Home Planet: Children leave home but not our hearts
The chime signaling a text message woke me out of a sound sleep. My phone, lying on the bed beside me, there in case of emergency, in case someone needed to reach me, close at hand for late night messages, glowed in the dark room.
“Just left the locks,” the message read. “And hit open water.”
It was from my son.
I typed a short reply, part message part benediction, and rolled onto my back to stare at the ceiling.
I was alone in a hotel room, on a weekend tour through the Walla Walla wine country. At the same time my 20-year-old son was on a boat cruising toward Alaska. It was the first night of his new job, and at that moment he was alone in a tiny cabin, watching land and all that was solid and secure, slip away.
I had run away for a weekend in search of respite, in search of a break from work and worry. He had signed on for a summer in search of adventure, for an opportunity to see new people and places. But for a moment, when our messages crossed in the night, we were connected.
When my children were babies we often read “The Runaway Bunny” by Margaret Wise Brown before they went to bed.
In that beloved tale a young bunny, restless and full of bravado, tells his mother all the ways he will one day escape her.
“If you run away I will run after you,” the mother replies, “for you are my little bunny.”
Her child would have none of it.
“I will become a fish in a trout stream and I will swim away,” he tells her.
“I will fish for you,” she says.
The bunny lists all the ways he will get away, and each time the mother has an answer. “I will climb to where you are,” she tells him. “I will be a gardener and I will find you.”
Each time she refuses to let him escape. “If you become a bird and fly away from me, I will be a tree that you come home to,” she tells him. “If you become a sailboat and sail away from me, I will become the wind and blow you where I want you to go.”
When the bunny says he will join the circus, his mother promises to walk across air, to walk a thin wire to reach him. When he declares that he will turn into a boy and run into a house, his mother promises to catch him and hold him in her arms.
Finally the bunny surrenders. “Shucks,” he tells her. “I might just as well stay where I am and be your little bunny.”
Of course, little boys do find a way to slip out of the grasp of their mothers. And wish as we might, mothers can’t always find a way to hold onto them. Or can we?
Still clutching my phone, ready to answer if he were to call out to me again, I thought about the book. I thought about my boy – grown into a man – and where he was headed.
True, I won’t be a tall tree on the shore. Or a rock on the cliff at the edge of the sea. I won’t be the wind that blows him back to me. And he will never again be at home in my arms.
But the fact that he typed those two little sentences even as he got his wish, even as he headed out to a life on his own, reassured me.
He couldn’t shake me. I was there in the dark starlit sky, in the sound of the waves against the boat, in the humming of the engine that pulled him out to sea. Just as he was with me in a room lit only by the light of my cell phone.
Even as he sailed away, in spite of himself, he reached out to me.
“Just left the locks,” he’d written. “And hit open water.”
But when I read it again, and read between the lines, I saw only one word.