People like me are out there all weepy and sad, although we don't have a really valid excuse. We're not sad for the usual reasons that include injury, illness or death, but because the people we love visited us over the holidays and have since left. Ingrate that I am, the gratitude I felt a few days ago has been drowned out by post-holiday mourning.
Granted it must be even worse for those with loved ones in the military or living in another country. Even if the soldiers made it home, they are soon back in harm's way. Intellectually I know my sadness doesn't hold a candle to that, but I am very emotional as much as I sometimes hate to admit it. It is great when my feelings come out as warm and loving, but when I go dark, I suffer that same intensity and often some shame for not being cheery. I've tried everything to stuff my sadness down, but it comes back until I submit and let the feelings out.
Occasionally I feel like a caricature of a mother or comic strip character who gets so extreme it should be laughable. My refrigerator is a perfect example. My son and his girlfriend were going to be here for five days but I have enough food (still) in the refrigerator to feed a family of fourteen during a prolonged nuclear holocaust.
It would be humiliating if my kids knew how much I actually worry. Oh, I know the old cliches, like if you pray don't worry but if you worry don't pray. Of course I have the utmost faith in the universe and the kids. It is the rest of humanity which concerns me. And the bad side of empathy? I cannot stand to see other people suffer which makes my life stressful enough, but make those 'other' people my children… and yikes. You might as well kill me.
And I should add here that both kids are doing incredibly well, and there is no reason to think that will change unless life gets even better for them. That doesn't stop me from wanting my family all around me and wanting all the personalities to get along and all the future grandchildren to play together and form incredibly great memories. And did I mention I want them all here where I live? Of course I didn't, as that would be ridiculous. I know that.
My daughter knows me well too, so right after I dropped my son and his girlfriend at the airport, she called my cell, forcing me to 'woman up'. Otherwise, I would have pulled off the road, parked for a while and cried like I usually do. Her brother, you see, was going back to San Francisco, where he now lives. How I wanted to hog every single minute we had left and make it special, even though it was just a lift back to the airport. I sat in the back seat as I knew I couldn't make light conversation.
Fortunately he drove my car, as I knew I couldn't look him in the eye. It took all I had not to sob right then and there and I didn't want to embarrass him or his girlfriend. It is pathetic to see a middle-aged woman cry, even if I don't wear mascara for just this reason. Old ladies, yeah, but I'm not quite old enough to get away with it as they kindly say, "Poor little thing. She never used to be like that."
Anyway, my granddaughter was actually the one calling me.
"Guess what, Grandma? I lost my cinderalla toy… again… can you believe it?"
She's four and was obviously mimicking Mom and Dad's tolerant exasperation at having to look for Prince Charming one more time. (May this give them just a sample of how difficult life is for all young women, by the way.)
Any conversation with Miss A. is totally engrossing, however, as she often forgets to actually speak but starts nodding her head or pointing about something. So by the time she got off the phone and my daughter's voice came on, I was holding it together. Anticipating we might get snowed in today, I was also picking up extra milk. My daughter kept me talking until just before I got home. Asking my opinion on things and remarking how great our Christmas dinner had been was effectively distracting.
Finally as I thanked her for calling, she said, "I thought you might be sad." Of course she was feeling that way too, but it was easier and much more practical for her to let me do the family emoting and weeping. She has a child to raise and cannot afford to be overly sentimental. I am the spawned salmon with nothing I need to do.
After four days of holiday feasts I wasn't hungry at all, but I wanted something to stop the pain and I didn't want a hangover. Although I never go there or hit junk food, on the way home the fast food joints seemed like their signs were lit in neon. I discovered a sign for a liquor store I had not noticed during the 15 years I've lived here. I thought about smoking cigarettes, a habit which I haven't done in 30 years.
Of course I know love isn't in the refrigerator or any of those other places, but I had been so happy just a few hours before. As much as I tried to concentrate on the recent memories – to avoid thinking that I might not see him for months or up to a year – it was a battle. I am a woman after all and emotions still rule my life, even when I insist my mind accept logic. I didn't stop for anything but gas, only because I couldn't decide which heart-numbing substance might work best.
You see both my ducklings and their significant others celebrated the holiday with us, but now it was over. I'm ashamed to admit before my son came I almost didn't want him to actually arrive. I was getting so much joy from anticipating his trip. I know that sounds crazy, but I knew once he got here the countdown would begin. Time belongs to God and all that stuff, so there was no way I could put life on pause.
The whole visit I kept thinking about how many days were left. Even at the time I knew it was pathetic. They have their own lives now and we are merely peripherals, as it should be. A man takes a woman and he leaves his parents' home. This is the best, and feels the worst to me, of human law.
Parting is such sweet sorrow and not just from lovers. We love our children and grandchildren more than they will ever understand… until they have their own. Our love can be a burden (guilt, responsibility), a saving grace (sick, injured, need a loan) or something in between, but we are all tied to our parents. We may love them, hate them, find them frustrating, irritating, intolerant or even cruel, but there is still something in us that hopes they will redeem themselves before they die. We love our children back the same way.
On Christmas as I looked around the table at these youthful, beautiful faces and the meal we had made commune style with everyone helping, I was rejoicing at the knowledge that this memory would be with me forever. Our kids don't know until it happens just how final death is. This might be our last Christmas before one of us goes, or maybe we'll be together for the next twenty years. Life happens and we have no control and there is no magic timetable we can look up on the Internet. That's the part the young don't relate to in the same way as parents do; the ones who stand as a barrier between their kids' precious lives and death.
We know that the giving with children goes one way most of their lives as we fill them up for the next generation. It is meant to be that way, and they do not need to know how much their presence means to us. If they do, perhaps we are the type of parents that devour their young, unhealthy at best and evil at worst.
After my son hugged me good-bye and they walked into the terminal, I kept trying to conjur up his smiling face. I am still not accustomed to the new moustache and cut jaw line since he began running six miles a day. He looked and acted like a grown man. Even my husband remarked that he'd left my side of the family and crossed over to his. It is true. He is now his father's son, fit and trim. No more dimpled Momma's boy, that's for sure. I looked, but I couldn't find even a glimpse of that kid.
Not that he isn't kind to me, which he is, and not that he doesn't email and call, as he does. It is just that as the crow flies we are 560 miles away. I can't drive to Seattle and have a coffee with him… or at least I thought I could do that once in a while. It wasn't too practical even then, of course, but it was possible.
I can visit him now, of course, but I think I will be in the way. A burden while he and she try to work and socialize with their large assembly of fascinating old and new friends. I am not being a martyr, I just know what it feels like to be young and busy. I was that person once too. Did my parents understand how expensive it was for me to fly home and take off from work? Why was the guilt always so heavy? Why do I know those limitations of time and expense in a young man's life and yet still feel this weighty sadness that it can't be different?
We taught him to be ambitious and take risks. We told him his life was his. I guess I didn't really mean it all the way. I thought I did.
And here I sit, weeping as I write this, as I miss my son. I miss his chubby little boy's cheeks, and his giggle and his brilliant comments about… well… everything. I miss him begging me to teach him to cook. He was only five then and insisted he was tall enough to do more than microwave. When his dad asked why he was interested, he responded, "I don't want to be dependent on women like you are, Dad." It was hilarious, because his analysis was right on target. His dad still has no talent (or desire) to cook.
I miss the way my son used to blush when I told the waitresses he loved blonds. I miss his ability to focus on the good in everyone, although he was aware of their flaws. He brought out the best in people then and still does. I miss all the people who knew him telling me what a great kid he was. His fan club spans the globe now, and it should.
He was my baby for so long and the kindest child on the planet. He's still sweet, of course, but in that manly, patronizing way in which men treat their mothers. Thinking it's cute that I can't open a jar of Brazilian palm hearts without help (that seal was ridiculous!). Showing me he has become quite the chef, even if the rosemary chicken with shitake & porcini mushrooms was still a bit pink on the inside. Insisting on clearing the table with his girlfriend and the two of them doing the dishes for every meal they shared with us. I miss the kid who never remembered to clear his own plate or put it in the sink.
I miss my little boy who got into my hard drive when he was six, reassuring me he wouldn't crash it, and he didn't. I miss the genius who told me to take the domain name, mortgages.com, while it was still available; advice which I ignored. I miss the empathetic soul in his senior year of high school who told his girl friends, who were twins, to call me when they were both raped the same night during their first freshman frat party at college. I miss that child who thought I had the answer to everything.
And the young man who gave the best man speech at his sister's wedding reception and brought the house down. I miss the kid who left for his freshman year at Harvard and three months later had to be told I was starting treatment for cancer. He actually said, "I'm going to drop out, Mom, until you're better." Of course, I told him if there was any life left in me he'd better not, or I'd have to kill him. He believed me, luckily, and went back reluctantly.
And when he wore those shorts, crazy sneakers and weird socks under his gown at graduation… I had to remind myself that it is not the clothes that make the man. Or the hair, but we won't go into that. It looks really great now.
The young man who came to visit was so grand and sophisticated drinking kefir, serving brandy and port after dinner, and eating baby greens with a shallot/citrus dressing and quinoa (keen-noir is how it is pronounced in English) with cranberries, butternut squash and broth. Against all reason I miss the boy I had to bribe with parmesan cheese to get him to eat a piece of lettuce. The same one who wouldn't eat a red or orange vegetable until he was 20, but now enjoys cherry tomatoes as one of his favorite snacks. This man buys only organic and local and champions recycling, re-use and sustainability like a religion. He's become a wise, global citizen and makes me proud because it is real and not some trendy effort here today, gone tomorrow.
The great sense of humor is still there and the thoughtfulness he has always had. He kissed both dogs good-bye, and took as long to tell them he loved them as our four-year-old granddaughter does. Did I tell you he got me a teapot to match my china for Christmas, as I had wanted one and casually mentioned it to him. (It was, 'oh, if you want to get me a present, a teapot or salad tongs would be great.') I knew he'd show up with one or the other, because he loves to make other people happy.
There are lots of people out there who are not as lucky as I am. Their relatives and loved ones may be estranged, dead or just too far away. It seems ungrateful for me to dwell on the loss I feel today or to have the nerve to bitch about the end of a wonderful visit. There are some people who just leave a great big hole when they are gone. That place has to be filled up again, but like the tide it takes a while to come back in and can't be rushed. That's all there is to it.
Of course, this afternoon as I drink my tea in this lovely new teapot, I cannot help but think of him. That is probably what got me crying in the first place. He has a special place in my heart that only he can fill. I know how lucky I am, I really do. My family is healthy and I am too. We are grateful to get to be together, but it is just so hard to let go again. After all, in life it is only our relationships that really matter in the beginning, the middle and the end.
So for those of you who are like-minded and missing the people who've now gone home, here's a great big hug. I know you need one. I certainly do.:) Oh, there's my cell again. It's my best friend. She left a message earlier that said, "I read my horoscope and it said my friends really need me today, so I'm willing to drop what I'm doing if you are. Want to play?"
This is her second call, as I didn't answer the first. Not that I didn't hear it, but I didn't know who it was and I needed to get my weeping done so I could move on. Actually, I had the phone in my hand and was just going to call her back. She's hilarious and kind and within a few minutes she made me laugh. She reminded me that no matter how old he gets… he'll always be my baby. No matter what he thinks.
And forgive me for being so disjointed in this article, but I can't bear to even proof it. I just needed to let this go. Bless you all. Don't worry about me, either, as I am above all resilient emotionally. I just feel everything so deeply, I needed to catch and name it so the release would make us both free.