The flip side, of course, is the unadulterated joy of being able to actually give our kids something, to do something for them that is so unreasonable, so beyond the bounds of sensible behavior that it could only be inspired by the most selfish, and fulfilling, kind of love.
My first-born, daughter of my dreams, born when I was still a kid just on the cusp of adulthood, came to visit for the past two weeks, before taking off on another of her big adventures. This time she would travel to Berlin to dance. Awed by her courage and jealous of her dedication to her art, I welcomed her visit unabashedly, wondering what, if anything, I could do to make her passage easier.
She has spent almost two years now out of college and is largely financially independent. When she visits, she lets me replenish her underwear, but mostly she takes care of her own needs. I don't have to arrange visits to the eye doctor, or buy a much-needed pair of glasses or contacts -- she has taken care of that herself. Her wardrobe expresses her unique style and no longer requires or wants hand-me-downs from Mom.
But before she left for the airport on Monday morning, one important item was left undone -- her favorite black dress, the only one she would be taking to Berlin, was still at the dry cleaner's, waiting to be picked up.
Her sold-out flight was scheduled to leave at 8:55 a.m., and the dry cleaner opened at 8, so picking the dress up before checking in at the airport was out of the question. In a moment of valiant, motherly inspiration, I devised a plan: I would drop her and her brothers off at the airport just before 8, rush back to the center of town, pick up the dress, and drive back to the airport, hopefully in time to send her off, dress in hand.
Things didn't go exactly as expected. Road construction, school zones and early morning traffic delayed me in both directions. What is usually an 18-minute drive stretched to 25 minutes. The credit card scanner at the dry cleaner's refused to work. I hit every red light between Academy and Powers, then stood idling interminably at Drennen. My car clock read 8:53 a.m. when I pulled up and parked illegally at the check-in curb.
I raced through the lobby to Gate 8 where the agent was handing out stand-by tickets to last minute stragglers. None of my kids were anywhere in sight. I asked the agent at the gate if he could give my daughter her dress, then turned to leave, out of breath and disappointed.
As I walked back up the long corridor, I heard a voice call, "Mom!" and turned to see my beautiful girl, flushed and smiling, chasing me. "I wanted to say goodbye ... thank you so much ... I can't believe you made it ... I'll call you when I get there."
Warm satisfaction swept over me -- I had found something I could give her, and she loved me for it.
That night, I dragged home late from work, a little saddened by the quiet of my house which, the week before, had been filled with the adoring voices of her brothers, with her incessant telephone calls to friends back in California, with the mingled music of all our varied tastes. The boys had gone back to their dad's house, and my daughter now was somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.
The gray cat, Clover, rubbed at my ankles, begging for dinner. I tossed down the car keys and headed for the front porch mailbox.
Beneath the front porch light stood Little Guy, Clover's huge, full-grown son who lives most of the time at a neighbor's house. He howled plaintively. Clover quickly rushed past me to her son, and planted her nose in his butt.
I turned to go in. "Clover," I called, "do you want to come in to eat?" She stood next to her bulky, overgrown boy and looked at me with startled eyes. She hadn't eaten since morning. She glanced at the door, up at me, then back at Little Guy.
He walked down the stairs, and she followed. At the bottom of the landing, they stopped and she began bathing his neck. She would stay out all night with him, I knew, hungry or not, because that's what mothers do.
I went to bed, imagining my daughter in her black dress, dancing through the streets of Berlin.
-- First published in March, 2000. The author's daughter now lives in Brooklyn and has just released her second CD, War Prayers, with the band Young People.