I have a woven bag made out of old lawn chairs. It’s ideal for van-travel because it doesn’t collapse and fits neatly at my feet. Sewing, reading, and snacks are easily found during the long drive up to Montreal and the long drive back.
Twice, I sail out of my son’s new place without it. It keeps accompanying me to his 13th floor apartment because there are curtains to hem — 218 inches of curtain, in fact. Scissors and thread!! Scissors and thread!! The second time, we are about to head home. We say, “Goodbye, goodbye.” Not, “See you tomorrow, goodbye.”
In the elevator, my husband (who is unhappy with his haircut), holds out a clump and says, “See? See? It’s too long!” He swings it to the other side of his part, where it doesn’t belong either. I don’t really see a difference between this cut and the decent ones, but I humor him. . . probably because its so refreshing to be confronted with a grating annoyance that’s easily fixed (as opposed to, say, construction noise at home). “I’ll snip it!” I say, which is when I realize that my scissors are still upstairs — in the now twice forgotten bag.
Riding back up, I wonder about the twice forgotten bag. It’s not that I don’t want to leave. It’s that I want to leave more of myself with C, as if he needs my trove of granola bars and thread to survive. It doesn’t matter that he’s a senior and has done this before. It doesn’t matter that we have left him to his own devices many, many times before. All the bottles of olive oil, cleaning supplies, all the tablets for colds and headaches, the handmade quilt, not to mention the recently hemmed curtains — they aren’t enough. Can’t possibly be enough.
My conscious mind fretted over doing too much. The bag speaks to things left undone and the wish to provide more.
Back on 13 in a flash, I’m grateful for the hair complaint because who knows when I’d have noticed the bag’s absence otherwise (an hour south of the St. Lawrence?!). I doubt we’d have come back for anything less essential than my mouth guard or phone, but still, it feels like a narrowly avoided disaster.
And there I am, at C’s door knocking and knocking and getting no answer and calling his name and not caring about the neighbors, pounding and pounding some more, wishing I had the right glasses on because I can’t see to find his Canadian phone number (all the recent text messages and calls being to his American phone number), wishing I hadn’t recently, for some daft reason, rearranged my phone icons, so that finding “Contacts” without the right glasses is a near impossibility, but finally finding it and calling and going right to voice mail (didn’t we JUST talk about this?!!) and then banging and banging some more. In my deflated logic, I imagine him sitting at his recently arranged desk with his headphones on, intent on the screen, oblivious to any and all nearby stimuli (as he often is, to be honest). And I start to melt.
Tears gather somewhere below my collar bone and a baby-ish incapacity threatens to take over. Since I’m not a crier, this startles and makes me feel like my mother (who WAS a crier — YOU make the connection). There was that time, for instance, years and years ago, when I went to Departures instead of Arrivals and waited at the wrong level of the terminal for awhile before realizing my mistake. By the time I pulled up to the correct curb, she was standing next to her bags fraught with anxiety and nearly in tears. At the time I wondered what the big deal was.
What’s the big deal, Dee?
Suddenly, standing on the thirteenth floor in an apartment tower in Montreal, having just dropped my son off for his senior year and about to head home, I get that all the competent shopping, stocking, and sorting of the last two days had a secondary benefit, nothing whatsoever to do with HIS life and everything to do with MINE: I didn’t have to feel much.
And NOW I feel. I feel helpless and a little sad. Helpless at not being able to see properly. Helpless at the frequent futility in getting C’s attention. Helpless at getting my bag back or even, with the routine task of remembering things. Helpless at yet another year rolling through. How fast it all goes! Helpless at how much it all costs. Helpless to my own feelings of helplessness.
Finally, he answers (a mere few minutes later, no doubt). “I’m not home,” he informs.
“What?!” I actually don’t take the words in at first. Finally, I understand that he is upstairs visiting a friend. I understand that while we were riding the elevator down, he was mounting the stairs up. And why not? For some reason, though, this startles too.
As I write the next day, time collapses again, back to when C. was in diapers. I’ll never forget this (or will I?). Picking him up from this church-basement program he attended a few mornings a week, he gave me a tour of sorts. It must have also been fall, just starting out. He took me into the bathroom and announced with pride, “And this is where they change my diaper!”
Call me blind, call me tired (surely D. was hanging off my arm in an incredibly heavy car seat and probably fussing), but it was the very first moment I realized that this little boy, this little blonde boy, this little boy of mine, had a life all his own.
I feel like this about my daughter and she now lives only an hour away, having moved recently. I also have curtain hems to sew and more to hang, decorating to do, everytime I leave I feel I have forgotten something, and usually I have, but its easily rectified at this distance.
What of course you are really leaving behind is your child.
Yes. And they are leaving us! Even tho it is GOOD and the natural order etc, it’s still hard (sometimes, not always).
did you drive through Hemmingford about 3 miles from the border of Quebec & New York state? that’s where my mother grew up…
really?!! I thought you had ties to North Carolina. We drove through parts of Quebec, but then headed south on the Vermont side of Lake Champlain and on through New Hampshire. Some years, we’ve come down through New York, but not this year.
3 brothers and my mother have ended up by coincidence in North Carolina this century, my Mom was raised on a small farm near Hemmingford Quebec, my dad is first generation Polish American born in Brooklyn in 1929, I was born in Oklahoma where my Dad did his masters in petroleum engineering via the GI bill after doing a stint with the Marines in Korea, we lived in Oklahoma, Houston,Peru and Canada before coming to Australia in 1969 where my Dad worked as an engineer fon the Bass Strait pipeline, he was transferred back to Houston in 78 after his first heart attack, medically retired at 52 and died in 1994.
interesting! my dad was born in Brooklyn in 1929 too! although it might have been Queens, come to find out recently — it was a street that went back and forth between the boroughs. You’ve lived all over the place, haven’t you?
Okay, Brooklyn in 1929 was smaller than it is now and I can’t help wondering if our dads ever crossed paths … yes, mine too!
isn’t that funny that our 3 dad’s were born in ’29 in the Big Apple… the old 6 degrees of separation theory..?
What a beautiful, beautiful motherly post Dee. I can understand these feelings so well, even if our circumstances are a bit different. My children are in Boston and Albuquerque, for years now and on a daily basis I have no idea what they are doing at any particular moment. However, when we’ve been together, I am compelled to say, “give a ring” – which translates to call when you get home safe. Even at 35 and 32, they remain my children and those goodbyes can be so hard. And I am like your mother, a crier 🙂
I too remember when my son first started school and came home talking about people and events I knew nothing about…he was suddenly a boy of the big wide world!
I love the way your bag functions! It is such a pain when bags smoosh ups and fall over on road trips!
it is so universal and yet so personal, this business of letting go, isn’t it? and yes, the bag is so wonderful precisely because it doesn’t smoosh up or down… but I ought to add, I have very short legs and sit with them crossed on the seat most of the time. For some, this bag would take up too much precious leg room.
I love the way you write. You have such a gift for presenting the seemingly mundane details of our fleeting moments in life… and true through the generations.
fleeting is the word… and yet timeless. this whole time/memory thing feels unknowable lately
going through all of this for the first time, as our eldest has moved out (or has he, he’s been home ill this past week, fully recovered and smothered in motherly love i’m happy to say) i’ll be driving him ‘up’ to Leiden where he’ll start reading Law tomorrow! he IS looking forward to it all, especially after three intense weeks of introductions etc. and he has met a couple of new mates to hang out with, what more could a mother want?
i forgot to mention: what i hate most is the saying goodbye, the actual moment of parting….
of course it’s what a mother wants… seeing her son’s back as he walks to a friends or into a class or off into the unknowable future. it’s part of what makes it all so strange and disorienting, I think — that the moment is a success.
I hate goodbyes, but not for the usual reason. I just like to get going at some point. And if others aren’t ready, it’s hard to stay and continue to say goodbye. At some point a few years back, I learned there’s this thing called, “the Irish Goodbye” and I had to laugh because I recognized it so thoroughly… the extreme version is the person at a party, who has a nice time, makes nice connections, but at some point — just vanishes.
how interesting — the Brooklyn 1929 connection…. truly strange. My mother was born there four years later.
Being a Mother lasts forever….I remember visiting my Grandmother on a rainy morning, she would have been in her 8os, she looked out the window and told me she wished her son, my uncle, wouldn’t ride his push bike to work on rainy days as it made her worry, had he arrived safely at work? Her son was a grown man in his 40’s with his own family!
I too have struggled with our daughter living in Scotland for 2 years and we live in Australia, no longer hearing about the little moments in her life, I struggled with not having a mental picture of where she lived, worked, what streets she walked, who were her friends? But a trip to the UK to visit her, helped to overcome these thoughts. And then on returning home when she rang us she would say I’m in my wee bedroom and when she spoke of catching up with a friend at a coffee shop or having visited her favourite second-hand book shop, we could visualize those places, as we had been given a personal tour of all of her favourite places in Edinburgh.
One day as we become older, we will find our children worried about us, because we didn’t answer the phone or we were not home when they thought we should be!
oh thanks for that memory, Jenny… it really does capture the enduring business of mothering, doesn’t it? Having the visual matters a lot for me, too. Do you use Skype? If I can see one of my boys’ faces while we talk, it is such a nice thing! And it communicates more than their words might. Australia is soooooooooooo far. I often wish our kids picked colleges closer by, but the truth is, we wouldn’t see them much more (except for Thanksgiving… we would have had TG had McGill not been one of the choices — Canada doesn’t celebrate)
Neither of my boys has gone too far away from home, but the college transition, and in fact all of their twenties, were full of partings and returnings, false starts and new beginnings. In different ways they both struggled and I struggled too, trying to walk the line between supportive and controlling. Letting go is hard.
Hi Dana. It IS hard and life affords us lots of opportunities to practice at it.