Friday is the day of detachment. Today we tell our children: Enjoy the journey.
I spoke those words to my youngest just before we took him to college last Friday (and every Friday before that for most of his life.)
But the body doesn’t care.
The body is unapologetically attached.
The age of the “child” irrelevant.
“He’s seeing someone from Istanbul,” I tell another mother about my oldest. “I’m afraid he’ll move there.”
“My daughter lives abroad,” she says. “We have such interesting conversations. Isn’t that what we wanted? To raise interesting children?”
“I want close children,” I say with a smile, before pushing my shopping cart in the opposite direction.
My oldest and I share a passion for conversation. He studies philosophy and economics. When he visited home in the first months away or after his return from a semester abroad or a winter living on a horse farm in Spain, he liked to engage in our well-worn dance of the mind.
I wanted to put my nose to his skin and keep it there, wishing I was a cat and he a kitten so that I could lift him by the soft folds at the back of his neck.
But back to my second born, our baby. The engineer. No matter how “interesting” he is, it’s irrelevant. I’m incapable of understanding so many of the thoughts in his head.
Both boys are brilliant and more importantly kind. “Why don’t you get better grades,” I often asked them.
“I had a stable childhood,” my oldest said, “I don’t need to overachieve like you.”
I applied the same pressure on myself as a parent which for me meant giving up a career.
“Aren’t your worried that he won’t get into a good school?” the other mothers asked after I announced that I’d settled on a play-centered preschool in the next town.
“I just want him to be happy,” I said. “To be kind. To like learning. To stay curious.”
I may have gone too far.
Both boys are comfortable going too far.
“My dream is California,” my youngest says.
My mind reproaches this resistance: This is normal. This is good. This is even welcome. (Or at the very least: This is how it goes.)
But the body… my body is horrified, trapped in a nightmare, looking for signs that she is not the only one that recognizes the tragedy being enacted on campuses across the country.
A family passes me in the parking lot of Vermont Tech. The mother didn’t think to wear sunglasses. (I wore mine inside which is a good thing because I cried as soon as the President of the college said, Hello, and pointed us to the coffee table.) The mother without sunglasses wipes her eyes with the side of her hand while her other arm embraces the shoulder of a younger teen as they head to their car without a body part.
“THIS IS WRONG!” I want to scream right there in the middle of the campus. (Where is the bell tower!)
But this is how it goes. It must be normal. Everyone is doing it. All around the world. Every day another post. Another drop-off.
Entire families accompanied freshman to their dorm rooms at Vermont Tech last Friday. I hadn’t seen that before. And I don’t mean both parents and all the siblings. I mean grandparents and aunts and uncles and exes and new spouses.
“We should have brought more people,” I said. “I didn’t know.”
(I made my father drop me off on the road outside the campus after he took me grocery shopping.)
“Don’t forget to drink water and eat vegetables,” I told my son.
It’s not that that I want something else. I miss my own rhythms of sleep and focus and food. I’m eager to place myself at the center of my life again. I may need to leave home to do that. Sell the house. Take a job abroad.
I’m reminded of the old adage about not cutting your hair right after… delivery? a breakup? I can’t remember. I tell myself to wait before doing anything radical. I cringe when I think back to dropping off my firstborn. Right away, I posted to my friends: Is it too soon to make his room my office?
I wasn’t getting on with my life. I was protecting myself from the gaping hole in the fuselage.
“I’m signed up to volunteer at the shelter,” another mother tells me. Her youngest and mine were at the same preschool. “What else will I do with this extra time?”
SOMETHING FOR YOURSELF!! I want to holler at this self-sacrificing mother, but we’re all just trying to cope.
I’m more inclined to empty than fill. “I want less!” I holler at my husband who wants to raise a pole barn this fall. “I want less house. Less responsibility. Less community.”
I think the greater risk is going on as if nothing has changed. As if laying down your life for decades is something tidily completed. “Well done, Me. What’s next?”
I want to feel into all the space, even if it means more fighting.
There’s so much space for fighting now. And movies.
The newly released film “Puzzle” is as subtle as early lung cancer, no signs of any impact until you’re too far gone.
There was a moment when the main character was alone, at the table, dying several dozen eggs for the annual family Easter Party, when it hit him.
“I’m so sorry I left you alone to do all that… all the holidays, everything,” my husband whispered, as I ate popcorn.
I couldn’t reply.
“That’s not me, that’s my mother,” I wanted to say.
I had been so sure I’d avoided her footsteps.
I wasn’t surprised when those a generation older than me, all women, laughed heartily at the scene where the wife intentionally leaves behind the item her husband expects from the store.
“Where is my Manchego cheese?” he asks. “Did you forget it again?”
I cringed as they laughed, knowing that they had spent too long in a supportive role.
The preview for “Puzzle” was “The Wife,” and it wasn’t like lung cancer at all.
Think: Glenn Close “Fatal Attraction,” but instead of a woman scorned, see the fierce, post-menopausal spouse who has revolved around your life for too long.
We drove home in the dark.
“I think we’re going to see a lot more films made like these,” I said. “Thanks to the Great Awakener in the White House.”
In the morning, I said what I couldn’t say aloud the night before, the cancer realized:
“I think I’ve been living all this time inside your dream instead of mine.”
(Demeter, College Drop-off, Part II.)