Mothers are the modern-day ladies-in-waiting. We wait nine months for our babies to be born. We wait in offices to hear if our kids need braces, made the honor roll, have detention. We wait at the playground. We wait to hear them come in at night. We wait to hear if they got into college. Mostly, raising kids is a waiting game.
I thought that the waiting was over, now that my kids are in college. But it isn't. It may never be. After all, there's waiting for graduation, graduate school, first job, first (and, we hope, only) wedding, first grandchild, and on it goes.
But after so many years of wondering what's next, and almost missing it when it happens because I was so preoccupied with wondering what's next, I've come to see waiting as a good thing, not passive or wasteful. Waiting can also mean watching and patient expectation of good for someone (like one's children) and for oneself. Waiting is something all writers need to not only do, but enjoy doing. Ah, there's the rub. How does one learn to love waiting?
I caught a glimpse (felt a glimpse?) of how good waiting can feel two summers ago. I was sitting in a cafe on Bleecker Street. In New York City. Waiting while my daughter was having an interview for a summer internship. I really didn't have to be there. My daughter was 19. She could cross the street on her own, without holding my hand. She does look both ways. Most days.
But I was there anyway, because she'd asked me and because I wanted to be there. Because independent young women still need their moms. And moms still need to be needed. I used my waiting time wisely. I wrote, I sipped a cold beverage, and I did a bit of thinking. Not a bad way to spend the day.
Forty-some years ago Joni Mitchell wrote a song called "Tin Angel." The last line is, "In a Bleecker street cafe/ I found someone to love today."
I couldn't get enough of that song when I was 19, when I was my daughter's age. The song was all about bittersweet romantic love, leaving and losing and changing partners. Finding oneself in another. Even back then, after about the 99th time I listened to that lovely tune, I had to say, Come on. Get real. Life is a lot more than falling in love. Life is about finding what you love to do, and doing it well. Life is as much about looking outward as looking inward.
In the years since our son and daughter left home I've learned a few things about myself, about the so-called empty nest. First, it's not so empty. Kids do come back with news of their new worlds, with laundry, with love. Second, I picked a life partner very well. So staying in love is easy. That's not to say we don't fight. But staying mad is hard when you've married the right person, someone who sees the best in you and demands that you see it, too.
So I'm not 19 anymore (thank goodness) and neither is my daughter. She got that internship, by the way, and now she has an even better one.
But two years ago, when that long-loved song played in my head, underscoring my thoughts about the future – not only my daughter's future, but mine, too – I realized that, yes, today in a Bleecker Street cafe I found not exactly someone to love, but something, an ineffable thing. Not the past, not the future, not time at all. What I learned that day is that I love now. So the waiting is over; it never really began. You don't have to wait for the present. It's a gift. Forever.
The now that was now then is still with me. Now. Another now is on its way. And if I remember that all we have is now, I won't miss it.