The kids are gone, the French boyfriend (that's such a dumb word for people over 50!) is history, and in spite of a week of semi-mourning, I’m feeling pretty darned good. The apartment is cleaned, my lavender has blossomed, and the guy in the neighboring building is singing reggae…incessantly. Summer has finally decided it’s here to stay and I can say that I’m welcoming my perpetual sweat.
My oldest son was supposed to visit me last year. I gave him the promise of a ticket the Christmas before I left for what was supposed to be my one year in France. He didn’t come. His life got in the way and I sensed he wasn’t all that interested in a visit to France. This year, he finally made the trip but it seemed pretty clear to me that it was more out of guilt than anything else. I didn’t care what his reasons were, when he expressed an interest, I immediately bought the ticket and committed him.
Ryan is almost 25 years old and he is my silent child. The one who is difficult to reach… private with his emotions, distant in many ways. You know…the one you worry about because he would never let on if there were something really wrong.
So I worried about his visit. Would he enjoy himself? Would he be happy? Would he regret his choice to come here this year when he has so many other things going on in his life?
And once again, I was given a gift. This gift was time… time with my son that we haven’t had in years. REAL time.
When children hit adolescence, their world moves outside the family circle and you really only have them for brief moments between activities and friends and all the other really important things that make up their lives. And you know it has to be like that. It’s part of the circle…. the cycle… the beginning of the end of your lives together…and the debut of their lives as adults. It is our job as parents to see that this progression happens smoothly (okay, anyone who has raised teenagers knows it never happens smoothly) and we let it happen…however reluctantly.
So it has been at least 10 years since I’ve spent truly quality time with my son. As the days progressed and we got used to each other again, we remembered the things we like about each other and the things that really tick us off! But as we settled into a 24/7 world as a family, I fell in love with him all over again.
As much as we often wish our babies wouldn’t have to grow up and as much as we also often wished they’d just get out of our hair for a little while, there are wonderful advantages to being “stuck” with one’s grown up child. With the help of his lovely girlfriend Katie who made the trip with him and who is the conversation initiator, Ryan learned more about my life…my real life…not just the “mother life”…and I learned more about his life…not the “my child life” but the life of an adult man trying to make his way in the world.
We spent our days wandering, talking, eating, being silent on the terrace, discussing the past and the future, sharing memories and telling secrets that couldn’t be told before now. We visited the Loumarin Valley and he was happy to just drive around, observe and take photos. We went to the beach in Cassis and spent the day on the rocks like old turtles in the sun. I cut his hair…the first time it’s been cut since I left. We wandered the streets of Marseille and visited my favorite Savonerie (soap factory). We went to the Camargue and went horseback riding, taking photos of the famous white Camargue horses and the pink flamingos. He witnessed a somewhat ugly and bizarre break-up. We talked about the history of the Roman civilization in this part of the world and how amazing and old everything is. He attempted to teach me the finer points of photography. We discussed his observations about France and the differences in the two cultures. We just lived…together…in the world that is now mine…and I reconnected with my son.
The most wonderful thing about him being here and spending that amount of time with me is that now, we share a common memory of this place. The place and the culture in which I have chosen to live but which was before, completely foreign and unreachable to him. It’s amazing how that seems to bridge the gap of time and space that has separated us for so long. He now has a reference point of where his runaway mom lives and how she lives. And I now have a reference point ….a place to jump off…in the life of my first-born, who is now…a man.
Just before he left, he gave me a beautiful (and far too expensive) necklace that I had admired in a shop window. Through my tears and my protests, he put his arm around me and said, “mom, it’s okay. You deserve it. And it feels really good to finally be able to give you something special”.
With or without the necklace…. he most certainly gave his mother something very, very special.