Sunday, November 21, 2010

Calling Home

College Arabella has settled in quite nicely at school. Despite a few bouts of homesickness and an 8am-Fitness-Class-That-Must-Not-Be-Named, she's taken the college tiger, or, uh Cardinal, by the tail and is doing well.

We were talking on the phone the other day, in what was our longest conversation to date since she's been at college, including the times I've visited. Our conversations are usually hurried and frantic and always involve several of her friends and a television in the background. Imagine my surprise where this was a conversation where she actually wanted to...well...talk.

We parents/guardians were warned at orientation that conversations with college students can take on a surreal quality. For them, the conversation may not be about conveying information or actually conversing. The phone actually creates a space where the student is bridging the gap between college and home. So we did talk for quite some time and then, gradually, she began to drift into watching tv while I was on the phone.

At first I was a bit annoyed by her distraction. And it's only now, writing this that I understand our conversation was, for her, as if she were home and we were watching television together. She began relaying the events on television to me and even though I was quite ready to move on, something told me not to disengage her just yet. What I wanted was a conversation - how are you, are you eating, how are your classes. What she needed was the easy banter of being at home - a conversation punctuated by the silence of shared television watching and then picking up the conversation or starting a totally new track.

One bit of the conversation took an interesting turn. She was describing someone at school, who she feels is effortlessly funny. Even without trying, this girl keeps the class in stitches.

I replied that I tend to be that person at school and at work. I often don't mean to be funny - and it's generally when I'm most sincere that people find what I'm saying hillarious - and when I try to be funny, my jokes mostly fall flat. But the modified class clown act, tends to be mine.

"I don't think I know you at all," CollegeArabella replied, her meaning immediately plain to me. I knew she'd be surprised when I said it. She knows me as, what we affectionately call, The Mommy Person. The mommy who joined the PTA and made rice krispie treats and cupcakes when she was young, although no one was really fooled by that woman at all, least of all me. The one who lectures, scolds, hugs and cures all known illnesses with chicken noodle soup and jello. Mommy who dispenses advice that is always belatedly taken by a reluctant teen.

And although she's had several epiphanies that I had a life before she was born, I don't think it ever quite occured to her that I had an entire existence that didn't quite include her since she's been here. That I can tell a decent knock-knock joke and am prone to odd puns and falling back on shared movie references to illustrate my points, is the limit of my sense of humor as far as she's concerned. She see's me as lamely humorous, the way most children view their parents. That others may see me in another light, was nothing short of a minor epiphany for her.

Her comment was very astute. She doesn't really know me. She knows The Mommy Person and this is not entirely my fault. She made it plain, when she was younger that The Mommy Person is who she expected me to be. And so that's who I became with some minor points of rebellion where Grandma has filled in the gaps nicely; taking her to Church and Sunday School reguarly, making sure she went to daycamp every summer where I would have left her home to her own devices as I had been. Between my mother, Ye Olde Matey and me, we've given her, if not exactly a golden growing up, then definitely a rosy one. We look back on her growing up years through a lens that is dusty with dog hair and chipped around the edges in a few places by my early anger issues - but it's not a painful lens. If we'd only known then, what those days would mean to us now.

I thought for a long moment. Of so much I could have told her...so much I wanted to say...so much she needed to know. So many things I could have shared, but in the end, things that will bide their time.

What I finally said was a bit between reality and honesty.

"No, I don't think you know me at all. I'm not even sure you'd like me, " I chuckled, grinning into the phone. "But you like the Mommy Person." It was nearly a question, but more a confirmation.

"I love the Mommy Person," she said with affection and sureness, her voice holding the slightly fierce quality of her hugs that I miss so much.

So there it was at last. She knows and I know. Who I've been all these years is my expression of the depth of my love for her. But it's not exactly who I am. Not really.

So for now...just a bit a longer...that's who I'll be.

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