Far, far from home, in the frozen tundra of the Midwest, my youngest son and I stand at a crossroads of a store’s housewares section.
"Look at this!" I tell him, holding up a set of red kitchen towels. “It matches your cookware.”
He stares at me as if I’ve lost my mind. (Which I admit to doing on occasion, just not this time.)
“You can do your kitchen in red,” I press on. “Oven mitt. Cutlery. Cups and plates. There’s even a red colander over there.”
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“Who cares?" he snaps. “I just want to get this done.”
This much is obvious: I’m far more excited about the color theme of his kitchen than he is. No surprise there. So I drop the red kitchen towels in our shopping cart, knowing that soon enough and once again he will accuse me of micro-managing.
For a few days last week, The Hubby and I headed north into freezing temperatures to help the last of the flock set up his apartment before he begins his first real job as an official adult. Once I was past the shock that he would be living so far — 1,499 miles, to be precise — I immediately began to do what I do best: make lists.
I love lists. I live by lists. I would be lost without lists. They provide me with comfort and direction and a sense of control. I’ve been making lists of all sorts ever since I learned to write, more than half a century ago.
But I shouldn’t send these lists to my grown children, no matter how helpful I think they might be. Invariably these wonderfully useful directories are regarded with disdain and resentment, with a suspicion that is hard to overcome. I get it. I really, really do. I can be overbearing in my enthusiasm and apprehension — and sometimes I can’t help myself. (Lists, though, they soothe me.)
So here we are in the store checking off a list in a whirlwind effort to outfit his new crib. I am proud of him, for being so brave to venture to a place where he knows not a single soul, for doing something I wish I had done when I could, for being so smart and compassionate and, let’s be frank here, my last opportunity to get it right.
But I’m also sick to my stomach with worry. What mother wouldn’t be, right? Letting go of a first child is excruciating, but it gets easier with each succeeding sibling only because we eventually learn that we, a quivering mass of nerves, actually survive. The children do, too, by the way. It’s a process, this surrender, beginning with that first day in day care and circling back to that moment when we drop that same baby off in college, inches taller and pounds heavier.
Still, I torture myself with the mental flogging of potentially dangerous scenarios, a list of a very different kind. Accident on an icy road. A debilitating illness. Frostbite. Loneliness. And…and the possibility that he may remain away for a very long time.
I console myself by conjuring up all those parents who’ve sent their sons off to war without the benefit of cell phone or FaceTime or Skype. They managed, bravely. So will I. I am woman, hear me roar, and all that fist-pumping stuff. Sure, sure, but for now…
Eventually we steer our loaded cart to the bed and bath aisles. He chooses black-striped gray towels. I hunt around for accessories. I hold up a toothbrush holder. He eyes it noncommittally
"Get the gray, Mom," he finally says. "Goes with the towels."