Starting Over

The heavy rains stop briefly on the way to the airport. We ride in silence, peering dream-like through the car’s steamy windows. Driving these winding country roads, we are each steeped in our own nostalgia, which settles like thick woolen shawls around our shoulders. The Christmas lights twinkle on many a home nestled into the clefts of the darkened hills. Yet for me in this moment, the lights evoke sadness. It’s as if we are leaving each of these warm, familiar places, one after the other, to be out in the cold wet night.

I see everything – each turn in the road, plastic snowmen on a porch, a quaint country church, the glowing mansion on the hill, a single star peering beneath wispy clouds — through our daughter Sonji’s eyes. I look at the sights of this December night in rural Oregon, as if for the last time, not really knowing for certain if she will ever be back. This is what all parents must fear when their child flies away to another home so distant as to be unimaginable.

Just hours before Sonji departs for Florida, our son Oceah leaves to drive north into the mountains. He must travel through the same fierce storm, as rain threatens to turn into snow. His windshield wipers aren’t working, and I plead with him to get them fixed.

“The part is on order in Seattle, Mom. Don’t worry. I have some stuff to spray on the windshield that makes the water bead up, and I have chains. I’ll be fine.”

I have to believe him.

Our children are grown, ages twenty and twenty-six. They are wonderful, mature, caring people who love life and love us with all their souls. Perhaps this is why it is so hard to let them go after the warmth of a shared Christmas. Once again, the pleasure of their youthful company has breathed magic into our hearts. I totally neglected my work, all but forgot about exercising, streamlined my meditations, drank wine and spiked eggnog, listened to the latest music, and consumed copious amounts of candy and creamy desserts as I succumbed to their delightful influence. I even went shopping with them at the mall – three times! But more important than all of this, we exchanged countless warm hugs and “I love you’s”, cooked and ate together, and enjoyed many hours of soulful conversation, delving into the challenges and evolving purpose of our lives, age aside.

Now they are gone, and my life is returning to normal. Normal is good, meaning our country life is quiet and peaceful, productive and varied. But I suddenly feel as if I’m starting over, returning to simply being myself. Not the parent, counselor, chauffeur, confidante, friend, and meal planner, but just plain me. Right now that seems like a stripped down version of the person I have been for the last two and a half weeks. But I’ll get used to it – the normal me – soon enough. What choice do I have?

I recycle the wrapping paper and boxes, do all the dishes, finish the last of the Christmas candy, clean up the debris piles in the living and dining rooms, and finally sit down by the fire with a cup of hot tea to savor the sweet memories. As the hard rains return, Oceah phones to thank us and say he’s arrived safely. No snow thus far. Much later, Sonji calls, also having arrived safe and sound. She too expresses her gratitude.

“It was a great Christmas, Mom, one of the best ever. Thanks for everything...I love you so much.”

I’ll be fine. Starting over is humbling and sometimes lonely at first, but it’s good. At least I still have the Christmas tree, which we joyfully selected and decorated together, and this creative and nurturing home to give me solace. It holds, even now, all the blessings and expressions of love that have been shared here. Like Christmas lights, they send out their enduring glow across the winter fields and forests into the cold, dark night.

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Tricia Narana McDowell