Last night I had a dream that my boy surprised me with a visit. Technically, he stole my credit card to come visit his pseudo-girlfriend and happened to bump into me on the street but its my dream and I can interpret it however I wish. In the dream, though, I remember feeling so elated. I wanted to show him everything. There was a humpback whale in the Hudson, there were horses running wild, there was a huge kitchen with a wood fired oven and plenty of space for cooking, there were trees and fresh air and also beautiful little homes and all the people we loved, looking for adventure. And then I woke up at 6:30am because my husband is not here next to me. He’s traveling for work and whenever he’s gone, I wake up early, even though I hate that he wakes up early every day. I’m sure there’s a psychological term for this. Anyhow, what I loved most about the dream is that while it was outlandish, it was also exciting and hopeful. Or maybe it was sad. Maybe it was about me letting go of my 17-year-old and recognizing that I have shown him what I can, that his motivations are his own. Maybe that’s not a sadness but a resignation on my part. Maybe the outlandish nature was really for me, to see that I have more life ahead of me that can be wonderful, even without him.
I spend a good deal of each day fighting the guilty feeling of leaving my son. Not just four years ago when I moved to NYC for a job but 16 years ago when I left his father. At the time, I had nothing, no money, no support, no full-time job, and my father had just died. I remember watching Oprah in the afternoons when my boy napped. One day, she was talking about how you can’t change your life if you can’t change your mind. Change your mind, change your life. I don’t know what it was about that moment but I believed that if I stayed with my ex, my soul would wither away. I would die there. So, I left. We shared custody of our boy, but we were never married and I never filed for child support, despite the vast difference in our incomes. I was a pushover and my ex was a bully. Neither of those qualities are admirable but I don’t regret my decision. Except, every day, I feel the weight of missing my son. Of course all parents miss parts of their children’s lives… they go to school, go to friends’ houses, take piano lessons and play soccer games. But its different when you can’t kiss your child on the forehead every night before bed. When you can’t ask them about their dreams every morning. When you see a bruise or a cut on them and have to ask how it happened. When you make all sorts of excuses why its necessary to stop by their school during the day, just to see them for a minute. I don’t know if my ex has ever felt these things. Some people say that mothers feel differently, have different needs, but I’m not sure about that. I think the difference is a willingness to acknowledge the sadness, the missing out, and the choices we’ve made that create our circumstances.
Fortunately, technology has allowed us to stay close. I don’t know how people did it in decades past. My son and I text daily, FaceTime a couple times each week, and use the old phone, as well. Still, these conversations aren’t natural. They are sometimes forced as opposed to the organic flow of conversation when spending time in a room with someone. Technology isn’t nuanced, its very black and white. People can be misunderstood, especially when we can’t see a facial expression or reaction. If we hadn’t had 13 years before I left to create a solid foundation, I’d be more worried about our relationship. But despite everything, our distance, his teenage years, my worries and guilt, we are good. I like to pat myself on the back occasionally for how well he turned out. He’s communicative, emotional, and honest. And we are often acknowledging how grateful we are to have each other, to be perhaps non-traditional (most of his friends never talk to their parents about anything substantive,) and to have the right amount of parent-teen friction. I hope he will always know how much he is loved, that even when the world seems to be against him, I will always have his back. And that despite being a family of five now, somewhere in my heart and mind, it will always be just the two of us.