I grew up without seatbelts; or better, seatbelts were a suggestion. The backseat only had lap belts. Because we thought lap belts would do no good, we chose not to wear them. Somehow I convinced myself that people in backseats were never injured, right? I remember long roadtrips. I was the youngest, so I got to sleep either on the floor of our giant station wagon, or in the back window. As we drove along, we played guessing games based on what we saw out the window, or were quizzed on flashcards of the United States or US presidents by my mom, or played games we created using a spiral notebook. My brothers, sisters and I listened to music from the finite recordings from cassette players. Then we would break down the harmonies, convincing ourselves we sounded just as good as Simon and Garfunkel. We survived the monotony, and honestly, it was magic.
Our road trips with our own kids began with songs about dinosaurs marching that I burned to CDs. Often on these same trips, if Kyle and Eli were not buckled before I started the car, I remember them losing their shit:
“MOMMY, I AM NOT BUCKLED! I AM NOT BUCKLED!”
I would gently assure them that they would be ok. Then, I would stop the car, put it in park, turn around and help them buckle.
I remember our campervan road trips; dreamily driving along miles and miles of highway. We gave our adorable boys books filled with miniature stickers. Kyle and Eli spent hours using their super cute and very tiny fingers to work those little stickers off their pages. Then they would delightfully comment as they stuck said stickers all over themselves. Eventually, dollar-store Band-Aids replaced the tiny, tiny stickers. Once again on the road, I would hand them each a box. Then, usually with one hand gleefully clutching mine, we laughed about their pretend injuries. They would ask and I would answer:
“Yes. Yes they are absolutely your stickers, I mean, Band-Aids. Have at them.”
“Really, Mom?” They would excitedly ask.
“Really. Go crazy!” I happily responded.
As we drove along, I remember pacifiers, clipped to their shirts, calming their screams. Eventually, there was new music. The boys knew all the words to Pink Floyd’s, “Wish You Were Here.” I can still hear Eli’s tiny raspy voice loudly sing,
“…We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year…”
Over time we moved on to portable DVD players playing every “Land Before Time” movie, iPods, iPads, catching Pokemon on the Nintendo DSi, Netflix streaming “Breaking Bad,” Amazon, YouTube, and eventually secret girlfriend Snapchat conversations.
Now, no one really looks out the window, or even at each other. Our best conversations seem to be when I force a walk or a hike. On a daily basis, our solid communication is over text or Facebook Messenger.
Since (what seems) the beginning of time, I have woken up with the boys every school day. When they were young, as they approached the door, I would grab their excited faces, gently orient their eyes to mine. Next, I would make sure we made eye contact. Then I would give them a kiss, telling them I love them and to make good choices. During the years I dropped them off, as we pulled up to their school, I would reach my hand to theirs and say, “look at me. Hand hug.” At first, they lovingly laughed. If I ever forgot, Eli would always reach his hand to mine and say,
Then he would squeeze my hand tightly. I would tell both boys I love them, tell them I wanted to see their eyes. They would kindly turn their faces toward mine. I looked into their eyes and said goodbye.
At the beginning of his senior year of high school, Kyle, who is still really sweet still about holding my hand or giving me a hug, asked me to stop giving him a kiss on the lips. Wait! Don’t freak out. It was a very pedestrian, Eastcoast-styled, quick peck. Nevertheless, I was like, “Yes.I get it. That might be kind of weird.” So I stopped. Instead and while navigating their unpredictable teen moods, as they walked out the door, I made sure to give them a hug before they walked out the door. Soon, I noticed I was not telling them I loved them everyday like I used to. Instead, I was doing my best to make eye contact without them angrily asking, “What?!” I still take a deep breath and force my arms around Eli, (of course after asking his consent ).
Earlier today I was telling my friend Emily about how it is hard to fit our life into Kyle’s now that he is so far away.
“I want him to be him. I love seeing him fly. It is also hard to go cold turkey from being an everyday mom. I miss seeing his eyes up close, knowing his daily joys and sorrows.” I paused and continued, “Dude, he goes to college halfway around the world. He is not home doing laundry, or home for a quick weekend trip. Seeing him is a huge, coordinated production. His only free time is during breaks. And during his breaks he wants to be with his friends. I get it. I remember. Selfishly, I just wish I could have eased out of this whole being a mom thing a little more gently. I miss my boy.”
To which Emily, wisely and hilarious began singing:
“And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
‘When you coming home, son?’
‘I don’t know when.
But we’ll get together then, dad.
We’re gonna have a good time then…’”
Of course I accused her of making me cry. We laughed again. Then she reminded me about emotional to do lists. What an excellent concept! Again, I am grateful I have empathetic and safe places to express this pain. I told Dave just last night, “Maybe I have compensated on the whole ‘Be You’ thing. My mom struggled to let me go. She really did and said it out loud. I do want Kyle or Eli to feel tethered to me. I do not want Kyle and Eli to be held back because I cannot let go. Discomfort is good. It is ok that I miss Kyle. I love him. I cannot even think about when Eli leaves. It is almost too much.”
For today, here we are. Life moves forward.
I love my boys every single day. We wear seatbelts. We try to make eye contact. We rely on Facebook messages and Sunday-breakfast video chats. There are no kisses, only air hugs from halfway around the world, or intentional hugs — when Eli is in the mood. When he comes home, I scream for Eli to come say hello and tell me about his day. Often impatiently (and lovingly), he indulges my request. I am grateful for these moments. I wish I could freeze them forever.