Preparing To Say Goodbye Even As I Hug Hello

 

My daughter and I pull up in the five-minute waiting zone outside the bus station. She relays her brother’s text messages to me.

“Bus is running late. I’m hungry”.

I sit gazing through the windscreen. I have not seen my man-son for eighteen months. I remember my swollen eyes as I hugged his taught frame goodbye at the airport, and cannot believe this was over a year ago. I wonder why I am so calm. Where is my feeling of anticipation, of excitement? Oh, could it be because Christmas is in three days, and I am overwhelmed with work, planning, and general busyness? No time to feel!

I watch the doors from the transit centre open again and again, disgorging children, families, an elderly woman on her walker, and I wonder if the bus has arrived. Suddenly I see a lanky young person squeezed between two packs – a small bright red one strapped to his chest, a huge grey hiking pack bowed over his shoulders. I recognise the cheeky face in an instant, the laconic grin splitting the thickened brown beard. My boy! My boy!

“He’s here, he’s here!!” I scream, and slam the door open as I run out of the car and up to this man, always my son. He stops, and I wrap my arms around him (and his packs) as best I can, absorbing the feel of his wiry frame, the scent of his travel weariness.

“Yes Mum. I’m here” he sighs, a smile sneaking through his stubble. His sister joins the group hug, and, joined, we crab towards the car.

“We’ve got dinner waiting”, I say.

“Good. I’m starving!”

With that statement, the years of separation slough off, and my son returns home. You see, he has lived away for over seven years. Firstly, in another city, then in another country. Now he is back to enjoy Australia’s summer, to camp by the beach, to walk through the bush, to catch up with friends - and family. He plans to bask in the expanse of blue sky and white sand, not missing at all his other country’s grey skies and deep snow.

Over the dinner table we laugh and reconnect with the first few sentences, as we settle in to listen avidly to this young man’s stories and adventures. My son is relaxed, and so are we.

He’s home.

In our comfort with one another, we slip back into our roles of old. He is an adult, but at home he is also my child. He is the older brother of his teenage sister, but he is as playful, as gentle, as the tween he once was. He spends hours with our middle-aged dogs, puppies forever in his eyes. Only his time with his cherished grandfather is different, as they share and compare tales of travel between now, and then.

Secretly, guiltily, I relish my son’s company as a single person. I’ve discovered that when your child takes a partner, your time with that child, alone, is rare. However. Although we don’t share his time with a girlfriend, we do share his time with his friends. So many mates, in so many places. So much for him to do in such limited time.

Now it is Christmas Eve, and our family travels to my mother’s place, hours away from home. Three vehicles roll into her driveway. The car swing doors open, and I hear the crunch of gravel as people grab their suitcases and head to the front door, laughing, chatting.

I stand beside my car, suddenly overcome. Everyone is here - except my mother. Memories of Christmases gone by immerse me, as I experience again the excitement and anticipation of a childhood long gone. In my mind’s eye I see Mum, leaning over the blue balcony, her eyes crinkling upwards, her smile wide, her laughter burbling, ready to share her generous hospitality and to revel in her family.

I am of an age where Christmas has become a time to honour those who no longer breathe, but who live on, within us.

“She would have loved this,” I whisper to myself. Mum was the hostess with the most-est. Looking up at the veranda, and at the grandchildren she helped create, I thank her.

“Look at your grandson, Mum. You’d love to hear his stories, see how he’s matured, what he’s been up to. You’d be so happy to see the two of them, your grandchildren, chiack each other”.

Our extended family spends four languid days together. We play board games, we talk, we walk the dogs on the beach.

When I can, I gaze surreptitiously at the young man who is my son, and I try, desperately, to absorb his voice, his laugh, his attention to his grandfather’s tales. Can I imprint in my memory, the sight of sister and brother, heads leaning in to each other, embodying respectful, lasting, sibling love?

My joy in the company of my son is tinged, ever so slightly, with a sense of sadness.

Each day he is here, is a day closer to when he leaves.

Can I be mindful? I try to be present, but discover myself drawn furtively to my digital world. I am shocked and saddened by the pull of the screen on me. Then I see my young people, swiping, side-by-side – after months apart. Before I comment, one child turns to the other, and I realise their screens are a launching pad of discussion, of commonality. I withdraw my judgement - and note my hypocrisy!

My boy bounces from our home to his friends to our home to more friends. He is frenetic in his desire to experience his new-found appreciation for his country of birth.

Each time he leaves, I am comforted that he will be back in a couple of days. Until the day I know he won’t be back . . . for who-knows-how-long.

And now we are at the palace of farewells – the airport. I squeeze my only son as tight as he will allow, and look up at him, drinking him in, sadness threatening to sweep through my bones.

Suddenly, I am comforted.

I realise that even as I embrace him “farewell”, I can prepare myself to hug him “hello”. That I will see his two-dimensioned self again, soon, as we chat via technology. That we will remain connected until we meet again, in the flesh.

This is not “goodbye”. This is “see you later”.

I smile as we part.

 

Thank you to my friend, also a mother of an adult son, whose musings suggested the title of this piece.

First published 21 March, 2019. Larissa Dann

© Larissa Dann 2019

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