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A Mother’s Wish for Down Under

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.

24 Comments

  1. Lucia

    November 19, 2018 at 6:28 pm

    Love this Lee. ❤️

  2. Melinda fager

    November 19, 2018 at 6:38 pm

    I love this so much!!
    And I relate so much!

    Xxxxx

  3. Caryn Sullivan

    November 19, 2018 at 6:59 pm

    Lee, as I sit at my computer trying to compose my latest work, yours came across my screen. As always your words take my breath away. I feel your feelings, admire your strength, and wish you lived closer for you have such a great perspective on life and an awe-inspiring gift for sharing it with others. Wishing you and yours a fabulous Thanksgiving. And best wishes to what sounds like an awesome young couple.

  4. Judy

    November 19, 2018 at 7:04 pm

    OMG as I open your article, my sister just landed in Melbourne to pick up my nephew. His 3 month study abroad turned into eleven months. He loved his time in Australia!

  5. Eileen

    November 19, 2018 at 7:08 pm

    This brought tears to my eyes. Best of luck to Mac and his girlfriend on their big adventure. They are lucky to be surrounded by this love. Xoxox

  6. Linda Eberlein

    November 19, 2018 at 7:15 pm

    What a wonderful place for your son and his girlfriend to explore. Australia has so many fascinating areas. You’ll have to explore the Outback too when you go. We loved the time we were in Australia and it is very safe.

  7. Lindsey

    November 19, 2018 at 7:47 pm

    Reading this with tears streaming down my face. Yes, yes, yes: this is precisely what we WANT, what we aim for, what we dream of: young adults who pursue their dreams and adventure and who both love and live well. Bravo, mama. xox

  8. Deb premo

    November 19, 2018 at 7:53 pm

    What a beautiful tribute to your son! You’ve raised a grear young man who seems to be following in his parents footsteps. You both have given him a great sense of adventure and love! I am looking forward to reading more of his Australian adventure!

  9. Beth Ingram

    November 19, 2018 at 7:56 pm

    I love this, Lee. So thoughtful and so real. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Brenda Kane

    November 19, 2018 at 9:03 pm

    I’m crying – so happy for him but crying for you on the inside , and for me, one day.

  11. Liz Beckman

    November 19, 2018 at 9:07 pm

    Makes me smile thinking about the adventures that await them 🙂 But not sharing the same skies made my mother’s heart ache. What a beautiful young couple, I’d be super excited about visiting them too!

  12. lori lemieux

    November 19, 2018 at 9:34 pm

    Our four daughters were and are our shining stars and not sharing the same stars made my heart sad. Our third daughter spent a very long semester in Australia and it was heartbreaking being so far away from her. But I would wake up every morning and check my email and love to see what new adventure she was up to – skydiving, hugging a koala or surfing on the Great Barrier Reef. She did things that one could only dream of ever doing. And yes, being a parent, we strive for their curiosity about life and their happiness. After college, she lived and worked in NYC and met great friends from Australia. She married a beautiful girl from Australia and has the opportunity to visit her family often. I know her family would be more than willing to be there for your son and his girlfriend if they ever needed anything. Your article truly sums up the relationship between mother and child. It was written beautifully. Thank you.

  13. lisa rose ricciardi

    November 19, 2018 at 9:54 pm

    Hey awesome, Lee, such a poignant message. Today is our 30th anniversary and I marvel at so many blessings and yes, lots of complexity, I can’t help but think about our kids and their adventures. You made me cry! God bless them all as they take flight XOXOX

  14. Carmen Dixon

    November 19, 2018 at 11:27 pm

    Beautifully expressed! I relate to your feelings, hopes and aspirations for your first born and the journey as his mother leading the way! I am ahead of you in time and so proud of the paths my children have taken. Take comfort in the message I offer, you have given your oldest your best guidance, with love and faith in God! Well done, take comfort as your son takes flight and does so with your love.

  15. Polly Dunlap

    November 20, 2018 at 12:11 am

    You really have a gift for making an almost-eighty year-old mom remember the important and special events in her life. HAPPY THANKSGIVING! And best wishes to the happy Australia-bound couple.

  16. Cheryl Magadieu

    November 20, 2018 at 6:19 am

    So beautifully written and straight from the heart. I have tears in my eyes. Hugs to you all as you begin this new phase of your lives.

  17. Mark

    November 20, 2018 at 6:32 am

    So very well written and from the heart, as always.

  18. Jenny Grosvenor

    November 20, 2018 at 9:18 am

    Hi Lee!
    Beautiful words! And I can so relate with all four of mine building their own lives and traveling to exotic destinations. I am full-time faculty now in UVM’s English Department, about to embark on my first sabbatical. Pressure’s on to finish the endless memoir. I discovered for certain a year ago that my late husband was one of too many priest-abuse victims. New material for me to wrestle with in revision. Got any tips for me in this tackling?
    Also, if you ever come to Stowe, Vermont, please let me know. With the exception of holidays and other special occasions (like Livy’s wedding last September), I have spare rooms to offer.
    Again, thank you for sharing this mother-son journey and Happy Thanksgiving!
    With love, Jenny

  19. Bob Livingston

    November 20, 2018 at 9:46 am

    Lee,
    You and Bob have raised great kids. I still think of Bob at Cranbrook with his lacrosse stick, and it’s hard to imagine his kids so much older than he was then.
    Thanks for this beautiful and sensitive piece. May the holidays bring you all much joy.

  20. Meredith Bach

    November 20, 2018 at 1:54 pm

    Thank you Lee for this wonderful thought and your insight.

  21. Rick Tamlyn

    November 21, 2018 at 12:37 pm

    Lee- so beautifully expressed. So real, so raw, so right on. Your ability to capture the depth of the human experience is extraordinary. Thank you so much for sharing. I feel a new book coming on….

  22. Maty Monfort Novia

    November 21, 2018 at 3:58 pm

    Love this Lee! As a mother, I am so happy for you. You have given him all the tools and now he will build his wonderful life. Much love to you and Bob and a Happy Thanksgiving! Xo

  23. Annette Nazaroff

    November 21, 2018 at 8:35 pm

    Hi Lee
    My name is Annette, and a loving friend OB Lynn and Bill Cook
    I live in Sydney and would be more than happy to be a contact if they ever need help with anything.

  24. Kelly Lang

    November 27, 2018 at 5:10 pm

    This is beautiful. I hope all mothers wish the same for their children. We raise them to fly out on their own and yet it is so crushingly painful when they do just that. Knowing we have done as much as we possibly could is solace but know they will always come home to the “nest” even if just for a short visit. My oldest (22) graduated college and is living 40 minutes away and some days I am heartbroken. She likes her job, is independent, responsible and living a great life but it hits my heart unexpectantly.

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