I awoke last night to darkness. Not the room, in this case, but my sense of things. You know that dark night of the soul feeling you can get in the wee hours when you’re sure* that all is lost and you’re alone, inadequate, a failure, etc?
Times like this I long for reassurance from someone who knows more than I do, someone I can trust to tell me everything is OK. I want Mom. But not my mom. (For starters, I wouldn’t want to freak her out with my freakout.) It’s more like I want the idea of Mom.**
When we talk about the empty nest, we tend to focus on the missing child or children. But the truth is, when a child leaves home, not only is there no child there, there’s no mother there.
When our son, Reeve, is away at school, I can miss my own mothering—of him, but also of me. I mean this generally, but here’s a more specific example, something I noticed last year when Reeve went back to Scotland after being home for Christmas: While he was home, the house was warm: full of good friends, intense discussion, laughter, good food . . . warmth. After he left to go back to school, Tim and I went about the house, doing laundry, cleaning up, restoring order. As I was turning off the heater in the bathroom, I had a moment of epiphany. During the holidays, I had left the bathroom heater on around the clock, even at night, turned down low, a luxury that I hadn’t allowed myself when Reeve was away.
Once I realized this, the bathroom heater became symbolic of a kind of momness, representative of normalcy, comfort, abundance. . . (Obviously, I couldn’t turn it off after that.) (And, yes, our place felt much more pleasant for me this past winter.)
But I’m not just talking about physical comforts (food and warmth being two that are stereotypically mother-associated). There’s also the comfort a mother finds in knowing her child trusts that she knows more than the child does, the comfort we feel in hearing ourselves say, “Everything’s OK. Go back to sleep.” The comforter, comforted. . .
Reeve’s semester finishes up this week. He’ll be heading home this weekend. I’m looking forward to catching up on some sleep.
*At that time of night, you’re usually equally sure that your wee-hour judgment is perfectly sound: the lostness of everything is irrefutable.
**I speak of mothers and momness (as opposed to our male counterparts) here because that’s what I know from experience, though of course what I’m saying here applies to fathers and dadness, too.
Photo of Reeve and me (early spring 1992), about to go down a slide at the old train park in Santa Fe, NM.