Saturday, 18 October 2008


Last night my son called to chat. I have two daughters with whom I communicate on a regular basis about life, disease, and diets, not necessarily in that order. Mothers and daughters can share their hearts, souls, and recipes with equal abandon. Mothers and sons not so easily. While growing up, the admonition was usually, “Go talk to you father.” I wanted him to be a man, after all, not some wimpy mother’s boy.

Now that he is grown and married, he has buddies and another woman to share his angst and energies with. So when the phone rings, with his name on the ID, I pause, hoping that it is not some emergency, or a request to babysit, but rather, just to chat with his mother. And last night was such an occasion.

That is not to say that my son and I have never communicated in any meaningful way. We have. But his shtick, ever since adolescence, has been to bate me into a mock debate whereby we each attempt to outwit, outsmart, out-think the other. All in good fun of course. “And I always win.” Which, by the way, is what he always says as well.

So at one point we were talking about my writing and I mentioned that I had been reviewing some of my collected quotable quotes for inspiration.
“For instance,” I said, "Heraclites’ famous line that you cannot step into the same river twice.” I immediately continued with my own clever retort, (aha) “But who would want to, when there are so many rivers to venture into.”
His response was, “Mom, you are such a hypocrite. You have lived in a box all your life.”
Whew. That brought my ever ready debating skills to a direct halt.
“What do you mean?” I said really thinking (“How dare you.”)
“Well, for instance, if I bought you a ticket to Thailand, and a backpack, would you go with the proviso that the most upscale accommodations you could have would be in a hostel.”
“How about Paris?” I said eagerly.
“Yeh, and you would end up sitting in a cafĂ© all day, sipping coffee and reading a book.” (How did he know?)
“ Okay.” I offered bravely, “If you are serious, you double-dare me?” You get the ticket and I’ll go.”
“Christmas is coming.” he said, in a tone that sounded more threatening than generous.

The conversation moved on to anecdotes about his children. (aka, my grandchildren) One lovely moment, when he was reciting an incident that required some serious parenting on his part, I applauded his approach, and swelled at the thought that, in retelling the story, he may even have been seeking my approval of his actions. And so the phone call ended with plans for future family gatherings. And on we went with our separate lives.

But the gauntlet had been thrown in front of me. What was I to do about this “living in a box” accusation? How was I going to be able to gain approval from him? More importantly, how was I to gain approval for myself. He knew exactly what he had done. Whether premeditated or spur of the moment, the challenge was now out there, and could not be ignored.

What were my options? I could call a travel agent; book a flight to wherever; buy a good camera; pack a carry-on; keep a diary; return in a year, having left a cryptic message on my answering machine (“I cannot be reached at the moment because I have left my box temporarily to travel the world. If your message is urgent please call my son and let him deal with it.”)

I have dealt with many challenges in my life, self imposed and otherwise. This one was different. It really involved more than just backpacking and a flight plan. Instead, it urged me into a full unpacking of my life, my philosophy of living, what constituted happiness, adventure. In short, the meaning and purpose of my life. Whew, all this from a little Sunday night, 15minute, dutiful, “time to check on mom” phone call.

Maybe I could write a movie script about a mid-life travel adventure, “Gone with the Backpack”; send it to Mike Nichols; insist on Susan Sarandon in the lead role; and agree to come to Hollywood to oversee production. Now that would be a box breaker. Better still, if it were a box-office breaker. Now I was getting silly. Time to get back to serious.
And seriously was how I felt about this admonition, accusation, call it what you will. My reputation as a mother, grandmother, role model, stunning geriatric with good debating skills, was at stake.

My greatest happiness comes from times spent with those I love; and travelling in my mind with the memories, which photographs awaken, of those times. Our universe is expanding and contracting simultaneously. Box or no box, I need to do the same.

So, after much deliberation and coffee, here is my penultimate plan. (I always like to leave room to change my mind.) I will attempt all of the above, (except for the Susan Sarandon demands; Helen Mirren should be fine.) I will graciously accept the ticket as purchased (“Merry Christmas.”); and hope that whatever destination my son chooses will allow freedom and time to read, write, think, drink wine (forget the coffee), and take lots of pictures.

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