So we talked about how quickly we assume that another’s adjustment to newness and change is easier than our own. An adage came to mind that I’d just read recently: “Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.”
It’s time we let them go, I said. And I really meant it. I felt as if I were saying this for the first time. It wasn’t easy – as obvious as it seems. But it felt honest, and okay.
I haven’t truly grown up. I’m a baby. I haven’t lost either of my parents, and this makes me feel like I don’t know anything about being on my own. The path ahead is foreign and foreboding, requiring a compass I don’t have and don’t want.
Challenges remain as a parent, and one of the biggest I guess, is stepping aside.
And what I learned is that no one else can make me safe, or give me security. I am my own safe harbor. In the middle of this past winter, when the foundation of my life was falling away, I had myself to depend on—strong, determined, clear-headed, stable and available for my kids. If that’s who I am when an emotional earthquake hits, then what—or who?—could I possibly have to fear?
I teared up, unable to swallow or understand why such an ordinary moment threw me off balance. I drove on, feeling undone by the power of kindness, the sort we are sometimes granted by strangers and the sort we sometimes offer them.
Perhaps hardest thing of all is realizing we can’t save our kids from themselves. As they grow older, they make their own choices, choose their own paths. As parents, our influence wanes, our voices among the many they will hear and heed. This is inevitable. But it is terrifying.
I had been mostly focused on how my parents’ aging was affecting me and less on how they feel, especially as parents themselves. True, they are grandparents now, but they’ll always be parents. What does that mean to them as they approach 80?
I managed to keep my grousing in check and surrender to the madness. I let the dishes go, and sat and played ‘Go fish’ with family and unexpected friends over. I wondered if in a year’s time, I’d be sitting alone in a too-quiet house wondering where everyone had gone – my youngest at college, my other two more fully on their own, and my husband perhaps working late or away. What then? The quiet might be deafening.
What struck me most about that day was how someone right in front of you one minute can be gone in the next. I’d always known that my mother was an only child, but I’d never understood until then what that meant. She had no siblings to share her grief, none to help with funeral arrangements, none to begin the tedious and painful process of cleaning out a lifetime of things from the small house where my mother had grown up.