Monday, August 2, 2010

If Renoir Painted at the Airport

When I was younger, I thought that Impressionist works of art looked like the world through tears.  No matter how lovely the image, a Monet always made me feel like there was somberness in the painter's heart.  I am sure research would prove this mostly untrue, but I also know that things of great beauty often possess an element of pain. Raising children has taught me that lesson well.

Earlier this week, my oldest son, fresh off of his 8th birthday, boarded an airplane and flew off without me.  He did not go alone -- my mom flew with him -- or far, but that did not keep me from crying.  I was holding myself together pretty well, aided by the fact that we had to be up at 3:45 am to be at the airport in time for his flight.  I could hardly remember how to drive; surely crying would require too much energy.  Wrong.  As soon as he stepped into the security line and I was on the other side of the crowd control barrier, the tears rushed to my eyes.  And when my son saw me  begin to blubber, his little face screwed up into sadness, too.

I cried as he went up the escalator and I waited until I knew I wouldn't be able to catch another glimpse of him.  Then, I walked to my car, drove home, and fell asleep on the couch, all while I continued to cry. I felt silly for having such a strong response to what is probably routine for many people, but then I remembered the day I left for college.

When I went away to college, I did not go far.  In fact, when traffic was light I could make the drive home in about ten minutes.  Nevertheless, on Orientation and Move-In Day, after hours of meetings and workshops and unpacking boxes, my mom and I stood on the sidewalk outside my dorm and bawled as we said our goodbyes.  It wasn't the distance that inspired the tears, it was the beauty of the moment.  What is more wonderful than bringing a child into the world and then being able to see that child become her own person, inspired by her own experiences and developed through her own education?

The pain comes from the reality that we don't actually get to see it.  In the case of college, this is probably for the best.  But with my son, the tears came because he was going to be making memories that did not include me. It was his first flight and I was not the one holding his hand. And no matter what happened, good or bad, I would not be the one to guide him through it. 

I had to say goodbye to my boy for a little while, but soon I will get to welcome him home.  He will have so much to tell me and while part of me wishes I had been with him, another part is excited to hear all about his adventures from his point of view.  He will have stories and insights all his own.  Even through the tears, I can see how beautiful that is.

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