Saturday, July 24, 2010

Leaving Home

Two weeks from today, my son Ben and my almost daughter-in-law Alise are getting married in Helena, Montana. Alise wrote about it in her all too occasional blog:

I feel that this ceremony has a slightly different meaning for B and I than it does for other young couples. B and I have been together for six years this October. We've been living together for four of those six years. In our minds, we have already made a life-long commitment to one another. A lot of what this ceremony is, for us, is telling the world that we are in it for the long run. Beyond the practical, legal aspects (which are important to us), this ceremony also says that we mean to do the "work" of love. To go beyond what we normally would to support one another and make our collective lives great.

(Note: I love Alise's writing. I wish she could do more of it.)

Around here, we are starting the final preparations for our road trip out and back. This will be the first time we have seen Ben and Alise in over two years and that is reason for celebration even without a wedding.

Ben has lived "away" since the fall of 2005, when he returned to Reed College in Portland, Oregon, for the start of his sophomore year. In fact, I have only seen him twice since then - in December, 2006, when he and Alise came back here for Christmas, and then at their commencement from college in May, 2008. I have long been used to knowing my son is "out there" in the big world.

So why was I crying in the attic today?

Ben emailed me a couple of days ago with a simple request: when you come here, can you please bring my copy of The Human Comedy and any ursula k leguin you can find? thanks.

When we moved into Warren's house in October, 2008, I packed all of Ben's books (including some I was giving to him) and we moved the boxes into the attic. To find the books he requested would require a trip to the attic. To make the most of the foray, I asked him if there were any other books he would like me to find. After a series of emails back and forth, I finally suggested I put together a "gourmet box" of books for him, to which Ben replied: That sounds great, I look forward to a gourmet box.

This morning, while it was still relatively cool, I went up into the attic and started opening book boxes.

Strong waves of emotions rolled through me as I sorted through Ben's books. Here was a box of nothing but Redwall books, from the years when he lived for each new installment. In another box, the works of Rosemary Sutcliffe were mixed in with those of Robert Heinlein. I came across his boxed set of the Narnia novel; I pulled his 50th anniversary edition of The Hobbit.

I even found The Human Comedy, which started this whole hunt.

The books in these boxes represented a lot of Ben's reading from middle school to his first year of college. Many were books that we had read aloud together, sometimes through the bleakest of times in our lives.

I picked up his copy of Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, which we read when Ben was in 6th grade. I remember both of us just howling through Feynman's description of fixing a radio:


Suddenly I found myself in tears. Pulling books for Ben, packing a gourmet assortment as it were, was the closest I have come to truly realizing he is grown and not coming back.

To send him off to college 2500 miles away? Easy. To have him set up living out there? Fine. Marrying Alise? Wonderful! But packing up his books? That hit me hard. That brought me to tears.

Ben really has left home.

There are still boxes and boxes and boxes of books in our attic. (In fact, as I run through the books in my head, I realize there must have been one I didn't open - the one with the Robert Fagles translation of The Odyssey and the Seamus Heaney version of Beowulf in it.) Other memories are up in the attic too. The blocks, the marble game. One box contained items from Ben's room during high school, including the exit sign that hung in his 3rd story window. Another yielded a treasure trove of Odyssey of the Mind t-shirts (including the signed Shakespeare shirt), yearbooks from the computer camp summers, and Pinky, Ben's beloved bear.

I had forgotten about Pinky.

But it wasn't Pinky that made me cry. It was Feynman and Sutcliffe and Vonnegut. It was Douglas Adams hitchhiking across the universe and Lewis Carroll sending Alice down a rabbit hole. It was the two d'Aulaires, the Greek and the Norse.

It was holding in my hands the torches that lit Ben's path to adulthood. That's what made me cry.

When a son writes his mother asking her to bring a selection of books when she comes out for his wedding, it is time for the mother to realize her boy has grown to manhood. I think I knew, at an intellectual level at least, that Ben is an adult. But packing his books - even just a few of them - somehow made it real in ways that no airline tickets, birthday phone calls, or Facebook photos ever have.

Ben and Alise are getting married in two weeks. I cannot wait to see their shining faces. I cannot wait to see them pledge their lives to one another. I cannot wait to see my son as a man.

I cannot wait to hand him his books.

1 comment:

Jackie said...

I have a lot of catching up to do on your blog. This post was touching and lovely and gives me an idea of what my future may hold. I'm looking forward to hearing more about the wedding. Congratulations to all of you!