What do they say? The days are long and the years are short. One of my pals has a five-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son. The girl doesn’t sleep, ever. The boy fights and tantrums, always. Their mom feels frazzled, exhausted, sometimes overly involved, other times checked out. I tell her, “I remember.”
I remember how my colicky son screamed through the time of his nap, my hoped-for nap. I had nursed him every two hours, cleaned his chronic infant diarrhea. How could I manage the next five hours alone with this wailing infant? I say to my friend, “I remember.”
I don’t say, “These days will pass”, because she could not hear those words. Trite cleverness comes easily 40 years out, but the words feel demeaning in the midst of teething, diapers and ear infections. I said, “One day you will miss this.” She didn’t respond.
Looking back, I miss the smile that infant had, those big round brown eyes, his hugs. I felt lonely, sad, spent, confused, and paradoxically fully mom, almost fully grown up. I felt frazzled, exhausted, sometimes overly involved, other times checked out. All of it. The days seemed endless.
Where did the years go? After you’ve breathed life into them for decades, they leave home. All the parenting, tending, teaching, coaching, practicing times tables with flashcards, meals cooked and table manners succeeding and failing–all of that ends and they launch. You cross your fingers.
They find themselves. They adopt new values, different from yours. They keep some of your ideals. They ditch a lot. Then all of a sudden—it seems like all of a sudden—they rent their first apartment or buy a starter home and you let go to make space, to make room, for creation to roll on.
Sometimes they call. They tell you things you don’t want to hear. You think, “you did what?” But you don’t say that because you’re letting go, because you’re moving aside, because your life is not their life. As Mother Theresa said, you taught them to dream; they will not dream your dream. You cried a lot when they were kids. You cry now too. You ache to hear the soft toddler squeak, the one you wished they’d stop, the one you wished would quiet.
Sometimes they call. They tell you amazing things. Your grown son sends you a draft of something he’s been asked to write. You think, “I’m honored. I’ll give him feedback.” You imagine you can help. You don your parenting hat. Then you read his three pages. His prose sparks with laugh-out-loud humor, with brilliant similes and metaphors you would never think to use, with outside-the-box creative uses of simple everyday language you simply don’t use every day.
You feel thrilled, awed. You smile because this kid grew up, because this child got so smart. Then you cry BECAUSE your baby got so smart, smarter than you. You cry because he accomplished something you couldn’t, wouldn’t. Your heart thrums then melts. You feel both pride and the humility of getting out of the way so the next generation of adults can do what they are here to do. You feel touched, warm and tender with both happiness and sadness that make no sense, that you can’t explain except that your children have outgrown you. Your children seek other mentors, which is the way life should be. They walk across the bridge you built for them. So, you say something like, “Kudos. Way to go.” And you release them into the unknown.