Sunday, February 7, 2010

A QUAKER CHILD REPUDIATES ALMOST EVERYTHING

Under normal circumstances, an almost-grown kid doesn't leave home thinking he or she may never see her family again.  On Sunday, my oldest child flew off into the sky today for 6 months' study in Turkey. Momentous, but not a final severance.  He sent a text prior to takeoff: Thanks mom just got on the plane. At dinner the night before he left, I cried a little: Four years from now, we'll be looking to send our youngest child to college.  Of course, the two kids thought my sudden tears were silly--or maybe they didn't quite know what to do about them.

Some day, they'll understand.

A few days after my 18th birthday, I packed up a suitcase, crying.  Really crying. I was listening to The Band's Whispering Pines, a hymn of loss and slim hope and the sea.  My soon-to-be husband sat waiting outside on the street in his Chevy Impala.  I wasn't thinking Quakerism, or the stronghold of tradition, or the future. I was thinking of that consuming relationship and the four walls of my husband's dark apartment,which in the back of my mind, I already knew I didn't know how to keep clean.  I thought of my parents, distressingly silent two floors down, having cocktails in the living room, with my father's cousin present to keep the lid on things until I left. 

I expected to be disinherited, but I wasn't  leaving only my family.  I was forsaking a world of unraveling social structures; a world of servants and class differenes, quiet racism, and old family portraits; of large, well-kept stone houses on shady streets along which large oak trees sent pungent acorns cracking to the sidewalk in the fall.  I was forsaking, not Philadelphia's almost tropical summer heat, but the lushly forested Northwestern neighborhoods of the city.  That world was already being transformed by the social cataclysms of the late 1960's, but I wasn't waiting around for the sun to set. 

It seemed easy to shuck off Quakerism: A lot of sitting in silence and thirteen years at the same Friends school that had been a self-contained universe.  You might think you're leaving everthing behind, but the familiar air slips into the suitcase with your belongings. 

One lesson I keep needing to learn is that I should trust my kids.  Far more than I did, they want to find their way in the world. They want to learn and grow and create valid lives in connection to the greater world.  The risks they take are different than the risks I took, yet in every generation the dance is the same.  Parents release control.  Children fly into the future, or perhaps they cling to familiar branches.  Parents hope for movement, improvement, sanity.  Children feel they are discovering the breakaway flight for the first time in history.
We're both right. It's all new to us. So my oldest child is off to discover a world my that present husband--my real husband--and I have never seen.  My anxiety is there.  But if I came back after a lengthy detour in the wilderness, I've got to trust that my kids will find their own paths.

Bon voyage, PFM!

6 comments:

Rich Sidney said...

I love this. It's one of the best example of someone learning and growing from their history and experiences and doing better in their own life.

Thanks for giving me an example of how to be a good parent.

hmallon said...

Rich, that's an honor. Thanks so much.

Ryoma Collia-Suzuki said...

Love this so much, thanks for sharing. I love your outlook, Helen. It's an honour to have met you on-line. Thanks again. :)

hmallon said...

Many thanks, Ryoma...It's always encouraging to hear from readers. Hope Gina is over her flu and feeling 100% !

JWStridick said...

Beautiful, Helen -- congratulations on processing movement so well; yours, theirs, ours.

hmallon said...

Merci!