The Words I Cannot Say
I put my son on a plane last week. Benjamin is not the first of my children to leave home but he's the first to leave for so long. I won't see him for two years. This both breaks my mother heart and also flings it wide open.
This is why we raise them.
This is my mantra.
This is an impossible thing, to send a child into the world. But it was the end game all along. It is an act of expansion and collapse.
How to Clean a Room
I've been piddling through the process of clearing his room. I have a very patient daughter who keeps offering to help in the process. As the inheritor of the room, she is not without her own incentive. But I keep declining her offer. It's work I need to do on my own.
The actual doing of the work is a bit tricky, though. It all feels a bit close in when I'm inside those walls. It's a job easier tackled when the house is full. Armored by the soundtrack of converging paths, I am brave enough to pack away and discard.
Most of the work is fundamentally mundane. He's already done all the sorting. What's left are just odds and ends, really. Questions of the most banal variety. Where do I store the sweaters he'll need in college? Will anyone use these track cleats he’s leaving behind? None of it is existential in nature. And yet, I can stare at the same stack of papers for 10 minutes in a stupor of indecision.
Still. I'm determined not to let the minutiae overwhelm me. So, I'm working my way through the piles today without the safety of my bustling multitudes. It is in this vulnerable silence that I am ambushed by the discovery of a small stuffed rabbit tucked among his keepsakes bound for college. Unguarded in this way, a tiny bit of fluff can undo me.
Objectively, it is only a stuffed rabbit I'd mended earlier this year. A sewn seam, a fabricated ear. It is just a silly artifact from the storyline of daily living. But, of course, standing here in this moment it is not that at all. It is the accumulation of all the things I cannot say.
First, it should be understood that it was my rabbit to begin with. This is a legacy claim that Benjamin disputes. But, it really was mine all along. Steve gave it to me before we even had any children. He bought it at the University bookstore. It came with a copy of Guess How Much I Love You. Exchanging children's books was a thing we did unselfconsciously.
I mention it's origin not because I really I care too much about actual ownership. It's just that his righteous indignation always seemed a bit funny to me as it was my rabbit anyway. But, in a household with six littles and finite stuffy resources, it's little wonder that Benjamin laid claim to the rabbit. As could have been anticipated in his raucous home environment, the rabbit managed to bust a seam and lose an ear with due haste.
I imagine that there was a tearful revelation of the rabbit’s wounds. I am told that I received the patient with many earnest promises of repair. I don't actually recall any of this, as the fate of stuffed rabbits ranks reasonably low on my list of concerns. But there are parties involved in the case who are quite adamant about these assertions.
That was some 15 years ago. Periodically, Benjamin would remind me of his maimed friend. Those first few years I really did intend to mend it. Truly, I did. Just as soon as I could get a free minute, I meant to get to it.
As the years melted away and his stuffed animal days were decidedly behind him, Benjamin loved to tease me for failing to resurrect his friend from the mending pile. Among the genuine complaints of teenagers, I'd happily take the playful ribbing about unfulfilled childhood promises personified in the injured rabbit. But, it never moved me to action. There were always needs more present and immediate than forsaken play things.
The Words I Cannot Say
Until one day, when this rabbit felt like the only medium I had to express all that I wanted to say to this grown boy of mine. He was far away when he was handed a disappointment. It was not earth shattering but it shattered the world he had constructed at that moment. I couldn't put my arms around him. I wanted so much to know how his heart was fairing but these were not words for text messaging. So, instead, I began to stitch.
Correcting what I could, reconstructing what was lost, I put this little rabbit back together. Because even once he got home, I knew he would understand that these were not just stitches. This mended little bunny was a bridge to the truth I didn't know how to say. It was a truth that the world will not always be kind or even fair. It was a statement that I know hard, unjust and even cruel things are ahead of him. That I would keep him from every one of them if I could. Even though I know it would not be for the best. It would cripple and stunt him. Still, I would pave the easiest path for him. Because I am weak and I am selfish. It's good for us both that I'm not the one doing the paving.
He needs neither my protection nor my prodding. I hope I will always be a safe place for him. But I am not the cocoon I once was. I haven't been for some time. But it is the realization of it now that startles me.
So, yes, finding this rabbit today is my undoing. But, really, I am already undone. I was the moment I invited these little people into my home and my heart. Mothering is a long process of breaking apart, in the best possible way. It is an unsettling of the sediment of my soul.
The day we packed his clothes into electric blue suitcases he was all nonchalance. He prodded me tirelessly for signs of emotion. As Steve stepped on the scale lugging a full suitcase, Benjamin threw his arm around me and asked, “Are you crying yet, Mom?”
By the time he repeated the question right outside of security at the airport it was merely rhetorical. Looking up at my boy who towers over me now, my tears were no secret. Into that last hug I said the words that are baldly inadequate to contain the truth of a mother sending her son out into the world.
I’ll miss you.
I’m proud of you.
I love you.
They are paltry packages to express all that is swirling inside me. Fear is unabashedly whispering all the things that could go wrong. I answer that fear with trust. I am learning to trust all that he is and is becoming. It will sometimes hurt me to watch this becoming. But that's part of the story, too. I want to tell him to stay here and I want to push him out the door to have new experiences and keep right on growing.
I think this ripping sensation deep inside my chest might just be my heart’s inability to hold all these wantings at once. Or, maybe it is quite simply the feeling of a piece of your heart preparing to move to another continent.
That may be it.
For just one minute I hold this maimed and mended rabbit. It feels a bit like a talisman. Like a promise that he heard all the words I couldn't say.