Through the Peep-Hole

It’s a bit like bending down to peer through a keyhole, or straining tip-toed to see through a peep-hole that is nearly out of reach. I have only these small windows into the lives of my children.

They seem too few, and too brief.

I content myself with whatever they’re willing to recount, describe, or offer up through digital means in status updates or texts or image files, arriving swiftly across hundreds of miles from their changing worlds to mine at home, where I hold down the fort until the next time they pass through.

I wonder when I will give myself permission to uproot, to start again, to consider starting again if indeed that’s what I really desire, and in the meantime I find myself hesitating to call them too often.

I seem to have an aversion to intruding on their personal lives, which is no doubt linked to my own mother’s excessive interference and criticism throughout my life – or rather, hers. Yet I hope I do not err on the side of too respectful, and appear distant to the point of seeming as if I no longer care about the details of their days, the texture of their tall tales, the excitement of their discoveries.

I am not lonely; my life is full and busy but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss them daily – their humor, their presence that infused the household with energy, the sense of purpose I felt, the stories and friends they brought into our home and willingly shared at least to a degree, perhaps precisely because I was circumspect in my inquiries.

This week, I had a double dose of maternal delight, hearing not from one but both of my sons, who are still very young men. The elder is 21 and only recently graduated from college, though a world traveler for many years and as resourceful a person as I’ve ever encountered. The younger is 20, wickedly funny and wildly creative, with three more years of a 5-year college program ahead of him.

A mother’s dream, you might think – to hear from independent children without guilting them into it. And in some ways it is exactly that: there is pleasure in seeing each name pop up on the screen of my smartphone, pleasure in the timbre of their voices so deep that I still struggle with the reality that these are my little boys, pleasure as I recall them freckle-faced and curious, once knocking about this little house and now increasingly inhabiting worlds of their own making.

I think of the long, hard decade during which it was the three of us, the struggle of it – not only financially but logistically, physically, and emotionally – one of me, two of them, and so many hurtles to navigate and no one else to rely on, too often feeling as though I couldn’t possibly get through another day much less a week, a month, or a half-dozen more years.

And now they call to touch base, they call out of a sense of responsibility, they call to ask how I am and what’s going on, they call for advice though subtly, and my own ability to furnish anything of value in that regard seems to have lessened.

I’m uncertain if that’s the result of lack of practice or subject matter that has grown more sophisticated in a complex world.

From one, there are questions about jobs, salary negotiations, payroll taxes – he’s working and enjoying earning his own money. Occasionally there are recommendations of novels I should read, and discussions of systems design – ironically, something we can talk about given his current pursuits and my own past life in and around IT, with its principles that still apply, at times to my son’s surprise.

From the other, there are questions soliciting my opinion on design, logos, branding – the capacity of a visual form to impart meaning. There is discussion of a building, an artist, a request for my impressions, a desire to show me what he’s drawing, what he’s exploring.

In turn, I offer what bits of feedback I can, more carefully qualified than when they were younger; even my responses in so-called areas of expertise less certain now than they once were.

I assure myself it is indeed the nature of the conversations that has changed, and the satisfaction of being engaged in any fashion is palpable: my input is solicited with legitimate intent, and not as a token to please or appease.

And then, ten minutes later or perhaps thirty, the texting or talking is over until the next time and my heart sinks just a little. I am delighted that they seek me out, that they are maneuvering their challenges as well as they are, that they are doing what all parents hope their children will do – feeling their way, not without obstacles and uncertainties, but in a manner we generally consider decent, healthy, and reasonable.

But the distance, the “peek-only” position in which I find myself, the separateness that provides me somewhat less worry and them, their independence, is bittersweet.

And I tell myself that I really can tap the speed dial more often, and they will not see it as interference, but rather, as love.