“Let’s see if you can hold your breath long enough to pick up all the rings,” I shouted at my son across the azure pool . My 8 year old son dove for the rings. He came up gasping a few times, but submarined again and again with the determination that would become his hallmark in school.
The determination I saw in the pool long ago would serve him well. It helped him win him the right to spend the second semester of his junior college year on a floating classroom studying oceanography, now somewhere off Cambodia. That classroom will keep him half a world away for a third of this year.
His parents are left behind to clean his bathroom sink and put away the shave cream abandoned because it was too big for his semester-abroad backpack. I will go without seeing, and having very little communication with him as he plies most of the ocean’s waters on a ship, traveling to exotic, and perhaps dangerous, locales.
What do you do with your feelings of responsible motherhood when your son says some of his excursions involve swimming with sharks and traveling to Africa, land of Ebola? How do you categorize that in your mind so as not to scream out loud and plead with him not to go?
I know. This trip will be a mind-expanding voyage to say the least. And I’ve seen The Weather Channel video of the ill-fated Semester at Sea trip as the students rock from starboard to port, water and vomit cascading with them in the inside hallways. To know this is the same boat, and considering the weather is impossible to predict on a four-month voyage, does not give me consolation. They already skirted a typhoon on their way from Hawaii to Japan, and had the waves to match. This news would give even the most stalwart of mothers pause.
So what do I, as an advocate of positive thinking and believer of laws of attraction, do with the creeping negative thoughts of my global voyager to keep from losing my mind? I indulge myself in feelings akin to grief as I put away his winter coat, smelling the collar as I put it on the hanger and place it in the closet. I allow myself to wallow in thoughts of sadness now that I can’t share much of his life from this point forward. He is nearing graduation and entertaining thoughts of moving even farther away.
To escape these thoughts my husband and I decide to go to Sanibel without him. Time to reorganize our lives as empty nesters and time for me to reinvent myself. It might be much easier to do on the island of roosting pelicans, miles of shell beaches and famous authors who find their Muses there.
I decided on a whim to pack the old pool rings my son chased to the bottom years ago. I tell myself I will use them to build up my breath support, but knew deep within I was trying to pull something long gone into the present to comfort me. On his last trip to this island getaway, C.J. said, “I want to make enough money to have a house on the Gulf on one side and a boat on a canal linked to the bay in the back yard.” That was the language of a little boy, mind set on frothy expectations, long before his current aspirations of circling the world, getting a law degree and settling in Seattle, which might as well be a world away from that spot.
From his college on the waves he’ll come back a changed man with a global perspective. That’s a good thing. I don’t desire to hold him back just so the Mommy in me can cling tight to the child I knew and raised. He is out of my sphere of influence even more now than when he first attended college. Keeping him in emotional diapers serves neither of us.
As he calls me on the bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka, he tells me of all his experiences so far, the walk through a bamboo forest, eating Cambodian delicacies like beetles and caterpillars. He sounds so ebullient; I know he is right where he needs to be, and that my need is to somehow shake the worry, and the sometimes crushing sadness for the loss of the little boy.
I go down the pool steps alone, toss the rings and begin my solitary dive. The pool toys sail in bird-like waves through the air, make tiny splashes and start descending gracefully to the bottom. They offer no challenge to an aging mother trying hard to retrieve so much more than plastic. My many challenges are above the waves.
As I surface, I come to grips with what is actually surfacing in my life. All these wallowing thoughts of worry and the proclivity to mire myself in yesteryear need to be over. How does it make any sense to worry about something going on half a world away over which I have no control? Tell me how, I think to myself, it’s a good idea to stay in sorrow over bygone days? This behavior, I conclude, is at the expense of transforming myself into a new being that is present-and-future-focused.
The Pool-Ring Reenactment was all about honoring the past and the joys my son brought to my life. It took my one dive to feel a bit silly and shake it all off. Now I can release the memory of my young child for the joy of spending time with him as an adult. New adventures are about to ensue in my life too. I think I’ll plunge in.