My son left today, in a car full of clothes, the requisite list of bedding, 2 blue towels, a jar of quarters and his very own laundry soap. He’s driving from upstate New York— the jagged detour of his otherwise happy youth, as he thinks of it — back to his birthplace for college. My identity as a mother feels like an archery target, stabbed up, sharp nibs of straw poking out papery the wounds.
Nearly 20 years ago, strapping his carseat in the car for the trip home from the hospital, a nurse suggested I sit next the baby in the back seat. I did not want to be a fussy, smothering mother. I would not be overprotective. He would be independent, starting on day 2 of life. I sat in front.
I called him my little Chinese baby for his then jet black hair and for his Asian eyes of unknown
provenance — perhaps the 13th century Mongolian invasion of Russia? I stared and stared at him sleeping beside me, stared at a soul some 7 centuries old with the ponderous name Isaiah, “God is Salvation”.
Why didn’t I sit with him in the back seat that hot August day in 1996? Why did I read the damn self-soothing parenting book? I was young for God’s sake. Why couldn’t I have lunged out of bed and fallen blindly towards his room, pulled him out of his crib and hugged him? Babywise, baby-scheduling sadists, mother-haters.
It’s time. It’s really time. He left last summer, and then did a last minute, maybe-Arizona-isn’t-everything ricochet home. Now is his time to leave, to a college he chose that his father and I disapprove of, where the biology professor boasts a Masters of Ed, a program of study we didn’t see coming, a podunk town. Snobby stuff, he says, exerting independence. He’s right.
This past week I performed the sacred rituals of fussy, smothering motherhood. I snuck books I think my son should read into his luggage and more collared shirts than he thinks he needs and a picture of him hugging his old beagle. Live long, beagle. Live long. I hugged my son tightly every time I passed him saying, “Who’s going to hug you?”
Later today I’m mailing a tea kettle and tea. He doesn’t like tea, but just in case. And cough drops. There will be cough drops in the box. And Tang.
Please pray for long-lived beagles. Please hug young men far from their mothers. My straw is falling out.