Comfortably Numb

So this is what it has come down to – sporadic 8 minute conversations with my daughter on Skype or Facetime. After seventeen years in the same house, your relationship is radically condensed. You raise your children to be independent, self-sufficient, and it turns out that they actually are, aside from the checkbook. Thing 1 is happy, well-adjusted, and loving her new life at Johns Hopkins. There have been no hysterical phone calls in the middle of the night, no panicked texts. I am assuming this means that her father and I did our jobs as parents … but cutting the umbilical cord the first time was much, much easier. (Among other things, I did not have to do it.) That silent bedroom taunts me, asking me if/how I am going to convert the space.

The learning curve for college drop off is steep. First, let me just say that all those orientation activities for parents to attend are all for organized parents. Domestic parents. Parents who have driven in with their childrens’ bedrooms and do not have to recreate one from scratch and two pieces of 50 pound luggage. We did not attend a single activity as parents, besides the initial coffee. We had to return to Target instead.

Target, during a college dorm move in, looks like a picked over landscape, parents scavenging like vultures for that case of water (hurricane coming), bedside lamp, or curtain rod and curtain to help block out what light the dorm room blinds do not. It is not the Target I know. My only comfort came from seeing other parents making the same trek. It does beg the question, “What can you live without?”

For setting up the dorm room, especially if you are an expat, is a splurge I equate with the modern day dowry. (If only people today gave as much thought and research to their future spouse as they do to the university they attend!). It is important that your child have a stocked medical chest, two sets of sheets, two towels, and enough underwear to get through a week or ten days. Then there are the items one shares. In Thing 1’s case, her roommate brought the fridge, she brought the printer, and the suitemate, a beauty pageant teen queen from Arkansas, not only bought the router but she set it up. All of this takes time and money – for the first time parent, well, nothing quite prepares you.

The parameters on the family’s life have forever shifted; the earthquake we felt in Baltimore was minor in comparison. I had been in deep denial before this moment, progressing through the family chores during the summer. Now back in Madrid, I am just rather numb, feasting on books like I am dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Life is akimbo and until I/we get used to it, there is nothing I can do, except process it little by little each day and play Scrabble after dinner. Re-entry is bad enough but this is just an extra layer of glum until the routine of the “new normal” sets in.

One final thought, unrelated: yesterday at church, the Gospel was Matthew 18:21-35.

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”*

In the Anglican church, the readings repeat every three years with little variation, marching to the calendar based on the liturgical seasons, intent on drumming into one the most important messages. I am quite sure the hijackers did not consult the calendar ten years in advance. They did not anticipate that the tenth anniversary would fall on a Sunday and that the message would be forgiveness. And therein lies the true victory. I’ll keep working at it.

Thanks to Mood Ring Momma, Nittany Kitten, and Stephanie for sustaining my banquet of books. Here is what I’ve read lately:

When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box – John Ortberg. Soul food.
Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story – Sue Monk Kidd & Ann Kidd Taylor. Soul searching.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot. Soul defining, on a cellular level. Awesome.
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art – Madeleine L’Engle. A reverberating ripple in time.
The Last Stand of Major Pettigrew – Helen Simonson. Dry, wry humor – dessert for the brain. Absolutely hilarious. If I had money, I would buy the movie rights.
Origin – Diana Abu-Jaber. Overly prosey mystery.
State of Wonder – Ann Patchett. Surprisingly did not relish as much as I thought I would.
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin – Erik Larson. An absolute must read.

* Also interpreted as seventy times seven. Wow.

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12 Comments

Filed under Family, Friends, Moving, People, Reading, Religion

12 responses to “Comfortably Numb

  1. Katyess

    I remember taking #1 to IntroDucktion weekend and there being schedule of presentations/discussion for parents. The first (and last) one I attended began with the speaker spending 15 minutes explaining that even though you may be footing the bill, only your student has access to their financial and academic records. We (the university) cannot share information with you unless your student authorizes access. The next 30+ minutes consisted of 4-5 parents asking why they couldn’t have access to their student’s grades, etc. I hope their students were better listeners.

    Great description of Target – I’d never seen a Target so picked-over and I live just south of the Canadian border where our Target is decimated every weekend.

    • Katyess: I had a similar experience with Thing 1’s medical records in WA. I am responsible for the bill but cannot have access (over the age 13) to the medical records unless my child grants authorization. The clinic provides an online medical record system to ease record keeping. The kicker: my child cannot create such an account until she is 18 (she is 17). Now neither one of us has access! So, all those lab tests just sit in a netherworld until someone bothers to tell us there is a problem. Hello? Houston? Thanks for writing in! And Go Ducks!

  2. MRM

    You paint a vivid picture; my heart felt like it was being wrung out reading this – wish I could jump across the pond and give you a comforting hug.

    I cannot believe how many books you have read in such a short time – impressive! As discussed on the phone, I loved Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – author has a great sense of humor, and I could envision all the scenes as if I were watching a movie (which it should be). Loved all of the characters, especially Major Pettigrew. He reminds me of someone. 🙂

    • Oh, I forgot Alexander McCall Smith’s Double Comfort Safari Club. My favorite chapter title (perhaps of all time) is ???? Going to have to find the book! For those of us traditionally built, Precious continues to deliver the good stuff.

  3. MRM

    P.S. – Please join Goodreads.com and “friend” me! Same to Stephanie and any other avid reader friends of yours.

  4. Raftbuddy

    Ooh! Ooh! I have a book for you that helped me through the “numbness”/hollow/shellshock phase. Have you read Katrina Kenison’s “The Gift of an Ordinary Day”? Exquisite reflection on mothering.

  5. I suppose the numbness is better, safer than a depression. How I remember leaving you. The great thing is that there will be new openings. This is a sign I have on my bulletin board. “Don’t cling or dwell on events of the past, but watch for a new thing that God is going to do–look—–it is happening already!” Isaiah 43:19

  6. Thanks, Radish. I am not depressed – it is more like what Raftbuddy wrote: numb/hollow/shellshocked. Having said that, Mr. Understanding thought Thing 1 was “glowing” when we Facetimed with her the other night. It is worth the trade-off, this feeling of mine for hers.

  7. Martita

    Glad to know I am not the only one! It feels just as you have described it. The change in family dynamics is interesting. Grito just wasn’t the same without my party girl. Hoping the hollowness begins to fill in. My heart is aching but I know that she is just fine. The call at 11 pm from central PA on the night of the grito was heartening and heart wrenching. I miss her.

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