Boarding pass in hand, gate 12 in sight. Check. As comfortable as any woman in my soon-to-be another-decade-old body. Dressed in my typical uniform—my closets have seen decades of the same thing—turtleneck, jeans, vest, and backpack. Comfy shoes.
I’m headed to D.C. My older son graduates from college in five weeks, and in his really gentle and loving way, he reminded me about three weeks back that I had dropped him off four years ago and never returned for a visit. Through dorm moves, apartment hunting with the guys, a few girlfriends, and every single undergraduate class he had completed, we had remained closely connected, but I’d never come to visit.
We talked all the time—he called on his way home from class, from work, when he needed to know how long to cook a chicken, and when he wondered whether the broccoli that had been forgotten in the back of his fridge was still good. He was home for vacations, we spent all of the major holidays together, and we actually saw a lot of one another. But none of that mattered when his words hit me with a thwack. It was just as if I had walked into the heavy plate glass front door of my office building. “You’re right. I’m planning your graduation, your undergrad courses are behind you, and I never made it back to D.C. for a visit.”
I was so embarrassed, but mainly my heart just ached.
Now, it would be one thing if I couldn’t have visited him. If there was a legitimate excuse such as I lived far away, had little ones who needed my attention, or couldn’t travel for whatever reason. Maybe that would have made sense, but none of this was true. To be honest, I traveled for work, I traveled to take care of aging loved ones, and I traveled for family vacations. But what I hadn’t done was caught a $99 fare, gotten on a plane, and traveled that hour and a quarter to see him.
My mind began to race. I had those points accumulated on the credit card that I had begun using when he had gone off to college. I remember thinking way back then—what a great idea—a credit card where I would get extra points for travel. I had used the darn thing, paid it each month, and never looked at the reward balance. Okay, now there was really no excuse. I even had airplane miles that I had banked when something came up and I couldn’t take a trip. Southwest.com, here I am.
Flight booked, points redeemed for a hotel a ten-minute walk from his apartment (yes, the same hotel we had booked months ago for graduation), and a plan. I was going to D.C.to just be…just be with my first-born…my smiling, sometimes goofy, often intense, super chatty, full of ideas and wildly optimistic, I-can-change-the-world-because-we-should-all-be-able-to-get-along, first-born.
But wait—the Type A, always driven perfectionist in me began to hear chatter in my head. At the office, we were in the midst of a huge spring project. The calendar for this rollout had been set a year ago in one of those big, all-hands-on-deck meetings. Everyone else’s work hinged on my review and approval, and there were clients to see. I never leave for four days after our students finish spring break and before APs and final exams. Who in my business of working with students would do such a thing?
But, my son was calling—that little guy whom I had held in my arms, carried with me on my hip, and nursed on different continents before he turned a year old. My little boy who seemed to never tire of Sandra Boynton’s Pajama Time, his favorite airplane pull toy, or laying wooden train track from end to end in the living room had grown up. Twenty-one years had flown by. I didn’t even blink my eyes or snap my fingers and he was somehow grown up enough to drink legally. And I hadn’t even gone to visit him once during those college years. Those words just kept racing through my head like a recording on a loop. Ugh. I couldn’t shake it. There was a part of me that knew that he knew that I loved him to the moon and back, but when he spoke those words to me about not visiting D.C. since I dropped him off, I also saw that little boy in him who loved his mom and missed her.
My clients’ parents always comment on how calm I am, how composed I appear in those anxiety-ridden situations in life, but I’m actually one of those people who demands perfection of herself and spends hours analyzing when things don’t go exactly right. I might look calm on the outside, but that mama-on-the-inside, who had to find a way to stop kicking herself for NOT GOING TO VISIT HER SON FOR FOUR YEARS OF COLLEGE had to get a grip.
This wasn’t true heartache and sadness like when I lost not one but two dear friends to cancer, in their prime, with young kids at home. This wasn’t like that pit in my stomach when my child was sick and the best doctors around couldn’t figure what on earth was wrong. This was all about me kicking myself because, through my imperfection, I had let the business of life get out in front and take time away from what I value most in life—my relationship with my kids. It was time to bring that same forgiveness and kindness to myself that I so easily conjure up for others.
I work with terrific women who happen to have kiddos about the same age as mine. They told me as only dear friends can—turn off the computer, we’ll call your phone if we need you, just go…just go…just be with that almost grown-up son of yours.
They were giving me the same orders that I had given them in the past: just go–we’ve got your back—everything is going to be fine.
So, I made it through security, slung my backpack over one shoulder, and chucked my cell phone in my pocket. I was on a mission. Four days with my first-born in D.C., visiting the places he loves, eating the street food he talks about, having coffee in the all-night bookstore café, and hanging on the bench on the quad. In the end, it was fantastic!
There are moments when we absolutely must take the advice we give to everyone else in our world. It’s okay—take some time with the ones you love. Relish those moments when your six-foot-tall son takes your hand amidst the cherry blossoms that have fallen on the path and tells you that he loves you. It really all comes down to that—just like it did when they were in your arms before that snap of the finger or wink of the eye. This mama gives you permission to bathe in those moments of “just being” with the ones you love. Everything else can wait. I promise.
Lorie Kram is the proud mama of two young adult sons. After a wonderful career practicing law for 18 years, she founded BLUBERYL, a productivity coaching firm serving students and adults. Her team is made up of loving mamas, just like her.