“Are you having a good Thanksgiving?” I ask. I’m perched on a trunk in Dan’s mother’s bedroom talking on my cell phone. From the other room I can hear Dan and his twin brother laughing as they talk on extensions to their sister in Nashville. I can also hear their mom and step-dad clattering around their small kitchen making coffee and tea.
“Yeah,” Ethan says. He’s spending the holiday with Richard, his girlfriend, and her family. “We had three kinds of pies.”
“That sounds great, honey. What kinds?”
“Cranberry apple, espresso, and peach.”
“Espresso pie? They’ll probably have to pull you off the ceiling tonight.”
Ethan chuckles. “Yeah. It was good, but the peach was my favorite.”
“We’re about to have pumpkin pie,” I tell him. Then, without planning to, I add, “I miss you.”
“I know,” he says, sounding very grown up. “I miss you too.”
This isn’t the first time Ethan and I have been apart for a holiday. Last year, he went on a snowboarding trip with Richard over Christmas. I was at Dan’s where we trimmed our small tree and listened to carols on the stereo. Because it’s not my holiday, it didn’t feel particularly hard not to have Ethan with us. Hanukkah had fallen early so he and I had already celebrated together, lighting the candles each night, singing the prayers, and gorging on donuts and potato latkes. By the time he left for his trip, the holidays were over at our house.
Nonetheless, until now, he’s always been with me for Thanksgiving.
“Dad made plans,” he’d said with a shrug the week before. I felt disappointed but knew there was nothing I could say. For years it had been a given that Ethan and I spent Thanksgiving together. Richard never used to have anything special — or especially kid-friendly — in mind. So I’d go ahead and make plans, then tell him after the fact. But things are different now. Richard has a partner, and with her comes a new branch to Ethan’s family.
“Okay,” I’d responded in what I thought was a neutral tone.
“Now you’re making me feel guilty,” he said.
The night before we parted for the weekend, I made one of Ethan’s favorite dinners — chicken française with ravioli and a big salad.
“This will be our pre-Thanksgiving dinner,” I said. “Would you like to tell me something you feel thankful for?”
“Sure.” Ethan responded. “I’m thankful that I’m able to handle all my work for high school.”
“That’s a great thing to be thankful for.” I felt proud of him, and proud of myself for fitting this little bit of the holiday into our evening. I’m generally a late bloomer, but because I’ve shared custody of Ethan since before he was four years old, I managed to develop the skill of letting go relatively early.
My parents were good models. As a teenager, I did quite a bit of traveling on my own. At fourteen, I’d take the hour-and-a-half long subway ride from Queens to the Port Authority where I’d catch a bus to Albany to spend the weekend with a friend. At sixteen I flew to California to spend ten days with my half siblings whom, at the time, I barely knew. Two years later, as I thumbed through the catalogue for the summer program of a poetry school in Colorado, my mom told me, “This is one thing I know I did right. I allowed you to build the confidence to be away from us.”
That really struck me. Because I’m both disabled and the baby of the family, I was pretty coddled at home. My mom would rush to prepare my snacks, do all my laundry and cleaning up, and even check to make sure my shoes were tied tightly enough. It seems out of character that she let me travel so freely, but she did. The lesson I gleaned from being allowed to have my own adventures is one I wouldn’t trade for any of the homemaking skills I was late to develop. I learned that the world is a big and varied place and that I can move around just fine in it.
Meanwhile, this letting go, or maybe it’s moving over, where Ethan is concerned, has become a daily practice. He gets so much homework, we rarely watch movies in the evenings anymore. Then, after all that studying, he’s no longer interested in reading together before bed. And of course, on weekends, he’s usually busy with friends.
Recently, Ethan’s been after me to take him clothes shopping. But every time I suggest a time, he has other plans.
“Maybe we can go next Saturday if none of my friends can hang out,” he suggested.
“Oh, honey. That makes me feel so special,” I teased.
“You’re my mom,” he responded. “I love you. But that doesn’t mean I want to hang out with you.”
“Ouch,” Dan said when I told him about the conversation later that night.
I laughed. “It’s fine. My mom used to say to me, ‘I can meet you this weekend if you like, but if you have a chance to be with friends, go for it.'”
It’s kind of ironic that my mom — who could be so generous with her absence — has been so present to me lately. She gave me the space to go about finding my own people and my own way. In turn, I’m able to love that Ethan’s been doing such a good job of being out in the world and finding his chosen family.
I think about all this as I sit down to pumpkin pie and tea with mine.