When I was little, I dreamed I’d be an explorer, a scout, like Kit Carson, maybe. I was always worried about that, though, because I knew from the books I read that old Kit had keen vision. And even as a child, I was blind as a bat. I remember asking my mother if someone’s vision could be keen even if they had to wear glasses. She’d just looked at me, bemused, until I explained the whole story about Kit Carson being able to see an eagle in a tree from a quarter mile away, or whatever. Then she’d smiled and said of course you could have keen eyesight, even if you wore glasses. You just had to notice things, that’s all. And I was always good at that.
Even though I never became an explorer like Kit Carson, I explored a lot of other things: love, religion, adulthood, careers (several), marriage (two), parenthood. All of them, really, can come and go. Except parenthood. Once you’re a parent, you’re always a parent. Especially if you’re a noticer like me. You have to notice everything, take stock of everything, plan for everything, guard against everything. If not you, then who? Who would do it? Who else is there to take your place? No one, that’s who. Because even if they wanted to, they couldn’t. They could never be what you are: a mother.
But now my explorations have brought me, successfully, to the brink of my next adventure: sending my child out into the world, the same world I’ve lived in for 50 years, filled with all those things I’ve been noticing, and avoiding, and embracing, and pursuing, and rejecting. And now is the hard part. Here is the critical juncture, the absolute crux of it all: which way will he go in this world? Whose path will he follow now? Has he listened? Has he learned all that he should, all that he could? Perhaps I should have done more. Or less. Perhaps I should have been more. Perhaps. But I was always so in the moment, even with all my noticing (worrying), I don’t think I could have been more. I was here. I was present for it all. I absolutely loved being a mother to my child. And in the rush to forty, the visit that was far too short, I learned to step back a little, to notice with him and not for him.
How, then, will I deal with the next decade, the fifty-something decade? The time in my life that I will be apart from my son, who is no longer a child, but well on his way to becoming a wonderful man. How will I face life without him here? Of course, I am thrilled and proud and happy that he is venturing out into the world with such a strong personality to rely upon. He has such an independence of thought! He has a great talent for expression and connection, and is mostly sensitive and caring. He can also be stubborn and egotistical. As my father always said, “You can’t beat heredity.” In this case, he’s correct, since the only more stubborn people I’ve ever known in my life were my Daddy and me.
I think in my fifties, I’ll have to think like Kit Carson again. It’ll be like old times, I’ll be alone with my imagination, but this time, instead of a kid playing in the woods around my house, I’ll be this middle-aged woman trying not to get lost.
Imagination is a wonderful thing. But it’s definitely a two-edged sword. It can help us escape, but it can also trap us in the past world of “could have beens.” That’s the struggle, part of the journey, the section of the map you don’t want to go to. It’s as if it’s written right on the map, in bold letters: Danger- Turn Back- Here There Be Dragons. The goal is to move forward, to reach the part of the map labeled: Serenity-Your Child Is Grown-Safe and Happy-Job Well Done.
At that point, I can rest. I can rest in that golden valley, surrounded by beautiful things. The sun will be warm, but not hot, the nights cool, but not cold. I will drink in the view, expansive and peaceful, filled with rolling hills and trees moving gently in the breeze. The map will flutter, then flip, sailing a short distance away, landing gently on the soft cool grass.
As I lean down to pick it up, I notice the map, inexplicably, now has two sides. I turn it over to look at the new side, and at first, I think it’s a copy. It has the same valleys, chasms, hills, mountains as the first. Even the Danger-Turn Back-Here There Be Dragons section is the same. But then I see the difference, the one big difference: At the top of the map, in gilded, old-fashioned letters, one word spells out Grandchildren.