When I was a teenager, I had only one fully formed goal for my life. I wanted to marry and have a family. Not many women these days would probably admit that. We have been conditioned to believe we can have all things, a career, family, happiness and fulfillment in our professional lives, so how could I not want a career? Maybe because my parents divorced when I was fifteen I only wanted a family of my own. That dream has come true, and I have been blessed with two children and a loving husband who I am still deeply in love with even after twenty five years of marriage. I found my calling of teaching only after becoming a mother, and I found my passion for telling stories only after I saw the effects of stories on my own children.
My husband and two sons have given me my life’s work and my happiness, my reason for being in this world. When I left my teaching job this past June, I never expected not to have another one this past fall. I have missed teaching, but this time in between jobs has given me a gift far more precious than money and a job. It has given me time to spend time with my oldest son Erik. He leaves to join the U.S. Navy in only a couple of days, but he has been home with us since May when he graduated from college with a degree in English.
I know he has struggled being home when all his friends have moved on in their lives while he waits to fulfill his obligation. He told me the other day when we were talking that he joined the Navy because he wants to serve the country that has given him so much. Many mornings he and I have conversations about life while I sit at my computer and he sits in the rocking chair by my desk looking at his tablet computer (he’s very tech savvy) tweeting or finding funny or thought-provoking things he wants to share and which often lead to more meaningful talks. These conversations remind me of the conversations we used to have in the car. Boys don’t talk when you are face-to-face. They talk when you are side-by-side doing something together. Mothers of boys, I’ve found, must be patient and ask roundabout questions to find out about their son’s lives.
Since his graduation in May, Erik has been my in-house computer tech support, my editor, my companion, dog walker, audience for my weak writing, and most of all, my friend. I never expected to get to know Erik as an adult this way, but I am so grateful I’ve had the opportunity. So often I remember having been impatient with my mother, and I marvel at Erik’s maturity and feel grateful beyond measure he is my son. We have shared a love of literature, a love of writing, and a desire to be published one day. I know he will succeed at writing because he is so far ahead of where I was at his age. He and his friends from college have started their own literary magazine called Delusion. They are taking submissions now. Check it out at this address: http://www.delusionmagazine.com/.
Despite the time we’ve shared, I know he won’t be here long. All parents face this moment when their child leaves the nest and makes his way in the world. Part of me wants to hold on to him and never let go, but I know I can’t, and truly I wouldn’t want to. How I feel right now reminds me of when he was three years old on his first day of preschool. When we entered the building, I was holding his hand having doubts about whether he was ready for school, but they were my fears not his. As we approached his classroom, he heard the kids down the hall and saw the open door. He dropped my hand and ran to the door without looking back. When he arrived at the door, he was all smiles and said, “I’m here!” He was ready then and is ready now.
His choice of the Navy seems preordained. Because Bruce was a Marine, Erik spent his formative years near or in the ocean and around aircraft. When his dad was on deployment, I would point to helicopters and tell him about Bruce. He was only one at the time, but when his dad came home, he associated the helicopters with Bruce. The obsession with aircraft had begun. Later, when he was only about four or five, Bruce took him to NAS Whiting Field and out onto the flight line. Erik still remembers that and still thinks it was cool. Then one summer when he was in middle school, I was taking him to town around the time of EAA AirVenture. We were exiting the highway when we saw a group of helicopters flying in formation. He watched the helicopters, then said to me, “I really miss seeing airplanes, Mom.” I wasn’t really surprised that after he gave up his NROTC scholarship he enlisted only a year later. I would have been far more surprised had he not enlisted, and I couldn’t be prouder of the choices he has made.
God has given me a gift, the gift of time to come to know my son as a man, as a person, not just as my son. What a precious gift. I know it’s only natural parents feel grief and loneliness when their children leave home, the empty nest syndrome, but grief and loneliness are not what I feel right now. Well, maybe a little. But I also feel inordinately lucky to have the two sons I do, both of them kind and sweet, smart and funny.
Even though Erik is leaving home now, my sadness at his leaving is tinged with pride. My longing for him to stay is tinged with curiosity to see who he will become. My memories of him are enlivened by the anticipation of sharing the life he will live, to see how he will contribute to our world. I don’t pretend to think my time of mothering him is over. I know it isn’t, but it will be different, and I hope I can embrace the changes in our relationship with grace and gratitude. I look forward to long friendships with my boys as Bruce and I become a couple again, expanded by love for our two sons who will forever live in our hearts no matter where they walk the earth.
I wrote the following poem four years ago for Erik when he was leaving home for college. It feels right to share it now. It’s called “The Pull of the Tide.”
The Pull of the Tide
When you were four, I taught you to make drip-drop castles.
I sat beside you on the sugar white beach,
The sun warm on our skin
Waves lapping our feet,
We felt the pull of the tide.
I watched your tiny hand sink into the watery sand,
Rising to extend your index finger.
The sand dripped in tiny blobs and rose in sandy towers,
A replica of underwater coral forests and seaweed.
I watched the sun glint off your blonde hair.
I heard your giggles mingle with the crash of surf.
Delight bubbled up in your, “I did it!”
And as the seagulls swooped and fell on thermal breezes,
I stood with your fingers twined with mine
And watched the waves receding with the tide.