I was stirring risotto when my husband called, a regular Thursday night.
“I’ll be home in forty minutes, lots of traffic.”
“Ok,” I said.
“Oh and I just got off the phone with Nate*.
“Really? How is he?”
“Fine. He has his college break this weekend.”
My wooden spoon paused in its repeating circle around the cast iron pan, rhythm altered. An omen of sorts.
“He has a break?” I repeated.
“Yeah, he asked what he should do. I told him to call you.”
I added more broth to the risotto which now was starting to stick as I glanced over at my non-ringing phone. There was a college break? He hadn’t planned to come home? I had never actually checked his college calendar, or my other son’s for that matter. I have enough trouble keeping my own calendar up to date. And, anyway, there was no need; when he came home he would email me the Amtrak itinerary so I knew when to pick him up.
I took this as a sign that my kid must be happy. A good thing, a wished for thing since the moment he was born; from the moment I waited and watched for his first milestone–a smile. A sense of relief– that he could smile. I would know when he was happy.
It was the first thing I looked for at the end of each day after he started school.
“Did you have a good day?” hoping the answer would be yes.
This time, without me even asking, he was answering from afar. The answer was yes.
I felt relief.
And then I felt relief tinged with something else. Tinged with an omen of the future. Tinged with the knowledge of what I would be missing.
Like that little sigh of relief when he fell down on the couch, saying my favorite combination of words in the English language it’s so good to be home; his sudden appreciation of what used to be ordinary this is the best dinner ever; the wrestling to the ground of his little brother, a fight for the remote; the deep little groan that came from the dog when he buried in his head, songs from his playlist in the car on the way back to the train, his warm comforting hug. Sounds and touches of what was once familiar.
I felt a little robbed.
Should I call him? I certainly didn’t want him to feel pressure to come home to make me happy. I actually had lots of things to do. But, then, again, I wanted him to know that I enjoyed when he came home, that he mattered, that it was a gift for us as well. But no pressure. But we like you. No pressure. But come home if you want. No pressure.
I tested the risotto. It seemed done. I turned off the heat and picked up the phone, my willpower gone.
“You have a break?” I texted him “Are you coming home? I’ll cook for you” I wrote.
He responded that he “could.”
I thought about his choice of words. He technically could, it was in the realm of possibilities. But that it didn’t mean he necessarily would.
I responded that he should do what he wanted. No pressure. But feel free.
Whatever makes you happy.
And I tried to channel that original, old-fashioned feeling of relief when I saw him smile. He was having a good day. I imagined him smiling. It would have to be enough.
It was enough.
And I set the table for dinner.
Gifts for College Students
Megan Houston Sager, formerly a teacher and knitting shop owner, currently raises boys, dogs, chickens, vegetables and one aggravated cat. She spends her time searching for words that piece together the puzzles in her head. And also cooking dinner. Her work has appeared on scarymommy.com and on her blog, herchickendiary.blogspot.com