They swing out of the mountains to meet us on the shores of Lake Michigan. We reach out to catch them. Grown daughters, both legal now, so this will be the first time we can do grown up things together, like go to wine tastings, visit a new brewpub in the village, read our grown up books quietly together, make music with new-found skill. We’ll joyfully share the place my husband and I have come to love since they’ve been gone. We’ll hike, ride and walk the country roads, soak in the pine scented woods while soaking in a hot tub, re-discover one another in engaged, grown up conversations after time away. We’ll linger around the candlelight after simple dinners we will conceive of and make easily together.
They swing out of the mountains, weary, breathless, glad to see us, full of new levels of competence and some heartbreak; having worked long, hard days at high altitudes. Having experienced love’s impermanence, full now of more questions about their futures than answers. Did I say weary? Homesick? Uncertain?
After our initial gorge on summer stories (everything from sexist foremen, to shamanism, to higher callings, to hysterical camp counselor tales, to the possibility -for one- of dropping out of college altogether) we catch up from the past months. Then they retreat together into, surprise!- you tube videos, binge watching of Orange is the New Black. They are texting their faraway friends. After a couple of days they each retreat further into a kind of aimless stupor that is vaguely familiar to me. They indulge our requests for outings but chafe in the back seat of the car. We can feel it. Their old sibling positions and patterns in the family re-emerge.
And so do ours.
Fast forward to the breakfast table in a lovely yet isolated and cramped north woods cabin where we are discussing their plans for an early departure from the family vacation. The weather’s been bad. Our daughters are anxious. We realize we had unspoken expectations and assumptions about this time together. They want to be back at the real homestead in Indiana. They want their own bedrooms, the familiar sweetgrass scents of summer in Bloomington, a place to curl up and re-group. They want to be in the front seat of cars they drive themselves.
We, the parents, are anxious because we know they want to bust out. Mixed up with all of it are the surprise emotions (again!) of deep sadness, of knowing full well the complexity of this family thing—and the individuating going on. The continual catching and releasing we do of one another. There's this pendulum swing I feel for each of us-- of relief and discomfort with landing back in the bosom, an ache for something that no longer exists, grief within that, and the awkwardness of not knowing ourselves since every person is changing by leaps and bounds. Each of us in our own skin, crawling to find ourselves by letting go and holding on. Again. For me, it's the familiar parental landscape of cluelessness and extreme discomfort in the midst of another developmental shift--this time, very much for all of us.
Needless to say, and I'm not proud of it, there are tears. Mine mostly. I break all the rules of loving detached parenting, suddenly overcome with something akin to desperate clinging, the way I gripped my mother's legs whenever she'd leave me when I was little. Except these are my grown children. A child deep inside of me sobs for some impossible sense of permanence and deep-fused harmony. Something static and sure. I'm once again humbled and stunned at my own raw need.
The domino effect at this breakfast meeting is that each of us says what’s true for the moment. More tears. Some interesting role reversal between the parents and the kids. It’s either a scene from a Nora Ephron film or a Saturday Night Live skit-- take your pick.
I remember myself 30 years ago coming home after six months in Denmark…miserable when I return because the changing language of my life is no longer exactly the language of the people I came from, and because I feel them--my dear mom and dad, wanting so achingly to preserve something from our past life as a family that I both want and don’t want anymore because I don’t fit back in the space left yawning by my absence.
I somehow thought, given my enlightenment about these things, we’d escape this stage with our young adults; that my children would simply want to hang out and “become” with us because, come on, we’re really interesting and cool, and real with them and supposedly open to our collective evolution.
But…you know that’s not the way it goes.
They decide to stay, swearing it’s not our tears or some grand manipulation, but that we’ve all been able to be honest about how hard this is for each of us. Life lived in the transitions. Let’s face it. It’s where we find ourselves living most of the time and it’s uncomfortable, awkward and weird. And that admission is enough to make a few more days together in the grand scheme of this long lifetime bearable and beautiful.