One week in March a couple years ago I got to spend a day-and-a-half with one of my boys. It was his spring break from college, and a buddy in Seattle had invited him there to visit. He called me to see if I might be headed that way and could we go together? I'm an empty nester, and time with my kids is precious. I understand that when they're home, there’s much cooler things to do than hang out with mom. So whenever any of them call me and want to spend time together, I'm in Mommy heaven.
“Yes!” I told him, “I am headed up to Seattle!” I bought two train tickets before I even had a dog sitter lined up. I picked him up, dropped off the dog, and that night we shared a pizza at a brewpub near my house and then watched a movie on the couch like the good old days.
In the morning we caught the 8:35am train from the tiny old-fashioned station near my house. Three-and-a-half hours later we arrived in Seattle. Thankfully, he forgot his headphones, so we actually got to talk.
I tend to put a lot of pressure on visits with my boys. Gone are the days of boys hanging around the house, morning and night. Now I deal in moments, so I want every moment to count. I know I should play it cool, as if I've stumbled across a wild animal in the forest. I should tread very carefully so as not to spook them and risk scaring them away! But I am not a subtle person. I am more like a hunter in a neon orange vest crashing through the forest, stepping on every crackly branch and crunchy leaf. They see and hear me coming with my big emotional backpack full of love a mile away.
When they were little, the book “Runaway Bunny” was one of their favorites at bedtime. It’s a story of a little boy bunny threatening to run away from his mother, and she steadfastly keeps explaining to him how she will always find him and be there for him. If he runs away up a mountain, she will be the mountain. If he hides in the garden, she will be a flower. And so on. It’s very sweet and captures that push-pull of mother and child; yes I will always love you and be there for you… even if you push me away or run away and hide… I love you. I will be there for you.
I realize I’ve merged two very different metaphors: me as a hunter in a neon vest crashing through the woods, and me as a snuggly mother-bunny, calmly showing up. I think my sons would agree that I am both.
Thankfully, the train from Vancouver to Seattle is slow and time was on my side for a change. I got to be the mother-bunny. Like a fern leaf slowly unfurling, my son opened up to me. It was one of those conversations that made me thankful for this amazing young man who is my son, and proud to be his mom. It also made me grateful that he felt comfortable talking to me about his life, his joys and his worries. I gave him a back scratch. We laughed together watching silly YouTube videos, and rolled our eyes together when the weak Amtrak Wi-Fi made the video pause.
When we got to Seattle, we headed to lunch at one of my favorite places overlooking Pike Place Market, and then strolled through the market’s cacophony of smells, sights, and sounds of the fish and the fishmongers, buckets of flowers, coffee, people, rain, wet wool, fresh fruit, car exhaust, street musicians, smoke, and of course, the gum encrusted wall of Post Alley. It was a particularly blustery day. The rain was a dense but featherweight mist that blew every direction but somehow we stayed dry. The sun kept insisting it was there, illuminating the cloud cover, making us squint. We soaked up the weather and the light, taking pictures as we went.
We had a couple hours to kill before his college buddies were picking him up, so we decided to check out SAM, the Seattle Art Museum. We saw a lot of art, and we were both inspired by the genius surrounding us. Always the cynic, my son wryly wondered aloud whether or not artists ever truly intended how others end up interpreting their work. He asked, “Couldn’t it be that artists simply make stuff they like without thinking beyond that?” He also remarked that he didn’t see how artists could afford all their materials or figure out how to actually make a 3-D ten-foot resin rat. I laughed at that. How do you make a 3-D ten-foot resin rat?!
I agreed that these were interesting thoughts and questions. I said I thought most artists make art to express something, but it’s also true that different people might get different things from experiencing a piece. We talked about the fact that what makes art “good” or “bad” is subjective. We talked about how maybe what matters most about art is that it can make people feel something and think about and discuss whatever that something is. I loved having this conversation with him so much.
We saw Mt. Vesuvius erupting, flowers opening, and lilies floating. It was all amazing. As we were walking out, we saw a Rothko painting, and my son recognized the artist, who had long ago attended the same Portland high school as him and his brothers. He told me he liked Rothko’s work, and that he and his friends had made a bench using prints of Rothko paintings, and it was on display in the high school. “Yes, I know that,” I replied, adding, “Pretty cool. I’m very proud of you.” All three of my sons are creative and pursuing music or art in one format or another. It will be so interesting to see where this takes them in life.
We also visited MoPop, the nonprofit museum dedicated to contemporary popular culture founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2000 as the Experience Music Project. It is geared towards younger kids in general, but we still had a blast playing around with the interactive instruments and exhibits. His major was still undeclared (he settled on Art Technology with a minor in Music Technology), but his passion for music was taking off at that time, and I could see it as he explored the place.
When we left the museum the rain had stopped and we made our way back beneath a windy, blue sky. His friends arrived, and after introductions all around he gave me a big hug and climbed into the backseat of the blue sedan. “Be safe. Have fun!” I said. (If I had a dollar for every time I've uttered that phrase I’d be a billionaire.) “I love you, Mom,” he answered, and off they went. I went up to my hotel room happy, sad, grateful, and a little nostalgic. I wonder if he remembers this trip like I do. Even if the conscious memory has faded, or is different, I hope the emotional truth of love and joy of that time we spent together is implanted in his soul for the rest of his life. I know it is in mine.