“A hundred years from now it won’t matter what sort of house I lived in, or kind of car I drove but, the world may be different because I was important to the life of a child.”
Between escalating birthdays and widowhood, I reflect a lot these days (it happens) on the meaning of life – and the brevity of it. My tiny children are now parents of their own small, wonderous kidlets, and running on the same parental hamster wheel of schedules, homework, errands and laundry that once filled my days. Then comes the empty nest and wipes those days away. But, there is still nothing I wouldn’t do for those worrywart, race-against- the-clock times, and the babies who inhabited them — back again.
From the minute those squalling little bodies are placed in our arms, our hearts swell so large we think they’ll burst from our love for them. And every day thereafter, we’ll do every crazy thing we can to keep them safe, healthy and happy – or try to. I remember when my neighbor and best bud and I went on a no-nitrate, no additive, all homemade binge, convinced we would rule as health-conscious moms. The good news? We became homemade bread champs. The bad news was we were the only ones eating this healthy fare. (damn, that was good bread) During those months of banned hot dogs, Wonder Bread, bologna and all things artificial, we were on the bottom rung of our kids’ hit parade. Those little buggers much preferred Campbell Soup and Marshmallow fluff moms and eventually we sold out, coughed up some hot dogs, but to our credit – they were turkey dogs.
Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see. Neil Postman
Today threats to children’s well being lurk around every corner, or at least it seems that way to helicopter grandmas who endlessly email and/or snip random articles about GMOs, guns, and social media bullying. Everything, short of a zombie apocalypse, seems like a possible threat to my grandchildren’s well-being, no matter how remote.
Children change our lives. They mix them up in a hectic blender of love, worry and craziness; then rearrange them back into people we barely recognize but wouldn’t trade for any alternative. Having had children young, as many in my generation, I never lament a ‘rockin’ old life’ before children because I didn’t have one. Before today’s drinking age, I dove headfirst into cribs and spit up baby food with no nostalgia about lost single days of island hopping. Today’s moms trade successful careers, first single apartments and free wheeling travel memories for the marriage and childraising. They bring life experience, and a taste of fulfillment to their babies while others like me bring still young(ish) enthusiasm (and even a small amount of energy) revved to race grandchildren. Standing on the flip side of motherhood, I can totally appreciate both sides of that same coin.
Children are not things to be molded but people to be unfolded. Jess Lair
Kids keep you young; they also keep you humble. Leave it to your kid to call you on your crap. They will let you know when you’re boring, when your sense of fashion is ‘so yesterday’ and when saying things like ‘supper’ instead of ‘dinner’ marks you as, well, old. They make you laugh more than you thought possible, and cry in equal measure. They make us see what patience we don’t have, how quiet a house once was and who we should be to be worthy of them. Once you lugged oranges to soccer games, cupcakes to birthday parties and stayed up nights sewing Halloween costumes. Then, before you know it, you’re tearing up at graduations, toasting an engagement and soon, another generation is on the way — and you pass the baton. Long feverish nights, endless science projects, little league games and wee hours of waiting for cars to pull in driveways are now in your adult babies’ hands yet, their hearts are still in yours. When they lose a job, a baby or their way, your hugs, words and love will always be in high demand.
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
I look at my grandboys these days, with missing baby teeth and ridiculous energy and envision my own young son. How long ago did this goateed, handsome adult boy drag home pollywogs, that turned into frogs then bizarre cadavers discovered behind my washer and couch? Enjoying two grandboy cub scouts’ euphoria over their lovingly constructed Pinewood Derby cars, it’s hard not to picture helping my own earnest boy. I can still envision him sanding wood putty over the neatly weighted bottom of his own painted racer. Watching your grandchildren is like having your feet both on the brake and gas at the same time, feeling tenderness for what they are and wonder for what they will become.
A time machine would really come in handy sometimes. It would be so great if we could assure parents, up to their eyeballs in chaotic childraising, that it will all be okay, that they will be okay and so will the precious cherubs they worry about as we did them. Oh, I’m not saying they’ll stop worrying. (Who am I kidding?) As long as you’re a parent, you’re stuck with that one. But just to know that this time next year, next month, even next week the right teacher, marks or choice of fashion statement will not be important. That even if your house is such a mess you worry it could be next on Hazmat’s inspection list, that too will pass. And, hard as it may be to believe now, one day you’ll actually miss the mess, I promise. On the other side of parenthood, now you just want to assure those young harried parents that it’s okay to accept help, to slow down, to have less schedule and more heck-with-it-all fun.
When my own small nuggets were growing up, I certainly didn’t always follow my own advice. Maybe I thought the noisy, giggling, sibling rivalry days that seemed never ending – never would. But the torch was passed. My babies have become parental units themselves, and I have the luxury of seeing them unfold in real time. I see little kid faces still alive in adulting bodies. As much as I’ve lost in this life, I’ve also been gifted in abundance with new little sprouts I call grandchildren. Nearly 27 years ago, my first grandbaby burst into this world. Through the years, I tied her skates, put on ballet slippers, let her sweet-talk me into bringing meatball sandwiches for high school lunches and drove her to many community theater rehearsals. She’s made me laugh, worry, cry — and proud. This year, my beautiful grandgirl gets married and I graduate from mother to grandmother of the bride. Now my daughter will hold that honored place of bride’s mom, sealing three generations together in the circle of life.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
I’ve replayed those timeless poetry lines of Gibran a million times over the years. Maybe they play even better in hindsight, when the craziness of nighttime feedings and early morning carpooling are over, and they are free to resonate their innate truths. I find myself remembering often the cycles of nature and how like budded leaves we go from green to autumn. For all that we see in the sprouts before us, their souls truly do ‘dwell in the house of tomorrow’ and we will neither see nor know their future selves. But knowing that whatever mistakes we’ve made or whatever we didn’t impart, our children will turn out okay. Damned okay. They will end up as they were meant to, with their own lives, thoughts, and destinies and we’re just along for the ride to bear witness.
Raising kids is not a walk in the park. It’s the greatest responsibility, experience, wild ride, blessing and most priceless privilege you’ll ever have. If we’re really, really lucky we get to see that precious life circle continue in a new set of little people to love. And the best part, this time when those delicious new nuggets get us tired, worried or crazed, we lovingly hand them over to the kid-dults who made them — and go home.
To my original three nuggets,
“If I had to choose between loving you and breathing, I’d use my last breath to tell you . . . I love you”