I have two kids in their upper teens, and lately I'm comparing my mother's situation when I was a young adult to the ones I face with my children. As I write this, my daughter is taking a "bridge year," a break between high school and college. She has been diagnosed with anxiety, although for most people with anxiety, a diagnosis is just a formality. Next year, if she's ready, she'll start at community college then head to Michigan State. That's the loose plan anyway, and it's given us a lot of time together. When we laugh, we are so like my mother and I were all those years ago.
Though I lived on campus when I was in college, I was home much of the time. During my freshman year, I made friends and loved dorm life. Still, I expected my parents to pick me up on Friday afternoons and take me home for the weekend - almost every weekend. On Sunday nights as though for the last time, I'd hug and kiss them and shout goodbyes and they'd be gone - until they came back five days later. And if they felt even the slightest discontent at making three-hour round trips every weekend, it never showed. All I saw were two happy, tired people asking how my week had been, and I, a merry egotist, would spend the next two days telling them.
Like my daughter, I have anxiety and that, coupled with introversion, drove me home to the familiar, the predictable, the routine - and my mother. I would have missed her even if I weren't an anxious introvert because my mother was truly wonderful. She was kind, her laugh bubbled like a brook, and for years I had curled up with her at night, laughing and talking, until my exhausted father came to say I really should be in my own bed.
As to bridge years, I took one, too - between earning a Bachelor's degree and earning an income. My parents approved, provided I used that year to develop my writing skills, skills I'd just recently discovered. But I wanted to write and remember sitting at our dining table, portable Brother typewriter before me, plagiarizing the pips out of a book on Laurel and Hardy. The plagiarizing wasn't intentional, and I'm sure the writing contained some embryo of an original thought, and besides, that manuscript was never read by anyone but me. Not all the way through, anyway. If they ever peeked over my shoulder, my parents must have slipped away afterward to weep.
All work and no play makes Laurel a dull boy.
All work and no play, makes Hardy a dull boy.
All work and no play makes Laurel a dull boy.
All work and no play makes Hardy a dull boy.
I didn't really write all work and no play, not even once, and I did land a full-time job as an employment agent when I was 23. I went to an agency for help finding a job and got hired on the spot. And that job proved to be a keystone in my career, so the bridge in my bridge year didn't collapse after all, except that I didn't need writing skills until much later.
The other night I dreamed that I was an adult living with my parents when it occurs to me that I really should get a job. My mother asks if that means I'll be getting my own place, too. I tell her that I'll live at home while I train for the ideal job, and even after, since it will take time to save a down payment on a house. Upon learning that I plan to move out eventually, my mother sounds lighter than she has in years, chatting on the phone and sharing the news with friends. Later in the dream, I'm telling my father that he is absolutely correct to throw out all the knick-knacks and curio shelves before he paints and redecorates the house, and then I question his choice of house paint.
Tell me please that I wasn't that big a jerk in real life.
My mother and I were close for the rest of her life, and are even now, in our way. As she lay dying, I drove from Michigan to Maryland to surprise her. When I walked into her room, it was late, the lights dim, and two aides were struggling to make her more comfortable. They weren't struggling because she was hard to please; my mother was unfailingly appreciative and expressed her gratitude generously. But there wasn't a part of her body that wasn't breaking or broken. She was so ill and trying so hard to communicate her needs, that she didn't see me slip in. I sat by the window and when one of the aides looked up, I signaled her to keep quiet. When they left, my mother lay there, eyes closed.
"Hi, Mom," I said in my best hushed but happy tones. It seemed that even a voice, too loud or harsh, might tear the tender body in the bed. She opened her eyes, looked toward me and started to cry. I cried too. Then I cried harder when, she said, "Oh, Mom. Mom."
I gathered her in my arms and kissed the top of her head.
"It's Teece," I murmured against her hair. "I love you. I'm here now. I'm here."
"Oh, I'm so glad," she sobbed, and I wondered if she minded that my tears had wet her scalp. You wonder a lot of odd things when you hold a dying parent. I doubt she minded, though. Little things never bothered her. It took something as big as death to trip her up. For a while, I regretted telling her it was me when she thought I was her mother, but I think for her, by then I was both. Besides, this was her bridge year; who am I to say she didn't see her mother?
Now that I've thrashed all this around in my head a few thousand times, I've vowed that the next time someone tells me about their kid who's studying abroad, maybe working on a second Master's, I will proudly share that mine might be living with me for years.