When I was eight or nine, walking a quarter mile up our driveway to the stone gateway that marked our family cabin property seemed like a huge adventure. I’d climb on the wall, pretending it was a castle or part of a world as different as Tolkien’s stories that my father read out loud to us. The gateway was mine; safe from my brothers and my little sister for about an hour each day. It took all the courage I could muster to climb it on my own as I had seen my older brothers do. I’ve always been afraid of heights.
I knew not to go beyond the gate to the road, where cars came barreling around the bend and might not see a small child. The gate marked the beginning of our summer vacation, with no tv, no modern conveniences and lots of family interactions. Leaving it behind at the end of the summer was always sad, but I knew I would be back.
As an adult, I’ve crossed that barrier many times. Now I walk, bike or run on the road without fear. The ownership of the house that we share the driveway has changed, and although they own the property the gate was built on in the early 1900s, they allow us to share the access so that we won’t have to cut down trees and create our own driveway.
In the forty years since I first explored that wall, I have spread my wings and flown through many portals. I’ve lived in England, France, Iowa and Marseille. I’ve crossed many gateways and breached new boundaries. Sometimes walking through a doorway has seemed easy, and sometimes it has been as shocking or surprising as the children in Narnia discovering a new world after entering an old wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’ wonderful stories.
When I left for college, I thought I was very ready for a new world. Iowa was the most boring corner of the universe and I was ready to meet the intellectual elite at a small private college with an excellent music conservatory, Oberlin College, where I double majored in French and Cello Performance.
Leaving for college meant starting a new life and my first independent adventure as a young adult. It also meant saying farewell to my home and my parents. An image from the day of my departure from home remains branded in my memory. All of my belongings were sitting in the driveway waiting to be loaded into my grandparents’ Suburban. They drove me to college because my father was extremely ill with terminal mouth cancer, at the height of his career as a glaucoma specialist and the chair of the University of Iowa Ophthalmology department.
My vinyl disc collection was in crates next to my then state of the art Sony turntable and receiver. When I came out with another load of stuff, my dad was going through my records. He pulled out the double record of Brahm’s German Requiem and angrily gestured that it was his. My father had been subjected to a tracheotomy and couldn’t speak, so we communicated by scribbles on a yellow legal pad. I sheepishly gave it back to him, feeling bad, but also puzzled that he wouldn’t be happy that I loved classical music as much as him.
Saying goodbye to my father was the most impossible task I have ever had to do. As excited as I was about my new adventure, I knew it was really goodbye. No child or parent should have to go through the charade of trying to sum up everything that that word englobes. Goodbye should be a temporary state.
When my grandparents left me at Oberlin College and returned to Iowa, I remember feeling distinctly lonely. That is when I realized I really had to be brave and pave my own way.
On my 18th birthday, two weeks into my first year of college, I got the record in the mail along with a sad letter from my father. He had realized that he was not going to be around much longer, and that he was truly happy that I loved Brahms music as much as he did. Two days later he passed away, on September 13, 1985.
From that moment on, it was as if I’d walked through a portal to a new world. It looked and felt a lot like my old world, but it was without my father. My father who had read books to me, played piano every night while I was falling asleep, sung songs to us accompanied by his guitar at every family dinner, had come to every cello lesson, was gone. Forever. There are no words to describe the loss and emptiness that you feel for years. That I still feel.
Ballet Boy leaves tomorrow for Houston Ballet Academy. This is not a final parting. This is yet another gateway to a new, yet similar world. I see big things in his future. When he leaves me tomorrow in a remote O’Hare airport terminal and takes the walkway to his plane, he will be not only facing some of the most amazing years of growth as a dancer, but also all the challenges I faced at 18 when I started college. He will cook for himself, live in a dorm space with 16 other students and be on his own to pace his school work.
He is so ready for this at age 15.
I am not as a 47 year old mother. At the same time my rational mind tells me that this is going to be an amazing future for him, full of fruitful encounters and friendships, the mom in me is screaming, “NOT YET!THIS IS NOT HOW LIFE IS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN.” But life with a gifted artist, or athlete, or being, is different. It is unique, beautiful and precocious. I am wary that I can’t let my sadness at missing the next few years of my son’s development and daily events affect him; he needs to face the hard work he has ahead with confidence and bravery.
Like climbing a rock wall that I found daunting at age 8, like when I boarded a plane for France after college without even a clue as to who I would study cello with, his courage to go out on his own and pass into a new world will open countless doors for him. That sole act of courage for me in my 20’s opened so many gateways; I got to visit London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Paris, Marseille, Monte Carlo, Brussels, Amsterdam…and countless little villages with quaint Medieval or even Roman gateways and portals.
Without my bravery, Ballet Boy quite simply wouldn’t be. The world would be duller, less full of song and movement and laughter.
So tonight I know I will cry myself to sleep again (I have all week), but I also will think of ways to recreate my next chapter in life to be a different kind of mom and woman. I need personal goals to keep me going, and I need to be strong for Ballet Boy as he embarks on such an exciting period in his life.
My fallbacks will be yoga, running, cycling, swimming, dog love, Brewmaster love, baking and blogging. Will you come through the next portal with me and see what’s on the other side?