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Summer of the Lost Son

There came a summer when the sun was lost.

It was California hot, blue skies promising day after day of shimmery warm waves of paradise found. Night’s canopy held infinite starry shifts of perspective.

If you have ever pondered these stars, you find yourself caught up in both the vastness of your universe and the vast idea that you are just as vast, for how else could the thought have occurred to you?

The nights were crisply real that particular summer, but the days were flat and void of adjectives.

The sun was a low-hung plastic disk, plowing through the firmament, until it was finally time to check off another box on the calendar.

My eldest walked into the kitchen one May morning and told me that he and his best buddy were going to hitch hike up the coast and into the Great North. They had friends along the way to visit. They had backpacks full of camping gear. They had high hopes of adventure and low hopes of their parents’ approval.

It’s hard to know what to say, as you sit there stirring your tea.

If there’s one thing out of a great many things my firstborn has taught me, it’s that people are who they are when they’re born and that, “control” being the oldest joke in the book, my influence as the mom moves directly through my children’s heartstrings.

This opportunity to indulge his wanderlust was a natural expansion for someone who isn’t content thinking “What if…?”

He needs to go find out.

The big courage he carries to back that process up contains a bigger heart inside of it that, despite his every effort to downplay it, cares deeply about his mom.

Screaming into my head came my own “What if?”s.

They tore up from my gut and stretched my throat, demanding liberty, but were instantly wrestled into a holding vault.

That was my own big courage.

A few perfunctory questions about the general plan, followed with more tea.

And then I marched him down to the mall and hooked him up with a cell phone.

It was the only thing I asked from him.

“Please,” I asked calmly, “When you can, just let me know you’re okay.”

“Mom,” he said, “I’ll try. We might be in a lot of places where we don’t get coverage.”

“I know,” I said, the vault door was being hammered from inside, the hinges rattling loose, “Just do your best and if you need me at all,” I stared him down, “AT ALL, I will come for you. No questions asked.”

His eyes told me he understood the largeness of what my vault contained.

“I know,” he said, hugging me, “it’ll be fine.”

Oh, the comforting of a child. Remember being stuck in bed with a new baby or the flu, and your toddler bringing you his favorite stuffed toy to cheer you up?

Such a small gesture for such a large love.

And it has to be enough.

This is the opening of a mini-series he and I are sketching, of the summer of the lost son. I want to explore it with him in an attempt to discover what might be useful to know, both as a family, and as humans who gaze at the stars and wonder about things that would take many lifetimes to understand.

It was a hard summer for me.

Every bum on every street corner morphed into my kid. Every homeless camp became his refuge. I wondered if cops were the good guys or the bad guys. What happens if you sleep all night on a park bench? What if, what if, what if….?

I blotted out every hitch-hiking story I had ever heard.

The iron-clad vault grew crowded and heavy as the weeks passed that summer.

It squished the sun flat.

Published inParentingTraveling


  1. Sarah

    Beautiful, haunting, painful…how do we survive this thing called “motherhood”? Thank you for your honesty and willingness to share about the places we go inside of ourselves to find the strength to carry on.

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