My oldest son, Ruben, has been living in New Zealand for the past two and a half years, building a life there with his partner, Janine. Their love story is a little like a modern version of a wartime pen pal story, where gals back home are assigned a soldier to write to, or they slip a note into a random Red Cross care package, and a relationship blossoms into a love story, some lasting most of a century. Ruben and Janine met in a random, online chat room, and hit it off immediately. While the rest of us were not paying much attention, over the next six months, their nightly talks turned into a deep friendship, and their first visit, when Ruben traveled to New Zealand for two months, sealed the deal. They spent the next year or so traveling back and forth, and finally, when they decided that they could no longer be apart, he moved to New Zealand to be with her.
In his senior yearbook, a place was offered for parents to take out “ads”, to include a picture collage, messages, and so on. As a family, we had spent a great deal of time traveling when the boys were growing up, and I was hopeful the love of travel would stick. In his yearbook message, I included the quote, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” (Misattributed, apparently, to Mark Twain.) I meant what I said, but when the time came for it to be more than lip service, I realized just how hard it was going to be to watch him sail away.
After announcing his intentions, he worked and saved for many months. For all of those months, I cried privately, and often not privately, every day. He was setting out to do what I had hoped he would, and what I had told him to do. The very thing that I had hoped I would do. It was hard when he left, but not as bad as the dread leading up to his departure. After he moved away, the nine month stretches between visits felt like much longer. After college, Marc and I moved to California for five years, with nary a look over our shoulders, and the visits home were few and far between. I never gave it any thought, the loss our parents must have felt, because we were on an adventure, we were in love, and we were busy building a new life. So now, we are getting a full dose of our own medicine. The hole left in a family when a child moves away cannot really be filled with phone calls and letters. Thank goodness for social media, Skype, unlimited calling plans. We have it so much easier than our parents did 30 years ago.
Ruben’s time in New Zealand has been dictated by visa deadlines, and punctuated by grapples with immigration applications, health checks, background checks, lost and delayed paperwork, frustration with a bureaucracy he was just learning. Once he decided he liked it there, and found a job he enjoyed, he wanted to live without the worry of having to leave. So when he announced during a Skype chat that he was going to apply for residency, I could tell by the look on his face that he was worried we would not like the idea. We understood, and he proceeded, including a letter of recommendation from Janine’s parents. When he asked us to write a letter of recommendation to add to his application, we agreed to do it. I thought about it every day, but I was unable to put anything concrete together. It wasn’t that I forgot, and it wasn’t that I disapproved. I just was unable, and I am still unsure why. A month passed, and Marc, frustrated with my procrastination, wrote his own letter, and gave it to me to read, but never sent it himself, and I didn’t forward it. Yesterday, Ruben got the approval he had been waiting for, without needing to include our letter. And instead of feeling relieved that now I would not have to do it, I realized that I was in danger of losing an opportunity to tell him how I felt about his maturity, his bravery, his relationship with his lovely partner. I knew in my heart that what he wanted was my approval, and my blessing, not a letter to staple to his application. And that if I did not give him that, the void would grow and grow, like a river eroding a canyon.
Words matter to me. Spoken words, I tend to fling haphazardly, foolishly thinking that when they disappear on the breeze, they are gone. But written words, ones that can be pulled up again and again as evidence of treachery, or pieces of treasure, those I am stingy with. I think, I draft, I rewrite and revise, and rewrite again. So now that I don’t have to edit my words to fit in a box to be checked off, I can write what is in my heart:
Ruben, I am so proud of the man you are becoming. You are kind, capable, resourceful, honest, hardworking, resilient, self-sufficient, optimistic. You headed off into the unknown with a confidence that took my breath away. In every situation, you offer your best. You are a rock for Janine to lean on, and a partner that can be trusted to keep her safe. Janine, you are gracious, clever, open-minded, creative, compassionate, funny, giving. Your bravery also astounds me. Together, you make a better whole. You have each other’s best interests at heart, and that is evident in everything you do. The maturity of your union puts most adult relationships to shame. No drama, no testing, just patience, acceptance, nurturing and love. It is a happy miracle that you found each other, and it is a blessing for the rest of us to watch you grow together. Every parent dreams that their children will be happy, peaceful, fulfilled, and challenged to live up to their full potential. I see that happening for you, and even though tears are running down my face as I write this, I am happy for you. And even though you are 7,199 miles away, give or take, and you live in an alternate reality in which today is already tomorrow, you reside within my heart, as close as when you were growing next to it.
So, dear one, you have my blessing, my approval, and you did not need it to accomplish your goal. New Zealand is lucky to have you. You did it on your own, which makes me beyond proud. When you look back on your life, you will not be disappointed in your leap of faith. You are learning to adjust your sails to the wind, and exploring new lands. Just as I always hoped you would.