(written on September 30, 2014)
On the anniversary of the eve of my first son's birth, I recall a startling truth I chose not to absorb at that time: Two women, one of them my mother, the other an older co-worker from the bank where I was previously employed, stood at the foot of my bed on the maternity floor, looked at each other and solemnly spoke of how quickly children grow up. I see them clearly, but 27 years gone by have made the one who spoke and the one who agreed interchangeable in my memory. Their message is ever present at this phase of my life--they uttered the truest thing ever spoken about children.
Earlier today I was puttering on the front porch and in the front yard, washing bird feeders and watering plants, and though it's been close to six years since I have had any heavy responsibilities for a person other than myself, another truth still startles me: I. can. take. my. time. There wasn't a reason in this world to rush because it would be hours before the next thing was expected of me, cooking dinner, and even that is not an expectation--if I asked my husband to pick up dinner, he would gladly.
My older son married a good cook and he often proudly tells us what's for dinner at their townhouse in Denver, Colorado. In an unusual turnabout in sibling adventures, it was my younger son who led the way, first answering the call to go west, young man. Shortly after he moved away, someone not known for thinking before speaking said, "He may never come back," then laughed heartily. It hurt. Thoughts ran through my mind like 'what a bitch,' and 'how mean' then the realization of what goes around, comes around reminded me it already had. The speaker has yet to be assured of the competent and complete independence of her long grown adult children.
My sons, as of tomorrow and the 29th of November, will be 27 and 24. Those ages jump out at me as I was 24 and 27 when I gave birth to them. In a whirlwind, they were grown and gone to seek their fortune, and I found myself in a phase of life which feels remarkably similar to how I felt after high school graduation--not knowing what is ahead, realizing the potential for adventure is immense, only now there is that urgency of fewer potential years ahead contrasted with then.
Confusing things is the fact there is nothing urgently needing to be done at the moment. Anxiousness about that in our human doing, as opposed to human being, culture is tempting, but I plod along, learning to yield to the sacrament of the present God-given moment, and the Lord has seen fit to give me a long season of rest after a two decade season of the exhausting sandwich generation, heavy responsibilities for generations before and after,
There is still that jet lag of the mind to contend with, and acclimating myself to the present reality is a journey very unlike the long, straight roads of my roots, the coastal plains of Georgia, and more like the scary hairpin turns of an ascending road of a Rocky mountain my elder son drove up in August, entirely too fast for my comfort! I was a mere 45 when I was no longer responsible for a minor child and six years later at 51, the evolution to adult friendship and adviser-as-needed-never-unasked-for is still, well, evolving.
Here, to this point, I have meandered. I am blown away with pride and joy these boys are in fact men who have stepped up to the plate of life, grabbed every opportunity they could, and set out on an adventure when all too many play it safe, biding time in uneventful existences. As much as I enjoyed the time they were safely under my wings in my nest, I am delighted to see how well they have flown, in fact, so far, knock wood, neither have boomeranged to the nest from which they launched, a good thing as their bedrooms have been converted to an office/craft room and a library/guest bedroom. I vowed I would never sit among Legos and K'nex and cry for what was. I've cried all right, but not in a shrine to what will never again be.
Still, I am fiercely protective of what, for 18 years apiece, I thought was mine, and when someone was trying to give an opinion on the career of one of my sons, I heard myself say, "Back off!" I felt (and feel) a little bad about the abrupt delivery, but I backpedal not one inch on my sentiment: The boy is a man, an autonomous being who does not need the insult of a helicopter parent. He can make his own decisions, and whether they are the absolute best or not, they are a) his to make and b) thrive on or c) learn from.
That was a moment of opening my mouth and my mother coming out. I haven't yet met another soul who valued independence as much as she, and she lived without hypocrisy the virtue of not meddling in my life as an adult. My opinion seems not to be blurred or skewed as my husband affirms gratefully what I have said. She likely knew she trained me all too well and I would have told her to step back over a line had she crossed one anyway.
It is my turn to give this grace and freedom to my sons. It is not a one-time and-done gift; it has taken the rehearsal of the half-decade plus of not being a parent of a minor to keep on giving. I speak as if I had a choice. I would not and did not try to discourage my sons from following dreams that led them over 1,600 miles from their childhood home. I am humbled when I think of two dear friends whose children are entering the Army and Navy respectively. Talk about relinquishment. Relinquishment implies ownership, though, and that is never the case with our children; we are stewards and only for a few brief years.
In any case, as I type out words to cement in my mind what is real and now, I think of the labor I went through to bring my first child into the world and I thank God that I don't have to do that again tomorrow! As it hurt when each of my sons launched from my womb to my arms, it hurt when they launched from their childhood home into the world, but in both instances, the joy of watching their development brings an unending source of pride in their accomplishments, and now I in mine. There are two handsome, hard-working, adventurous young men in this world I am privileged to hear call me 'Mom'--without all the responsibilities that title once entailed.