If Mom can't be there, at least send pictures

Visuals give parents a way to think about their children when they are away

May 05, 2010|By Susan Reimer

"Mom," my daughter said to me. In a text message, of course. "Nobody's mother visits them at the office."

"I just want to see where you work, honey," I said. "It's not like I am going to hang out there."

The answer was still no. The workplace of a young professional is off-limits to mothers.

I am not sure what my daughter thought I wanted out of such a visit. That I would measure for drapes or tell embarrassing baby stories to her boss or ask if that handsome young man in the cubicle next to her was unattached.

"She's gathering intel," Joe, my Marine son, would have warned her.

No. What I wanted was visuals. I wanted pictures in my head. A physical context in which to place my daughter when I think about her. And I think about her more than she would like.

There is a reason for back-to-school nights in elementary school and parents weekends in college, and they have nothing to do with academics.

These events give parents visuals, a physical context in which to place our children when they are away from us, when we are thinking about them.

We can see them in their little desks in their classrooms, or studying in their dorm rooms, or the view of campus they take in as they walk to class.

Young children, I think, believe that their parents stop existing, or exist in suspended animation, when they are apart from us. The concept of "separateness" takes a while to kick in.

And when our children are young adults, they seem to continue to believe that we have no life separate from what we do for them, and they act surprised when they find out some new, odd thing about how we spend our days.

"I oughta pay more attention to you," my son said when I explained that I had more than 700 followers on Twitter and 600 Facebook friends and that I was using social networking to drive my work. "You might be more interesting than I thought."

But he couldn't be bothered to come to my office, to see my workstation, to meet my friends. He clearly didn't need the visuals.

"It will give you a picture of my life," I said, but his face was blank.

Skype has helped. The web camera system gave me a tour of my son and daughter-in-law's apartment, all decorated for Christmas. I could see them in it — literally. And afterward, I would "see" them in it. I know you understand what I mean.

My sisters have sent their sons to war and both gave me the same advice: Ask for pictures.

Once they saw where their boys lived and slept, once they had pictures of their new surroundings in Serbia and Iraq and Afghanistan, they were more calm.

It seems counterintuitive. You would guess that pictures would make these wars more real and therefore more frightening.

But the opposite was true for my sisters. The pictures put limits on their imaginations, boundaries on the scary visions that came to them when they tried to sleep.

It gave them a way to think about their sons.

Now Joe has packed off to war. You can guess what I said to him before he left.

"Send pictures," I said, my voice firm. It was an easier thing to say to him at that moment than just about anything else.

"Your mother needs visuals."

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