On the day of lockdown my 27 year old son, possible feeling sorry for his old mum, decided to join me in my bubble. I was a bit nervous of this as I like living alone and he certainly enjoys his own space. Sam was gently nudged out of the nest by me at aged 18 into a hall of residence at uni as I was aware of being the ultimate helicopter mother. Those rotor blades were constantly at high speed. He hadn’t been home for any significant time since.
I had no idea how gutted I would feel but he was the proverbial duck and water. I missed him terribly. I reasoned beforehand that he was still in the same town and I worked at his university, I would see him in term breaks and at uni too. Not really.. He exchanged his new house and own shiny bathroom for a shared a room with a mate from school. The place was old, the toilets and showers campground basic and the only time I saw his room, the floor wasn’t part of what I could see. The smell was a bit peculiar as well.
He loved it and all those clichés held true. He has friends for life and still spends a lot of time socialising with them.
After first year he went flatting. It was a great location near uni but had no windows in the bedrooms and the only lounge window looked out on a blank concrete wall about a metre away. I had to not think about it otherwise I had nightmares about fires and claustrophobia and Sam being trapped inside. After that he had a few flats, one called the brothel (because it was an ex brothel, but the number of bathrooms were a great advantage). He had a couple of other flats after that where I could practically see the hepatitis bugs disco-ing in the kitchen.
Last year, I think he finally felt ready to have his own place and have his own mess to himself so he bought a Kiwibuild apartment that will be ready in the next few weeks. It was a steep learning curve to get a handle on all the paperwork and mortgage requirements etc. but well worth it. I am very proud of his frugal ways and have not opened up the Bank of Mum at all.
It was disappointing that it was so close to completion at lockdown when everything came to a standstill but small fish disappointment in the grand scheme and he took it calmly in his stride.
Back to the homestead. We did a bit of rejigging to get a good workspace in the spare room and we slipped quite quickly into routine. Sam getting up a bit earlier, (well alright, a lot earlier than Moi) and me taking breaks from my part time job to bake muffins, soup, crackers and a favourite, fruit tarts.
I continued with My Food Bag and as Sam is vegan, he ate all the nice vegetable bits and supplemented when necessary. Our kitchen routine involved Sam doing the chopping and most of the dishes. Each evening we would have a round of Scrabble and watch one episode of something we both enjoyed.
I discovered it takes two for a number of things, especially when one of the two is over 6’ tall:
Changing paintings around
Cleaning fly dirt off the ceiling without needing a chair
Moving the outdoor furniture inside for the house wash
Running up and down the stairs for the washing
Cleaning the heat pump filter
Changing the summer curtains for warmer winter ones
Folding the duvet cover
Sharing a meal together
Making cups of tea for each other
The best chore though was part of my “Death Cleaning” initiative. Death cleaning or as it is known in Swedish, döstädning, is basically decluttering the shit you think you need or want or thought you did, so that your offspring don’t have to deal with it after you die. As an only child, I thought it would be a considerable burden of anxiety to know what to do with stuff with no siblings to argue with. I have now given him open slather to ditch whatever he likes and not to keep anything because he felt he “should”.
We have also had discussions while wandering around a local church cemetery about cremation and what I would like. Cremation all the way for me. This is mainly because of JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, where Holden gets very upset when it rains and he has to leave his little brother outside in his grave. We did have a bit of a laugh about imagining a weird and wonderful headstone though.
In Chapter 20 of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden sits in Central Park with water freezing on his head and starts to worry that he will catch pneumonia and die. This sets him off on a mental tangent about funerals, cemeteries, and his dead brother Allie:
I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.
All the visitors could get in their cars and turn on their radios and all and then go someplace nice for dinner–everybody except Allie. I couldn’t stand it. I know it’s only his body and all that’s in the cemetery, and his soul’s in Heaven and all that crap, but I couldn’t stand it anyway. I just wish he wasn’t there. You didn’t know him. If you’d known him, you’d know what I mean.
(Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, )
Which brings me to the understairs storage on the ground floor that had become depressingly Tardis-like and even if I could remember what was in there, I couldn’t get to it. So, while I had Sam captive in iso, we hauled everything out and went through it. As a mother of an EXTREMELY GIFTED child.. I had scrapbooked all his birthday cards, reports, and certificates. Sam had once received a certificate for reading the word “the”. If you think about it, it is a hard word to read as it doesn’t look like what it sounds like. (See? Gifted.) I had saved baby clothes and loads of photos that wouldn’t fit in the copious albums I have also assembled.
Sam had a more pragmatic and possibly ruthless approach. He laughed at his stories, his art works of genius and biffed most of them. He ditched most of the truly beautiful clay sculptures, although to be fair, it was a little difficult to tell what they were. I was embarrassed that he found my decidedly mediocre uni grades and quickly hid them under yet another school portfolio, in the “discard” pile.
I sneaked a few favourites, particularly the school report that began, “Sam is a true gentleman..” and I could never throw out his tuatara, a portent of his future career as an ecologist.
The process was both emotional and freeing. It would probably only have ever happened in Lockdown and it is now a pleasure to look in the storage and be able to see what it is in there.
We are down to level three now, so it is likely that Sam will move back to his flat soon and then into his own home. I’ll miss this time together; it has been special and fun but I’m also looking forward to joining him in the pre inspection of his own place and helping him out with a few Briscoes bits and pieces and some of my old furniture. And of course, giving unsolicited advice about where to put stuff.
Still, I will look back on this moment in time where we spent these few weeks together and had conversations we may never have had otherwise. I also beat him at Scrabble more times than he beat me. Thank goodness. Good to know it helps keep Alzheimers at bay.
PS I’m aware this has been an easy time for us with jobs etc. so this is just a personal account and I hope for those going through tough times, we emerge into a new and better normal for everyone.