Back when I was still living in New England and my boy was a senior in college, we decided on a road trip. I had high hopes of mother/son time, but the drive began in silence.
As I maneuvered in the harsh steady rain, my 21-year-old breathed slowly and steadily, sound asleep as the car whipped through the Connecticut highway puddles. We were on our way to Delaware, a 7-hour drive in good weather, to visit my father, Sean’s grandfather. I had been amazed when Sean offered to lose a weekend at college, one of the last few remaining ones before he graduated in a month. When I picked him up from his Boston campus at 10 a.m., the rain began to plop plop plop. Sean had always been a sucker for the rhythmic motion of a rainstorm. It put him to sleep when he was a child, and here he was, no longer a boy, sandpaper fuzz on his face because he’d been up all night finishing a paper, head tilted sideways in a posture of child-like vulnerability, mouth open, eyes closed to dreams I’d never know.
Every week I’d call Sean when he was in school, conversation difficult because the background noise was always deafening. I could just see those randy young men skidding down the fraternity house hallways like half grown pups, drinking, laughing, shouting at the top of their throats just because they could. Sean must do that to, but at home, he was always just quiet. When he offered to drive with me to Pop Pop’s, my first thought was “ah ha! I’ll have him all to myself. Now he’ll talk!” But instead, he was snoring, and I was holding myself as stiff as a board, hovered over the steering wheel like an old woman protecting a treasure, trying to see at least four feet in front of me as we raced 60 miles per hour in the messy storm.
An hour later, the rain lightened up, and as if on signal, Sean yawned and stretched and looked out the window. “Oh, this isn’t too bad,” he said, and I would have strangled him except my two hands were clenched on either side of the wheel.
“Hmmmm,” I muttered.
“What have we got here?” Sean asked as he turned to the back seat and inspected the cooler I had wisely brought along. Not only had I stocked it with casseroles and a cake for my dad, but also sandwiches and drinks for our lunch on the drive down. “Wow Mom, you’re awesome,” he said as he brought out a ham and Swiss cheese sub and two diet cokes.
“Hmmmmm,” I replied a little more lightheartedly. I surfed through the radio stations, trying to find some music that we both would like.
“Wait, I have a better idea,” he said, and he reached in his backpack and pulled out his portable CD collection. Oh no, I moaned to myself. With my luck, it would be rap or some avant-garde music that I’d absolutely hate. I never could determine Sean’s music taste. One minute he listened to Beethoven, the next minute to Eminem. The music began. Classic Beatles – the HELP CD. I looked at him sharply.
“You don’t have to…”
“I love this CD, Mom,” he said. We both began singing the words out loud and out of tune: “I’ve just seen a face I can’t forget the name or place ..”
“You listen to this at college?” I asked as we laughed with the last note.
“All the time,” he said. “You got me to appreciate good music. Growing up, thanks to you, I never heard anything but the Beatles and classic 60’s rock and roll. It’s the best.”
I nodded my head in agreement.
“You okay Mom? Want me to drive a little?”
“No, I’m fine. Just a little worried about Pop Pop.”
“Yeah, that’s why I wanted to come. I don’t get to see him that much. We’ll just hang out with him, play Checkers, take him to the grocery store, play more Checkers, watch him smoke…”
“You okay with that?”
“Yeah, and it will help you out. I didn’t want you driving down here by yourself. And it gives us time to talk. We never have time to just talk, you know? I’m too busy with school, you’re busy with your work and writing and stuff. I’m worried. What if I don’t find a job? What if I have to come home? I’ll die….
We both laugh here.
“And after four years at an expensive college, I end up being a waiter? I’m worried. And I’m not dating anyone because I don’t know where I’ll be and that’s stupid to get interested in someone when who knows what the next year will bring. You know? Why didn’t I listen to you guys and go for an engineering degree? I don’t know, I wish you’d made me….”
He went on and on. And on. I listened to the Beatles, listened to my son talk like he was 8 again, and felt renewed as a mom, renewed as a friend to my growing up son. The sun suddenly burst through the clouds, and my eyes got a little wet.
“Mom? You okay?”
“Just need my sunglasses,” I lied. And then I listened some more.