It never fails. Don’t kid yourself. The minute your beautiful newborn traverses the birth canal, you are raising him to go out into the world and become a productive citizen. Over his lifetime, you will learn to say farewell probably 100 times. When it happens, it’ll tear a little piece out of your heart, but each ensuing time, it’ll seem easier to deal with. You can’t have a child and not ever let go. It’s not fair to the child, and maniacal to think otherwise.
Being the mother of a motivated, driven and successful son, our life together has been a series of farewells. I don’t use the word goodbye because to me it has a connotation of permanence. Farewells allow for reunions. I never gave much thought when he was growing up that my son would one day fly the coop, but of course it was inevitable. Maybe because he was an only child, I thought he’d stay close to home. Not that he never left home at all, once camping out in the wilds of Maine, and attending overnight “Money” camp. After leaving him off for the money camp, we drove around the corner three times, so upset were we that he was the first camper to arrive, and alone in a dorm. We were dying to backtrack and take him home for one more night, but somehow we held fast.
Coming from Maryland, lacrosse is king. You’d think that it was the main subject at every school. Some kids played rec league, club and school lacrosse. Summers were spent attending lacrosse camps where infamous college coaches would recruit from there. I didn’t need to say farewell to my son when he attended these lacrosse camps, because I drove him there.
By the time my son moved to New York I had said farewell to him too many times to remember. You could almost say I’m an old hat at it. The first time was the hardest. Daycare. I could hear him crying all the way to my car. Next came Kindergarten. My mother, who was never without a camera in hand, caught him and another 5 year old standing at the curb waiting for the bus, backpacks on their backs, lunch boxes in their hands. My son’s hands were still dimpled from babyhood and he had not decided if he wanted to be left handed, or right. He shared a bed with 3 bears – Bill bear, Baby bear, Bare bear, and a pound puppy. A stuffed pound puppy, that is, as we owned two rescue dogs already. During sleep, he clutched a corner of a baby blanket, and loved books. My son, 3 years out of diapers and baby shoes, was my baby, would always be my baby, no matter how old he grew.
The second major farewell was at the start of sophomore year in high school when he took a 3 day cycling trip to Gettysburg with 15 kids and 4 teachers. It had been ages since he’d been on a bike, but according to him, only nerds opted for canoeing or kayaking. The rule was if you became separated from the main group, ideally, you would do so with a buddy, and ride to the nearest house or Gettysburg Hotel. They were given a special number to call, and then they’d wait for one of the teachers to catch up with them. Parents were included in the plan too. No sooner had i said goodbye to my little lamb, then he was lost! The school assured me that even though it was approaching nine o’clock at night, and the roads were filled with goblins and ghosts and highwaymen, my son would show up soon, and they’d call us as soon as he did. All sorts of horrid thoughts floated through my mind. He might be in 10th grade and 15 years old, but he was still my baby. The family namesake. He had no sense of direction, why hadn’t I pressed that he go kayaking instead? Had I kissed him hard enough? Oh, no! Did that kiss include a hug? Cycling! It was too hard, riding up and down the steep hills of Pennsylvania all the way to Gettysburg. Why did schools insist on such asinine trips? Bonding. Who needed bonding when they’d all been friends since first grade?
Not only did my son follow directions about what to do when separated, but he also made good use of the plate of cookies and punch the hotel provided him when he pulled in that night at 11. And no one was sadder than he when the trip guide refused to spend the rest of the night at the hotel, but insisted they finish out the 15 miles to rejoin their team cyclists up ahead.
Okay, so we’d survived the big one. My son continued to grow in leaps and bounds, and the next thing we knew, he was spending a summer in Spain for Spanish immersion. He wanted to improve his pronunciation, he said, and live with a host family. For June through August! He’d be back in town for our family vacation, but still…not many 16 year olds gallivant around a foreign country where Hola, Buenas Dias, and Buenas Noches are the limit of their vocabulary. We hesitated and worried and after much research, said farewell again and held him close. He tolerated my hug for less than 10 seconds before breaking free again.
But then came the request to attend boarding school. Boarding school? What kind of kids go to boarding school? Very wealthy children of Hollywood stars, Arabian princesses, Oliver Stone, Russell Baker, and children of Asian dignitaries. Kids of parents who use boarding schools as dumping grounds for their spawn. Only the elite. All of those, and some of those. Sometimes, perfectly normal middle class children pack their bags by choice and move to residential campuses from Maryland to California. A whole new world where a new bag of rules must be followed.
It was so heart wrenching to unpack his bags and leave him behind at the school he’d chosen to attend in PA. One thing I did that became a tradition of sorts, was make his bed for him. Somehow it put closure on the moment. Of course we called him every week, but he was playing football, or in mandatory study hall, or attending class on Saturday morning. Our talks via phone were limited. Attending his games alleviated our loneliness somewhat, but at the same time, when his first report card arrived in the mail with all “As and Bs”, we knew we’d made the right decision. He was thriving, talking excitedly about Humanities class, and his football coach was his form master, Chemistry teacher, as well as his hall master. Today they are still in touch.
It was three short years before he headed off to college. In Boston. Day one of college brought us to another beginning and farewell. We looked around as parents of kids who’d never attended camp, cycling trips, or boarding school, clung to their children as if they were terrified to let go. Mothers held balled up tissues in their hands, and fathers faked stoicism. I made my son’s bed.
I never really gave New York a moment’s thought until my son was offered a job there. That was in 2006. The day he moved to New York, I happened to be going too, to participate in the 5 Boro Bike Tour, an all day event where roads throughout the city are closed annually on Mothers Day for 30,000 cyclists of all levels, races, genders and nationalities cycle through all of Manhattan and beyond. My riding partner graciously offered free passage to my son who was starting his first job, post college, in three days. Unfortunately I couldn’t make his bed because he’d be sleeping on a sofa at a friend’s apartment until he found his own. And, while working 70-80 hours a week as an assistant analyst in an investment company, there was little time left to actually search.
New York viewed from the seat of a bicycle gave me a fresh perspective on a city that’s actually full of architectural gems. And then, like every city, there’s the seamy side too. Where else can you see duct tape holding together the Brooklyn Bridge? Rats as large as dogs? Even though Chinese are known to work tirelessly 7 days a week, I saw where they lived, witnessed them grocery shopping from like vendors. A Museum of Sex? A woman dressed like the Statue of Liberty, unmoving and unsmiling all day long. I entered and rode thru neighborhoods that I’d otherwise have no reason to visit – Hassidic occupied Brooklyn, the Bronx, Harlem, and then areas that I’d love to visit, East Village, SoHo, NoHo, Astoria, the Upper West Side, Stuyvesant, Central Park, Chelsea, and Staten Island. I saw both the Hudson River and East River in one day. I cycled past the Intrepid, past graveyards where the dead were packed as tight as tenements. From time to time, I’d pull over and call my son to see how he was,. and report my location. In the end, I rode 62 miles starting at 6:30 am and ending at 6:30 pm. The enormity of the event still sticks in my mind as a hell of an experience. The ride began at Ground Zero, which was to me, a totally humbling moment. We started the ride 2 hours after the starting bell because there were so many of us. We rode the full length of Avenue of Americas until it spilled into Central Park. On the ferry returning to Battery Park, I literally sat down and fell asleep!
For the past six years, my son has lived in 6 different apartments, basically moving 5 times. The first walk up was located on the edge of Harlem. It was on the 5th floor with no elevator, microwave, or dishwasher. My son didn’t really need a kitchen, he never was home from work to use it. I made his bed before leaving. On my first return visit to this place, I discovered that he’d merely placed a clean sheet atop the dirty one, so as to cut down on laundry chores.
His second apartment was a one bedroom in a lovely high rise in Stuyvesant where he and his two other roomies built a temporary wall to create a second bedroom. Stuyvesant is a large apartment complex next to Peter Cooper townhouse complex near the East Village. What I liked was that there was a concierge, and the kitchen was more beautiful than my own. I gave my son a house gift of a Chia pet as a joke. It didn’t live long. And, I made his bed.
He hated Stuyvesant but stayed two years before finding an apartment he could afford with only one roommate. He didn’t know this guy until they moved in together, so suffice it to say they had nothing in common. His next “home” was in Gramercy, and was a loft studio, about 400 sq. feet, with an IKEA galley kitchen and one tiny closet. I worried for an entire year that it was a death trap, tucked away in a corner on the 10th floor overlooking a roof. Fortunately, he moved again after a year, to attend grad school for two years, so when he graduated and returned to New York with two job offers, the main goal was to live by himself in a studio. Goal accomplished.
Now, I have recently offered my umpteenth farewell to him as he embarks into another phase of his life, living in a one bedroom apartment, loaded with an MBA and a great job. The apartment is floor to ceiling glass on the 27th floor of a 47 floor high rise. It’s located in Flatiron, near a doggy park and several French patisseries (yum). The 2nd floor of the building houses a concierge with a flat screen TV, fully equipped kitchen for anyone to use with a large wooden table that seats 12, a viewing room, cocktail area, gym, and outdoor living room. The Empire State Building is two blocks away. In the Lobby, there is a section for meditation. On the rooftop is a sun deck with an outdoor shower.
I helped him move in this weekend, packing and unpacking glassware, books and electronics. I spent an entire day at Ikea in Brooklyn, helping him buy furniture. I slept on the sofa, as prior to him buying a bed, he’d been making do with an air mattress. I said farewell on Sunday at the crack of dawn, and it’s only now that I remember I didn’t make his bed this time, but when he offered me a chance to move from the sleep sofa to said bed, I told him “no, you deserve a good night’s sleep in your new bed in your new bedroom.” But I did sneak in a nap on the Queen size woodframe bed, and it was delicious!