m stayin’ put.
but fact is, we’re here. for a mere nine more months.
and i know, deep in my mother heart, that he’ll be all right.
that this hurts, absolutely. (after all i’m the girl who sat on the garage stoop for my whole kindergarten year, every sunday night, oozing emptiness and sorrow as i watched my papa pull down the driveway, turn and fade into the darkness, gone again till friday, week after empty week, for most of that whole year.)
the thing that keeps me steady are the words some wise soul said in passing, just before we packed up all the boxes back on maple avenue, when she said: “a parent’s job is to teach our children to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.”
well, it’s uncomfortable, all right. for him, at least. for this kid who travels to a school where he claims just one friend, though when i pick him up on the basketball courts after school, he’s amid a thicket of ball players, all smiling, jostling. and they call out his name in a way that drips with honey, pure sweet, our little scrapper of a hustler on the court. and with that big ol’ smile to boot, he seems to be the proud owner of a formula for instant affection.
if i didn’t believe, deep down, with all my soul, that this year was in fact a trip through the accelerator, that shake-’em-up-machine that can’t help but infuse life knowledge, heart, a deeper wider understanding of the world, whether it comes from sitting on my lap while i read a story from our south african journalist friend about the 1,802 footsteps it takes along a muddy mountain path to fetch a jug of water (twice, each day), or whether it comes while kicking around a soccer ball with four kids, not one of whom speaks english, i would never have emptied out his dresser drawers, stuffed it all in duffel bags, and squished them into the back of the little black sedan that pulled out of our alley back home, and kept chugging till it got to the curb here on franklin.
but that doesn’t mean i’ve not, once again, pulled out my mother bag of implements and tools for stitching back together the tattered heart of a boy who’s been stricken with a nasty case of homesick blues.
and once again i’ve come to that blunt line, the precipice, where words run out, where there are only so many ways you can whisper hope, promise deliverance from this heartache.
and so, as always, i’ve turned to the alchemies of comfort.
i am simmering cider and spices in early morning hours so that even before he flutters open an eyelid, he’ll have breathed in a comfort note, a pungent autumn mix of cinnamon and clove and apple orchard.
i’m frying sausages and bacon. making whopping batches of french toast on weekends, so all week long he’ll start the day with a platter that tries to whisper: you are loved. you’re not home, but home is here, is where the ones who hold you up promise to sustain you, to keep you from being swallowed whole by the rocky waters of your achiness.
i’m snatching samples of hard-rock candy from the white house pastry chef who lectured to my “science and cooking” class, so that he knows, without words, that even in the thick of my dailiness, he is front and center in my mama brain.
last night, dashing out of a mind-blowing talk from five journalists who covered the arab spring, from egypt to liberia to yemen and tunisia, five journalists who barely missed bullets, and didn’t escape arrest, dashing out because i had to get to the soccer field, to fetch my homesick boy from practice, i spied a vat of goldfish crackers, and scooped up a whole cup because even when my head is swirling with images of war and foreign correspondents, i remember that little boys’ tummies growl when they are empty, and the drive home in cambridge traffic is always longer than it should be, and so there i was dashing along the cobbled streets, weaving and darting between college kids plugged into iPhones, with my plastic cup of bright orange goldfish.
because mamas never stop the art, the craft, the hope of being mamas. our one true work is nestled deep in that cord that forever connects us: we are, if we choose to be, the beginning and the end of someone’s belonging to this holy earth. we are womb. even when it’s emptied.
and our prayers are without end. our prayers, without words when we come to the place where no vowels, no consonants exist to capture the whole of what we ask, what we beg for.
dear God, please fill this child’s heart. please stitch together the gaping hole, the oozing-out place where it hurts so very much, where it feels like you’re falling, spinning, down a big black tunnel. where you think you’ll never again get home. where the comfort of your big old bed, the wallpaper that you know by heart, the sounds of the creaking at the top of the stairs, it’s all you long for. that and the footsteps of your friends, tramping in the door, encasing you in the whole cloth of friendship and familiar that you so miss.
dear God, pass me, please, the spool and the needle that i need here. as i try mightily, morning after morning, bedtime after bedtime, to stitch the homesick blanket. so i can tuck in the boy i love, wrap him in the holy cloth of comfort that only angels bring.
chair people, if you’ve an extra word of grace to spare, perhaps you might send up vespers for all the children in this world who don’t quite feel that they belong wherever it is they are. and if you’ve tricks in your sewing kit, or recipes tucked into files, please do tell: how do you stitch comfort for the ones you love when they are aching, oozing, and wholly at a loss?
dashing to send this off because any minute now, the power’s going out for the whole day here. i’ll have to nip and tuck later. but for now…..my morning’s meander….