Such is the fate of fathers, I suppose (or parents in general for that matter). I just finished House Rules, Jodi Picoult's book about a teen with Asperger's and a fixation on forensics and CSI who puts his whole family through all sorts of trials, both figurative and literal. I dog-eared a passage from the perspective of one of the detectives in the book that echoes the mind-blowing worry and panic having a child can incite:
Mrs. Ogilvy leans forward. Her eyes are red-rimmed. "Do you have a daughter, Detective?" she asks.
Once, at a fairground, Sasha and I were walking through the midway when a rowdy group of teenagers barreled between us, breaking the bond between our hands. I tried to keep my eye on her, but she was tiny, and when the group was gone, so was Sasha. I found myself standing in the middle of the fairground, turning circles and screaming her name, while all around me rides spun in circles and wisps of cotton candy flew from their metal wheels onto a spool and the roar of chain saws spitting through wood announced the lumberjack contest. When I finally found her, petting the nose of a Jersey calf in a 4-H barn, I was so relieved that my legs gave out; I literally fell to my knees.
I haven't even responded, but Mrs. Ogilvy puts her hand on her husband's arm. "See, I told you, Claude," she murmurs. "He understands."
Almost every time we get in the car, Macauley steers the subject toward what vehicle he will have when he is 16. I don't know how many times I have told him we would worry about whether he will get an itty bitty "adorable" SMARTCar or Ford Fiesta (his dream cars of the moment--isn't that funny?) or the more sturdy Hummer or Sequoia I have in mind (gas-guzzlers, yes, but more metal between my baby and all the dangers of the road) in another 8 years or so. As we flew down 13 last night, my mind took off in all sorts of worrisome directions, thinking of what it will be like to watch the one thing I treasure more than anything in this whole world back out of our driveway and zoom down the road, toward freedom and fun and adult responsibility but also all sorts of danger I can't grab the wheel and protect him from. Surely Michael still feels this way when his sweet Ryan pulls away from his childhood home with his own family...so I cut him some slack on the worrying bit.
It's hard not to let the fear creep in and make me irrational myself. But it's what parents do: Let go more and more every day in so many ways. It's such a heart-twisting feeling to love something so much and let it run wild in this big scary world that I sometimes wonder why generation after generation keep signing up for it. Macauley says he only wants to move a few blocks away when he graduates (Class of 2021!) and promises that he will visit me every day and drive me to the flea market. He's been asking when he can get a cell phone (he thinks 10 is a reasonable age; I have no idea) and a while back he said, "Mom? When I get my own phone will you put me on your Favorites list on yours?" I told him I absolutely would and asked him if he'd do the same for me. "For sure," he nodded. I hope I'm always one of his favorite people to call, to drive around with, that we always talk, that he always knows just what I think of him. Ryan and his dad talk often. I talk to my parents regularly, too. Another passage in Picoult's book, where that same detective laments not keeping in touch with his own father, reminded me of how many people out there can't say the same:
"My dad used to say that living with regrets was like driving a car that only moved in reverse," I smile faintly. "He had a stroke a few years ago. Before that, I used to screen his calls because I didn't have time to talk about whether the Sox would make it to the playoffs. But afterward, I started to call him. Every time, I'd finish by saying I loved him. We both knew why; and it didn't sit right after all the time I hadn't said it. It was like trying to bail out an ocean of water with a teaspoon."
The days of summer have seemed luxuriously slow of late, but I'm very aware this car is zooming down the highway, that I'll blink and my only son will be pulling in to my driveway with his own family to celebrate my 60-something birthday on a warm August night. I'm buckling in.