“On this doorstep I stand, year after year and watch you leaving.
May you not skin your knees; May you not catch your fingers in car doors;
May your hearts not break; May tide & weather wait for your coming.
And may you grow strong to break the webs of my weaving.”
Several years ago, I referenced this simple and perfect poem by Evangeline Peterson in a column I wrote to mark the passage of time as my boys were growing up. They were about 11, 11 and 12 years old and living through those exploratory years that build the bridge between the end of childhood and the beginning of adolescence.
What I didn’t quite recognize at the time – even though the poem references it so beautifully - is that they were in the early stages of stretching their webs, creating the tension and the tugging that would eventually lead to breaking them. In my mind, we had so many more years together. It didn’t feel possible that they were starting to grow stronger – and away from me - already.
Did I really believe in that last line in the poem? Hat tip to Evangeline if she truly did: she’s a braver mother than I. Did I want them to break those webs I had been weaving for more than a decade?
Intellectually, I think I believed it. I knew that realistically, barring no true heartbreak for any of us, they would eventually break their ties to me and to our home and make their way into the world. And if all went very, very well, they would do so with “tide and weather” waiting for their coming. In my mind, I understood that even from babyhood, our children break or at least stretch the webs we weave almost daily.
Emotionally, I didn’t really mean it. I wanted nothing to change and no webs of any kind to be so much as tested, much less broken. It’s not that I yearned for their baby days or the preschool boys who melted my heart daily. I accepted the passing years because I found the boys relentlessly fascinating and stimulating and challenging at every age. I accepted those years for one other main reason: the boys were right there. Right upstairs, or across the table or next to me in the car.
Yes, of course I imagined them grown up someday and contributing to society. I believed they would find their way, even that they might make a couple of wrong turns from time to time, and it was a comforting thought. The bad news, the difficult part for me, was that it was very unlikely that any of the paths they chose to follow would lead directly back to our front door.
But they have walked back in, for a few days at least. It’s the first Thanksgiving holiday where all three of them “came home” from their new lives. And in a very real way, it’s confounding. Growing up, we lived through thousands of comings and goings on a daily basis. And even then, even when separations lasted only hours, not weeks, every single time we reconnected, some part of each one of us had changed. One of us had lived a tremendous day or a crappy day, or had an argument that debilitated us or a stimulating discussion that would be long remembered, or enjoyed a connection made of friendship or love, or a endured a hurtful flash of ignorance or hate. We carried it home with us that day – and whether or not it was evident – it was there. And sitting around the table almost every night, even though we lived together and spent hours and hours around each other daily, it was sometimes difficult to read their faces and hear their tone and pick up the clues that gave away the details of everyone’s day.
So this holiday weekend, I can’t help but look at my boys and think in the most profound way: how have you been? What has changed inside you? I wonder about the thousands and thousands of moments they have lived over the past few months without that physical, daily connection between us. Let me be clear: I don’t expect – nor really want – full disclosure here. I went to college, too, and prefer to leave some decisions I made at that time, and the resulting memories, behind. The activities themselves don’t concern me as much as the remains of those activities. Are they happy? Confused? Despairing? Optimistic? I’m not sure I can get a good sense of that in the next four days.
The truth is, I’m straining to hold onto that web I weaved so carefully and lovingly for the past two decades. It’s showing signs of weakness and it’s not going to last. It can’t. It wasn’t made to endure. It was created to keep everyone connected and safe and secure – for a while.
We’re all way past the web stage anyway. As our webs break – or even stretch thinner for the next few years – I have to believe something less noticeable but even stronger replaces them. The extra long hug or our clasped hands or the strong arm thrown over my shoulder. The shared laughter so hearty that it brings tears. The smile that translates as “you’re still a little bit crazy but you’re my mom.”
My sons are growing stronger, in invisible, untold ways so they can “break the webs of my weaving.” I’m resolved to that (I think.) But maybe, just maybe, we all leave a single thread or two dangling, just in case we need to hang on from time to time.