Posted by: Maryann McCullough | January 31, 2011

Story for February 2011



Maryann McCullough 



This morning’s tears had surprised me.

Of course I was saying good-bye. But how many times had I hugged my son as we stood at the front door, his suitcases already secured in the trunk? Saying goodbye was old hat. I don’t think I cried at a goodbye since…

There had been that off-to-college goodbye. It had been accompanied by much concern about what would become of him in Berkeley California. (He had passed on an opportunity to attend Notre Dame. I could have easily pictured him on that campus, golden dome in the background, Touchdown Jesus, a kind of campus security.) My perception of Cal was formed the campus newspaper (theme for our visit’s issue was lesbian rights) and not one of the names of the dorm residents sounded normal, like McCullough or Shanahan. And there was that naked man who preached on campus.

Berkeley had not been this mother’s dream school.

Casey did survive, continued to wear clothes, though eventually he came to questioning his parents’ Republican leanings and use of paper plates. But the same good guy that left us returned no doubt, an even better man. Those worry tears had been for naught.

But what was behind this morning’s tears? They were the quiet kind – no sobs, no wailing. But they were accompanied by a quivering lip so they didn’t feel like the “happy tears” I’d shed copiously just days earlier when this same son had shared the news of his engagement. I had hoped, prayed, and even prodded for that moment. In the days since, I’d thought of little else, and if I passed a mirror, I noticed I was smiling.

So, it wasn’t the prospect of Casey’s marriage that called forth the tears.

And most definitely not his choice of bride. I had loved Megan for almost as long as he had. The years of their relationship only caused my appreciation of her to grow. Earlier this year the families had met and everyone liked everyone. This was a merger on which the sun was shining.

Why then was I crying?

The hasty conclusion to a phone call from Casey earlier this evening provided my moment of understanding.

We had been discussing dates for a future visit to his home when Casey  interrupted me with “Gotta go Mom. Megan’s trying to call me.”

Now, he may have spoken those words many times in the past few years but this time what I heard (accompanied by thunder and lightning) was “You are no longer the most important woman in my life. I am leaving this phone call because the person who is calling me is much more important to me than you are.”

It was a split-second awareness, an “Aha!” moment, and I realized where my head had likely taken me as I said my goodbyes to Casey earlier in the day.

I was about to be usurped! Kicked to the curb! Replaced.

Decades-old memories of musical chairs pushed to the front of my brain. Politeness and gentility had formed my early life as well as my game strategy and, not surprisingly, I never won a game of musical chairs.

There was a comfort in understanding even if that understanding provided an awareness of something I’d rather not know about myself. (“Your cholesterol is too high and I think the green tinge of color of your skin has to do with the fact that your son has moved someone else to the number one spot,” was the diagnosis of the wise inner physician.)

I recall so clearly leaving St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica so very many years ago.  In addition to a baby boy, I left there with a plastic bag containing directives and pamphlets, each provided to make the transition from pregnant lady to mother of son an easy one. How to care for the umbilicus, how to bathe your newborn, how to baby-proof your home.

Then, in the years that followed, Casey’s schools provided “How to raise a successful student” handouts and eventually all those guides for the college application process.

So I’m sure there is some guidebook out there, some wisdom for mothers about the appropriate and gracious relinquishing of our chairs. Surely others have experienced that it’s easier to take a baby home than it is to see him leave.




  1. Maryann,
    definitely one of life’s ironies.
    In the spirit of Genesis and wise marital counsel going back millennia, and I’m sure going back to your own life with Bill, God-forbid, you would not want to settle for second fiddle next to his mother (“for this reason a man leaves his father & mother and cleaves to his wife”). so i know it must be bitter-sweet, and at the same time unavoidable and necessary. so what is the master’s design behind this? i guess the learning never ends, the journey becomes the destination, and maybe you never really “get there.” Perhaps I could counsel Casey on more diplomatic means of handling the call-waiting, like, hey mom, it’s Ed McMahon calling–i think our ship has come in. 😉

  2. I would love to share story with your audience.
    Stop by my blog and let me know if you dig it?


  3. I’ve got my oldest son heading to college in the fall–you’ve summed up a mother’s worries so well! I can’t imagine what it will be like to see him off and married. Congrats to the happy couple!

  4. You write the manual as you live through it!!!!!

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