Saturday, June 7, 2014

Saturday Musings, 07 June 2014

Good morning,

As I write, my coffee cup and the newspaper sneak a bit of space on the dining room table.  Most of the surface has been co-opted as a staging area for the items being considered for this trip to Evanston, the one taking my son to the next phase of his life.  The precious last year that we'll share as co-occupants of the same residence draws to a close; in less than twenty-four hours, he will be wending his way north by northeast with most of his belongings wedged in the little Kia.  What he doesn't take, I will bring in the fall when the summer sub-let ends and he and his roommate find their own digs.

I have no regrets.

My son's life progresses as it should.  I pushed him to find a college out of town, wanting him to have a life outside of his normal sphere, wanting him to see that the world holds something beyond the familiar.  That worked, more or less; and he got a taste for "elsewhere, elsewhen".  The months he has spent back in Kansas City have given him what he needed:  A job that allowed him to pay off his car without taxing him too much; emotional space to ferret through some whiplash of events the facts of which I don't know, but the impact of which I could plainly see; and a dozen months during which he defined and refined his goals for himself.

I took a passive role in all of that.  I listened but strained to bite back comment.  I brewed coffee; bought the almond milk; journeyed with him as he examined, sometimes only through internal dialogue, choices he had made and people  who had drifted away from him.  As the days unfolded, I also evolved:  from a mother worried if her son would rise above adversity, to a woman curious about the tools he possessed which I had done nothing to engender; and, finally, to a student, humbled, astonished, dizzy with the dawning recognition of how far my son had traveled beyond the fledgling enlightenment of which I was once so proud to have myself attained.

And now, here, on the brink of possibility, I suddenly find myself again walking up a stairway in the small elementary school that Patrick attended.

I clutch his hand.  He's just turned five, a month before; and has only been accepted to kindergarten early because his pre-school teacher -- on the first floor of the building in which his new school sits -- has recommended that he do so.  He can read, and write, add, subtract and divide, and write his own name in cursive.  He's ready, Magda Hellmuth has told me, and told Punky Thomas, the owner of the grade school on the second floor.  He's ready.  But was I?

We walk, together.  It's 1996, five months before I will suddenly collapse, unable to breathe, and be rushed for the first of scores of emergency room visits and hospital admissions.  But we don't yet know what lies ahead of me.  I've slung my pocketbook over my right shoulder; Patrick has his Spider Man backpack securely positioned over his own narrow shoulders.  He still wears curls; still clumps in the black cowboy boots that he has worn nearly constantly for a year or two; still wears a serious, studious expression.  For a child whose first sound at the doctor's urging was laughter, he's become nearly fierce in the composition of his features and the set of his brow.  I find it charming.

With just two more steps before we reach the top and I have to relinquish him, Patrick pauses.  I look down; he raises his eyes.  "Mom," he says, in a soft voice.  "Mom, are you going to die before I am old?"

My insides clench.  Until that moment, I suffered under the blissful delusion that my son had no notion of my mortality.  An urgency rose within me:  I fought to find words to reinstall his ignorance.  "Oh no, Buddy," I assured him.  "I'm going to live to be 103, and I'm going to nag you every day of your life!"

Stillness fell over us; the chatter from the other upstairs students did not reach us; the calls of parents in the downstairs passageway subsided.  My son looked down at the scuffed toes of his boots.  A minute passed; two.  Then he raised his eyes again and said, without hesitation, "Then I'm going to annoy you every day of YOUR life!"

And the world righted itself, and we climbed those last two steps, and I let go of his hand.

Tomorrow morning, I will let go of that hand again.  But this time, the letting go will cost me a safety net, not the other way around --- for these last twelve months have seen a turnabout.  My son has taught me more about compassionate living since he's been home from college than I learned in the first fifty-eight years of my existence, by which I mean no one -- not my mother, not those whom I have met and loved during my six decades, not my siblings or my most cherished friends -- any disrespect.

Despite my best efforts, my son has turned into the kind of man of whom any parent on the face of this planet would be astonishingly proud.  He's fought and largely conquered his habit of using sarcasm when he feels threatened, really coming to understand that the comments made about him say more about the speaker than about him.  He has embraced principles of communication which recognize both his own feelings and needs and those of the other.  He has learned about social principles and values which I could never have defined before he explained them to me, such as restorative justice and the idea of honoring our collective social compact.  This man, this child who questioned every instruction that I  or any other adult gave him and only complied when the virtue of the task could be certainly explained, has taught me more about graciousness and charity than I learned in twenty-two years of Catholic education, including the five-and-a-half I spent in the clutches of the Jesuits.

I will stand on the porch when he drives away, as I have done a dozen times before this weekend.  This time, unlike the other times, the potential of his return has sharply diminished.  But I am fine with that.  He has the skills both to survive and to thrive.  In him, he has the hundred-thousand-dollar-script potential; and the potential to walk in grace, for the rest of his life.

And I don't think that I will have to nag him any more.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.