My oldest son came to visit for almost a week, from all the way across the country. It’s been almost a decade since he has lived at home, if you count the college years. He has a successful career, a life very exciting and dynamic and full of surprises in a big city. He lives in sunny southern California, which boasts ideal weather, and lots to do … so much more than what there is here.
A mother looks forward to the day she works herself out of a job, and the task of officially raising a child is complete. But then, when the day comes, the independence of her offspring is bittersweet. Yay! She thinks … well, kind of.
No one tells her when she is rocking her little lad, spooning Gerber’s best into his cute, little scrunched up mouth, or helping him learn to tie his shoes or ride a bike, or advising him on politeness before his first formal dance, that there really and truly will be a day when there’s not much left for her to do for him. Part of her wonders, when he is a full grown adult, what role she could possibly play in his life then. Deep in her heart, longingly, she asks herself, “How can I draw him back, now and again? What, with all he now has, can I possibly offer that he’ll need or want?”
While my son was here, I couldn’t soak up enough time with him. I did mostly what I normally do — I cooked a lot — steaks, traditional Lebanese food, and eggs and sausage every morning. We went bowling as a family, to the movies, and even had a night playing euchre. My son took his sisters to the coffee shop and pondered life with them. Still, I had this lingering feeling that it wasn’t enough, that it didn’t compare to the sparkly and exciting life he created for himself in a city far away.
One late afternoon, I spontaneously asked my son, “Hey, do you want to go cross-country skiing? You could use dad’s skis, and we could just go here on the property?”
My schedule is usually pretty tight. If I’m not busy with housework and schooling, then I am so with driving, and organizing and otherwise managing this busy household. But I know time with my son is precious and rare, and the snow on our acreage was beginning to melt, so I pushed the other demands aside, and waited hopefully for my son’s answer.
“Yes!” he said.
My son, at the ripe old age of 28, had never been cross-country skiing, but you know, there’s not much to it. You don the boots, step into the skis, use the poles for guides and just start gliding. He was game.
Living on the West Coast, he did not own a proper winter coat, so he rummaged through his old closet to find his wool letter jacket from high school and an old knitted hat from the ‘90s. I found him some gloves and grabbed the ski equipment from the pole barn. Melt my heart — he was my boy again!
“How do you do this?” he asked, after snapping his boots to his skis.
“Just start out walking, in long, gliding steps, and alternate using the poles to balance, pull or brace yourself.”
Off we went in the fresh air, glistening snow and setting sun.
I’ve been told that women relate best and bond deepest over intense conversation, and that men do so over a shared activity. That’s why women can sit in a coffee shop for hours with a friend, bonding intimately, and guys prefer hunting, golfing, fishing — that sort of thing — with their buddies to cement their friendship. Well, I’ll tell you that cross-country skiing is the best of both gendered worlds. The activity is vigorous, but not so much that you can’t hold a great conversation, and nothing beats being able to stop to take a picture or enjoy a beautiful view of sunlight filtering through trees. The snow makes sounds muffled and soft. This natural insulation effect is calming. It’s a perfect set up.
My son and I chatted about principles, talked about religion and pondered life while gliding down little hills, and skiing in sync over a flat trail, and putting in more effort up a small incline. There was a chance for a bit of chivalry on his part too; he offered his hand when I misjudged my skill and went too fast, plopping down on my rear end on the shiny, white snow.
We stopped to look at animal tracks. “What do you think those are?” he curiously asked.
“Hmmm … big dog … or coyote. Wait, those are definitely coyote.”
“Well, there’s a bunch of them.”
“We’ll get in before dark.”
By the end of an hour and a half, the temperature dropped and we were cold, wet and laughing. I had toppled again, no doubt my bad knee contributing to my demise. It was time to go in.
Before we left, we lingered to look at the reddish orange and pink cloud streaks decorating the sky like a painting, as the sun began to drop low on the horizon. For a moment we stood together in silence, admiring God’s handiwork.
“I like it out here,” my son said.
“You can breathe,” he paused. “You can think.”
I nodded, imagining his apartment and the big city lights that awaited him. His world there was bustling, exciting … intense, hard. His work was competitive and building a career was tiring. His old home here, by contrast, is forever welcoming, full of love … and God’s natural beauty. It is an oasis I can offer. It is something I can forever give. I began — right then — to understand what I can still offer this young man. Family. Peace. Love. An encounter with God. I can offer him the comfort, no matter how old he is or how many kids he eventually has, of a past, a present and a forever HOME.