A Mother’s Wish for Down Under - Lee Woodruff
This is the last morning my son will wake up in our home for a very long time. He is moving to Australia, a continent with a completely different set of constellations. We will no longer share the same sky. Since man first stared out at horizons, since we learned to build boats and muster armies, to conquer lands or scratch an adventuresome itch, mothers have said goodbye to their sons. They’ve choked back sobs sending them to war or prison, shed quiet tears when they went to college, took their wedding vows or left their homeland in search of a better life. I am certainly not the first mother to kiss a child goodbye and not be able to see into the future. And to be clear, these are joyful circumstances, the best of situations, the thrill of a new experience. When his father and I were exactly his age, we sat our parents down and told them we were getting married and moving to Beijing, China. We were drunk on adventure, pushing off for unknown shores with nothing to weigh us down, no responsibility other than to ourselves. This weekend, helping our son pack, I felt a familial de ja vu, heard the reverberations of a genetic echo. Here he was, thirty years later, doing the very same thing his parents had done. Emotions twirled and tangled in different degrees; anticipation, sorrow, joy, pride and incredulity at how this has all gone full circle. Wasn’t it just a few years ago that Bob and I had stood, like my son and his girlfriend, staring excitedly out at the horizon toward the rest of our lives? My son Mack was my introduction to motherhood, my first pancake. He’s always had an economy with words but there is a lot going on in that man skull. He is his father’s son, waits till the last minute for everything, operates in second or third gear, doesn’t sweat the small stuff. Every so often, when the wind is blowing just right, I get a coveted window into his deeper thoughts; his perspective on life, co-mingled with his hopes and dreams. We talk climate change and politics, love and passion and philosophy; and I marvel at my wonderful young man, teeming with the desire to be part of a good, safe, kind world, full of questions that beg answers and much, much less anxious about how he is going to do it all than I was. Thank goodness. But I got what I asked for. His leave-taking, his curiosity about the greater world was my job. He is doing exactly what I raised him to do – to go pursue his own life. We spend years building fences as parents, keeping them safe and teaching them rules about civility and survival and then we show them how to open the door, the one that was there all along. Once they’ve gotten the hang of this life thing, if we’ve done it right, they walk through that door and begin their own. The world down under promises big adventure. There is so much to see in the southern hemisphere. Their Air bnb is already booked for Christmas in Bali. All future disposable income will be dedicated to travel and adventure. This is unquestionably the time in life to do it. He’s with a wonderful girl who is already in Sydney, already found the apartment and started her job. They have their own couple’s language that looks just about right from the outside; not exclusive, but in step. Conjoined. He’s found his craft, settled into something he loves, a talented photographer, videographer and editor. Beyond good health and finding the right partner, loving what you do has always been my third wish for my children. Life is so much easier when you are passionate about a vocation. He has watched two parents pursue what they love, not always without cost, but enough to understand it is possible. He’s a good boyfriend. Observing him in love, I hope that we have taught him something about commitment; that you can love someone even when there are moments you don’t like them very much. I’ve tried hard to demonstrate how you can remain true to who you are, despite the fact that you’ve joined your life with another. Our son grew up in a demonstrative house, an honest house where emotions were given a voice. We hugged lots and loved loud. But we also made a point to let our children witness the little firefights, the disagreements. We wanted them to understand that relationships are living, beating things that require constant tending and hard work. Even the best of them demand honesty and compromise, but the reward is the mileage, a time-tested love. I smile when I observe the way my son talks to his girlfriend, the way he looks at her. In the hierarchy of his life, I was his first love. It began as an electrical current, thrumming and circulating through my body to his, a bond sealed in cells, blood and bone. But I am deeply aware that his girlfriend is his future. I wouldn’t want it any other way. As his mother, I’m okay here in the back seat. Choosing a supportive, loving partner is one of life’s greatest gifts; the basis for all future happiness. But that choice is something I can neither teach nor control, one that eludes a ready recipe or formula. It is a decision that will radiate out and color every single aspect of his life. Australia is a long way from New York. We’re already planning a trip to see him, a chance to explore a new part of the world. But in the meantime, if anyone in Sydney is looking for a good photographer, a great video editor and shooter, a fun, smart couple, a set of loyal friends with a sense of adventure, I know a lovely young man and woman who fit the bill.