When I was in high school this was one of the places I dreamed of coming: San Francisco's City Lights Bookstore. Far from my home in Pittsburgh, arty, intellectual and free. Ironic then that all these years later I'm here, usually, to visit sons ten years older than I was when I set my sights on Greenwich Village or Bloomsbury. . . or San Francisco.
One lives here; the other's girlfriend lives here so he pretty much commutes here from Seattle. It's a perfect place to meet and spend the holidays. We came out for Thanksgiving and are here again, this time since Christmas day.
It's been lovely, if a bit stressful: a new girlfriend for our younger one - we had dinner with her - and the pressure that comes from wanting infrequent visits to go well. At best we see one another every couple of months; both boys wish we lived closer which makes me feel good but it's tough that we don't -- and have not much prospect of ever moving this direction.
Now it's our last day and the usual burgeoning lump in the throat has appeared. Both boys have been genuinely happy to be with us and have ditched their calendars to spend the week with us. I'm very grateful for their attention - they think I'm nuts and say of course they want to be with us. For some reason this astonishes me. We do have fun - jabbering about everything from Benazir Bhutto to series television. Lots of laughter and the additional delight of seeing the boys and Josh's friend Amy laughing and enjoying one another's company. But as the time comes to leave, board the plane and fly back to our DC lives, a determined sadness permeates even the happiest of moments. I once interviewed Naomi Foner, mother to Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal and the woman who wrote Running on Empty, a film about children leaving home in a particularly profound and complete way. "Parenthood is the only job" she told me, "where you measure success by how well you say goodbye."
Manifestly, we've done that well. Our boys are strong, self-sufficient, productive men who are friends to one another and love their parents. They know we're here but know too that they can take care of themselves. In that way, we'd be defined as successful. But. But. No matter how proud I am, how grateful for their strength and wisdom, humor and goodness, I miss them.
They are the treasures of my days and will always be, and the physical distance that prevents an easy Sunday afternoon movie or Chinese dinner and makes every visit an event is always a painful reality.
I'll deal with it and so will they. It's the way things are - and it's certainly better to want them more than we see them than to have them sigh with relief when we leave for the airport. And whether we're there or not, their lives are rich and often joyful. And so, I tell myself, at least when I'm missing them, I know they've become the men I would have wished them to be - for their sakes, not ours. And that's a lot. It doesn't put them here next to me -- but it does send with me a quiet peace amid the sadness. That's really all I can - or should - travel with. The rest -- working toward and achieving what they want from their lives and moving forward in the world -- belongs, as it should, to them.
Happy New Year.