On Saying Good Bye

The night before my son left home I dreamed of weddings and babies. He joked about bringing home a beautiful Israeli daughter-in-law, so maybe that was why. But this dream had a deeper message.

Nathaniel is one of the most intuitive people I know. So are his friends. I like his friends. Nathan complained that Bill, his best friend since junior high, gave a maudlin speech at his going away dinner. Reminded of my own maudlin speech on leaving Berkeley to join my future husband in Guam, I said once again, “I like Bill!” I’ve watched their friendship with its alternating phases of deep connection and burning hostility, secure in the knowledge that it’s a keeper. He’s like his dad that way. Larry still has every friend he ever made. But for a treasured few, mine seem to disappear.

I told Nathan, “This really is the end of an era.” He’ll spend five months on an Israeli kibbutz, learning organic farming and studying Torah, then he’ll enter a medical school hundreds, if not thousands of miles from this place where he was born – and this person who “born’ed” him. [My mother used to say that, “I’m glad I born’ed you.” And she used to pat me on the thigh at random moments. I do that. Sometimes for comfort and sometimes for sheer perversity, I pat my children at random moments. They tolerate it well.]

For decades we were spared these dislocating transitions. We stayed put, built our careers and raised our children – living the American dream. No one died. No one even left for more than a few days!

But then was then, and the 21st century opened with a dying time. First Larry’s mom, then mine, then his dad. Nathan left for Canada. I left for New Zealand. Ariana left for Iowa. We all came back, but “It’s never the same.” It never will be.

My children must never know how desperately I worry about them when they are away. The least hint of illness, unhappiness or misbehavior sends me into a paroxysm of anxiety. The knowledge that one of them is driving on a crowded highway can leave me breathless. While one is on an airplane I devote at least half of my psychic energy to holding that plane up – three-quarters, during landing and take off. Do they wonder why I ask them to call when they get there?

In the dream I serenely nursed my baby and cheerfully planned my wedding. Close to life, really. I did nurse both babies – though not always serenely; and I did plan my wedding – though I recall more stress than cheer. But that’s the way dreams are. Maybe this time around I can nurture my babies and plan my weddings with serenity and cheer. “Make no mistake, children. You may imagine it’s your wedding, your children… but no. They belong to the one who born’ed you!” Maybe not. But weddings and babies will come. And children who leave will return. Like so many of my dreams, this one assures me that everything will be – must be – alright, in this best of all possible worlds. A message of acceptance and hope.

It also provides a clue to this new role of aging parent. My job, as I’m learning it, is to set aside raging insecurities and reassure others. “It will be alright.” “We can fix this.” “You’re OK.” So radiating a confidence I almost felt, I hugged my son, asked if he had his passport, and told him to take lots of pictures — saving the tears for after he walked out the door.

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