Privilege Blog

Imaginary Birthday Parties For The Far Away, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:50am

Tomorrow my son, my youngest child, turns 24.

I asked him what he wanted and at first he thought maybe a watch, but then decided maybe just a Timex, and then decided, “Um.” So I’ll send him money, and enjoy his stories of how it’s spent.

It’s odd, having children grown and far away. Much better now than when I was young, and far away from home. I do not remember how often I talked to my parents, but it’s possible I failed to call more than once or twice a month. When I was in England, after college, I suppose I wrote them letters on those airmail doohickeys, the ones you had to open carefully so as not to shred.

These days my kids text and Gchat me. Sometimes, when I’m driving, I even insist on a phone conversation. My daughter will volunteer a call herself, when she’s got a long walk underway.

Still, at least once a week, as I go about my extremely pleasant days, puttering in the house, passing the sofa, opening the back door maybe, I think, “I miss my kids.” The thought comes unbidden, just like that.

I’m not even sure what it means. “I miss my kids.” I don’t wish myself back to the days of young ones, sweet and soft though they were. I don’t imagine we’ll live in some sort of extended family housing, a compound. My missing them doesn’t have a concrete outcome attached.

It’s more like the “Where are the kids!” alarm – that starts when they are born – sparks and then realizes, where they are now is their own business. A sort of maternal sputtering.

I wish I could throw my son a birthday party. There’s an outcome. I wish I could rent out a rooftop in San Francisco, or maybe Oakland, since he’s a Brooklynite. I’d hire a fantastic caterer, stock a bar with handsome bartenders, artisanal alcohols, and sage simple syrup. He’d have to ask a friend to put together the iPod playlist, but I’d rent a sound system, bistro chairs and tables, and a dance floor. I’d string the cafe lights.

I’d take him shopping for a whole new outfit, whatever’s de rigueur these days. For comfort, I’d make sure at least 10 people had showed up 20 minutes after the party was due to start. I’d kiss him on the top of the head. Then I’d leave. I’d probably call him Piglet.

Then, maybe, he’d text me. More likely I’d text him. “How was it honey?” In my dream here, he texts back, “It was great mom” And I reply, <3.

In this dream, because it’s me and not an archetypal rounded mother, because he is my son and no one else, it’s important that the heart icon created by my texted characters be just right. Not too puffy, not too bluff, not primary. Not too vintage, not too famous, not mid-century.


Happy birthday honey. Much love from Mom.

36 Responses

  1. Happy 24th birthday to your son! The imaginary party sounds like it would be lots of fun.

    I know how you feel. My youngest son (age 31) lives in London and I haven’t seen him since September. Yes, I miss him.

  2. I know EXACTLY what you mean, since my two eldest were so far away from me for so long. They live their lives and we talk – quite frequently – either on the phone, or in the case of Oldest Son, via Yahoo messenger. I don’t need to care for them anymore (although I’m not adverse to lending a financial hand when it’s needed, and they never abuse it), but I still miss them. Despite the drama and heartbreak of Darling Daughter’s temporary return to the nest, I couldn’t be more thrilled to have her here with me. I don’t have to miss her anymore, at least for the present.

  3. Happy birthday to son! I understand the feeling of having kids far away- our youngest is leaving the nest i August only 16 years old, following in her sister´s footsteps with alpine ski-school away from home. I am so happy that they are independent strong young women but will miss them a lot, the feeling of coming home to an empty house in the afternoon will be strange!

  4. I suspect I’d end up with one of those long, Whoops-I’ve-hijacked-your-blog comments if I say anything more than Happy Birthday to your son, and a big hug to you. . . I will say that it changes in interesting ways over the next decade or so (mine range from almost 29 to almost 38). . . .and I should also say that you articulate your feelings about motherhood beautifully. . .

    1. @Frances/Materfamilias,

      I concur with Frances – this is so beautifully written. I’m in no way a champion of parenting (I struggle) and I can relate, I can feel the love/melancholy/realism of now – so you know you’re hitting a deep maternal edge.

      BTW, will you be my mother?? I want that party Lisa.

  5. Oh this is so sweet! My own will be all of 11 this year and it’s nice, comforting to know how I might feel when he doubles that and more lol!
    Happy Birthday to him :-) and a ((hug)) to you.

  6. I’m so old, I don’t know what that arrow 3 even means, I’ve seen another version of it around and not been able to work that one out either.

    1. @Tabitha, <3 is a heart lying on its side. Sometimes a particular website will change it into an actual heart, right side up and pinkish.

  7. That is perfect. What a lucky boy. I’d die of happiness if I had a rooftop with a view and artesian alcohols. I don’t even drink. Lovely post.

  8. You’ve done a good job of putting into words that mother-with-grown-children feeling. I’m relieved to see that I’m not the only one who has those small moments of panic (not sure that’s the right word). I feel it must get easier, but it’s interesting to me that hardly anyone talks about it. Almost like it’s too tender.

    Happiest of Happy Birthdays to your son. Being 24 in Brooklyn! My daughter is 21 in Brooklyn, and from what I can tell, the world is their oyster.

  9. I am really sick at the moment and can’t look after my son and I miss him so much. I hear a noise and think it’s him then I realise he isn’t here…I can’t really imagine him being grown up and out of the nest but I know I will miss him. I don’t even know what an artisanal drink is but it sounds fancy!

  10. When each of our respective kids (we each have just one) went to college in the Northeast, we moved to NYC, so we’d be closer. We had a great life there, and I love NY. But, inevitably, they both moved back, got seriously involved with a partner, and so, we moved back to LA and live halfway between them. In lots of ways our lives are not as “full” as they were in NY, but it’s a trade-off we both feel comfortable choosing. Both our kids are now married, and have just started families, two granddaughters, 5 weeks apart. I can’t imagine not living near my daughter, and happily now she feels the same way. I got all teary reading your post, and think you’ve done a “better” job at letting go than I have?
    Curious why you (since you’re retired) you didn’t go to NY for your son’s birthday and throw him that party? I probably would have asked when my daughter was your son’s age, and annoyed my daughter beyond belief. Now she’d be thrilled! Sorry for such a long comment.

    1. @kathy, For this birthday, yes, I could have gone, but I didn’t think of it until the day before:). Second, I couldn’t move back East when the kids went to school because I was working in a job that wasn’t mobile, and needed to do so. So in terms of being good at “letting go,” I don’t know. I haven’t let go in my heart, at all. But ever since they were born, I’ve always felt the strength of their own lives even more than my love for them, if that makes sense. I’ve always felt a little still in their presence.

      My guess, given how much I talk to them, is that they’d say I haven’t let go at all:). And since many cultures around the world never let go, I think it might be overrated;).

  11. What a nice post Lisa, and happy birthday to your son. It makes me teary eyed reading this because my son is graduating high school and even though he will be going to USC which is close to us, he will be staying in the dorms there and I am already panicking just over him moving out. He is my only one and even though I know this is good for him, I am still teary eyed everyday but proud and happy at the same time. They grow so fast…

  12. Oh Lisa, you are so beautiful.

    Maybe you should just do that next year. ‘Um’ would become ‘<3' (although I think that might be what it means anyway)

    Have a great weekend!

  13. Teary here too, for the opposite reason. I miss my Mum! We spoke and met regularly (even in my 20s and more so in my 30s) but she died a couple of years ago. I still regularly find things that I’d love to share with her (Most recently The Grand Budapest Hotel – she would have loved that film).

  14. Happy birthday to your son! Such a warm and loving post and I hope he will read it (and feel the emotions you hide behind the lines). And I am pretty sure he loves you, but when one is 24, the world is often seeing in a slightly different light… x

  15. Wow. 24. Feels like a whole other life-space ago. No texting, no cell phones, no iPods, and so forth.

    Quainter times. Yet the impetus for communication never wavers.

    Happy birthday to your youngest. Imagine such celebrations remain similar, regardless of the century.

    Enjoy a nice day yourself, as the mom, musing on the passing of the years.

  16. Happy Birthday to your son!
    I wonder if you shared your dream plans for his celebration, would he have said “do it!”?
    The most difficult thing for me is that my heart has been wrapped around my children their whole life, and now my head is coming to terms with the letting go, but having a battle convincing my heart.
    Beautiful post, thank you. xo

  17. Oh, so dear! Happy birthday, and felicitations to both of you.

    After some years of separation our small family (2 adult sons) and we are now all in the same city; I am deeply grateful every day. Thought the best years were watching them grow from babies to kids but the big surprise has been that the joy of witnessing their development as adults is every bit as wonderful.

  18. Happy Birthday to your son, Lisa, and congratulations to you for raising what appear to be two intelligent young adults who are making their way in the world with all the values that you with which you raised them. I feel the same longing, often, and I am just very grateful for the times we are all together, no matter how few or short.

  19. Very sweet. I’m betting he has a wonderful day and you’ll get your phone call or text albeit perhaps the next day. Happy birthday to your Piglet.

  20. This is such a coincidence. My daughter’s 33rd birthday was Sunday, April 27. Thank you for your beautiful post. Yes, I often have that thought of wondering where they are and what they are doing. This year I was fortunate and she was in town for us to celebrate together – family cookout with her favorite blueberry pie in place of a cake. Hope your son’s birthday was very happy.

    1. @Jane, Happy birthday to your daughter! My son reports that his birthday was exactly how he had imagined it, and great.

  21. Hi Amidprivilege, Firstly Happy 24th birthday to your son and god bless him. I am also a mother , i have 2 children, i even can understand the feeling what a mother feels when his small kids become adult. i read your blog , really found it quit interesting, i will use your idea now for my younger son birthday, thanks for sharing this idea. as i was fail to do anything on my elder son birthday.

    Plz do provide me some new ideas i want to implement now for sure

  22. Lovely post! My children are 36 and 39 (how did that happen?), but I am lucky enough to live in the same state as them. I see my older one quite often, since he is the father of my grandchildren! My younger lives a little farther, and no children. We were much close when he was a child – we don’t see each other often, but we text – it’s the best way to communicate with him!

    The best is seeing how my son functions as a husband and father – it does my heart good!

    I had a friend (she dropped me, which turned out was a key to making my life less complicated!) who absolutely cannot and won’t exist without keeping her children and grandchildren almost in her daily life – she pines for them if she doesn’t see them for a day. She has absolutely NO life outside of them. She thinks I’m a bad mother and grandmother, I know. I feel sorry for her – but that is the life she has chosen. Not for me, thanks!

  23. This too brought tears to my eyes. I have one child, a son who will be 21 this August. He is still at home but I expect within the next year he too will be out on his own completing the remainder of his studies and then what? While he’s still under the same roof I don’t always get a meal nor face-to-fact conversation with him within a given week, but I know he’s there. Although I am excited for his adventures and “his” life to begin, my heart is heavy knowing he’ll be out of my grasp. It seems you have adjusted well. I’m going to keep you in mind when it’s my turn to finally cut the apron strings.

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