I do travel by plane a bit for work, as miserably evidenced by my last post. For that work, Georgia is as far afield as I have ever gotten. Still, that’s pretty far for me, and in my personal travels, I just about never leave New England. This past weekend, however, we drove out to Rochester, New York to see long-lost friends (we lost them to Arizona. A terrible thing.) who were visiting family there. Rochester was about as far north and east as they are likely to be, so off we went, driving.
We are New Englanders, and so small staters. Maine seems outrageously large to us. But New York is bigger still. The boys were bewildered that we could drive for hours and still be in New York. Rochester is a cool little city, and I wish we could have seen a bit more of it than a day and half affords. But by Sunday afternoon, it was time to head back east again. We had arrived after dark on Friday night, and we were leaving in broad, glaring daylight, so the landscape was fully visible. On either side of the road, flat fields opened out. I remarked on the flatness, and Christophe responded, “Rochester is less a city of the northeast, and more the first city of the midwest.” Sage, that guy. It’s not just one thing, of course, that sets one place apart from another. When we passed between the cliff faces left where a hill had been blasted away to make room for the Thruway, there was neat, tile-stacked shale instead of solid granite. Gradually, hills began to appear, and at Albany, unable to face the drive on the Turnpike through Massachusetts, we took the back way through Vermont instead. We toured the smaller roads where relic motels of the 50s motoring age sat mouldering and vacant. The road dipped and turned alongside cobbled rivers, and we were hemmed in closer and closer by green forest on all sides. We ate lunch in Brattleboro, Vermont, where vegan cafes are on every corner, and the smell of pot, patchouli and incense seems to hang in a cloud running the entire length of the Connecticut River, and I was brought to mind of my years at UMass, and felt the tug of home.
Malcolm had been quiet a while, and suddenly announced that he had finished his reading–a chapter book of a hundred pages or more. He’s been reading well for some time now, but this was reading an entire book on his own, asking for only two words’ meanings: novices and initiation. This is a world I’ve been waiting for him to enter, remembering the trips I would take as a child to the library on my own, to get stacks of books to read on my own. Wholly self-sufficient, it seemed to me, and my memories of the summers when I was seven, eight, nine, seem to have no parents or other adults in them at all. That’s the part of it that had not hit me until now. His first big book, read start to finish without me. All the other stories and characters we’ve carried in our heads jointly, simultaneously. Mutually understood small references to what we’d been reading in our universe unto ourselves. He announced he’d finished his book, and I felt more sundered from him than at the moment he was born and his tether to me was cut. He began leaving me then, but it took six years and a book to make me notice it.
By now, Simon had taken a nap and was reanimated and philosophical. Malcolm drifted off to sleep, and Simon, four years old and lacking any self-sufficiency, began peppering me with his usual questions. “Mum, why is the road so tippy?” “Mum, am I so great and so beautiful?” “Mum, what’s this stuff in my ear? I call it ‘ear fug'” and finally, this one, that struck me hard, because he’s my younger son, and no one after him, and soon he will stop asking this kind of question, and enter the solid, sensible realm of all the grown-ups,
“Mum? Do you remember when you were a tiny baby and I was way back nowhere?”