The Insistence of Life, a Mother's Place and a Woman's Gratitude
Yesterday my 16 year old son, Henry, got his driver's license. Really, this is huge. In this culture there isn't much available to our young men in the way of rites of passage so this one, this first moment when the culture turns its attention on him and says, "we see you as a responsible young man" (or something like that) is monumental. In reality, the process isn't nearly as dramatic or noble. The DMV is a wild place of 'neither here nor there' where folks whose lives have been shattered by alcohol, are contesting DUIs or meeting with their attorneys to plead with the Driving Magistrate rub shoulders with people perturbed by the mundane requirements of changing addresses, getting licenses and permits or updating information. Here, everything converges on itself in a never-before-and-isn't-likely-to-happen-again moment. The choreography is staggering. As I sat there, waiting for Henry and the instructor to return from the driving test, my life as a mother flashed before my eyes. There among folks who don't make eye contact being made uncomfortable by the joke-cracking, open-hearted woman behind the counter (who I feel in love with over and over), I allowed tears of joy, fear, pride and uncertainty to tumble down my cheeks. I allowed myself to be utterly raw. If we can't be real here, at this confluence of humanity, where in the world can we?
I cried for the uncertainty no one ever really tells you about, because they can't possibly prepare you. Each one of us has to stumble into it for ourselves, and by then, it's too late to change our minds. I cried for the unbearable uncertainty that comes, at no extra charge, with being a parent. I cried because I gestated the once single-celled being that is now, many iterations later, navigating a 2500 pound steel box around town, using hand over hand steering and making sure to look first in the side view mirror before giving a QUICK over the shoulder glance as he deals with the confusion of snow and ice and other drivers' terrifying unpredictability, all while being graded, just so he can pick up his girlfriend and take her on dates.
How did this happen? How did he become such a beautiful hot-blooded young man? I flash to the young male fox, just coming into his second year; the one Simon (my younger son) and I hit with our car last winter. As I find myself staggering with awe at the way life insists upon itself, is programmed into the marrow of every living being on the planet, I remember clasping my strong hands around the fox's slender neck, trying desperately to stop its suffering. Only to discover the insistence of Life had gotten to the fox first and I was now in a battle of epic proportions with a thing I do not care to challenge ever again. I suppose you could say that, eventually, I 'won', but it still doesn't feel like a victory I'd ever claim as mine. I think that level of hubris alone might make me a marked woman.
Sitting in the DMV and watching Henry sign the forms, pay his $21 and receive his temporary license, all of a sudden I felt duped in some way. Like I had been lulled into participation in a thing that felt at the time, quite frankly, like a perfunctory endeavor. I had gotten married, gotten my Masters degree and landed a dream job, I'd owned a house since I was 24. My husband and I had already gotten a dog. Having a baby was the obvious next step. Sign me up! It's what my people do. It was expected of me. In keeping with the easeful way of most events in my life, nine months later out popped Henry.
16 years later, he stands here; his 6'1" sinewy strong body, his close cropped blond hair, his one blue eye and one green eye nested in an ever-curious expression, his low-riding pants (just under the buttocks so they're in constant danger of falling to the floor), his Armani cologne given to him by his girl. Life has seized him by his slender neck and is having her way with him. Do I have anything to do with this equation anymore? The grief, the jealousy and the mother-bear protectiveness that seizes me by the neck in this moment stings my eyes and throat, makes my breath fail. I remember, back in the earlier stages of the Global Culture of Women, I spent many glorious hours on Skype with woman's groups from around the world. In this moment, one particular group from Mali West Africa stands out in my memory. The topic of our conversation was initiation, and more specifically, male initiation. Somewhere in the midst of this raucous conversation (which I had little to do with because I live in a culture that does not honor its young ones in this intentional way), I burst into tears. Right there on Skype, much the way I did yesterday at the DMV, I burst into tears. In her beautiful lulling accent, one of the women said, "CC (my nickname)....what do you cry for? This is a joyous conversation!" And I admitted that I was raising two boys in a state of deep grief for what I, as a woman, could not provide them and what they, as young men, wouldn't get from the men in this culture. Another woman then said, "Mama...you have birthed these babies into this world. You have fed them from your breast, given them strength and will and certainty of their own names. Now that they are young men your only job is to be in love with them, as a woman. You must simply let the woman of you love them. No matter what, that is your task."
So, as I honor my son - this breathtaking young man - and the giant step he has just taken into the world of adulthood, I also honor Life's insistence upon itself. I honor the will, the innate urgency, of a being to thrive; to navigate itself toward thriving at all costs without fanfare. I honor that I have done my part so that Life herself can now take over, dancing her mysterious unpredictable love affair with Henry. And I will let the woman of me desperately, deeply and hopelessly love the young men I have birthed, and pray that The World will make their place known to them.