I come from a long line of women who “fretted,” a kind of mother-worrying that comes with twitching or tapping fingers, a furrowed brow, and lots of conversation about the worry. Sometimes I might go overboard – like the time when my son was in college, and a black bear was spotted near his campus in Washington, D.C. Was there any chance he would encounter the bear? Probably not. But still.
In September 2000, I started a new job with a pharmaceutical company. Our son was ten years old. Like every transition families experience, my new position was filled with trade-offs. I would make more money, and I wouldn’t have to work nights and weekends. But sometimes I would travel, and in the first year, I would be gone from home for twelve weeks.
My husband could easily handle the dual role of mommy and daddy. My secure feeling about my sales training wasn’t assuaged, though, because I knew my being gone would still be hard on our son. Dad couldn’t fix that. I left for the first week of training at in Cincinnati.
Before I went, I promised our son I would send him a postcard.
During the week I was away, I mailed two postcards from the mail slot from my hotel floor. And then I forgot about them.
Both postcards were delivered on July 30, 2018, to my son. 18 years after I’d sent them.
We live in the same house.
My son hasn’t lived here for ten years.
The cards were delivered with no fanfare in the regular mail, stuck to a present-time postcard from a friend in Puerto Rico. Even with only twenty cent stamps affixed, there was no postage due notice. Postcard stamps are now a whopping thirty-five cents.
Both cards were a snapshot into my son’s childhood. One was a picture of the old Riverfront Stadium, then home of the Cincinnati Reds. My husband is a lifelong fan of the Reds and shares this love with our son. Our son probably attended his first Opening Day at Riverfront when he was a toddler and has continued. We met in Cincinnati in June, and father and son attended two home games.
I wrote on the back of the undated card “Hi Alex. I sure miss you – I sure love you and Daddy. Remember all the fun we had watching the Reds? I’ll see you on Friday – Love, Mom XXOO to you and Daddy.”
Riverfront Stadium is long gone, and Great American Ball Park stands in its place. My husband and my son still attend games in Cincinnati. A month ago, our son flew to Cincinnati from his home in Maryland for two Reds games with my husband around the time of his birthday
The second card featured pink flying pigs, commemorating an art installation of pigs all over the city. On the back of the pink card, I wrote that the flying pigs reminded me of the flying cow’s exhibit we saw in Chicago earlier in the summer. Wouldn’t any reasonable person be amazed at the mystery, enjoy the fact that the Post Office delivered the darn things, even 18 years later, stuck in a batch of regular mail.
My first thought upon seeing the finally-delivered cards was “Oh, my God I promised him a postcard, and he didn’t get it. That poor, sad little boy.”
This notion is ridiculous. Alex was ten. He didn’t ask me why I didn’t send him a postcard, or likely even remember. But my very first thought was why I let my child down. Alex was busy with fourth grade, building Lego creations in our basement, and watching Reds games on TV with his father.
Me, I felt terrible about the little boy whose mother promised him a postcard, and he didn’t get it. Then I worried about how my 12-week absence affected him.
I worked my way past my initial reaction to the joy of seeing the card again, a card that brought back memories.
I’ve discovered one can worry if it doesn’t impede the progress of your child. You stuff your fears and concerns down inside rather than thrashing your child with them. You mull over issues with your girlfriends or share in pillow talk with your significant other.
But you try not to let your worry stop what is inevitable, that the child will grow away from you and move out of your nest.
And the child does grow, and you are more tested with worry. An early test for me was at Riverfront Stadium on Opening Day in the early 1990s. Our son was a toddler, and we were in the cheap seats, top row, on an aisle. I watched Alex like a hawk, fearful he would tumble down the long, concrete stairs. He didn’t. We all survived.
So, I fret over an 18-year-old event. I put two stamps on an envelope and mailed the postcards to my son in Maryland, where he will get a kick out of them. Our son is a grown man, a college graduate, with his own abundant life, friends, activities and meaningful work.
He thinks I worry too much, but he has no idea what the “letting go” is like or imagine what it felt like to leave an unsophisticated boy in the clutches of the wicked city when he went to college.
We worried, and yet we got back into our van, now devoid of boxes full of college items, and drove home, 1,100 miles away. That was, like the Post Office’s informal motto says, “the swift completion of our appointed rounds.”
Amy McVay Abbott is a retired healthcare executive in the Midwest, who writes when the Spirit moves her. She is currently one of 40 female humorists featured in the first anthology published by the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop, April 2018, “Laugh Out Loud.”