So. I’ve hesitated to write this post. Heck, I’ve not written anything at all for over a week…which surely tells you that I’ve kind of “gone to ground.” I’ve waffled between wondering if I have no words at all left to say/write or if I’ve just got so much too many….
Anyhow, after a week of processing all this, I’ve decided that in order to really follow through on my series about Chris entering the Novitiate, I need to at least give some account of “the dropoff.” I would have given my eye teeth to be able to read another parent/mom’s experience of this uniquely layered event. It might have prepared me a bit more, not that anything really can, of course. But, as you know, this is such a different deal, it’s not dropping your kid off at college, or his first apartment and new job, or going to his wedding….it’s much less common, and has different layers. But in entering the novitiate, he chooses to step OUT of the world and leave it and all things behind, to walk closer to God and a life of prayer. That means even us, to a degree and it’s a kicker. Of course, it’s also different for each and every person and their family. However, this one…it was ours. And…before you recoil in horror, those of you who know me well, rest assured I will try to spare you all the histrionics and be as objective as I can for the reporter value to any mom who comes behind me. Read on:
Call me Mrs. Brown. That’s right, as I pondered how to get through this last month or so with my son before his big exit , I prayed and stewed and then finally came to this realization. I was, in many ways, “the delivery mom.” You know that ad campaign, “What can Brown do for you?”
- Well, I was Mrs. Brown.
- My job was to deliver my boy back to God.
- Via the Novitiate.
His dad and I were delivering our boy, this young man, safely to his next adventure and the next phase of his life. It was our job to get him there safe and sound, with as much support and encouragement as we could muster for his excitement and anticipation of this big day. In short, we had to try (ok, me) to work hard to be happy for him and not steal his thunder with those pesky sparking tears and the difficulty of this change. It was momentous enough for him, he is keenly tuned into the emotional radar of the family and he knew how big this was for his folks and his sibs…no reason to have him have to bear the burden of that sorrow or feel conflicted about looking forward to getting there.
So, I put on my Mrs. Brown hat and we had a great vacation at the beach, we ate meals together, I had him help with big guy chores, he hung out with his dad on a special project (‘nother post that), I cooked all his favorite foods (and didn’t season them with my tears). He was able to visit with friends, and sibs and play bananagrams, whooping us as usual, play music with his brother, laugh joke and relax. I’m telling ya, I begged for prayers during this time and you all pulled through in a huge way as I was cheerful, was ok, and felt like I was wrapped in a a mantle of grace. Really, there is no way I can thank you all for those prayers, except to return the favor, anytime.
Anyhow, so I thought it was going really well and it was. But by his farewell supper, I broke. As we went around the table in our usual way of each person saying what they are thankful for that day…I just kinda broke down into tears. I think the “night before” is always SOO hard. . The night was busy with packing and prep, Chris, his dad, and I ended up staying up too late, well after midnight, despite knowing the tough day ahead. The puppy was a terrific distraction, still is. Finally we all fell to bed for a few hours sleep. The morning came early, I woke with knots in my stomach and hot tears behind my puffy eyes. Tom and Chris went to an early Mass, the kids slept and I got final things ready to load into the car. I’ll spare you the tough details of the next hour or so, but the short version is that they came back and we loaded the car, the kids all woke and then we had to have them say goodbye. It was just as sad and wrenching as you might imagine, for us all. As Chris hugged one, and then another, I went behind him, soothing hugging tears falling all around, tom did the same on the other side. Quickly, hugs had been made, sibs were crying and we had to just go.
And so we did. It was a quiet start, some coffee, a letter dropoff, then heading out of town. Chris looking out the window, me driving to use the distraction. After awhile we all prayed the Office and Morning Prayer together, Chris and Tom reading the prayers while I drove, streaming. It was a beautiful day, hot, sunny. We had five hours of driving ahead. Soon we could start talking and joke a bit here and there, we tried to find some music to listen to but all the songs off his ipod made me cry. I had to box that idea. We settled into sports news and a book on tape. As we got stuck in a huge construction project we took his new rosary, 15 decades, for a spin and prayed them all . That was tough again, that searing cold poker stabbed through my chest, causing tears to stream again, especially in the sorrowful mysteries. What is it about prayer that makes you so vulnerable? Oh, yeah, doh, it’s prayer – opening up that heart. Gee whiz. Ow. Once finished we were pulling into Cincinnati. Perfect timing. Of course.
We had about 30 minutes to kill. So, we went to get him a sandwich. I got a cup of coffee, no eating gonna happen for me, went to freshen up, nervous, knowing we had about one hour left with my boy. Jittery. Tried to make my bullfrog eyed self presentable to meet the Novice Master and anyone else we might have to say hello to. Don’t want them to think his folks are unstable or horrible, right? Sigh. Fail. I not sure there IS makeup that can cover up a nose like that or cheeks flushed. Give up. Coffee cold. The guys choked down a sandwich, conversation was tough. You feel like you have to say those last words of wisdom, but they’ve already been said. So, we all decided to head on over, we couldn’t stop the clock. It was time.
Driving to the Novitiate was a 5 minute hop. Through Madeira, a very charming little town. I thought, “I could live here, it ‘s lovely.” That was a comfort. The parish is beautiful and they had white tents on the lawn, receiving parents, though it was a small group. Chris was nervous and excited. Tom and I were just nervous. I dreaded meeting the Novice Master, being such a mess. Chris was calm. He had a smile on his face. We walked over and one of Chris’ pals from college was there, finishing his Novice year; he strode over to hug and greet Chris. Chris grinned, happy to see him. Other brothers came over to say hello, and there was Fr James Sullivan, right before me, hand out to say, “Hello Mrs Gautsch!” I kind of burst into tears behind my big sunglasses. He’s no fool and said, “I seem to have that effect on mom’s....” I laughed and said hello and told him he was funny and apologized for being a mess. He took it all in stride, God bless him. Fr. James asked two of the postulants to show us three around the priory a bit and off we went for a quick tour.
The priory is where the community lives, rather like a dorm, but not overrun with freshman moving in with stereos and boxes and bedding. It’s not fancy; it’s modest but serviceable. The refectory, where they take their meals has three long tables connected in a U shape and a bank of windows across one wall. It is bright and pleasant and cheerful. We couldn’t see the bedrooms, community only. We saw the library, the laundry, the exercise room, the chapter room (where they have weekly meetings to go over biz and whatnot), the lovely chapel. And I have to say, part of me thought, “Oooh, maybe I shouldn’t have gone on this tour.” Because my mind was shouting at me: “I could never do this!” Which made my heart kind of seize and I kind of stopped breathing a bit. Then, as we went back outside….it was time. Time to hand over his one suitcase, his mandolin, his guitar and backpack. Time to hug our boy goodbye. I tried to sear the image of him hugging his Dad long and tight into my memory and heart. Then I held him one last time (break……..blink blink blink blink blink………………………………..breathe…………..exhale. Ok, typing again) and (wait……blink blink blink) kissed his cheek, made a cross on his forehead and told him I loved him so, and turned and walked to the car. Tom got in beside me and we drove. I couldn’t help but turn to look at him, there in the parking lot, and was happy to see him standing and talking with the other new novices as they loaded their bag(s) into a van. They took the newbie’s to a retreat house nearby to stay for a few day, as the exiting novices were still living there and there was just not room in the priory (their home). So, as we drove off, my son was smiling and talking, even as I could see he was a little on edge and nervous. But he had begun.
Tom and I had completed our task. It was heartbreaking, so much more so that we had anticipated (which is saying something) but also exciting and worrisome and a whole sea of emotions; a mini tsunami of feeling. It was hard. Make no mistake. And even as I keened as tom held my hand tight tight tight and he drove….we talked and I said “I couldn’t do it.”
But we both immediately knew and know the answer to that cry: we don’t have to. Nor does he. But we were NOT called to. We were called to marry and parent. This year is for our son to decide if he truly IS called to this life, this radical life that will take major adjustment and transition just to go and try it out.
We did our part.
We delivered our boy back to God, and into his new life.
Call us Dr and Mrs. Brown.