Thursday, May 19, 2011

Stress Release

The photograph above was taken by my son's roommate, whose family lives just outside of the town where they attend college, and in whose home my son has been a welcome guest during the school year. I appreciate this family folding my son in. They are lovely people, who opened their doors to us, too, inviting us to dinner while we were in town to pack up our son and our niece from their sophomore and junior years respectively. My son's friend's mother told me at one point how similar our boys are, separated at birth, she joked, and then she said with sincerity, "I cannot tell you how much we have come to love this kid." I was so touched. And just a teeny bit jealous because they get to see his life during his long months away from us. Indeed his Facebook status on the day after he completed his sophomore years was, "What a great start to the summer. Slept for hours on Brian's couch. Woke up to find the dogs staring me in the face."

Apparently, he has formed a special relationship with the family's two dogs. There was much joking about how much they were going to miss him over the summer, and would he promise to Skype. Growing up, my children always begged for a dog, but never managed to convince us that a small New York City apartment already crammed with four people and numerous family members coming through was a good place to raise an animal. My husband and I both grew up with dogs, and they had the free rein of a yard. Confining them in an apartment didn't appeal to either of us. But watching my son with his friend's dogs, I couldn't help wondering if he might have been less stressed as a child, if his personality structure would have been wired a little looser had he been able to play as he does with those two dogs. 

My son is somewhat irritable with me, as if he would rather be back at school, not having to deal with his mother and her unspoken wishes and demands. This is a trying-not-to-cry post, and I realize there is always the possibility that I am wrestling with internal chemistry and not reality. Still. We arrived in town and our son grudgingly left his friends to come and greet us, and then went right back to wherever the party was happening. I did understand. I remembered when my parents would come to town when I was in college. It felt like I was leaving my real life behind, stepping out of the flow of it to go and spend time with them at my Aunt Winnie's house. I couldn't wait to get back to my friends, to whatever aimless scene we might have been involved in. That was where the real connection lay, the real surge of electricity that made me feel alive. I wanted our son to pretend to be a little happier to see us, though. I felt a little hurt by his can't-wait-to-be-away-from-here demeanor at dinner the first night. 

We took all the college kids to a very nice Tuscan restaurant in town. I could see our son was itching to be done with the parental obligation so he could get back to the real proceedings. I know. I get it. Really, I just wanted him to be in the moment, to be with us while he was with us. As my niece was, and as his best friend from high school who goes to college in the same town also managed to be. I guess what worried me more is he seemed to be brooding about something. Or maybe we're just too similar. His dad does a much better job of letting him be. He doesn't take in his prickly moments. He takes him as he is. I am trying to do the same. 

I missed all of the packing and storing of belongings because my husband covered that front, making multiple trips back and forth to the storage locker while my daughter and I were doing a college tour. The morning we left to drive back to New York, my son's mood lightened a bit. It was as if he was now ready to reenter the family unit, to reconnect. We stopped to got road trip supplies first.  

Then we piled into our jeep that was stuffed to the gills with student paraphernalia. Our son drove while the girls watched a movie on my niece's laptop.

After the movie my niece went to sleep and my daughter turned to assigned homework, having missed two days of school. I looked across at one point and saw she had made a big "Holy Shit!" note in the margin of the play she was reading, Ruined by Lynn Nottage. (That is for Ms. Moon, who worried about teenage girls reading profane language on her blog. Put your heart at rest, Ms. Moon.) Once home, my son and my niece immediately took up their just-back-from-college positions on the couches while my daughter and I watched the taped finale of Survivor before she turned to homework in earnest. 

It is good to see their familiar sprawl across the furniture. It is good to close my door at night and know that all my babies are inside and safe. Never mind the moodiness of this post. This is my life and no matter how it ebbs and flows, no matter how my brain and heart chemistry can wreck the moments, all of it is pretty damn splendid. Yes, there is a fist in my chest sometimes. But even then I am filled with so much love for these people I think I might burst. Welcome home, my loves. 


  1. Beautiful post. My youngest is now home from college for the summer. It is an adjustment for all of us, like you said, the unspoken wishes, etc. But it is so incredibly good to see his scruffy face again.

  2. Angella, I enjoy your writing. It makes me think which shows how good you are at it.
    And I have to admit something to you. When I see your children, I think of John and Claire 10 years from now. I'm always hoping for your kids to do well because I see them as my own, down the road. Don't be freaked out by that! I hope you know what I mean. And if you have any tips on raising great kids, let me know.
    Lastly, we have dogs. I don't know if you read the back stories on John and his dogs, but he needs his animals to get by. Your Friend, m.

  3. You've made a beautiful post today. The photos are great. I don't think we need to try to be perfect mothers. Just great human beings :)

  4. IT'S A GIRL.

    that's why he's moody and broody. HA!

    also his distance sounds like you are one terrific mom because that's how it supposed to be the awful breaking away. you did it beautifully.


  5. Thanks for the reassurance!
    But you know, seriously, I think this time of transitions is just so hard. At school they are mostly on their own, choices are theirs to make, hours are theirs to keep, etc. And then they come home and they are thrust back into the family script and it's confusing for everyone concerned.
    I found it to be very stressful. It's wonderful when they're home but it's not exactly easy and that's to be expected. They're grown but not-grown. And listen to your husband- sounds like he has great instincts.

  6. I especially love the two pics of your husband, leaning back and looking at you. The first one seems to say, I can see right through you and I know what you are thinking, and the second seems to say, but I love all of you, even this.


  7. This post makes me feel warm. And you know what? The way you write of your children, the transitions, etc. -- well, it seems a little less scary to me, at least, whose kids are a bit younger.

  8. Tess, enjoy! they do have sweet scruffy faces after a year away from us!

    Mark, i am so touched by that. So I'll admit something to you. When I look at your pictures of John and Claire, I see my own children 10 years ago! I hope all our children do well, no matter the ups and downs. Your children shine, they are so clearly loved, more than that, they know they are doted on. I think we should dote on our children, even when they are cranky and we have to do it from afar! another admission: you feel like a brother to me. ever since I found you. i'm so glad i did!

    Olga, thank you. I think you are right. Intention is more important than perfection, which is unattainable anyway!

    Rebecca, thanks for that spin on it! I think I'll take it! it wasn't so beautiful though. i just keep things unsaid better than i used to.

    Mary, you are right about my husband. He is a wise man. Thanks for the sharing. It helps to know that what we're experiencing is in fact universal and even necessary. love.

    ellen, i love your comment! and yes, he was allowing me to photograph him without ruining my pictures with scowls and funny faces. so yes, he was giving me a kind of gift.

    Elizabeth, I am glad things seem less scary, but what is it that makes it all less scary? please share. I'm looking for less scary! lol. (I had a boss once who thought lol meant lots of love. Now for me it means that too.)

  9. You're a good mother. Really. And if your worst trait is that you might (might) be worried, overbearing and stressed out for the well being of your kids... Then you've succeeded. Really. I understand why kids need a breather from Parents in order to become adults. But your kids are lucky to have you and your parents as parents. I wished my parents had been so attentive and loving and protective. Take care of yourself. (and your husband, I love how he looks at you!).

  10. And how funny that your blog would recommend this old post
    It absolutly made me tear up... So yes. Your son is growing up but he's also still your son.

  11. Miss A, I so appreciate you. Thank you. xo

  12. I love the top pic. When I first saw it in a small version on my blogroll (a while back) I thought it was a minotaur.

  13. Oh Angella, I know that feeling. I know. We go from completely "knowing" our children to feeling a bit alien after they leave the nest and live outside for a while. I have been through this with my 24 year old, and am definitely going through it with my 21 and 19 year olds right now. My 17 year old has not gotten there yet and in my silly, mommy mind, I try to pretend that things will be "different" with her, but they won't be. This is all part of the separating thing. Why is it that our job descriptions change without anyone telling us? Sometimes it seems like, as mothers, we are the only ones who haven't received the memo...

    Love you, sweet friend.