After I married and had children I became a little jealous of my friends who lived near their parents. In those families, grandparents held the tiny hands of grandchildren as they grew and grew. Fortunately, I learned from my far-away mother how to be close regardless of living sixteen hundred miles apart.
Now eighty-five, Mom still travels to see us once or twice a year, refusing to let her slightly weak knee call the shots. While in her younger years she played with the kids up in the treehouse or down in the basement, these days they hang out together on the ground floor, playmates still. My mother has one more strategic method for growing connective tissue with her children and grandchildren: surprise boxes. She pours imagination and love into a package of “treasures,” each individually wrapped with notes personally addressed. Even the Labradors are sometimes lucky recipients of a few canine treats.
Packages arrive for Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Fourth of July, and, especially, birthdays. With great anticipation, our children have torn open her boxes and ripped apart tissue paper to reveal thematically chosen stuffed animals, jewelry, books, candy, decorations – whatever bit of whimsy caught her eye in her favorite shops – be they overstuffed dollar stores or tiny boutiques. Her boxes have even found their way to the mailroom at our son’s dorm and the cabin at our daughter’s camp with roommates and bunkmates in mind.
Recently my mother has begun to simplify her life by culling through her possessions. She now curates surprise boxes with family photographs or vintage keepsakes from my childhood. She has even begun taking bigger steps by packing shipping cartons and tagging select pieces of furniture with which she is beginning to part. Mom has always conveyed her long-distance love for us with every package she dispatches. Each card or satiny box of chocolates is an expression of her generosity and affection. When the moving van arrives from her house to ours, a nearly empty nest, I know that her devotion to us will be packed with each item she has chosen to share.
To honor her secret box tradition, I am preparing our own carton of treasures for her this Mother’s Day. As I wrap each gift and sign my card I, too, am sending love and gratitude. I realize that we have missed much by being so far away from her but I truly believe that geographic proximity is no guarantee for closeness and distance does not doom love.
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