27 August 2012

But listen closely

He had to be at a mandatory orientation event at 4 pm. It was time to say goodbye.

I hugged him tight and whispered in his ear, "Whatever you need, I am here."

"Don't cry," he said under his breath, his voice cracking.

"I never cry," I told him fiercely and let him go so the rest of the family could say goodbye.

And I didn't until about a half-hour later when a Jesuit in the parent session started talking about leave-taking.

It was just enough to mess up my mascara.


Friday was a long day of flying, then a frantic scramble to the dorm with fully-loaded suitcases. Saturday was more of the same: picking up cards and setting up accounts; finding a hardware store to acquire necessary bits and pieces to keep the upper bunk from falling on the roommate in the middle of the night; hauling the empty suitcases back to the hotel.

Saying goodbye.

I left National at the crack of dawn Sunday.


This morning, quite literally the moment I stepped into the kitchen to get my first cup of coffee, my cell phone buzzed insistently, signalling an incoming text.

"Mom," it read. "Know where I might find some Q-Tips?"

Go listen to some amusing music: "Time Warp" from the album The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture).

23 August 2012

Time is fleeting

Monday night, the daughter was moping about the start of school the next morning.

"Erm," I said. "You don't need me to go into school with you in the morning, do you?"

The daughter looked at me as though I had a screw loose, but her expression quickly softened to sympathy.

"No, but you can if you want to," she replied.

"Oh, I don't want to," I hastened to assure her. "And I didn't really think you wanted me to. It's just that sometimes you surprise me and want things I wasn't expecting."

"No, really, it's ok," she told me firmly.

Which is as it should be. Still, it was only a year ago that she wanted me to walk her almost as far as the front door.


In mere days, the son will board a plane and fly across the country to begin his university career. Since we returned from Europe, my energies have been largely directed toward getting him out of here. With bed sheets. And toiletries. And his clothes.

I tend to keep grief tucked away until I am ready to contend with it. So, I've ferried him to the doctor and the DMV and stores. I've helped him pack and sort, and I've kept my own counsel. It's unlikely that I will explode in tears when it comes time to say goodbye. This is not my way; I don't cry much.

But there are times. I cried when he got his first vaccinations; his look of shock when the needles went in made me feel as though I'd somehow betrayed him, that I'd allowed pain into his life. I cried when I left him at preschool for the first time; he had taken the first step on the road away.

Eventually, I will probably cry this time, too. Not for him, but for me. He is on the road to adventure, and I think he's smart enough, I think we've raised him well enough, that he will fly.

And I will fly, too, in new patterns and to new destinations and new dreams. I expect his path to cross mine, hopefully, again and again in the future.

It's just that he will no longer travel alongside me.

Which is as it should be.

But I will miss him.

Go listen to some amusing music: "Time Warp" from the album The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture). Word of warning: I am not anti-vaccination. Do not come here looking for that fight.

03 August 2012

The best thing that you can do is take whatever comes to you

I have a lovely friend who is from the south of France. She is a woman of enormous energy and tremendous conviction. She is tiny and gorgeous and well-dressed, even when dressed casually. I can look at her, and I can see, rationally, that she has an overly large nose, skin that is damaged a bit by the sun, hair that's just a little over processed. But on her these flaws become, perversely, things of beauty, possibly because she just radiates. She rejoices in energy, health, grooming, natural good looks, and good nature. Around her, I tend to feel like a huge, clumsy creature, ungainly and unsophisticated. I know my inadequacies are in my own head, which tend to make them more bearable, and the pleasure I take in our friendship is tremendous, which trumps however monstrous I might feel.

That, in a nutshell, describes my visit to Paris.

As much as I love to travel, I will freely admit that Paris has never been on my must-visit list. Of course, I've seen the movies, I've read the great (and not so great) French authors and French philosophers. For whatever reason, though, no imagining of this city has ever grabbed me in the way that other cities have.

Not, of course, that I would turn down an opportunity to go there.

Arriving anywhere after a 10.5 hour flight is disconcerting: the sun is too bright or the clouds make everything sinister. I long ago devised a way to move my family through jet lag quickly: get where you're going mid-day, check into your hotel, and then head out the door for the afternoon. No naps! An early dinner and early to bed, and the next day, you're good to go. In Amsterdam years ago, I walked the daughter through the Floating Flower Market. When we traveled to London, everyone went on a romp through Hyde Park. After arrival in Paris, we trekked to the Jardin des Tuileries. It's officially tradition.

I'd spent the taxi ride from Charles de Gaulle craning around looking at the people and the buildings and the cars. Suddenly, after traveling a broad avenue, and passing the Palais Garnier, we were at our hotel, small, charming, seeming so Parisian with red geraniums in window boxes. The sun briefly smiled on us when we got to the hotel but by the time we were checked in and washed up, the rain clouds had moved in. I felt filthy and travel-stained, ill-dressed and exhausted, ungainly and unsophisticated, but I knotted my scarf around my neck in preparation for heading out the door, hoping I looked more European than turista. As we walked down the Avenue de l'Opéra, the sky became ever more threatening. Still, I loitered, looking in the shop windows which were advertising the summer sales as people dodged around me. Panhandlers held out cups as we passed, and bits of litter danced down the street in the wind. It started raining right as we arrived at the Louvre.

No matter. It was Paris. There was IM Pei's pyramid, the Seine was just over that way. You are Here.

The daughter was hungry (of course), and I spotted a patisserie in a kiosk at the edge of the gardens. I dug in my bag for some euros, and asked her sotto voce what she wanted. She pointed. I closed my eyes for a moment (which underscored just how tired I really was), thought up some words, went up to the register and ripped out a request for pain au chocolat in French.

I don't, as I've frequently pointed out, speak French. I can read it reasonably well, and I can understand at least some of what's said to me, but I have a horror of trying to actually speak it. And when I'm in a place where I have a working knowledge of the language but am far from fluent, my brain unfortunately switches into "foreign language" mode and I have been known to create horrifying mashups of whatever words come to hand. So it could be German-Russian-Danish or French-Spanish-English. It's completely unintentional, and I've gotten to the point where it almost doesn't embarrass me anymore. The reaction of my listeners can be pretty hilarious, however.

So there I was, standing in the Tuileries, obtaining pain au chocolat in French. As I completed the transaction, down to exchanging the final "merci" with the nice girl behind the counter, lightning flashed, illuminating the cloud-dark afternoon. Everyone scurried for shelter.

The bang overhead was tremendous. The rain shower turned to heavy pelting drops.

"I think we should go back to the hotel," said the son nervously. The spouse swiftly agreed while the daughter nibbled at her snack.

I laughed. Just laughed. There I was standing in Paris, under a tree in a thunderstorm, a gigantic Ferris wheel turning slowly in front of me. I was tired and mussed and damp, but I was in Paris.

The Eiffel Tower was shrouded in fog, and the Arc d'Triomphe was barely visible in the downpour.

You are Here.

Go listen to some good music: "Time Flies" from the album The Incident by Porcupine Tree.