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On October 30, our church hosted Celebrate Light, as it does every year. My husband and I manned a booth for Chuck the Chicken, and in between scooping out candy for the kids and dipping down to pick up chucked chickens I scanned the crowd for my son.
The festival was the one time each year that I was pretty sure I’d get to see Jake, no matter how mad he was at me. I guess the church property was neutral ground for him. He wasn’t surly, and one year he actually let me drag him around to introduce him to people, and he lingered afterward, like he didn’t really want to leave. That gave me this wild hope that he’d come around, but he didn’t. It was another year and some months before that happened.
So I found myself looking for him, even though I’ve been pretty sure he isn’t in the Valley. I just…hoped. You know?
He never showed, of course, and I still have no idea where he is. This past week’s been particularly difficult (why!? I don’t understand the randomness)– I’m afraid he’s on the streets, not himself. And it hit me afresh that I may never see him again. That makes me feel lopsided.
When you have your children, you never envision a future without them. It’s incomprehensible. You think they’ll always love you, too. My mother told me this, between the lines in her journal and in person when I visited her the year before she succumbed to cancer. She envisioned me frolicking with her in a meadow on a warm, sunny day. Yeah, we never frolicked, but I think she tried–I remember shooting the rapids in the aquaducts in LA, and camping at Thomas Hunting Grounds and Deep Creek and Heart Rock.
Then I definitely went my own way. And on this side of her death, on this side of Jake’s disappearance, I see how hard I was on her. This is why parents have to stick around. So the kids have time to figure out how to forgive them and love them back.
And of course I now wonder if I’d forgiven her sooner would it have made me a better mom?
What if if if….
Got a ton of those.
Sometimes I only have a scent. Ivory Soap. Pine sap. Old Spice. It’s faint, like an afterimage, as Atwood writes in The Handmaid’s Tale.
Other times, I catch a memory when I noodle about something peripheral, like the weather of my childhood.
And other times, I am knocked into a pit by something that happens, like my son telling me he will not be seeing me again. As of this writing, I am 18 hours and 40 minutes from that revelation, and all I can think is, ‘if I’d known it was the last time I’d see him, I’d’ve lingered over dinner. I’d’ve drawn out the conversation, which would have been easy because our conversations have always been interesting. I’d’ve found some way not to be the mother who drives him crazy.’ Okay, nix that last one. I actually don’t know how to do that.
(He is not suicidal.) (And he doesn’t read my blog.)
There’s more to it. There always is. But that is not what this post is about. This post is about how present events harken back to old wounds.
I often identify old hurts by rooting around in the new ones (when I have the clarity to do so.) Today, in this fresh hell, I can identify the pain of many old things, but I will name only two:
1) giving my son up for adoption almost three decades ago, and
2) my mother washing her hands of me when I was 11, and again when I was 19.
So my next question for myself is, which pain am I feeling?
Here’s the thing: I have seen enough of life to understand its cycles. The grownup in me knows that nothing stays the same. So the enormous pain I feel is not just about my son walking away.
So what does this mean? How does the current issue illuminate the past hurt?
I see that by linking them I am telling myself the old story of abandonment, and that’s a story I’m done with. Being abandoned means I have no power. I’m not an abandoned waif, I’m a grownup, and I will not be undone by grief. I do leave my arms open for him should he return. But I also accept that it could be years, even decades, before that happens, if at all. My mother was dead ten years before I understood some things in our relationship, things about her.
I’m writing this because I am devastated and I have to work through this or go crazy. I have to be back at work on Monday and I can’t be dissolving every time something reminds me of my son. I have to see some meaning.
Still working on that.
What I do know is that I can model the grace I now recognize for myself. I can be thankful that he has new-found faith and that he is seeking his own right path. And I can trust that everything will be okay. Mostly. Still working on that, too.
If this little boy had shown up as, say, the Joker, that would not have raised the same bristly response as his Daphne costume did. What is it about embracing the feminine that sets Christians on edge? My sons played in my make-up and jewelry when they were five, and they clunked around in my high heels, as well, and if either one had wanted to go to a Halloween party dressed in drag, I’d’ve been delighted .
Robin Williams–Mrs. Doubtfire. Dustin Hoffman–Tootsie.
So, what, only grown men are allowed to play dress-up?
No one would have even blinked if a girl showed up as Fred from Scooby-Doo. Or Indiana Jones, or Bart Simpson, or Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow.
Why is that?
Here’s what I wonder: if parents squash-squash–squash any trace of the feminine out of boys, any possible acceptance of that yin side, what does this say about how our society values the feminine? What does this teach our boys about womanhood in general?
One of my students demonstrated this for us in Children’s Lit, and we all found it so delightful that I asked him to make a quick video that I could post on my blog. He did a lesson on giraffes that you can see in the comments section of my Children’s Lit tab. (at the top of the page)
this is utterly delightful (and long-winded LOL) and it reflects how I feel after a 10-day residency with my fellow-writers.
(although I do object to the title. Sheesh.)