We have been anticipating the wedding of Mike and Kathryn for more than a year.
For weeks we have chased last minute details. The phone has hummed with Mike to Mom questions, or Mom to Mike instructions. We have buzzed with activity, and now there is an eerie silence. The wedding weekend has passed. It was perfect, and I am overwhelmed with memories and happiness.
It was all beautiful and wonderful. I had a slushy week leading to the wedding, tears always ready to appear. Maybe I was tired. Or maybe it was because every good mother knows she is passing the primary nurturing and counseling duties to another woman. She will hear the fears and frustrations. Kathryn is a very good woman, and a kind one. Mike is in good hands.
I did not feel this way when Patrick was married, and I will not feel this way when Matt does. Patrick was a self-contained kid and he rarely needed much from me in the way of support. We are so much alike that we think as one. Matt keeps his softer side hidden. He is not much for day to day contact, and resents my intrusions into his life. Mike has been the one who depended on my sturdy cheerleading and hard Momwork.
Mike has unburdened his heart to me since he first spoke. I am unconditional, supportive, therapeutic and safe in my love. It has been a big job and a big honor to be so trusted. It has meant cutting tags from all his clothes, aligning sock seams so they will not drive him nuts, and consoling him when he was cut from teams that his friends would play on. It meant taking him to doctors and physical therapists so he could learn to calm his nerve endings and rewire his brain. I tussled with the educational system until he was accommodated. I chose to be “extra credit” rather than remediation, so I would not ever hold a mirror to Mike’s shortcomings. It meant that we read together at night, aloud, so his lapses would fade in our vocal harmony. We sobbed together at Bridge to Terabithia, a chapter book that seemed too enormous for him until we did it together. He would not stay away from home for a sleepover, and I would scoop him up after his friends fell asleep, waiting on a driveway with his backpack. In return, Mike rescued me from a rope bridge he was terrified to walk on when I sprained my ankle 20 years ago. He called the vet to inquire about disposal of a 90 pound Labrador when she died at home and I was too convulsed with sadness to do much but sit in the living room and stroke her fur. He calls, visits, cares. It is a reciprocal relationship. We give, we get.
One day, Mike saw that he needed to dominate his fears. He became self-propelled. He made himself go off to camp without tears. He got up on a horse that terrified him, and he rode. He went to Mexico and lived with a family of strangers. He ran for class president, and kept the office for four years. He accepted his sports limitations, and tried out for choirs and musicals. He didn’t always succeed, but he kept pushing. He asked for help when he needed it. And then he made himself master one skill at a time. He applied to U of I although test taking was not a strong suit, and he made it in. When it came time to join a fraternity, he made one thing clear: his friends were a package. All or none. He is still that man: loyal, kind and determined. When he stood on the altar, there was scarcely room for his pack of groomsmen, and he had to cut out some of his dear friends. Three women who tutored and mentored him throughout high school were present, proud to have contributed to his adulthood. He is grateful, and he says so. He remembers.
Mike has great friends; he is a great friend. Once you are part of Mike’s pack, you are there forever. He will fight for you, forgive you, care for you. You are enriched by his presence in your life.
His gentle soul is encased in the persona of Mr. Congeniality. People see him as confident. I, however, know he stews every night about what the next day will bring. He gets his clothes ready. Plans his transportation. He anticipates each problem. He cannot sleep. He worries. I know this, because I have guarded his heart. Kathryn knows it, because she loves him. He will try to disguise his uncertainty, because he wants to be strong. She will have to see through his bluster to be the soft spot for him to land. It is a big role, and her heart is perfectly tuned for it.
That is why I was fragile and sentimental for the week. When you are the repository for secrets and fears as a child grows up, you may wish to overprotect him. Mike pushed off, long ago. Still, only I knew he stashed his tattered baby blanket in his college freshman stuff. I doubt if it was touched, but it was there. It soon made its way home, acknowledged only in the silent language of Mother love. I know where it is today. I also know he hasn’t needed a touchstone for years. He also does not need a mother these days. He has a wife. But I am still here.
The softer Irish side of Janet Dahl disappeared last Friday at the rehearsal dinner. German Janet took over. If I was overly sentimental, our symbiosis meant he would be, too. That was not going to happen. Mike asked Steve and me to visit him before the ceremony in case he was unraveling, and we did. I was happy and wisecracking. He was calm. He did what Mike does- worry ahead of time, so he could get the jitters out of the way.
There was only one moment when his composure wavered. That was when he saw his beautiful, sparkling bride coming down the aisle to him. He was overwhelmed with gratitude and joy. I have always been able to read Mike’s emotions like a book, and on this day, the book was a fairy tale with a happy ending.
For the next few days I will fill in some details about the wedding itself and such- but first, I had to express why this day was so powerful for me. I know all mothers understand- you build the nest, strengthen the wings, push them- and they fly away. When you are lucky, they look back as they move to a place of shelter and love.
I believe that I am just that fortunate.