"Love Your Mother"

Once when my children were in their early teens, I did a ceremony in the back yard with them. Kneeling on the grass, as they stood watching skeptically, I patted the ground and said, "The Earth is your mother.
11/18/2013 05:53 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Once when my children were in their early teens, I did a ceremony in the back yard with them. Kneeling on the grass, as they stood watching skeptically, I patted the ground and said, "The Earth is your mother. I am just your personal mother." What I meant was that should I fail them or not be there, the power of Mother Earth was ever so much stronger to take care of them.

Now I wonder if that event is not some joke on me. For as they have turned away and given their attention to much else, I have felt excruciating loss.

While much media attention is paid to the topic of parents raising children or adults caring for elderly parents in their final years, relatively no light is shed on being a parent of adult children. And yet most of us parents suffer at some point or another. Why? Is it simply that "Adult children" are no longer children? While I'm grateful that my son and daughter lead satisfying lives, I have plenty of complaints.

When my children emerged from my body, I held them close to my heart. I fed, rocked, propped up, caught, planned for, and fought battles on their behalf. From college on, each went their separate ways. But, at each move further away, my heart ripped and unraveled.

Ironically, my daughter marries a journalist, as is her father, and their daily routine will look just like it was at our home. Also, ironic is the way my son's wife takes charge as I did in my marriage.

I want to establish rapport with their spouses but it doesn't come easily. I quickly learn not to give advice or an opinion, to keep my own life full.

I admit that when I was an adult child, married, and a mother, whenever a parent visited, I stressed over organizing the meals and activities.

When I ask my son and daughter to have weekly telephone calls and visits about four times a year because of how far apart we live, both balk at a regular schedule, citing control. I will call and email my son but he doesn't respond. Months go by in which I pass through rage, sadness, despair, and then he'll call with good cheer, leaving me speechless. My daughter will cooperate with talking every couple of weeks but some conversations are flat as a plastic plate. Neither ever wants to "talk things over."

Garrison Keillor has created a skit on "Prairie Home Companion" in which the mother calls to invite him for a holiday. When he says that he has made other plans, she goes into a long litany of suffering -- how much pain he caused being born, etc., etc. -- and how (sob, sob) she'll go buy a coffin and bury herself alive. It ends with her crying hysterically -- and as soon as he says he'll come after all, she quickly recovers and asks him to bring a pie. Everyone laughs.

When I visit my daughter with her new baby, she sits in a gliding chair as she nurses, and I sit on the floor with my back against a peach pillow pressed to the wall. She and I talk softly. I am glad to be enveloped in that peaceful aura.

As the years pass, I greatly enjoy playing with my granddaughter and getting coffees/lunches with my daughter. Once I have a dream in which I look at my face, which is superimposed over my daughter's, and then granddaughter's. A visit centers me in a special way.

Months will go by though before it can happen again. The older I get the more urgent I feel about seeing her and my son. That tension peaks when I start feeling like never reaching out to them at all. Isn't there anything about me that they love? Then, I remember Garrison and his "mother."

An invitation comes to visit my son for a weekend. Their daughter is going to perform in "cheer dancing" -- a gymnastic/dance competition. It turns out that the first day will be on my son's birthday, and I email my son's wife, asking to help celebrate it. But when my plane has landed and I reach the house at 8 p.m., a plate of apple crisp is left for me to eat on my own. She and my granddaughter are already in bed. Friday their daughter is kept home so I can play with her while they work.

The cheer-dance competition turns out to be all day Saturday and Sunday. Mostly it involves waiting for one's turn in a hotel lobby with countless other teams. Nothing to do but walk around the hotel. No one joins me. On Sunday I am taken early to the airport since it is close by. No attempt to linger for a walk or talk. At the airport I can barely force out "Goodbye."

The car in front of me has the bumper sticker on it with planet Earth and the slogan, "Love your Mother." I wish it meant me.