Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Home Is Where the Heart Is
"My home is not a place. It is people." -- Lois McMaster Bujold
I've heard it said, "You can't go home again." and I've worried about that. Because if that sentiment is true, what happens to Jack, my oldest who has left home and is in the very first few months of college? Is it possible that he won't ever return home with the same heart, the same self, the same Jack-ness that we love and adore? What does that mean? Where do we go from here as a family?
I had some crazy feelings of excitement and trepidation as we ventured onto an airplane just John and I headed to Los Angeles to see Jack for the first time in two and a half months. I was simultaneously tortured by the idea of seeing him for just a few hours and thrilled with any time at all. Like a wilted flower, any drip of water would do. When it became clear that we would for sure get to see Jack, John's face was lit up with a smile that wouldn't stop. He kept looking at me, smiling. I kept brushing him off. I just wasn't sure. Were we going to be cramping Jack's style? Would he want us there? How was it going to play out? It felt unreal and dream-like and I couldn't quite picture it at all. Most of all, I wondered, would Jack be the same?
We got to his dorm and took the elevator up. We walked the halls that at the beginning of school had been freshly painted, new and clean. Today, they were dirty, lived-in and rather collegiate looking. We knocked on the door and found three room-mates missing and three girls sitting in the living room with Jack in the shower...so college...so classic. We introduced ourselves and heard their stories. Zoe from Dallas, Aubrey from San Diego, and Jordan from LA. All were together and friendly and polite. Zoe gave us the run down of the plans for the day. We made small talk and visited until Jack popped out, clean and ready to go. We hugged and took a good long look at the newest incarnation of Jack: college guy. He was smiling, excited and happy. He was ready to show us around and we followed his lead and got ready to go. Zoe, ever the cruise director, handed Jack a list of phone numbers that he could use since he had misplaced his phone.
First stop: book store. We walked across campus and noticed mothers and fathers and sons and daughters just like us. We felt part of something and yet a cloistered bubble of three at the same time. We decided to get some red for the football game and put on our required USC clothes. We watched guys paint their entire bodies, we saw Trojans and cheerleaders and families and fraternities and an entire college scene that seemed scripted and watched Jack maneuver and make his way. He greeted friends as he passed through and knew instinctively where he was going. He guided us through it all. He seemed comfortable and confident. This was his turf and he wanted to share. He showed us where he practiced volleyball, where he filled out paperwork for the screenwriting program, where he hung out with friends. Best of all, he was genuinely himself, nothing was lost or missing, totally himself but with a bit more.
I don't know when I first felt this, maybe it was eating a hot dog at the Parents' Barbeque amid red and gold swaying balloons or it could have been as we were rushed along with the sea of red making its way to the Coliseum, but I knew that my heart was here. It didn't matter what I was doing or the thousands of people beside me, as long as I was with Jack, my heart was here. It was then that I realized for perhaps the first time that my heart is indeed cut into four very large pieces and they are outside of me.
I guess since my kids have always been under my roof and generally with me that I was tricked into thinking that my heart was in my home. But being with Jack and feeling a piece of myself there, I know now that my heart is wherever my children are. Somehow, in the strangest way, I feel comforted by this. I feel as if I have unintentionally made four horcruxes and stitched a little piece of my soul into Jack, Mary Kate, Patrick and Caroline. They may travel the earth but they have my heart and that is where my home is -- wherever they are.
We kicked the flagpole and wished for good luck. We resisted the bacon wrapped hot dogs with sizzling vegetables tempting us on our way to the stadium. We walked by the rose garden planted in the early 1920's and filtered our way into the LA Coliseum. We went down into the student section almost onto the field and were greeted by Jack's friends with a warm welcome. We basked in the balmy southern California sunshine, the sublime joy of an afternoon of nothing but football and Jack and started learning the Trojan way.
If you've never been to a USC game let me tell you one thing: they live large. They must have taken lessons from the British because nobody does Ceremony and Pomp better than these guys. Out comes the fairy tale white horse with a Trojan atop. He leaps off the horse and plunges his sword into the soil. A cheer releases from the thousands of people and the game begins. The band with full regalia plays its heart out. The cheerleaders give it their all. Gigantic flags are waving with an individual U and S and C and a Trojan all working together. Smoke comes billowing out of a side entrance and with music playing, cheerleaders yelling and the crowd chanting, the football players rush onto the field.
The game was fantastic...triple overtime and a heartbreaker of a loss...but that was beside the point. We were with Jack. Suddenly, we had to rush to the airport. We had to kiss our sweet son good-bye. We got a glimpse of his world and had to head back to ours, where three other hearts were waiting. We knew that we had found our way back home and that Jack would too. Thanksgiving isn't that far away.
Change is inevitable. Babies grow up. Kids move out and we must adjust our sails or get stuck in stagnant waters. This week-end, the grace that filled me up was learning that my home and my heart are where my people are...no matter where on the planet that takes me.