My biological sons have some time yet before they will fly into adulthood. However, I have entered the second half of my seventh year as a fellowships adviser. My first blog for UVenus explained my state of being as Mater de facto et de jure. In 2010, I had yet to grasp the full impact of my de facto children would play as precursors to the triumphs and traumas of motherhood yet to come.
On January 31st, I watched the first student I both taught and advised appear on MSNBC to discuss a brilliant piece he wrote for Slate. It seems impossible that six years have passed since I spilled red ink on his seminar papers. A poised and articulate young professional appeared on the screen before me, and I could not breathe. A profound sense of loss accompanied my joy at his accomplishment. He has flown the nest; he does not need me.
Next month I will introduce another former advisee at a campus event – as a fellow faculty member. Again, as I compose my words of praise, the memory of our first meeting remains burned in my memory. The lapsed years seem like seconds. I know this is how motherhood feels. I know that my babies first screams upon exiting the womb still echo in my ears as they approach puberty. From the sublime ache associated with my students’ successes, I can only imagine the acuity of the pleasure and the pain that awaits me as my boys become men.
My mother aided other mothers as an adoption counselor. She kept two poems framed on her office wall, which she gave me when she retired at the same time that I quit my tenure-line job to be at home with my newborn and three-year-old sons. They still hang in our family room.
Parents’ Creed by Khalil Gibran
And a Woman who held a babe against her bosom said: Speak to us of Children.
And he said: your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you, they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
A Poem On Children by Margaret Mead
That I be not a restless ghost
Who haunts your footsteps as they pass
Beyond the point where you have left
Me standing in the newsprung grass,
You must be free to take a path
Whose end I feel no need to know,
No irking fever to be sure
You went where I would have you go.
Those who would fence the future in
Between two walls of well-laid stones
But lay a ghost walk for themselves
A dreary walk for dust bones
So you can go without regret
Away from this familiar land
Leaving your kiss upon my hair
And all the future in your hands.
My mother counseled birthmothers who let their babies leave within hours of their births and adoptive mothers who would devote their lives to the fruit of another woman’s womb. She taught me long before I became a mother the many forms motherhood takes. Every mother embarks on a treacherous journey of joy and sorrow. We each want our children to thrive without us yet grieve their absence whether we part at two days or twenty-two years.
I can see a wonderful future in the capable hands of my advisees whose arrows I have already sent forth at alarming speed. I hope I muster the strength to launch my sons into the world with similar force and survive the emotional tsunami in their wake.
This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed