The days leading up to his departure for college are thick with tension. Marcy reminds me — often — of the rip-roaring fight she and I had the day my husband Doug and I dropped her off at Dicklenburg her freshman year. It culminated with us standing on the sidewalk outside her dorm, shouting at one another: “Why don’t you just leave, then!” “I will!” No kiss goodbye, no hug, just incoherent fear and rage at this enforced separation, at the void that lay ahead.
“Don’t you call her,” Doug told me sternly as we got into the car and drove away.
“As if I would!”
My phone rang half an hour later. It was Marcy. “I’m sorry,” she said miserably, and I said, “I’m sorry, too.”
What I’m looking for with my son is that sort of graciousness. All I want is to be included in his life. And I already know he’s not going to allow it, for a while at least — not because he’s mean, but because that’s what happens between mothers and sons. He has to do it that way.
Marcy quits her waitressing job abruptly in August, and decides to come with us to drop Jake off at Hamleyherst. So we rent a minivan for the long drive to New England. It’s a measure of how our lives have splintered that we no longer own a vehicle that can contain all four of us plus a whole lot of stuff. I blanch at the expense, but once we’re packed and on the road, I’m glad we didn’t take two cars instead. This is like a final family vacation, a flashback to our journeys to Maine or the Outer Banks or West Virginia, complete with arguments over the radio and stops for bad road food. At a Friendly’s outside Syracuse, we get contagiously silly and laugh so hard that other diners stare.
This is family, this bloc, this island, the people you go through life with. Doug and I have created our own little nation-state, with its own rules and laws, with a shared history — the “city chicken” Grandma cooks when we visit; Pop-Pop’s special whistle — to be passed down. Now the kids are heading out as pilgrims, armed with years of indoctrination in what he and I decided should matter to them — what we hope does.
They wouldn’t be pilgrims if they didn’t leave, I remind myself. Motherland. Fatherland. Our customs will be their customs. Their Christmases will look like mine.
There’s comfort in that.