Monday, July 27, 2015

What a Wonderful World

Today Alexander started band camp. Those kids work so hard, giving up a large portion of their summer break. It makes me proud. There was a day, in doubt and fear, that I worried he would not grow up. Today, as I watched him walking away from me, his back so straight, shoulders slightly hunched at teenage boys do, fiery curls over his ears and in soft flame along the nape of his neck, a sweetness drew from my heart and I found myself whispering searing white thanks for gift of him. In this moment he is blissfully unconscious of the danger he faced, not thinking about that, not remembering the pain or the fear. The medications he takes every morning and shots he gives himself every night are far from his mind. He is starting his senior year. There is music to play and grades to achieve, money to be earned and money to spend, a future to contemplate and plans to make. Nobody has time for sickness. Between himself and his late oldest brother, he has never known a world without shots, pills, tests, doctors and hospitals. This is his normal and we give thanks for it; every single bit of it. He is straight and strong and pointed directly forward, his warrior's heart taking absolutely for granted that he is triumphant and will continue to be so. The victor writes the history. In this moment, all is well with my soul. The heart of a boy, the emerging shadow of a man walks away from me on a summer day into a bright and promising beginning. Thank God. Thank God.

I am in the first of four days off today. There is school work and house work to do, a husband who loves me fiercely and a home we cherish together. The world beyond us is a chaotic place over which we have little control and life has taught us that it will seep in and around the barriers we erect to protect this sanctuary we have built, requiring effort in defense of it. It is a good marriage, 13 years of romantic, passionate love on most days and furious, stubborn loyalty when the fickleness of romance frays at the edges. We are the Fellowship of the Ring, Dances with Wolves, Les Miserables....stories which in the writing and the telling spur me to depths of emotion that strike me as sacred. The most compelling stories in my heart are those painted with the human experience, those that aren't neat or tidy or wrapped up in pretty bows at the end, those pure in the telling and untainted by polish, unglazed, not taken by bitterness, sarcasm or scathing, distancing wit. I seek out and savor the stories that do not erase the tragedies and sorrows, but instead give each struggle its due, exposing the vulnerability, the precariousness of the normality on which we base our lives and the blissful assumption so many live beneath that all will continue to be well, with then the ultimate surrender to the sacredness of inner strength when that gossamer veil is torn away. Those are the stories that touch the core of my heart. On days like today, I see that in the story of my life and I am softened and quieted inside.

I love the human spirit. Perhaps that is the root of my calling in being a nurse. It is the one job I can think of in which I see it every single day; not the prettified version of truth, but the awful and bloody, the painful and torn, the iron exposed, the transformational growth. I see it in my sons. My mother. My husband. Myself. I see it in the world all around me. What a wonderful world.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Gone is Gone

It has finally happened. One of my ducklings has flown the nest. He isn't far away. In fact, he is less than ten miles, in a house right around the corner from my mother's. It doesn't matter. He may as well have moved to the moon. That is how far it feels right now.

Tomorrow marks two weeks since his official departure. It is sinking in. He isn't at camp. He isn't on a school trip. He didn't go spend the night (or a few) with a friend. He is gone. Out. Moved. Launched. Jettisoned. He won't be back for any significant amount of time if things go as hoped. Maybe a dinner here, a holiday there, split between his father and I. The little bit of him I had simply because he slept under the same roof is now widened into under the same sky, in a different zip code. My heart has gone still. Where has he gone? Not physically but mentally. Spiritually. Emotionally.

I am not sure really what I am feeling. I am worrying a great deal. Tallying up unanswered text messages. Noting responses to things I post on Facebook (or lack thereof). I keep stumbling into mental questions like "What is Nick's work schedule this week?" and realizing I not only do not know, I do not have a NEED to know. Stillness. I sit, waiting, feeling the softness of his absence settling down around me like drifting feathers. It feels like that scene in a movie when the young woman watches the young man drive away, leaving settling dust, the fade of his engine and a heavy silence, the taste of Did That Really Happen lingering lonely on the tongue.

Okay, that really isn't honest. He has left a LOT of markers he was here. In fact, he left half his room, which he swears he intends to come get as of a week ago last Saturday. No, nevermind. This past Monday. Oh. Wait. No. So so busy... Maybe on Wednesday. I reminded him he has two paychecks waiting for him here and then wonder, if money isn't a lure to get him to come home, what will be? Is he gone forever? Is he eating? Is he working enough to pay his expenses? Is he lonely? Making good choices? Falling prey to bad influences? Did he buy toilet paper? Should I ask? If the answer is "no", do I want to even know that and what it would say about my parenting? Are dudes in biker gangs picking on him and his sensible Honda Accord? Are his roommates stealing his underwear and putting them in the freezer? Is he eating ice cream out of a freezer with dirty underwear in it?! To judge by Facebook, he is spending a LOT of time watching that Neil DeGrasse fellow and this new expedition to Pluto. Oh sure. Out discovering new planets without me, that crazy, ungrateful wretch. How could he? Bet he can't wait to move THERE too! Hmph.

I wonder if he is spending his time tallying up all my failures as a mother ,the way I am myself, all the things I hoped we would do, all the books I should have read, hugs I should have given, one-more-kisses goodnight. Is he laying tearfully, resentfully in bed recalling the moments of bad temper and desperate punishments? The boring way I can't play video games or watch cartoons like his father can (Thank goodness I got rid of HER!)? Will my non-geekness and foofy girliness mean we won't ever be friends now that he has a choice on whether to spend time with me? Is he going to be okay? What is he doing, anyway?? To the concerned reader, yes. I realize this is neurotic as hell.

I looked forward to this time from the beginning. I could not wait to watch my children fly. I saw it as the ultimate reward of good mothering - a child that can survive without you is, after all, the ultimate, most basic goal. Somehow I assumed I would get to watch them survive without me, like a fly on the wall, a benevolent observer, hands half-way outstretched just in case of a fall. Turns out gone is gone. There is no watching, no wings, no poised-to-rescue. Just lots of worrying and hoping, praying and worrying some more while you try to figure out how to straddle the line between fond, loving, you-can-do-this, I-am-letting-go communication and neurotic, crazed, I-bet-he-won't-even-come-home-at-Christmas-now nagging on "why don't you call" and "are you taking your vitamins and using a condoms EVERY SINGLE TIME!?"

Here's the thing....the gut deep, honest truth. I have always hated the pressure of the "enjoy every minute, they grow so fast!" missives that the wise and older generations anxiously press upon you from the second they are born. Barf in your hair? Savor it honey, it goes away so fast!  Tantrum on the floor of Kroger? These days are fleeting! Take mental pictures!  Poop smeared on the bedroom wall? This phase won't last forever! Cherish it! Teenaged outbursts, filthy hair and scary things under the bed you don't really want to know about? That is precious, precious time honey  The sentiment never resonated with me and I never understood it, which lead to circles within circles of what-kind-of-a-mother-are-you-anyway levels of guilt. For all those who ever said it to me, I hated you in that moment. Loathed. Resented. That statement of "They grow so fast, better cherish it" came laden with lots of guilty push-back for me and a stifled retort of "Oh yeah! Want to stand in line at Wal-Mart with them the day before Thanksgiving? No? Then get away from me! Pfft. Cherish indeed. Jerk."

And now......suddenly.....finally.....I get it.

Turns gone. That silence? That is the sound of all the things you didn't get around to doing, the things you could not afford to give or that life didn't allow for. It has a flavor, a bitter is the essence of your ideals regarding the perfect life you wanted to provide, calculated almost subconsciously in the millisecond moment when your arms tucked in and around their slick, newborn body and their blurred, sweet eyes met yours for the first time. That was it, Sheri. That was your only shot. Your turn is over and the opportunity to go back and do it the way you hoped to is gone. The gone. You sought to mold him, to provide him with a good life and an unyielding, unending, painfully honest love. Instead, you discover that is exactly what he did for you. I am convinced he taught me more than I did him. I am absolutely positive I am a better person for the experience and awash in gratitude for the time I did get. And I am knocked backward by how hard this is. I think I fully expected it to pale in comparison to Joseph's death. They are different, two complete and separate modes of mourning and both are very, very painful.

Like so many things....the fantasy of it is so incredibly different from the reality. I am missing my boy. I am that Mom after all.